Marketing and Martial art

A man once visited his friend, who was very wealthy, and noticed that he had an elephant in his yard. Stunned, he asked his friend “what are you doing with that elephant?”  “Oh him?” the wealthy man responded, “That’s the best deal I ever got! I initially got him as a pet, but turns out, he’s saved me so much money. He eats the grass, so I don’t need to hire anyone to mow. The kids can climb up and ride him and play all day and he’s so much fun to watch, I hardly even watch TV anymore. When my wife goes out shopping, she’s so happy because he can carry all the groceries no problem.” 

“Wow, that’s amazing” responds the friend, “you need to sell him to me, please!” “No way that I can sell him, he’s part of the family now.” “Please…” begged his friend. After a while thinking about it, the wealthy friend finally responded, “Alright, alright… I can sell him, but I’ll need $300,000.” His friend enthusiastically agreed and took the elephant home that very day. 

After a few weeks, the two met again and the wealthy man asked, “How is everything going with the new elephant?” His friend, despondent, responded, “Horrible. My wife and kids are scared of him and he knocked over all the trees in my yard and trampled the garden. It was a huge mistake to buy him from you.” The wealthy man replied, “Well, with that attitude, you’ll never be able to sell him.”

Marketing and sales are essential nowadays, especially in Martial Arts.

It reminds me of a story about a guy name Eyal who moved into a village and decided to buy a donkey. Since he was a city boy, they sold him an old donkey which died the moment he brought it home. He then posted a raffle, for just one dollar you can have a chance to win a donkey. People in the town flocked to purchase tickets and he made thousands; way more than he initially paid for the donkey. When the winner came to claim his prize, he found a dead donkey and complained to Eyal, to which he replied, “You’re right, it’s not fair. Here’s a full refund on your purchase”, to which he returned the winner’s 1 dollar.  

People with a talent for sales and marketing can be found in all fields, dead donkey dealers are now using the internet to extend their reach and finding victims who are happy to buy in to something that has no substance behind it, but that has a good appearance. Don’t be a victim. 

I’ve been asked a lot lately about Israeli Martial Arts ads and what is it that makes them so popular. My answer is that they have great marketing and there’s low demand from students and instructors to become masters. I’ve seen instructors who have yellow belts in Karate and all of a sudden, they are listed as experts in Krav Maga and are Mossad secret service who can’t post on Facebook because they are undercover secret agents without having been a soldier for a single day. They teach Police forces never having served as a Police officer or functioning in any law enforcement capacity. In Israel there are so many Martial Artists who have their Doctorate degree, yet when the news contacts them to ask what university they received their degree from, they suddenly can’t remember and curiously, they never received a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree either. In order to cut down on the corruption, the Israeli government no longer recognizes PhD degrees unless it has been certified, which many of these fake degree holders will never do, lest they be exposed. Yet still they promote themselves using this degree outside of Israel and dozens of people fall for this. 

New Israeli Federations that you send money to and they promote you to blackbelt or give you instructor of the year and any other title is a great marketing strategy, but I refuse to be a part of this. Maybe it’s bad marketing on my part, but I’ve dedicated more than 50 years of my life to Martial Arts, traveled the world and studied under real masters, not through YouTube or TikTok. It’s unfortunate, but everyday people are unable to distinguish between effective martial arts and snake oil salesman. 

It reminds me of a story of a Native American selling handmade pots. There were two pots side by side and a European was comparing the two, as they appeared the same size, but one was selling for 5 dollars and the other was selling for 10. The European inspected the pattern, the interior, the quality of the material and the more he inspected, the more he realized they were identical. He asked the Native American, “what’s the difference between these pots to justify the cost difference? They appear to be identical to me.” The Native American responded, “some like to pay 5 dollars, some like to pay 10.” 

Very often people tie a value to a product based on what they paid for it, which very often it’s easy to see the difference in quality between a more inexpensive product and a costly one. However, in Martial Arts, it’s often very difficult for the common person to distinguish an expert instructor who has dedicated their life to Martial Arts and a snake oil salesman who got a few certifications and belongs to a federation. They attribute a false correlation between marketing and actual substance. As students of Martial Arts, we need to ensure that we are careful with whom we associate and verify that an instructor or school is really able to help us achieve our goals. 

Conversely, as instructors when dealing with external federations and organizations, each of us needs look in the mirror and decide whether we began this journey for the love of martial arts or to try and gain profit as a salesman, potentially selling our integrity for a short term bump in marketing. As the stoic Epictetus once said, “Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please, for God’s sake, don’t sell it cheap.” While marketing is important to spread the word and make a name for yourself, understand to what lengths you are going and who you choose to associate with. Focus on the substance of your Martial Arts, not what empty titles you can get and never, never compromise your integrity in the pursuit of marketing.