Hi, I’m James Giuliano, co-founder of Liberte Karate and founder of Meka Karate. This is the story of my journey in opening up a karate school with a difference.
I’ve spent a large part of my life in martial arts, and in travelling the world, competing and training at the high- est of levels, while building a strongly cultured karate school in Australia.
This book is designed to help guide karate practi- tioners to becoming the best they can be. I provide you with a vision you may never have thought possible, in running a successful and profitable karate school, with- out it taking over your life. Here, I cover all of the do’s and do-nots of teaching, and I provide support for your journey to teach at the highest of levels. I simplify my teaching to help you understand and to adapt in the quickest possible manner. In this chapter, I will intro-
Passion For Karate
duce myself to those who don’t know me, and I will tell the story of my journey in karate.
Before we get started, it’s important to understand that in karate we must learn from one another and to respect each other along the way. With that said, let’s start at the beginning...
For over 15 years, I pursued my dream to become one of the world’s top competitors, and I represented Aus- tralia on the international stage to 2016. I had my suc- cesses and I wound up with something that I never an- ticipated: something that would impact me for the rest of my life—a sport that would provide me with endless passion and opportunity.
Throughout all those competing years, I learned the enjoyment of helping other athletes achieve their best, and the satisfaction of my having inspired young stu- dents to reach for the stars.
Over this one-and-a-half decade journey, I committed everything I had to achieving my personal goals, and I learned about the ups and downs of life. I started to de- velop a philosophy of continuous development—of set- ting small goals to attain a big vision.
Over this time, I won eleven Australian titles, ranking in the top eight at two world championships, and I won many international competitions along the way.
At the age of 25, I started to think about my future and what I would do once I retired from competition. I be- gan to observe as many karate instructors as I could, and what I saw certainly didn’t inspire me, as many lacked passion and were financially insecure. It didn’t seem as though karate was a good business to be in, so I didn’t give it much thought.
By chance, I caught up with a friend for coffee and we started playing with the question of What if? What if we opened a karate school? What would it look like? We were not just interested in how it would look, but more importantly, at the culture of the school. What would it be like for everyone? By everyone, we meant the entire karate school community, and there are a lot of people involved. A karate school should not just be about the students, but also the parents, the students’ friends, and definitely the instructors themselves. We wondered how we could run it as a business and still maintain integrity. Was there potential for karate as a business? We decided the answer was a definite Yes!
Then, I had to define what success really meant to me.
I developed the Six Levels of Dojo Success:
One: Like any business, it had to make a profit.
Two: There would be no compromising of personal philosophies.
Three: There must be a strong work/life balance.
Four: Customer service would require our focus on
quality over quantity.
Five: The development of a community spirit was paramount.
Six: Everyone involved must have fun, and benefit from the sport of karate.
Now, you can move those six levels around and place them in any order you like, it doesn’t matter. They are all essential and all support each other.
This business concept was for a lifestyle business. The general idea was to run a karate school supported by all the necessary processes to ensure passion for it wouldn’t diminish over time.
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I knew that a method of teaching karate that would ex- cite the new generation of children was paramount, and I knew I wanted to build something special that would change children’s lives.
With this in mind, I moved forward on a course that nobody believed I could achieve in such a short period of time.
Through my travels, I had been exposed to different teaching methods and it was in Italy that I was really impressed.
In 2010, I had just competed and won Bronze in the prestigious Italian Open. At the time, placing at this particular competition was a highlight of my career. But when I reflected on my time there, I realised that what I had gained most was not winning, but what I had learned.
While training, I noticed the Italian Karate Federa- tion had developed an amazing training program that focused on children’s motor skill development—a new and fresh approach to teaching. This inspired me for years to come.
I knew I had to bring this methodology back to Austra- lia, where everyone was still training traditionally. This could become the start of a product difference to our competitors, and something I could mould into a pro- gram suitable for Australian children.
The goal that I was inspired to pursue was to develop co-ordination skills first, so that when we teach a stu- dent a karate technique, they find it easy to learn, and in turn it becomes more enjoyable. If a child finds some- thing too difficult to grasp, the challenge becomes too great and they quit. The simple fact is, that if students
find karate techniques easy to learn, the chances that they will enjoy the sport are significantly higher.
I have always said that if a student enjoys what they do, they will train for longer periods of time and achieve big goals, so that became our aim: to keep students de- veloping their skills.
We more generally see a lot of traditional programs that were created years ago in Japan, and that are based on the Japanese culture.
The question is: Who are we targeting? Japanese adults? Japanese children? or Australian children? There is a big difference between these demographics.
The Japanese culture differs from our Australian cul- ture. Australians enjoy training in a more relaxed envi- ronment. Our kids are not likely to train for three hours a day every day, and that is important to understand.
I wanted to develop a program that children enjoyed, and my program must still retain a core focus on tra- ditional karate values. I adapted an old school syllabus into an engaging modern-day program that was specifi- cally developed for children.
I was aware that it’s not what you teach, but how you teach that becomes the key factor. This philosophy be- came a core difference between us and our competitors and the karate industry.
From those realisations, I developed a business plan, along with a program for students, and I offered two nights of training.
Starting from scratch, the plan was a first on many lev- els, and it was the first time we would be teaching chil- dren from a beginner’s level. I thought I knew it all, con-
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sidering how long I’d been training. I thought it would be easy.
I remember teaching a five-year-old boy, Jack, who was a white belt and I assumed this would be so simple. I started to teach Jack basic kata #1. I performed the moves and assumed that he would simply copy me and perform the kata. To no avail though, as Jack didn’t know his left from his right, let alone how to do a basic stance.
I had a long way to go! I made mistake after mistake over the following five years, but I continued to improve the program and processes and I never stopped moving forward.
I could see where students struggled with the current syllabus and I evaluated why this was the case, then made changes, whether that was to the syllabus program or to teaching practices. This ensured that future students would not have the same problems. This continuous devel- opment was undertaken until finally a syllabus and pro- gram was developed that harnessed students’ strengths instead of presenting hurdles too large to overcome.
I had a vision, and I would do anything necessary to reach it.
Over the next five years I developed better and better teaching practices, and ours became one of the stron- gest karate schools in our community.
Another factor that was very important to our success, was in ensuring the instructors kept their passion alive on a long-term basis and, just like the students, avoided burnout. To be successful, this element had to be our priority, because without passionate instructors, you don’t have a viable school.
How do we keep instructors passionate? The answer is straightforward: by investing and valuing them as an
integral part of the business. That means not taking ad- vantage of them, but making sure that we’re always do- ing what’s best for our instructors and the school. The guiding principle was to never take anyone for granted and to value the people who helped develop our school. It’s an integral fact that all the best energy should be used for all the best results.
Most large dojos have been around for 20 years and have taken a long-term approach to growth. We were able to hit our goals of near maximum capacity of 250+ students in five years, as well as developing a strong cul- ture within our karate school: something I’m very proud of.
Why did I choose to open a karate school?
I believe doing something you are passionate about is so important, and my passion is karate and in helping inspire people to achieve their goals. These objectives led me to my next chapter in life.
Teaching children is incredible, and provides great satisfaction. You can be yourself, and be playful, with no façade to being someone you’re not. You have the chance to make an impact on someone’s life and to help shape the person they will become. It’s an amazing feeling
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when you know you have a proven program that impacts your students’ lives, in and outside of karate.
My aim was to run a karate school that had a positive impact on the community, as well as being financially viable, while providing a stress-free and family-friendly lifestyle of passion and commitment, and... bingo!
Teaching karate in my own school has given me the flexible lifestyle I was looking for, where I could have another job on the side, if that’s what I wanted. It’s all about creating flexibility to do the things you love.
The vision was that as an instructor, each week I would turn up to class with a plan to follow and everything ready to go, and that I could enjoy the event. At night’s end, I would pack up, go home and relax, until the next night of training. In between, all the running of the business had been taken care of. I was free to do what I liked from day to day: keeping fit, reading books and simply enjoying life. While I’m no longer competing, this would allow me to stay connected with something I have participated in all my life.
Looking back at my teen years and early twenties, I grew up in a family that ran small businesses. That was where I learned the importance of customer service, the need for a strong product, and having processes in place that ran the business smoothly.
This knowledge led me to my vision of a karate school that would run like a business, rather than one that re- lied on making decisions on the go. This would be a part of my point of difference to my competitors, and some- thing I would base success upon.
Planning allows everyone involved to stay fresh and passionate. It is hard to maintain enthusiasm for some- thing when you are being drained by business needs
that you didn’t at first perceive. I have seen good karate teachers become exhausted, not because they trained too long, but because they lacked processes to support them. They, like many that go into different small busi- nesses, lacked the knowledge to actually run a small business.
The program created would need to set the layout for each and every night of teaching and would link to a structured calendar for the year, and thus it would help create a positive flow in the teaching of our students.
There are times for students to work hard, times for them to have fun, and times to develop their perfor- mance. This can’t be done randomly. An efficient pro- gram needs a great deal of thought and understanding of what works best, and this must be based on experi- ence.
My aim is to keep it simple for instructors so that they simply turn up and teach. It’s similar to an elite athlete’s program, with its ebbs and flows to ensure they achieve the best they can, but to be effective, a program must be followed.
After six years, my karate school was running effort- lessly and then with MEKA KARATE, it was time to pass on my knowledge. It was time to create a guide for other Instructors to open their own karate schools, with the backing of a tried and true system and program that’s been developed over years.
Any karate style can be adapted to this program and everyone will have their own personality and way of teaching that will make them different to other schools around them. The support system is there to help you through the journey.
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The main aims of MEKA KARATE are to create an op- portunity for you to do something you are passionate about, to be financially rewarded, and to create flexi- bility so that you have spare time, and to keep fit, stay healthy and follow other life goals that you wish to achieve.
The commitment needed has been developed for you to take up as a part-time commitment.
It could be difficult to develop a karate school when you have a full-time job. You would be required to learn marketing strategies, to develop class structures, and to deal with all that goes with running a business, making it impossible to manage whilst simultaneously working full time.
Meka Karate offers a new system, something for all karaticas, something unique. It’s about sharing knowl- edge and inspiring others, so that we can create some- thing special and impact children across the country. It’s about mentoring: mentoring instructors and then instructors becoming mentors to their students... and so the cycle continues.
This is something I believe will be revolutionary in ka- rate. It’s time for the those passionate about the sport to open up and connect with each other.
With a proven record for success, it’s now time to share my knowledge.
In this chapter, I hope I’ve given you something to think about—something you may have never thought was even a possibility—and to help you reflect on your personal journey in karate and where it may lead into the future.
Karate doesn’t have to end after reaching a black belt, it doesn’t have to end after competing.
Karate is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle, and it’s there to help us become better people, providing us with an opportunity to make change in this world.