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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 04 May 2008
Posts: 6852
Location: McHenry County, IL
Styles: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bujin Bugei Jutsu, Gokei Ryu Kempo Jutsu, MMA, Shootfighting, boxing, kickboxing, JKD, Pekiti Tersia Kali

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2016 11:50 am    Post subject: Using YouTube for Your Martial Arts School's Marketing Reply with quote

2015 marked the opening of my first commercial school venture. I'd taught at several academies before, and I had even taken over as the head instructor after my coach relocated in 2014. But this was to be the first time I'd been part of the decision making process of running a martial arts school. For those that have done this, you know it's a great pleasure and pressure to go through.

You get to build the type of community you want. You set the tone and tenor for how classes are conducted, what behaviors are tolerated and those that are not, influence how people work with one another, and most of all, you get to teach your interpretation of an art you love.

In my case, Brazilian jiu jitsu, the art I love (well, one of them and my primary form) has been on the upswing of popularity over the last two decades. This makes the idea of starting a school slightly less frightening. But only slightly.

You are still faced with innumerable decisions from the most all-encompassing (like what will our curriculum look like?) to the more mundane (what color are we painting the bathrooms?). None of this will matter; however, regardless of how good you are at your art or how good of an instructor you are, if you can't get bodies on the mat.

You'll have to market.

This is one of those subjects that most of us who open schools are just flat out white belts in. You've got some research to do ahead of you, as I did, if you want to leverage various marketing options to the best of your ability. After a single year of having a school open, I can 100 percent tell you that I still haven't gotten it all sorted out. I learn more from mistakes than I do wins. But there are some current outlets that are easy to use, kind of fun to manage and can win interest in your school with very little investment.

Social media has become a dominate force in our lives in modern America and most of the rest of the industrialized world. Most of these services are free and with a bit of knowhow, you can really raise your profile with them. The platforms we work with the most at Alpha BJJ are Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. One of the nice things that you find out quickly about working in social media is that you can really overlap so much of your material to more efficiently get your message or product out there. You'll want to cross post these things to maximize your reach.

The first thing I said when confronted by this was, "are you kidding me, I don't know computers." That statement is true. That said, interfaces have become so user-friendly that even a mediocre amount of ability, and the desire to sit and research, can yield great results. Seriously, all of this is easily within reach of every gym owner in America. It will take a weekend to set them all up, get some content up and start to let everyone know what you're about.

The concept of using social media is a big one, so let's break down a single element that has become a surprising (to me at least) success for us. Let's look at the utilization of YouTube as a medium to get your gym's message out there.

Starting a YouTube Channel

When we talked about starting a YouTube channel, I was suspect. I really didn't think it fit us. We weren't a mega-gym with a hundred members. We didn't want to be. I wasn't a world champion, so I couldn't believe that people outside the gym would actually bother to watch anything we posted. And it was so foreign, I didn't see it as a way to attract people.

Still, we needed to get the word out and keep internal morale up. It was this internal marketing that first made me cut our first wave of videos. I thought that it might allow us to make a sort of ongoing notebook for everyone. People could go in, review material from the previous week, look back and review when they found themselves missing details during open mat.

I had other friends and school owners using it much more aggressively, but I wanted a more laid back approach. Before we shot the first video, I really wanted to nail down an idea as far as the image I wanted out there about our school. Before I did that, I needed to know what kind of school I was going to run. Again, I'm not a world champ, not a high volume competitor, no well-known name outside the regional community, so what was I going to put out to the world to frame what made us special. Even though I wasn't looking at marketing outside yet, I was very aware that people would see it, particularly competitors in the market place. I wanted us to be accurate in what we were.

I settled onto my strengths and played from there. I know I'm not the most athletic competitor with cases full of medals, but what I am is a solid instructor with excellent technical knowledge of the system, down to the details. So that's what I made certain we put out there. What we were good at. This would turn out to be the best decision we could have made.

Here are a couple of examples that we looked at when developing our channel:

Rouge Warriors Training Compound (a friend of mine):

Kali Center)(my Kali instructor):

The key for me was to not try to imitate either (or anyone else) but to see what we as a gym could take either structurally or technically for our channel and then apply what we wanted to do instructionally.

We had a rough idea about what we were going to do. The how now became the pressing issue. Here's the thing: Google and YouTube make this obnoxiously easy. For those interested, just follow the links on the YouTube website to create an account. If you don't have a Gmail account, you'll need one, and the YouTube account will be linked to it. This is where you'll receive notifications. I'd break instructions down here, but I really can't do any better than YouTube's own walkthrough.

Filming For Your Channel

Once you've built the channel, and decided what you're going to fill it with, now you'll need to get down to the nuts and bolts of filming. This can be really disconcerting if you've never done it. There's a host of equipment available from professional quality setups to the camera on your smart phone to everything in between.

For most of our videos, we've used an old, but decent quality digital Flip camera. It's easy to use and download footage from, and we already had it. That said, it's severely lacking in external sound. If you're good with filming and have the right acoustics, you might not need an external mic. Personally, it's on my list for 2016. We've also utilized cell phone footage for more "in the moment" videos. You'll have to see what works for you and your needs.

Remember, being true to what your vision is will be the deciding factor on what works and doesn't on video. You can do all sorts of things to video these days, but none of it will matter if what you're doing isn't authentic and isn't comprehensible to viewers.

Once you've captured your raw footage, it's time to download it to your hard drive. Each system will be a bit different so instructions here are a bit beyond my scope. Most modern setups will either download the footage automatically or prompt you to do so. Once you have the footage on your computer, you'll be able to import it into the video editing software of your choice, such as Movie Maker for Windows or iMovie for Mac. I've used both. There are higher grade programs out there, but for the purposes of most schools, one of these two will be your go-to.

Which is better? I've used both, and getting anyone to agree on this is next to impossible. When you start, go with whatever system you currently have. That said, I run Mac now, so iMovie my preference. For me, it's a far superior setup, but this is entirely opinion-based. Take that for what it's worth. I bring it up only because I get asked all the time.

So what do you do to the video once you're at this stage? This is where you'll need to experiment to find out what serves your need best. We started very simple with a mission statement with little to no frills:

When I started this article, I wanted to not just do a walkthrough on how we came into our YouTube Channel and how we utilized it, but also wanted to give readers an idea of the process that we went through to get it to its current (not even close to final, I'm sure) form. That includes the good and bad. And let's face it, this is pretty bad. It's amazing that we even got our own people to watch it.

What saved us internally was that people really got a feel for the direction we were going with the triangle analogy (we still use this logo for its meaning, but we've removed my coaches name from over the top) and people get to understand how I think about jiu jitsu. The information is important and authentic to us. That said, there's a lot of technical errors here. As cool as it sounds to shoot the logo itself from outside so people see what they are looking for, the exterior of a busy strip mall is not the place to go for good sound. Particularly when you're using the equipment we are. This taught us a lot and would lead us to be more specific in how and where we decided to film.

As a side note, I'm furious now that I shot this in front of the cardio kickboxing class. Yes, it shows what we do, but fails to showcase what our core system is. I've often thought about taking this down, but I hope people end up here after they see our more current material. The video still hands out some important elements of what we do to this day.

Finding a Rhythm

While not the quality level we wanted, it was a start. After announcing our channel and intending it to be largely for our internal marketing, we started putting out weekly material that in some way reviewed major concepts for the week. It was a really good starting point and began to showcase what we were about: Solid, deep, technical instruction.

Here's an early effort:

This is where we started to find a rhythm. Also, these videos were much less of a lecture (as opposed to my first one), which immediately led to more response in the way of views. People tended to actually watch more of this video than our first. The analytics function on YouTube will become your best friend.

The analytics section lets you monitor all sorts of things. How many people are viewing your video, from where and for how long. All of these can be important and will help guide how you produce content for your channel. Check it often and monitor the response to how you are producing videos.

When you look at the video itself, you'll notice the background. We dealt with this for awhile. We preach technical jiu jitsu, we want students who want to do that. We have no MMA program nor do we want one. And yet here we are shooing in front of a cage. The message is mixed and your message and authenticity is everything. You might be stuck with a backdrop you don't want - we were - but find a way around it. This would have helped us clarify the content of our message quicker. Try to minimize the unsightly parts of your club in these videos. Again, why didn't I shut the restroom door in the background? Good question. Learn from my mistake. A couple of seconds of controlling the environment, past just noise control, will pay dividends in how people perceive your content.

As you can see, we're still pretty rudimentary here. With a little work, and I mean very little, you can make this much better in presentation.

Growing Our Views and Subscribers

Once we started to move on from there, we realized that a few more people were watching beyond just our people. Early on, we'd get 20-30 views regularly. Considering our adult membership runs around 20 people, this is an easy number to understand. But something started to happen. The channel began in the fall of 2014 while we were still at the old gym. By the spring of 2015, we had a bit of new life after re-branding as Alpha and moving to a new facility. In addition to a few more members, we had really kicked off a Facebook presence as well as Instagram.

Because of this, a few more people within the BJJ community were noticing us, at least regionally. We moved from 20 views on a video to closer to the 60-80 range. Additionally, we started to notice that our subscriptions had risen from members that were training at our gym to those outside our gym, as well. In fact, for a gym of 20 adult jiu jitsu members, by the spring of 2015, we had 100 subscribers. Now, please note I'm aware that these are small numbers compared to some of the big players out there, but for a small notebook level project for our gym, we suddenly realized that this was reaching further than suspected. We also started to notice that when we talked to prospects, almost half had looked at our YouTube channel via our Facebook posts. We started to realize we should take some extra time with it. We decided we should make sure that light branding and contact information was part of the channel.

We moved on to the following model:

Again, contact info including our phone number and address, tastefully inserted into an introductory slide, and that information plus a link to our Facebook page in the video description. We had tried this various ways, but iMovie made it very easy. With 5 minutes worth of work, the finished product is much better.

As a result, our videos started to receive 200-300 views each within 2-3 weeks time, instead of sub-100 levels. While this is not an indicator of new prospects, it certainly does move your name out there.

There are some things to note, as you're building a channel. Experiment with the descriptions of the videos that are posted. There is tons of great information out there that's easily accessible via internet search about how to make the most of this. At the most rudimentary level, make sure you're getting a snappy descriptor out with links to your other social media and contact information. Get your website information on it as well. It should be virtually impossible to not find you based on the information in the video description block. Make sure you link back to your older videos that are related to your new ones. This should create an easy transition from the video you're posting to the older material that will make people want to watch the videos in this order. This will drive up your viewership and further expose the breadth of what you do to the public.

Understand and use the "tags" section on your video, as well. Simply put, this will delineate who sees your material based on their search words in YouTube. It's important that you use these and use them well. This should include your gym and name as well as the coaches in your lineage if they are well known and people may look them up. This broadens your appeal and likelihood that interested parties randomly searching will find you. You should also be very specific in these tags on position, technique or tactic as many martial artists will search via these terms. Don't forget to tag generally, too. For instance, for the above video I might include these tags:

Side mount
Side mount escape
Rolling side mount escape

Jiu jitsu
Brazilian jiu jitsu
Martial arts

Again, you're maximizing the ways people can find you.

Experiment With Different Types of Content

Once you've experimented with the technical aspects of this, try the format of your videos, as well. People like all kinds of content. One we stumbled onto was this:

These comparison videos turned out to look really good as far as analytics. People watched them longer, and they received more views than others when spaced out. Further, they tend to attract more subscribers than other videos. Little things like that are why it's so important to watch analytics on your channel.

We tried some in-class footage once. Rather than conducting an artificial "how to," we shot some intimate footage from inside an ongoing class. This isn't as clean as the other video, but it goes to authenticity:

This gives prospective students a look at what a class actually is. I was dubious when we did it the first time. Even after editing. However, analytics don't lie. We got nearly 1,000 views over the first two of these we did. We're on track with the third to meet those numbers much earlier. Clearly, people like this type of video.

This is all the more reason to keep playing with it. Keep asking people to watch and then subscribe. It's surprising what people will do if you just ask. Once you're rocking with your channel, share it everywhere on your other social media outlets. Never spam, only share in spaces where people specifically opt-in to receive your updates (such as following you on Twitter or liking your Facebook page). Only share in online communities, like this one, if you are sure it is acceptable to post your own videos.

Expand past just technique when you get the chance. We've also highlighted interviews as well as promotions on our channels which tend to be both popular and often shared: and

With some practice and time shooting video, it's amazing what you can do. In a year, we've gone from a tiny, in-house notebook to a small but respectable (in the community) channel that has over 350 subscribers (from a gym of 20 members) and has been viewed not only locally but all over the world.

In this day and age, it's really not that hard to maintain a social media presence for your academy - a presence that helps you market your particular vision of your art. That's a powerful tool if properly used. Personally, I'd encourage readers to consider it if you're not already.

Moving forward, we want to experiment with monetization. We've recently monetized through YouTube and allowed ads. Again, this is easy to do and the vendor videos and walkthroughs are far better than I can detail. I'll have to wait and see, in a future article, to let you know if this hurt us at our size, didn't matter or was a positive. You just have to keep experimenting. I see us continuing to drive forward with in-class videos while augmenting with the occasional instructional clip. I also want to get more lively comments sections going on the channel to encourage debate, questions and learning. Lastly, I want to start working with an external mic for better sound. But we're getting there!

The best part about this powerful tool? The tiny cost incurred to get your brand of your art out there. With proper and consistent use, you can really produce quality content that will let prospective students know exactly what you are all about.

So, set down and find your message. Set up your channel and start shooting video! I can't wait to see it!
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KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27233
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2016 11:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for this submission, Alex. I think this is such a helpful piece for any school owner. YouTube offers such a tremendous opportunity, and you have done it in such a great way. I'm appreciative of you taking the time to explain how you have set up your channel and gone about deciding the how and why behind your content.

You originally wrote this piece in December, and I updated the numbers here to be more present day, but I'd be curious to see how you went about accomplishing some of the future goals you outlined toward the end and what, if any, parts of your perspective have changed.


Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
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Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 7:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great stuff!!

"A Black Belt is only the beginning."
Heidi-A student of the arts
Tae Kwon Do,Shotokan,Ju Jitsu,Modern Arnis
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14810
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article, Alex, across the board.

You're head up with the value of Branding, and how to protect the Brand, and how to reinvent the Brand and how to move the Brand. Brand management is everything, and you, Alex, have got that tiger by the tail...don't ever let go of it!!

**Proof is on the floor!!!
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 28080
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2016 10:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This was a great read, Alex! Thank you for sharing your learning process with us. This is great info!
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