The Teacher & The Fighter


Randy: Dojo Nation Times. We’ve got a real treat this month. We’ve got Mr. Dave Kovar on the line along with his top guy Mr. Nick Wilson. Hello gentlemen. How are we doing today?

Dave: Good morning. Doing great.

Randy: Perfect. For those of you who out there might live on a mountain somewhere and don’t have Internet or phone or don’t know who Master Kovar is, Dave, could you just run us through a quick background of your martial arts history? It’s quite extensive.

Dave: When I was five or six years old, I saw a silhouette of a guy doing a flying sidekick, and I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started wrestling in seventh grade, and karate soon after. I opened up a school about six months out of high school, in November 1978, and this is pretty much all I’ve ever done. I’ve had a school for a long time. I still enjoy training. So I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I’ve trained a lot of different systems, which is good and bad. I’m happy with the path I’ve chosen, because it matches my personality. There’s guys that are maybe deeper in a particular area, and that’s one path. We do a lot of different things pretty good but not great. That would be my synopsis. My passion is, obviously, sharing martial arts with other instructors and people, that we can get the whole business and industry to the next level.

Randy: How many locations do you have with your schools in California?

Dave: We have nine locations in the Sacramento area and we have four back east, and we coach about 160 locations.

Randy: Now, if I remember right, you’ve been awarded black belts in 10 different systems, haven’t you?

Dave: I have. Yes, sir. I do have a black belt in 10 different systems.

Randy: I’ve been fortunate enough to train with you in the past and you’re proficient in all of them. You’ve got an incredible martial arts background. You’re one of the guys who walk the walk. I think that anybody who’s in martial arts knows that you really set a standard as a martial artist and training, now that you’re in your 50s. But more importantly, you’re one of the real good guys and one of the real givers of our industry and have done so much for professional martial arts. We all thank you, and it’s exciting to have people like you in our profession. Because sometimes, as we know, we’re not all perfect, and sometimes we have some less than perfect folks in here and it’s nice to have you to balance it out for the rest of us, I can say.

Dave: Well, thanks for thinking so. I’m honored to be a part of it. I know we’re going to introduce Nick Wilson. Nick Wilson has been training with us for like 20 years…I always forget, sir. How long?

Nick: 27 years.

Dave: Yeah, 27 years. He started when he was a little kid. What makes Mr. Wilson special is he’s a constant at martial arts. He’s also a multi-style black belt. He’s incredibly passionate, but also a really excellent leader in our organization, an excellent teacher. I’m real excited about it. He’s been working with us since high school. He now is full time promoting the Satori Alliance program. He’s the general manager of that organization. We’re seeing great growth with it.

Randy: There’s probably 15 different things we could discuss in our interview this month with you, and we’re going to get you back. I’m sure you’ll be. We’ll do several interviews. But one of the things that I’m really excited about for you and for the martial arts profession and for myself, because I’m going to be utilizing it, is the Satori Alliance that you’ve started. For people that don’t know, it’s a training program for martial arts instructors. I just recently started working a little bit with it. I haven’t been able to put the time into it that I’m going to be putting into it over the summer with my staff. It’s a chance to attach your wagon to the training methods that made your schools and you so incredibly successful over these years. That’s my little outline of it. Can you give your outline of it?

Dave: As you know, sir, we’ve been doing instructor training for a really long time. We started … I don’t know if you know this, all humility aside, in about 1981. I was 21 years old, 22, I had this guy, he was one of my students, approach me, and he said, “Let’s do some videos, VHS martial arts videos.” So I go, “Okay.” We actually had one of the first martial arts videos that we advertised in Black Belt Magazine in the early 80s. That was my foray in it, long distance instruction, so to speak. Then, of course, in the early ’90s, we put together the How to Teach Martial Arts to Kids series. I was strongly influenced by my brother saying, “Hey, Dave, come on. You’re out there doing good on the mat, and there seems to be some good stuff that we’re doing, but we’ve got to be able to systematize it. Let’s sit down and figure out what it is that’s working and come up with some slogans and some names and start categorizing a little bit.” That was kind of our first effort at it.

Then in ’97, we wrote the MACT manual, the Martial Arts Career Training manual, which was kind of a 10 week leadership program. As a matter of fact, people still use it to this day. Between that and the How To Teach series, that was kind of the impetus to what developed into what we’re now doing, called the Martial Arts Instructors College, which I’ve been doing extensively for the last eight or nine years. Now, the whole time when I’m out and about, I’ve seen first a couple of things, First off, how much better instructors are than they were 25 years ago, as far as teaching goes..

I also just saw the need to really have some systematized instructors’ guideline. Of course, we’re not talking about how to throw a side kick or a reverse punch. We’re talking about how to interact, how to teach, how to motivate, all those things that go into being a good teacher. This is a project that we’ve been working on literally for years. Then about three years ago, I sat down with Mr. Wilson here and we started thinking, “Hey, man, what do you think of this?” You’re familiar with the story about how you have the jar, and you put some big rocks in it, and it’s not quite full, then you put some pebbles in it, it’s still not full, you put some sand in it and some water?

Well, I had some big rocks and maybe some pebbles with the program. What Mr. Wilson and his team did is he put in a bunch of the rest of the pebbles and filled it with sand and then water. So now we’ve got this really complete program that people actually, regardless of style, we help train their instructors, is what we can do in a legitimate fashion. Mr. Wilson, why don’t you add? What can you tell them, a bit more, about the storyline that I didn’t touch on?

Nick: Our whole intent with coming up with the Satori Alliance, what we wanted to do is make sure that we weren’t just giving you the information on how to teach better classes but also making sure that the people that are within the association are able to really apply those lessons. That was first and foremost. We didn’t want anybody to sign up and then they get a certificate in the mail that doesn’t really mean anything. Mr. Kovar’s point is we have both online training and onsite testing, and that’s how we can really ensure that all the lessons that they’re learning in class, they’re actually able to do in a real-life format.

Dave: We’ve got high-level MMA guys, traditional karate guys, et cetera, that have been through it. The kind of emphasis is with it. What does it mean? What are we training? Basically, if you think of, what of our instructors call it, we have 16 teaching tips. We have the SSL rules, smiling, sweating and learning, and praise, correct, praise, and the three by three rule, all these rules that have been very helpful to get an instructor up to par. What we’ve done is we’ve categorized this and put this into an online program where they’ll watch a video on a particular topic, and they’ll take a test, and there’s actually in level on instructor over 600 questions.

Nick: Yeah, there’s 120 lessons and 600 questions they have to answer just to pass the online portion.

Dave: It’s kind of just for someone who wants to take it. But if they want the next level, then there’s this whole system where they actually have to do a live, legitimate test. It’s legitimate. This is a serious thing where they’re tested on how well they can do a huddle discussion, if they’ve got kids that are getting out of line, how can they control them in the best way possible, how can they motivate them, and how can they talk to parents. What we’ve done is we’ve made it very universal.

I think this is the point I want to make, and you know this, Mr. Reid, and I know this, but what we’re not trying to do is sell this from a greed standpoint. Like, “You’ve got to do this. It’s going to make your school millions of dollars if you join Satori Alliance.” The reality is you and I know the impact that really good instructors or really bad instructors have on the schools, the longevity and the health of it. Honestly, you’ve got some well-trained instructors, your school is going to be massively more successful, as you know.

Randy: Years ago, I had a pretty big organization. We had 20-something schools up here in Wisconsin, and we were very successful and a bunch of those guys are still very successful. Having done this for so long, there’s some things that I think are must-dos for school owners. And I think every school owner needs to study the Dave Kovar system. I know we’ve had you up here to Wisconsin, we’ve been out there, and your trainings had a massive effect on our success here in Wisconsin. So when you came out with the Alliance, of course, I’m the first guy, I’m on that. I haven’t been able to do as much as I want to with it yet, but the little bit that I did, I was sharing with Mr. Wilson the other day, I sat down some of my junior staff and had them start going through the first lessons. One of the lessons shows the wrong three ways to do something. One of them was right and two of them were wrong.

Dave: Right.

Randy: As he was demonstrating the wrong way to do it, the staff turned and looked at one of our guys and said, “That’s you,” and it just stuck out like a sore thumb, and he knew it, too. What a great resource, to be able to sit down and take my staff through this! It’s just going to be a mandatory thing to have the Dave Kovar system in your toolbox. In fact, you have that program called the Toolbox. What a great analogy! But there’s a lot of great programs out there and sometimes people think, “Well, I’ve got to have A or I’ve got to have B.” This is the basic 101 all the way through the top program that these guys should run through. Once it’s in your pocket, it’s going to make you and your staff better and result in better students.

I’m in a situation where I’m doing a lot of different things, so I’m kind of mad at myself because I’m not spending as much time training my staff as I should. But, man, I can have them going through this program. Like you say, there’s a very comprehensive test, and at the higher levels they come on site and it’s a real, real test. If people go on that site, they’re going to see something. This isn’t your weekend six-hour thing at a seminar and you get a certificate. You’re real. I can’t imagine it can’t do anything but make the school fantastic. So I certainly highly recommend it, and that’s what got me excited about it. Where do you see this thing going as it grows and grows? I think you’re going to have a real winner here and I think the profession needs it.

Dave: Thank you. We’re excited. I would encourage you to give those log-ins to your teammates and get them going. You step out of the way. I know that’s what Mr. Wilson is thinking, too.

Randy: I’m the liability, man. I’ll get my guys ramped up this summer.

Dave: Yeah. Well, I think the whole intention with this is that we sincerely want to raise the standard of the martial arts industry. This is really practical, functional stuff that people can put to work really well. It’s not just for your head instructors. We’ve got a whole leadership component. So you have those younger guys that are coming up. It’s an actual legitimate portal that helps them get to the next level. Our intention is we would like at some point to get you to a level where, when someone asks about martial arts, “Oh, yeah, I’m thinking about getting my kid involved,” that people go, “Make sure they’re a Satori Alliance certified school.” Part of the deal to be a full Satori Alliance certified instructor, you have to have a background check, fingerprinted, CPR certified, all those things that we should do.

Randy: Right, I agree 100%.

Dave: Concussion training, first aid, all those things that we, as an industry, should do. If industry should do that stuff, we should do that stuff. We don’t want anybody else to police us. If we don’t do it, the government is going to do it. So we want to be ahead of that. That’s our intention with this and we’re excited about going forward.

Randy: What my intention to do with my people, and I’ve discussed it but I haven’t laid it out completely yet, and this kind of follows the system that Nick Sarillo does, the guy that wrote That Slice of the Pie

Dave: Yeah.

Randy: He’s in the pizza business, but he’s in the staff business. He has a big wall downstairs in his restaurants, and it lists every job in the restaurant, and then it lists every employee, so it’s a grid. They have a way to check out and certify in each job, how to make a pizza, how to make a salad, how to clean a table, how to bus a table. As they certify in each on of these, they get a raise. So he doesn’t give people raises. He says, “They give themselves raises.” What I want to do is I want to take this wonderful video training program course that you have and I’m going to say, “At these different levels, you get a raise. This is what you have to do to get it,” and give them the motivation and the reward for sitting down and doing the training.

There’s been a lot of people who have…well, you did it, too. Back in the day, you sent out VHS tapes and that sort of thing. That’s kind of old-school stuff and now online training is one of the biggest things on the planet. I mean, one of the biggest, most high-profit universities is Phoenix University. It’s a whole online thing. Everywhere you go people are utilizing it. I guess what I’m saying is this isn’t a new thing for these kids or these young people. They’re used to training online. Man, with the videos and the training and the testing and everything you guys do, you can’t beat it. So I’m excited about it.

Dave: We see the potential in it. Mr. Wilson wants to say something.

Nick: One of the things that we’re working on right now as far as the marketing goes that’s going to help your school is imagine that you had a poster hanging up at your school that basically shows all the different lessons that your instructors have to go through to be Satori Alliance instructor certified. That way, the other members of the school and the parents are seeing that [and saying] “Wow, all the instructors at my school, they have to learn all these lessons, and that’s what they’re certified in.” Again, it kind of gains credibility.

Randy: I love it.

Dave: Another thing that I really want to point out to our listeners is that this doesn’t have anything to do with any martial arts style that you belong to. So it’s real clear, whatever organization that you come from, this is not a conflict. I know someone will say, “I’m already in this Jiu Jitsu federation” or “I’m already in this karate federation.” That has nothing to do with any of that. This works hand-in-glove with that. It’s not an either-or. This is an in-addition-to. With that said, we do have a component for people. There’s a lot of orphans out there and you’ve adopted orphans, I’m sure, Mr. Reid, as have I in my travels, and people that don’t really have an instructor, their instructor retired or hasn’t moved up in rank, et cetera, that are looking to go to the next level. Satori Alliance actually has a component for people who are looking to move forward in rank, but it is very comprehensive. It’s not like, “Okay.”

We do an assessment. Mr. Wilson and I have done several assessments. We’ve got a bunch of people in the process now. We assess where they are, all their prior training, and then we basically give a prescription of what they need to do to get to the next level, and it’s very intense. That’s another. It’s not for everybody. Some people are involved in Martial Arts Association and they don’t need that, but there’s a lot of guys, as a matter of fact, a lot more than we thought, have been really showing interest in this. So that is another option for people to be able to progress forward in rank as well.

Randy: The other thing that I see, we all have our strengths as martial artists, and we all have our weaknesses. On a personal level, so it’s easier for me to relate to this, for me to sit down and build the system, it’s a lot of work, as you know. You guys just did it. It’s a tremendous amount of work. I don’t have the time or the energy right now, even if I have the knowledge. You spent basically your life teaching teachers and helping teachers to become better teachers. So I look at this as a done-for-me answer for what I want. Now, if I thought I could do it better than you, and if I thought I were a better instructor than you, that’s all irrelevant, because I just don’t have the time, energy, knowledge or desire to build this thing. So if I can have that assistance and I know that based on your reputation, your success in what you’ve done… You didn’t start this five years ago. You’ve been at this as long as I have, 40-something years. You’ve got a track record of success. If anybody has ever been to your school, you see they’re just tremendous places.

Now I know that my staff is going to connect with that and go through that system and have that, as I said before, in their toolkit. I think it’s fantastic, and it’s something our industry needs. It needs it. I can’t stress how much I think we need this thing. I can’t stress, as I’ve told you before, how I think you are the guys to do it. There’s other people who have tried similar stuff, but they’re coming at it from a point of greed. I know you, and I’ve known you for a long time, and I know you’re doing the right thing, and I know your heart’s in the right place and I can’t imagine this thing is going to be anything but successful. Also, I don’t know why you had to get a model, a good-looking male model, and Nick Wilson to be your guys (laughs!). You’ve got the right guy right here.

Dave: Oh, man. (laughs)

Randy: You get the handsome double out there. Instead of us old guys putting our pictures on it, you get a young guy like Nick out there. That’s what’s going to bring them all in.(laughs)

Dave: Careful, his head is swelling right now. I want to leave everybody…I know we have a limited time, and you’re not going to listen forever. I have another comment. I kind of want to leave everybody with a thought, and that is there’s two things that go into becoming a really good martial arts instructor, and this is just general information. This isn’t about the Satori Alliance. This is just things people need to remember. It’s the will and the skill. I think first and foremost what I always go to is it’s a hard business. It’s hard to teach five or six classes a night. But, man, when you remember how lucky we are to be able to do this, and you and I were talking about this before we started taping, how lucky we are to do what we do for a living, and the impact we’re having, that always makes me appreciative of the experience. Then, of course, the skill, meaning we have to be forever learners, and we all got to be out there. I know a lot of guys that have been doing this for 30, and they’ll tell you, “I have 30 years experience,” but they really have one year of experience they’ve repeated 30 times.

Randy: Good point, yeah.

Dave: You have to be constantly, constantly striving to get to the next level. If we can do that, man, we all benefit. I think the deal is, when you do a good job in Wisconsin, and I know your Wisconsin guys, it’s a great crew you have out there, we actually benefit in California from that, from you guys doing a good job, because it raises the standard, because inevitably your students have cousins that live in Sacramento. When they call and say, “Oh, you’ve got to get your kids in martial arts. It’s been great,” the rising tide lifts all boats, of course, as we’ve heard the phrase. If we can all continue to teach martial arts, everybody, not just in our community, benefits. That’s not easy, but that’s the goal.

Randy: Yeah. This product, or whatever you want to call it, the Satori Alliance, this organization, the end product is someone like Nick Wilson, and now you’ve put him in charge of it. Anybody that meets him and talks to him, and sees how he conducts himself and what he’s doing with this, and watching the training he’s helping with down there, they would all love to have a Nick Wilson as their chief instructor at their schools.

Dave: They can’t. Just so you’re clear, they can’t. Laughs!

Randy: Nick, you want to put in some final thoughts?

Nick: Yeah. One thing that I really see is I really see the Satori Alliance and our relationship with our members as really a partnership. It’s not like we’re going to be necessarily, “You have to do it this way,” which we are in some capacity, but what I’m also looking for is feedback from all of our members, like “Okay, man, what can we do to make…” Our program we feel like is a really rock-solid program, but it’s constant, never-ending improvement. We’re always going to be trying to make it better. As we continue to grow, and as time goes, it’s only going to get better. It’s all about feedback that we’re getting from all of our members. We’re really excited about the future of what this can be.

Randy: I am, too. I can always use another trip to California.

Dave: All right. You’re always welcome, sir.

Randy: All right. Gentlemen, I’ll let you get back to work. I’m going to get back to work. The readers thank you, and I thank you, and we look forward to watching this thing grow over the next few years. I think that it’s going to be a pretty exciting time. Thanks, again.

Dave: Okay, cool. Thank you.

Nick: Thank you sir!


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