Teaching Tiny Tots
Lesson 48 Chapter 3 Module 3
Teaching Preschool Age Children
Exclusive Interview: Melody Shuman
At the age of 27, Melody Shuman has had one of the biggest impacts in children martial arts since the Karate Kid movies first drove thousands of children to martial arts schools. Melody shares the reasons for her success, how she has broken down age and gender stereotypes and how she overcame the obstacles of teaching 3-7 year olds the martial arts that resulted in the famous Little Ninjas program.
WM: First, can you tell us a little more about your background and your history in the martial arts?
Melody Shuman: I started in the martial arts when I was 12 years old in New Orleans back in 1987 under the ATA organization. I took a hiatus in the martial arts when I moved to Florida, which was in 1990 after I got my first-degree black belt. I trained in 12 different schools and many different styles but nothing really took. So in 1994 when I saw an ATA truck driving by my neighborhood I followed it to the school. I enrolled immediately and in a matter of three weeks I quit my other job and started working for the owner, Sergio Von Schmeiling, full time. After I was working with him for 6 months I met my husband in an ATA tournament and moved down to Port Charlotte, FL. At the time, I was very heavy in the tournament competition and won world champion in the year 2000 and have 29 world champions right now. My husband is a 3-time world champion as well.
Initially when I came down to Port Charlotte, FL my husband was running the school with his parents with 125 students. In a matter of 5 years we built our schools to 4 locations with over 700 students and then sold two of the schools. We now have two schools left but still have 700 students.
WM: What programs do you teach at the school?
Melody Shuman: I teach the little ninja program. We have a separate little ninja for 3 year olds, 4 year olds, and 5-6 year olds. I also have a 7-8 year old Karate Kids Zone prep course and a 9-12 year old Karate Kids Zone curriculum. Then of course we have our traditional adult program as well as Kickboxing and Tai Chi.
WM: What is the demographic makeup of the school?
Melody Shuman: We have approximately 400 children and 300 adult students.
WM: What principles do you follow that have helped lead to your success?
Melody Shuman: The system of our curriculums. We have dissected what we have learned and how we have traditionally been taught to teach the martial arts. From that we have created very organized systems that focus on retention and the development of our students. It seems to do very well for us and has brought us lots of success.
WM: What is the hardest obstacle you have had to face on a professional level?
Melody Shuman: In general, I want to say our organization and seniors trying to control what we do is our biggest obstacle. As far as the students, parents and staff we have no real obstacles since we have a really good system down.
The exterior obstacles are the ones that really give us the challenge. Especially since my husband and I are so young. A lot of people pass a strong judgment on us, which is understandable, about whether or not we are qualified to do the programs the way we do, so it is just a matter of breaking those boundaries. And we are breaking the boundaries but its one at a time.
WM: Is Time Management important in your schedule and what if any principles do you follow?
Melody Shuman: Absolutely. The most important one is just what everyone recommends, listing out what you need to do each day and setting a daily schedule and sticking to it. I have always set a schedule, in the morning I always take care of any business work and of course in the afternoon I have my classes but a lot of the time I never really followed my schedule and I said as long as I write it down it is going to happen but it didn't happen that way. I really have to discipline myself to follow my schedule accordingly.
WM: Are there any areas in your life that you are trying to improve?
Melody Shuman: Every single area. I am always trying to improve. I have to constantly remind myself that in order to be successful I have to stick to my goals and still being very young, I am only 27 years old, I am always finding and seeking out the tools that will help. A lot of the time when I sought out the tools I didn't use them. Internet marketing is a perfect example. Someone approached me two years ago about Internet marketing, I said yeah yeah that is great, I asked him a lot of questions, I knew what to do but I never did it. So I missed out on two years of potential success, so I am just recently jumping on that and making it a priority in my school and again the principle is you hear a good idea and you say yeah yeah yeah but if you don't follow it you are not going to succeed and its easier said than done.
WM: Many schools have tried to start their own little ninja type programs and have had a tough time. How were you able to do it so successfully?
Melody Shuman: When we originally started the Little Ninjas Program we had the same barriers that other schools owners had. For example kids with ADHD, you just don't want to teach them because they are hard work. When we created the Little Ninjas program we researched the 8 fundamental skills that children are developing at that age. So now you are targeting their developmental skills that they need and have as opposed to a watered down curriculum that was originally written for the male in the early 20's. So once we got that system down and we implemented the Little Ninjas program teaching the classes became easy and we have expanded from having a small Little Ninjas system in our school to being in over 800 schools.
WM: Do you feel that your young age and gender have been obstacles in your career? For example, this is such a male dominant industry and on top of being female you are pretty young.
Melody Shuman: When I first started working for NAPMA and doing the Little Ninjas program I had a hard time especially in my organization “ even one of the higher masters said to me You are a young female what can you possibly teach me and what are you doing educating the industry? It taught me a good lesson. Don't go up there and be arrogant and say this is how you need to do it and I am the best because I did it this way. It made me very humble, so now when I do my presentations I respect everybody out there for being martial arts instructors and educators because it's the greatest job in the world and its one of the hardest jobs in the world and its one of the most underpaid jobs in the world “ just like being a teacher.
So when I do my presentation I try to remain very humble. Once I lost the cockiness I used to have I found my age and gender to be an advantage. It seems that everybody is a little more open to getting my opinion, and saying, okay, she is doing it and she is a young female then maybe it will be easier. You know when you are a senior educated master up there saying what to do, they can say well sure you are a senior educated master you are going to be able to make it work.
On the interior I used to come across those barriers because the martial arts industry was so different a decade ago, but now being a female makes it a little more easy for parents to bring their kids in and they are little more secure and comfortable knowing that its not just an older male instructor educating their children. They see a young female on the classroom floor and on the deck running the programs, so it balances out and reaches out to a bigger market and we are able to accommodate more people and more needs.
WM: I bet you are also a very good role model to your female students too, especially the children.
Melody Shuman: Absolutely. I tell you, if you go to our black belt club class, 70% are girls and 30% are boys. Well its not intentional and that we don't attract the boys. Girls are a little easier to keep committed on something then a boy because a boy wants to do so many other sports and things. Girls really don't extend their interest in the physical activities as much as they do in other activities. But the martial arts seems to retain that interest because girls are not really interested in dropping out and going into baseball or football, so they stick with the martial arts a lot longer and I think that is why they make black belt, stay at black belt, and are very good too because they do have a good female role model. So it's great.
WM: What types of marketing and advertising have been successful for you?
Melody Shuman: We have what is called a one-on-one card, which is an idea I learned from Andy Silver who is in Miami, Florida. He took the NAPMA postcard and he printed the school information on the back and on the side he created a spot for the name, address, phone number of the person. He told all his staff to go out and offer a week of free classes in the martial arts to people. If they say yes, get their name and number and then the program director will call them back to schedule an appointment.
So I extended that idea to my staff and I made requirements “ for example you have to do ten a week, so every week you have to get ten people's names and phone numbers offering a free week of lessons. My program director calls them back, but the reward for it is that for every person signs up they get 50% of the down payment, so its an incentive for them to earn commission and motivates them to go out there and get students and enroll them into the school.
WM: Since you have an inside perspective, what is it like working with NAPMA?
Melody Shuman: NAPMA is the real deal. Even like yourself, having your Internet company that is a successful business and backed by your experience in the martial arts, I think that is essential to a martial arts school owner, saying look I've been there and done that. This is what I have experienced in the past and that is why I was motivated to provide you with this material.
It is also not just the inside NAPMA members who are providing the material to the other martial artists. We actually spend a lot of time networking with other martial artists and school owners. We ask them what is working and they provide us with the information and then we organize it in a way that makes sense for the entire industry. If it just us getting together and telling everybody what we think and us being very close minded we won't have as much room for growth. I only know so much and two heads are better than one and that is the philosophy that NAPMA has so that is why we spend a lot of time as a bunch of black belts finding other black belts who are doing it right too.
WM: What are you goals for the future?
Melody Shuman: Currently my goal is to make myself as educated as possible, specifically in the children's martial arts education. I am trying to build a strong knowledge of how children grow, learn and develop. So the martial arts program can be the best possible program you can provide to children and after that I want to get national exposure and attention from people who influence are nation like Oprah. I would love to hear Oprah say, wow the martial arts industry is not the same as it used to be. This is what martial arts education is doing for children these days and I strongly recommend that every single parent put their child in a martial arts program because I am firm believer that there is nothing better that you can put your child in right now because it targets them physically, mentally and emotionally.
Of course my other goals are to open and franchise martial arts schools and then sell them.
WM: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Melody Shuman: It's all work. I am always trying to read and educate myself. I guess for fun I hang out at the beach and enjoy the sunset.
WM: When are you the happiest?
Melody Shuman: To tell you honestly, it is when I step off stage at a NAPMA convention or seminar. It is uplifting. The energy and synergy that everybody is providing in that seminar and seeing everybody want knowledge, knowing that there is a wealth of knowledge out there and your are able to dig it up and put it together in a way that makes sense, to be able to give it to the martial arts instructors and them not only listen to it and learn from it but to be inspired by it and get very excited. I step off stage feeling like I have the best job in the world, in which I think I do because I have a combination of the top three jobs in the world. The number one job is being a parent, number two is being a teacher and number three is being an entertainer because you are making people laugh and have fun. As a martial arts instructor and consultant I get to be a combination of all three, so I can't complain.