Interview with “Teacher of Teachers”, John Graden

I did this interview with Mr. Graden back in 2005. If you are a martial arts professional you definitely know of him. His book Black Belt Management was revolutionary and he has helped so many martial arts instructors and school owners to make a living by doing what they love.

I think I have read all of his books and have learned a lot. I have interviewed with him over email in couple of occasions and he has graciously accomodated it although I am sure he is a very busy individual.

I hope we finally meet one day. Thank you sir for all you have done for martial arts.

What is your defintion of “McDojo”?

A McDojo is not known for good students, but gets your money. No one wants to be a McDojo and I work very hard to make sure my message is a balance between keeping our arts strong and helping instructors and club owners to earn high incomes. Martial arts that are well taught are worth a lot to a community. With the Martial Arts Teachers Association, ( we help schools and instructor learn the systems of organizing a club and teaching safe, professional classes that students enjoy and return to each week.

Tell us about your relationship with Grandmaster Joe Lewis.

When I was a kid, my two heros were Bruce Lee and Joe Lewis. When my friends and I used to play fight, one would say, “I’m Bruce Lee!” and the other, “I’m Joe Lewis” and then we would “karate fight.” In 1984, Mr. Lewis moved to my area, looked at the local black belts and chose me to be his sparring partner. It changed everything. I was a third degree but he took way beyond technique. Joe Lewis is a living treasure for the martial arts and I’d love to see him appreciated more worldwide. He is a genius in the arts and also a very generous man. We have been very close now for 20 years.

As a “teacher of teachers” we want to know what is unique about your instruction to your students and running your school?

I had a school with about 600 students and I was earning over $100,000.00 per year. I wrote a book on how I did that called, “Black Belt Management.” The book was a hit and I formed NAPMA which became the worlds’ largest martial arts professional association. MATA is my new organization and as I write this I am in the UK on a seminar tour. I teach martial arts instructors and club owners how to grow their schools, organize their classes, teach more professionally and actually build wealth with the school for their families. So my students are already martial arts experts, but I help them take it to a new level of professionalism and security.

Do you teach Joe Lewis fighting system in your school or you have your own system?

In my martial arts classes that I teach in my town, I teach a mixture of things, but the foundation, especially for fighting is the JLFS. It’s a great system because it is based only in what works. There is no baggage from any specific system or style that we have to honor. We honor the arts by training hard and acting with integrity, not by following a system.

I see there is an informal relationship in most of the north American schools between teachers and students. Do you think it helps to make  better relationship with students and help with teaching?

Formality has its place. I like to be called Mr. Graden by my students. That is standard in public schools as well. I am not a fan of Master or Grand Master or Supreme Grand Master. It’s ego driven and a sign of insecurity to me. There are Master Mechanics and Master Chess Players, but no one calls them Master. Silly.

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