Did you see the response from KNX14?
KNX14 (The Karate Nerd Experience 2014) was my first world-wide Karate seminar – and hundreds of people have already signed up to get invited next year.
I’m humbled & grateful for all the support.
But, some people have been asking me:
“How did you do it?”
How could I, a relative beginner at arranging events, pull something like this off?
I’ve actually discovered there are several secrets to organizing an unforgettable Karate seminar.
Today, I want to share 10 of them with you.
My hope is that this article can help you host your own world-class seminar, camp or event in the future – either with me or someone else.
(And if you have any secrets of your own, feel free to share in the comment section!)
Check it out:
#1: Research, Research, Research.
This is the first step.
Yet, for some reason, it’s surprisingly often overlooked.
But it’s crucial to the success of your event.
“Who is my ideal seminar attendee?”
This is a question you must ask yourself.
The answer is found through diligent research, preferably a few weeks before you do any promotion or marketing.
To illustrate my point; at KNX14 I wanted to deliver an unforgettable experience to my blog readers – Karate Nerds™ (people who are passionate about all aspects of Karate).
Don’t be afraid to go very specific.
- For example, you could have a seminar targeted at Shotokan practitioners, 40+ years of age, suffering from stress injuries in back, shoulders or knees. The event could cover topics like rehab/prehab, joint mobility exercises, correct execution of techniques, myofascial/soft tissue therapy and related stuff.
- Or, you could do a seminar for young Karate-ka, 13-17 years of age, who want to make it to your country’s national team in kumite. The event could include sparring, speed drills, strength & conditioning, defensive/offensive tactics, theory session with a certified judge and so on.
Whatever you’re passionate about!
Now that you’ve defined who – the next questions are; where and when?
In the case of KNX14, by using simple tools like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights, I found out that the majority of my readers were located in USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and other English-speaking countries.
I decided to narrow it down even further.
The result was Frankfurt, Germany – a perfect location for my readers across Europe.
(But it didn’t stop nerds from Mozambique, India and Brazil from attending.)
Then, through a simple survey, I learned that the best month for KNX14 was August.
It doesn’t have to be more advanced than this.
Please note that these factors are highly unlikely to be identical for you. That’s why you must invest time in research to ensure your event is successful.
#2: Think “Humanity”. Not “Karate”.
The attendees of your seminar are humans who practice Karate.
Not the other way around.
So, think humanity first.
Keep it personal and intimate. Make everyone feel seen and heard. If you don’t remember everyone’s names, your seminar is too big. Encourage questioning. Don’t expect crazy perfection. Have fun. Smile. Be light on rituals and Japanese terms.
I’ve been to many seminars where it seemed more important to strictly follow holy orders from an authority figure or fit into some artificial hierarchy than actually learning useful stuff.
What a waste of human essence.
For this reason, at KNX14 I kept the maximum number of attendees to 36. And when we bowed in to my lessons, I told everyone to sit in a circle and bow to each other.
We are all equal.
(That’s why we wore pink belts too.)
In other words, try to see the person behind the Karate gi. It’s very easy to lose track of humanness among all the rituals, ranks, titles and weird sh*t we do in the Karate world.
#3: Have a Mind-Tickling Theme
You can’t please everybody.
Therefore, it’s good to have a theme for your event (so people know if it will suit them).
Tournament kata? Street-fighting? Kumite? Teaching pedagogy? Bunkai? Kobudo? Beach training? Improving kicks? How to survive a sharknado?
Make sure people know what they’re getting into.
It’s vital that you understand the expectations of the participants, and align it 100% with your theme. Be very clear about what you are going to teach – but also what you are not going to teach.
Your theme should ultimately act as a seminar content guide.
In the case of KNX14, the theme was based on an Oriental concept known as “On Ko Chi Shin” – “Learn from the Old to Understand the New”. This theme connected every training session, theory lesson and secret activity (ballet!) that we did, on many levels.
As sensei Steve Jobs once famously said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward.
You can only connect them looking backwards.”
Try make people connect the dots in your theme.
Make them expand their minds.
(Funnily enough, when you realize that you’ve heard the *exact* same feedback from an Italian world champion scientist, an Israeli street fighting expert and a Russian ballet virtuoso, you can’t help but connect the dots!)
There is nothing new under the sun, right?
Learn from the Old to Understand the New.
Or whatever else you decide to have as theme.
#4: Get Brilliant Experts (Don’t Fake It)
Many Karate instructors teach things they don’t know.
It rarely works out well.
(I know, because I’ve tried it myself.)
So, make sure you teach the stuff you absolutely love and know…
…or get outside experts to help you do it.
There is no shame in bringing champions or masters from other fields/styles/countries to help you conduct a seminar.
For example; at KNX14 I wanted to provide the perfect mix of old-school Okinawan Karate with modern, scientific Karate (the theme, remember?).
So I invited the best Karate instructors in the world to share their expertise with us:
- Dr. Lucio Maurino is 22 times Italian/European/World champion in kata and brilliant at optimizing Karate techniques using motor science and biomechanics. It’s a joy to watch him move and explain. I’ve written about him before (like here or here).
- Sensei Shai Hai is an Okinawan Uechi-ryu streetfighting expert bodyguard from Israel. He looks like a killing machine (which he is), but his humility, kindness and humor overshadowed even the most brutal techniques we practiced. He was actually the “Secret Sensei” for KNX14 – and although we’ve only met once, it feels like we’ve been friends for years.
(Unless you let him kick you in the leg. Then you will regret it. Trust me.)
- And last but not least – me. The Karate Nerd™. Bridging the gap between old and new. Connecting the dots.
If you arrange a seminar, don’t be afraid to bring in outside guests.
Teach the things you know and love, but let others do their thing.
You don’t have to be a master of everything.
I mean, we had frickin’ ballet as one of the secret activities at KNX14. Come on, I could never teach that!
Also, don’t underestimate the power of inspiration.
People LOVE to see an expert move.
#5: Let Participants Connect & Socialize
We are social creatures by nature.
It’s in our DNA.
Although the degree of that nature varies (some are introvert, some are extrovert), there must be enough space and time for participants to connect and socialize with each other at your event.
For this reason, don’t be afraid to organize activities outside of training.
It doesn’t have to be super serious!
Play some dart. Shoot some hoops. Kick some ball. Massage each other!
For instance, at KNX14 I had the idea of doing Shodo (Japanese calligraphy) for all participants. So we got a Japanese sensei to hold an evening lesson for us, showing how us to write everything from “Bushi” (“Warrior”) to “Karate Otaku” (“Karate Nerd”).
Free gift! You can download the Karate Nerd artwork here.
This was a great way to not only relax, but also socialize, have fun, be creative and get to know Japanese culture.
Within minutes, people had made new friends.
Speaking of connecting people, it’s vital that you realize there are 3 fundamental stages of connection in your seminar:
Before, during, and after the event.
People need to be taken care of during all three stages of interaction.
(This is where many organizers fail.)
For KNX14 I set up a private facebook group only for the participants. Weeks before the actual event, people started introducing themselves, sharing ideas, asking questions and eventually meeting up for beer!
Even now, after the event, I have daily contact with participants online; answering their questions, getting valuable feedback, providing them with exclusive pictures, videos and study material.
The connections formed at KNX14 will live on until KNX15.
Let people socialize – both online and offline.
Before, during and after your event.
#6: Have an Awesome Team
It’s impossible to arrange a great seminar without a team.
Unless you are a mastermind.
So, if you are a perfectionist OCD freak like me, make sure you have a team that understands your manic need for creative control.
Basically, you need two kinds of people in your team:
- People close to you (friends & family). These are people you know on a personal level, who you trust. They can help with sensitive stuff (like economic calculations, personal interactions with guest instructors or payments) and will help you solve critical problems that occur behind the scenes. Like that moment at KNX14 when I lost the gym keys… Oops!
- People not close to you (people you hire). These are people who can handle objective orders without any emotional attachment. Sometimes, especially when you’re stressed, you start barking commands – so it’s valuable to have people in your team who don’t take it personally. It’s just a job for them. They can clean up in the dojo, bring water/food (catering service), drive people, sell t-shirts etc.
Also, if you can chat at 2 am to discuss whether cucumber or avocado is best for your event’s sushi rolls, you know your team is AWESOME. Thanks Matthias-san!
It’s important that your guest instructors are team players too.
When I started planning KNX14, I had a huuuuge list of talented guest instructors and secret sensei. But once I weeded out the ones I knew had too much ego (despite their talent and/or knowledge), my list was substantially decimated.
You see, the atmosphere of your seminar is key.
People don’t always remember what you teach them.
But they always remember how you made them feel.
Make sure everyone is a team player.
#7: Knowledge is King (Not Gimmicks)
The sight of 36 Karate Nerds™ from 20+ countries dancing ballet, in pink belts, to the music of Chopin, will probably remain etched in my mind forever.
That secret activity was the perfect way to end a camp!
But don’t get it twisted.
The main purpose of a seminar must always be knowledge.
People attend a seminar expecting to learn things they cannot get from a book or video. They want that next-level knowledge. Those hard-earned nuggets of wisdom that can never be accurately conveyed through text or pictures.
Stuff that only champions, experts or master instructors can teach.
It’s your responsibility, and privilege, to deliver this.
Otherwise, I honestly don’t think you should conduct a seminar.
In the case of KNX14, I actually underestimated what a striking visual impact the pink (momo-iro) belts would have for the post-event pictures and videos, which made some people believe KNX14 was not “serious.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
(Those of you who ordered the video will soon understand why.)
The amount of time we spent admiring our pink belts was nothing compared to the time we spent learning about the art, science, history and essence of Karate.
Because, at the end of the day, that’s what counts.
On a high level.
#8: Professional Video & Photo
I love to take pictures and film from seminars.
But sometimes when I attend seminars, I’m not allowed to film.
This drives me nuts!
So, please do what I did for KNX14: As a professional service, I hired an amazing local filmmaker to shoot the whole seminar in high quality. He then converts and edits (color correct, adjust lights, exposure etc) the movie, before I finally send it to all participants.
This takes a few weeks, but is totally worth it!
- Attendees can focus on training, instead of filming or taking photos.
- The host can focus on organizing & teaching, instead of filming or taking photos.
As a bonus, you get better result when a professional does the camerawork.
See for yourself:
Plus, you can use the material for promoting future events!
(Or offer it as a service to people who couldn’t attend.)
But whatever you do, never ask your seminar attendees for their cameras.
That’s just silly.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of professionality; get some bespoke certificates, rollups, banners, goodie bags, t-shirts etc. printed.
It’s not cheap.
But it makes all the difference.
#9: Evaluate Feedback Afterwards
“How did the seminar go?”
“What should be improved for next time?”
“Did everything go as planned? Why/why not?”
Right after your event is over, evaluate it.
If you plan on hosting more seminars in the future, these questions are vital to ask. As a wise man once said; if you cannot learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.
Your seminars must steadily improve!
For example, I already have over 100 points of improvement for next year’s KNX15.
Take this step seriously.
The feedback must be brutally honest, written down and saved. It should ideally come from participants, instructors and your team members. Most of it will be behind-the-scenes stuff.
- Some of it will sting.
- Some of it will be nice.
But no matter how awesome your seminar was, don’t expect all attendees to return for next time. That’s highly improbable. It’s not personal, it’s just statistics.
Do a proper evaluation, as soon as possible.
#10: Have Fun & Enjoy Yourself
Lastly, I want to mention a trap that I often fall into myself:
Enjoy the moment.
And be proud.
If you’ve managed to gather likeminded Karate practitioners together for a weekend seminar, try to enjoy the action! Planning is over. Have fun. Train hard. Make friends. Teach epic stuff. Learn from others.
At KNX14, I tried my best to do this.
In fact, I even received some gifts; including carrot cake from England (thanks Katinka-san!), cupcakes and plum jam from Germany (thanks Frank-san!) and tons of chocolate from Switzerland (thanks Danny-san!). I also sold many Seishin gi and signed books.
Sure, there’s much to improve for next time.
But I’m happy.
And this concludes my 10 secrets from launching The Karate Nerd Experience 2014. It was definitely a new type of challenge for me, but I learned a lot.
Hopefully you learned something too! ; -)
Thanks for reading.
PS. Sign up here to get invited to KNX15.