So You Want My Job: Martial Artist

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 8, 2010 · 19 comments

in So You Want My Job

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

The martial arts are a manly pursuit as they teach discipline, focus, respect, and self-defense. Mastering a martial art, which requires years of dedication, is even manlier. Today’s interviewee, Jino Kang, has mastered not one, but several martial arts. Jino holds black belts in Hapkido (7th degree), Tae Kwon Do, Kyokoshin-Kai Karate, and has brown belts in Judo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Last year he was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame. He also directs independently financed martial arts films to showcase the arts. In the 1980s, Jino began teaching Hapkido in the Bay Area, and his passion for teaching continues today at his school, Hapkido USA. One of his students, Nolan Necoechea, interviewed Jino for our series. A big thank you goes out to both of them for taking part.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc).

I’m from Inchon, South Korea. Our family immigrated to US in 1971. My current age is 50 (but I look 20 something…that’s what my wife says). My job is to empower people and students to be the best they can through teaching martial arts. I have been teaching Hapkido since 1982. I started martial arts at the age of 4.

2. Why did you want to become a martial artist? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I really didn’t know, I just was. It literally was in my blood. My father is a Grand Master in Hapkido, my uncle was a master in Hapkido. They used to take me to the Do Jang (Martial Arts School) on back of their bicycle when I was still asleep in wee hours of the morning. I would wake up with a Gi already on to the smell of sweat laden canvas mats and the sound of Ki-Ai’s from students who trained before work.

Jino (top left in the Bruce Lee glasses) at his father’s first school in Concord.

3. Many martial artists, once they have mastered their art, then open a school to teach others. Having spent your time learning the martial art, how do you learn the business skills necessary to do this and run the school successfully? Or do you concentrate on teaching while hiring someone else to handle the business side of things?

When we first opened a school in the 80’s, in Concord, California, I didn’t even think about learning about business. All I was interested in was teaching dedicated students and becoming better myself. We had 20 to 30 tough students who excelled in their techniques, but were barely able to pay the rent. After several years of struggling, my friend Lee who happens to be a martial arts school owner himself introduced me to a consulting company that handles your business operations, like tuition collections and marketing practices, for martial arts school owners.

After following their guidelines for a few years, I was able to actually make a decent living, doing what I love, training and teaching martial arts. You do have to wear both hats as a businessman and an instructor. Servicing your students to the best of your ability, and having a third party handle business of tuition collections.

Jino teaching a kids' class at his current school in San Francisco (Hapkido USA).

4. What qualities are essential in becoming a successful and effective teacher of marital arts?

First of all, you must have passion to share your knowledge and have the technical abilities to teach it. If you don’t have the desire to teach, the school will fail without a doubt. Your students will feel it and sense that you are just there to make a buck. They will leave. If your techniques are inferior and stale, after a while, students will challenge it. As an instructor, you must constantly train to improve and hone your skills to validate what you’re teaching.

Secondly, you must be dynamic and motivating while at the same time patient and understanding enough to know that all students have different abilities and different ways of learning. Kids and adults have different speeds; you must exercise patience and encouragement, especially with kids, who thrive on awards of merit and recognition. Sometimes that is as simple as a verbal, “Great Job, Johnny!” and a pat on the back. Adults need the same thing but often with more specific needs and motivations, like “I need to lose weight,” “I want to learn self-defense,” “I’m bored with the gym routine and want to try something different.”

To be a successful teacher, you must be able to sense what the students need and deliver the kind of quality training that allows them to perform to the best of his or her ability.

Jino performing a flying kick for the film Hand 2 Hand - The Art of Combat

5. Are there any other professional paths a martial artist might take besides opening a school and teaching?

One way is to be a professional fighter and promote yourself that way, through venues like the Ultimate Fighting Championship. You may have to start as an amateur, and you may secure a sponsor after winning several bouts. Then, move up to pro level. A tough route, but if you have the courage and discipline you can make it.

Another way is to promote yourself through film and TV. A lot of martial artists take this path as well, working as stuntman, fight choreographer, actor and such. Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and JCVD, just to name a few. For me, I wanted to do it all, teach and film, so I have written, produced, directed and acted in two of my own films, Blade Warrior and Hand 2 Hand – The Art of Combat. My latest film, Hand 2 Hand, received 5 nominations and won 2 awards at Action On Film International Film Festival this year, including “Best Action Sequence-Martial Arts Feature,” which as a martial artist I’m very proud of.

6. What is the best part of your job?

Seeing the smiling faces of children after they passed their Belt Exam. Watching an adult member lose 50 lbs from hard training at my school. And when students go away to college, get married and return to my school with their kids and train as a family.

7. What is the worst part of your job?

When student quits. As an instructor, I invest a lot of time and effort to each student, and it breaks my heart when they quit for any reason.

8. What’s the work/family/life balance like?

The swing shift schedule, where you’re off time comes midday when most people are at work, does play havoc on your family life. But when quality time is set aside for family, it works. Like any other work, don’t bring it home. When you’re at home, your family must be the focus of your attention and love.

9. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

You have to beat up people/students on regular basis. Not true-if I did that I wouldn’t have any students!

Here’s Jino in action, taking on multiple opponents at once:

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shawn September 8, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Ramadan and school has hindered me getting my first stripe on my blue belt for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and keeping my Judo alongside Greco Roman wrestling up to par.

Thank god one of them ends tomorrow (no pun intended)!

2 Chris September 8, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Great interview, I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and most of them have one thing in common. They love the art or sport that they teach.

3 Lakshmipathy September 9, 2010 at 12:26 am

Excellent One. It feels so much fulfillment in life to hear his best part of his life. So inspiring.

4 Bastian Kröhnert September 9, 2010 at 6:21 am

I like his father’S first school in concord a lot! :-P Apart from that very interesting post! I’m a martial artist as well and it’s interesting to read about this perspective.

5 Jeff Roddy September 10, 2010 at 1:53 am

Question: of his many black belts does he teach Hapkido? If so why did he choose that one? Not trying to get into a my kung fu is better that your kung fu argument but am looking for insight into his experience with the arts that he has studied.

6 John B. September 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

Just earned my 5th kyu in Aikido…regardless of what path you follow, martial arts are a good way to learn self-discipline.

7 JayDub September 10, 2010 at 4:19 pm

In a partial response to Jeff Roddy – Master Kang does teach Hapkido at his school Hapkido USA in San Francisco, he also does classes at the UFC Gym in Concord, CA in Hapki-Jitsu.

8 Artrese Morrison September 10, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Excellent interview very proud to have Jino Kang as my master and friend.

9 Alvin September 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I started training with Master Kang in 1992, and it changed my life. While I don’t get to training lately as much as I want to, this experience is one of them most meaningful to me.

10 Virginia Rallojay September 10, 2010 at 5:11 pm

This is a great interview. I am one of Master Kang’s oldest students, still practicing. My Hapkido Experience is an enriching, precious part of my life and continues to be so after all these years.

11 LEON DAGDAGAN September 11, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I was one of Virginia’s classmates taking Master Yang’s classes in the early years of the 80′s. I was already deep into Aikido but sensed the need to learn another art. I thoroughly enjoyed Jino’s style of teaching and learned a lot from him. He is a great “sensei”. While I did not continue Hapkido because I only had time for one art, I have maintained friendship with him and from time to time have visited his dojo. I greatly admire his way of teaching kids–often the most difficult ones to teach. I thank him for continuing to share his art with others through his school and film. Kudo’s to you my friend!

12 George Blazer September 11, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Great Interview. Super proud to be Master Kang’s teacher. I don’t get to do it more often as I have little one at home, and another one on the way, but waiting to bring them both to school ASAP. Can’t wait to go back!

13 Daniel Putman September 13, 2010 at 7:55 am

Great article. As someone how desires to learn/teach Kung-fu as a career. It is always inspiring to hear from other Masters of Martial Arts.

14 Ezmelts September 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I hope most people come to realize that martial arts is something that you do for life. It’s very similar to athletic training where if you don’t start very early in life, you really can’t become a pro at it. You could learn it, but not reach the pro level.

15 Master Patrick Williams September 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Great interview. Master Kang is a true martial arts.

16 chnna January 9, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Thank u…….

17 SenseiMattKlein March 15, 2013 at 2:57 am

“Seeing the smiling faces of children after they passed their Belt Exam.” That is so true. This is the best part of the job, especially knowing that they feel better about themselves. I teach children martial arts for a living. Would not do anything else.

18 SifuPhil November 3, 2013 at 1:36 am

Excellent article!

As a life-long martial arts instructor I have found that there is a chasm between the teaching and business sides of martial arts, and while I am glad that Master Kang has found a way to succeed the sad fact is that the majority of schools are run as “clubs” (non-profit) or fold within a few years.

Third-party billing services, while admittedly being potentially useful, often drive away students with their bloodthirsty collection techniques. They also are capable of driving a teacher to distraction through their incessant demands to focus on profit rather than teaching.

Western culture demands monetary profit and any school that does not show it gains a reputation as a failure, yet it is so often those same schools that produce true martial artists. It’s the rich McDojos that garner all the attention in the media, but it’s the hidden-away basement schools that create life-long martial artists.

As with most worthwhile careers, don’t get into martial arts with an idea of breaking the bank. Rather, follow your love of the art and find a way to survive monetarily.

19 Nick March 22, 2014 at 8:10 am

Im a student of Muay Thai and am quite passionate about Martial Arts. I really consider it part of my life and who I am.

But I think its a completely other thing to open your own dojo or gym.
It’s basically no different than being entrepreneur and opening own business.

Its tough as hell…Everyday you got to train people non-stop. Train them for fights. You also got to make revenue to pay for all the equipment, the rent of the location, etc.

To be honest I think that when you open a martial arts gym, when it becomes a business, then I think its hard to keep that martial arts spirit going.

I think the true martial artist trains purely for himself or for fights. As soon as you do it for the money, for me its not as enjoyable.

And I could see it with alot of boxing gym or Muay Thai gym owners…At the end of the day they become burned out. After some years…The routine takes its toll and they are not passionate about training individual students and so on.

But I guess personal trainer maybe is a possibility for one on one training. This could be interesting option. You choose your students and you really see their development.

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