Guest Post: Master Rick Rando

When I enrolled my son in Karate classes as a Christmas gift, I honestly didn't expect him to enjoy it. In fact, I was certain that he would hate it once he realized he wasn't going to instantly become a "Ninjago Spinjitsu" master. I was convinced that strict instruction would cause him to get frustrated and give up. More than anything, I just KNEW that my son wasn't the type to stay engaged in highly controlled and disciplined environments.

But he REALLY wanted to learn Karate because his friend takes classes... So I signed him up against what I thought was my better judgement.

What I didn't know is that this wasn't just any Karate class. This was Kick Masters Karate instructed by Master Rick Rando. I left my son's first class completely amazed. My son had just spent the entire hour completely affixed on his instructor and jumping at every command. In the process, he had also learned some valuable life lessons (the five rules) and was enthusiastic about employing them as soon as he got in the car.

My son wasn't the only one who learned a lot that day. I had just been given a lesson on the power of creating highly engaging experiences as a way to teach topics that my son would typically gloss right over.  

I almost immediately reached out to Master Rando and asked him to help our readers understand how he creates such engaging learning experiences day after day. The following article from Master Rando is packed full of sage advice for creating engaging experiences. It's a long-form article and very worth the read.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Engagement... The Do's and Don'ts

By Master Rick Rando

I taught my first official class as a black belt instructor on Wednesday, February 12, 1992.  My sensei, Mr. Ron Burner asked me to warm-up the 9:00PM adult class, as he was handling a scheduling issue with a green belt student.  At the time, I was 14 and as nervous as a candy enthusiast going to the dentist.  Truth be told, I could throw a sidekick with the best of them, but I had zero experience leading.

As I took the floor, I began mimicking the calisthenics and stretches I’d seen hundreds of times from the instructors before me.  With such little teaching/speaking experience, I had a rather meek speaking voice and used “um” as a word-filler religiously.  Not a good display of confidence for sure.  I muddled through the warm-up with mild personal success.  Everything was so-so, until I said to stretch left and I stretched right.  This being the final straw of inexperience from a 14-year old hotshot, I was belittled with smirks, head shakes, and rolling eyes from my adult “followers.”  

Through it all, my instructor watched like a hawk, analyzing my unsteady performance.  When my 20-minutes of uncertainty were over, my instructor called me to the sidelines for what I was sure was more of the same belittling I received from the body language of the older students.  He put his hands on my shoulders and what he said still lingers in my head when I see a new black belt unsure of his/her performance, “With knowledge comes confidence, so be sure you learned something today!”

It’s been almost 25 years since that first warmup, and I’ve certainly learned a great deal since then.  So you don’t crash and burn like a new hotshot instructor, here are my top 4 ways to increase/create engagement with your brand:

1) Make It Fun

I learned a long time ago that if something’s not fun, you won’t want to do it (that’s why no one likes going to the DMV).  Visitors are amazed regarding the attention span and focus our students exhibit during our classes.  This comes from two important key fundamental elements we implement in lesson planning:  the “SSL Rule” (Smiling, Sweating, and Learning) and the “PCP Rule” (Praise, Correct, Praise).  

The most important element in the first acronym is smiling.  If you’re happy, you’re having fun, and everything else falls right into place.  The other factor to keep in mind is that most instructors are never afraid to put down their guard to make a connection.  Just a few months ago, I was strutting around the training floor like a pompous rooster (wings flapping and neck bouncing).  My point: if the students needed a“cock-a-doodle do” to wake up their training, then a rooster I would be.  FUN keeps everyone engaged and in the moment.

With the “PCP Rule”, instructors correct someone’s mistake with a compliment first, the action to correct second, followed by an additional compliment.  We don’t discipline with pushups (that’s not much fun), or by standing in a corner (that’s not fun at all).  By being positive (but firm in correction), we make learning FUN, not cumbersome or overwhelming.  By placing the emphasis on praise (2 times), we stress positive exhibited behavior over the negative miscue.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to be praised?  In fact, being praised is fun and having fun encourages engagement.

On the flipside, DON’T have your audience stand, sit, or perform in one place for too long.  DON’T use a monotone voice with zero inflection.  DON’T be disengaged and DON’T be too stiff.

*Having fun is contagious so the quicker you can have fun doing what you’re doing in your organization, the more engaging it will be on all fronts (even for your staff)!

2) Know Your Audience

The number one determining factor that encourages people to purchase a service and/or a product from another human being is trust.  As an instructor, a quick way to establish trust on our training floor is to match tonality, body language, and the language cadence of our participants.  This basic principle is essential in getting your point across and/or selling your ideas.  For example, I would not approach a timid 4-year-old with high-impact, decibel smashing energy professing how much fun it’s going to be on the training floor.  I’d approach her with a more subtle demeanor, asking her about her new shoes or the Disney character on her shirt.  Ultimately, I want someone that’s reserved to trust me, so they’ll feel comfortable coming onto the training floor to have…wait for it…FUN!  Remember, establishing trust allows the purchase process to begin.

If you want to see successful individuals identifying body language and listening to tone, observe a good waiter or waitress the next time you go out to eat.  “Sir” for men in suits, “dude” for any boys at the table, “princess” for the little ladies, “man” for college students, and “mom” for anyone who’s juggling 10 things at once, and who usually doesn’t get to enjoy her meal due to the chaos.  If a server is cognitively aware to match tonality, body language, and language cadence, their tips are sure to skyrocket.

On the flipside, DON’T speak down to people.  DON’T assume social-economic levels by judging.  DON’T be disengaged and DON’T be condescending.  

*Knowing who you’re talking to is crucial in establishing credibility and trust.  Trust allows engagement to flourish, and will ultimately increase your ability to influence!

3) Create “Vision-Freedom” Through Leadership by Example

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My favorite part of teaching the martial arts is what I called “vision freedom.”

Vision: meaning that our daily, weekly and monthly lesson plans are designed to work on a specific type of growth (growth geared for developing the necessary tools for black belt level and beyond).  This not only applies inside the studio, but also in real world application in the form of creating untouchable character, instilling a sustainable moral compass, and molding a leader who stands out no matter where he/she goes.  

Freedom: meaning the infinite drills, games, controlled situations, and activities designed to stimulate our studio’s vision within each participant.  I get a wonderful sense of satisfaction knowing if all of our tenants of training are achieved, we truly have a leader in our community, a positive trend-setter in their peer groups, and a respectful, productive member of our society.

With successful “Vision Freedom”, true engagement begins and perpetuates limitless growth.  To this point, 85% of our current brown belts are straight-A students, 95% of our junior black belts are 4.0 students or higher, and all of our adult instructors are professionals in their field of employment.  In fact, just a few months ago, we had one of our top-rate black belts get accepted into Harvard.  To this day, his mother accredits the majority of his success to his participation in our program.

As to our older instructors, they are the living adult examples of success for our younger students and their peers to mirror.  For the junior instructors, they are the role models and mentors for the under-belts and the novice.  Either way, we deliver on our brand promise (Kickstarting Confident Leaders) because we have superior living examples of what that specific promise looks like over time.  “The proof is in the pudding,” as my mom used to say.  The proof of engagement at our studio is our black belt team leaders!

On the flipside, DON’T micromanage.  DON’T underestimate other people’s abilities.  DON’T downplay growth and DON’T claim to know something if you don’t.

*Creating an environment of growth and success will stimulate engagement on all fronts.  “Vision Freedom” through leadership by example does just that in a real, and life-changing way!

4) Showcase Unyielding Passion

True leaders have passion for whom and for what they are leading.  In 1979, there was an older man who lost his daughter to a disease most of us are familiar with today…leukemia.  It was a mind-numbing, five-year battle that ended with answerless questions, and unfair pain and suffering.  Heart-broken and lost, the father asked himself one question after a few months of depression and solitude, “How can I fight back?”  

After sleeping on it, he found the answer…and a powerful one it was.  He mobilized a committee, formed a company and began to fund raise to find a cure for the disease that took his daughter.  The committee turned into a non-profit and has been in existence for the past 37 years.  To-date, the Vicki Via Dotson Leukemia Foundation has raised over $700,000 for leukemia research and aid, all started by a man who had enough passion to make a difference.  This man is one of my heroes and he just so happens to be my late grandfather, Mr. Al Via.  

You must believe in what you’re doing.  You must wake up every morning with determination, having passion in your soul and pride in your step!  And remember one thing, passion can come from anywhere from the mailroom to the boardroom.  Success for me is doing exactly just that, doing what I love each and every day with a purpose and a smile.  In fact, since I became a full-time martial artist in 2003, there hasn’t been one day that I woke up and said, “I don’t want to go to work today.”  This is because teaching isn’t work for me.  The class planning, the paperwork, the long days and nights of being a business owner…that’s the work part, but when I’m on the training floor teaching, I never feel it’s a burden.  Therefore, the outcome is as pure as it is sincere.

On the flipside, DON’T just show-up.  DON’T count the seconds until quittin’ time.  DON’T just have a J.O.B.:  HAVE A PASSIONATE PURPOSE.

*As a business owner, I believe in one simple formula: Passion Breeds Success.  If you want to be a successful and an influential, engaging leader, lead with passion and never lower your standards!

I once read a quote from a famous author saying the greatest gift you can give others is your time and attention.  Make a commitment today, in whatever you do, to give your time, talent, and thoughtfulness to all those around you.  From your clients to your children, lift people up with your words and your actions.   Doing this will engage and empower others in more ways than you can imagine!

One final thought:

Most people think of martial artists as ninjas jumping around a “dojo” in their PJ’s trying to levitate and break boards with their heads.  They think beating a man to a pulp in a cage is “normal”, and the scene from the original Karate Kid with John Kreese teaching the class to show “no mercy” is authentic.  True martial arts is life-changing…so much more than just kicking and punching.  When done correctly, it’s an ongoing resource for developing leadership, confidence, and self-worth.  It offers structure, discipline, and teaches it’s participants how to goal set and to never give up!

Bottom line: martial arts is a priceless commodity and its great instructors live to serve; great instructors facilitate engagement and always lead by example!

My advice to those interested in the benefits of the martial arts: do your homework regarding the different studios in your community, visit a class or two to observe how things work, talk to participants/parents at your desired studio to get third-party opinions, and finally, try a few free classes to see what karate is all about and to see what it can do for your life’s trajectory.  

You’ll be glad you did!

About the Author:

Master Rick Rando is a sixth degree black belt, owner and president of Kick Masters Karate, LLC, and a keynote empowerment speaker at Rando Speaks. He's been featured in both Black Belt and MASuccess magazines, has given thousands of talks, and has established himself as a leader in business and personal dvelopment. Learn more or contact Master Rando at

All photos used with permission from Julie Anna's Joy Photography, Alpine Photography, and Karen Morgan Photography.