Walking into one of the Go No Sen Karate Schools at class time is loud, very loud. Kids and adults of all ages are in and out of classes, parents are trying to get their kids ready to leave or dropping them off, everyone is talking, moving, even loud at times. You would think this is complete insanity. The truth is, it’s not. To an outsider looking in, it can be a little intimidating walking into this large karate school. But once you are a student, or the parent or family member of that student, you are part of the family. And, to be fair, families are loud at times, especially the happy ones. And that’s what Go No Sen is all about – happy students learning to defend themselves rather than to fight.
Go No Sen’s main karate school is located in Peekskill, NY. With 2 other locations in Cortlandt Manor, NY, and Cold Spring, NY, Go No Sen has cornered the karate school market in northern Westchester County / Southern Putnam County market. Kids can begin karate lessons at age 4. Best of all, they have a very specific class solely dedicated to Special Needs children.
Adam McCauley, or Renshi as his students call him (even outside of school) is the President and Owner of Go No Sen Karate Schools. He believes that everyone can learn karate, at their level of ability, in the way they can, regardless of physical ability. Renshi and his staff have taught everyone from wheel chair bound, blind, or autistic, to fire fighters, to karate competition athletes. Renshi and his staff take classes themselves in order to improve their personal and teaching skills. They also continually test for higher level of belts and karate skills and leadership. Forever students of karate and other forms of education styles, the Go No Sen staff is not just there to teach your family members. They are there to challenge themselves and continuously improve who they are and how they help others in the community.
Adam sat with us and gave us the very unique history of Go No Sen – the bad, the good, and the awesomeness of karate school ownership.
Can you walk us through your story – When was Go No Sen Karate opened? What inspired you to start your business? How did you start? How did you get where you are today?
My story is the Karate Kid Story. The youngest of 5 kids, I grew up in a tough neighborhood in Mr. Vernon, NY. I was bullied constantly, to the point where I would save my lunch money to take cabs home from school. In true kid fashion, I wanted to learn karate to take revenge on the bullies that were hurting me. But when I was actually taking karate, my instructor turned me around and taught me to be kind and nonviolent. He taught me that the bullies were also in pain, but they took that pain and turned it into frustration which led to violence. Eventually I learned to defend myself and became a champion in tournaments.
Then I started teaching three of my friends in my living room. As more students joined I rented the volunteer fire department space to teach. I became a volunteer firefighter so that I would be allowed to rent the space. My day job was as a cable technician until I was in an accident in my company truck and got hurt. I was not part of the local cable union, so unfortunately, I lost my job.
I decided to go into karate teaching full time in 1993. The school moved to Buchanan, NY, and every five years or so we outgrew the space and moved to a bigger one. Twenty-five years later, we have three schools – Peekskill, Cortlandt Manor, and Cold Springs, NY.
I eventually created an instructor training program and they now help manage the other sites. Martial arts in general is so amazing. I couldn’t see my life without it.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth opening your own business? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Business is frequently a struggle. There’s always the question of “what can I do better” or “what did I do wrong?”. I take it very seriously when one of my instructors leaves our school. It feels as if something went wrong. I strive to improve my leadership skills, proactivity, and understanding. You can’t please everyone, but you can try to make the work environment as smooth as possible in order to keep employees happy.
Another big struggle is operational costs. Between rental space moves, floods, etc… even with insurance, it can be costly.
On the other side, one of the best parts of my job is my business partner and wife Laurie. Laurie is our COO. She is very organized and has a take charge attitude. She has streamlined our operations and made everything much more efficient. Laurie is key to my life and our business.
What should we know about Go No Sen Karate – what do you do best, and what sets you apart from the competition?
Initially, our program was to build better bodies and stronger minds. We have now evolved to ensuring that every student feels like they belong, believe, and achieve greatness in their lives. The secret to any business is to make people feel like they belong to something bigger and that they believe in themselves. Why do kids and adults stay in our school for 6-8 years in order to get their black belt? Because there is a welcoming culture and comfort that invites them to want to stay. Why is Starbucks so inviting? Because everything that they do brings comfort to their customers. We do the same at our karate schools for our customers.
What positive impact is your company having on the community you serve and your customers?
You need to do two things in life – grow and contribute. It’s more about others than yourself in order to make a true difference. With that in mind, I have never rejected any student who wants to learn – blind, wheelchair bound, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, etc., as long as there is a doctor’s note approving lessons. If an individual wants to learn, we will teach them.
A few years ago, a mom of an autistic student asked us to create a special education karate class. Like any new venture, we researched the feasibility that we could be successful and the children would benefit from the class. We decided to learn everything we could about the special needs population. So we got certified in order to grow the special education class and teach others how to teach this unique population. We have worked with our students’ physical therapists to teach them how to work with their patients better.
I taught a blind student once and he was very talented. His other senses were much more in tuned. It gave him an advantage. With his permission, we filmed the training sessions in order to teach our students that sight is not need in order to learn martial arts.
Amongst our several fundraisers for St. Jude’s Hospital, several relief funds, as well as local charities, we grant scholarships to students whose parents, or themselves, fall into unforeseen hardships. The student should not be penalized for bad spells in life. Sometimes we barter, other times we give scholarships. Scholarships are temporary until the families are able to start paying for the lessons again.
Do you have any advice for small business owners at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey?
In the beginning, do the marketing and selling legwork yourself. It’s worth the time and money. Once you are profitable, pay other companies to do it. Always evolve your business with the need of your customers. Go, learn, produce, but ensure that it’s in line with your values. Get the value added offer, but if it’s not your expertise, hire experts.
Customer service is very important to us. We have created a leadership program for all our staff. It is imperative for all instructors and staff. There is a way you speak to and treat customers and students. Bad news travels faster than good news. The butterfly effect of a bad experience can destroy a business. So you always ask, how can I do better? It’s not just customer service, it’s customer experience. How can you improve your customers’ experience so that they tell others about your business? We are not simply teaching karate. Rather, we are giving people a place to feel at home and comfortable so that they come back.
We don’t sell karate lessons at Go No Sen – we change lives. Students remember the lessons taught more than the karate skills. These lessons stay with them throughout their lives.
Our motto is “Never give up, never, never give up.” So we don’t give up, on anyone. If they want to be here, we’ll teach them. We are passionate about what we do. Passion has to come before profits. If you love what you do, the profits will come.
Our environment and the choices we make…
The environment we grow up in shapes our lives and who we become. But, it’s our choice to follow the path of right or wrong. Humble, yet tough, beginnings made Adam driven to have a better life and to help others. Instead of growing his frustrations into anger, he chose to teach others how to understand, forgive, defend themselves, and only strike back when absolutely necessary. Adam and his staff strive to make Go No Sen a safe place where kids and adults alike can go and be a part of a welcoming community.