Building a successful gym: Kombat Arts & Joey de los Reyes

Advice from Joey de los Reyes, head trainer at Kombat Arts in Mississauga, ON on building a successful gym

When I first met Joey de los Reyes’s group the first thing that struck me was their friendly demeanor. Having driven 4 hours to attend a seminar that evaporated due to miscommunication, they took it in stride, made the best of the situation and had a good time with some improptu training instead. It turns out that’s a key component to their success, which I’ll elaborate on below.

The first thing that struck me when looking them up recently to film with was their managing to turn teaching multiple arts into a successful gym. I don’t mean the typical Muay Thai/BJJ/MMA mix. They run a respectable Inosanto umbrella, including kali/Filipino Martial Arts, Jeet Kune Do, boxing, savate, along with their Muay Thai/BJJ programs. But here’s something you may not associate with that kind of gym…over 400 members!

Kombat Arts Mississauga

Kombat Arts Mississauga

Kombat Arts kali

A kali school with lots of members?

Part of what I do with my YouTube channel is help people promote their gyms because you need a certain level of success to sustain quality. When you’re in your 20’s that may not be true, but by the time you have a family and other commitments, if you’re under financial strain, the quality will go down whether you want it to or not. So I took the opportunity to sit down with Joey for some advice on how he has found success doing what he loves.


First things first: as a busy entrepreneur he has less time to train. Get that into your head. Your students and the business now come first.

Now in no particular order what has worked for him at Kombat Arts:

  • Hire people to do what they’re good at. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Legal, accounting, SEO, media…when you’re small and doing it all yourself, use it as an opportunity to become an informed buyer, not a specialist for life.
    • Joey doesn’t remember when he hired his first staff, but he does wish he had done it sooner. With more than 5 full-time staff, the gym always has an air of professionalism
    • Don’t trade on lessons or mat time. It’s a job, meaning they can be accountable, have performance reviews,  and the relationship can change as needed with less weirdness. If you’re demanding the work of a FT resource, pay a FT salary, or there’s just no way they can stay committed.
    • Contract out what can’t be done in-house. Don’t get your maintenance guy to do your social media just because he has the time. Unless he’s an expert or has real interest in becoming one, it’s not going to be done well or timely. By the way check out their social media and regular feeds, well done.
    • This allows for disciplined lead and sales generation. Ever ask a casual student for a conversion report? Not unreasonable when they’re an employee right?
  • Develop your instructors not only for their martial arts skills, but their teaching technique, listening, coaching, sales, and business sense. Overcoming the ‘icky’ feeling many have towards sales is important. Even a soft sell is better than not even presenting options and opportunities for an excited new student.
  • Pay your instructors. Many traditionally-minded people take issue with this, but if your senior students paid you to teach them, they owe you nothing from a revenue standpoint if they’re not flagrantly violating an understood non-compete. With over 20 instructors, anyone who teaches full time with professional expectations is paid at Kombat Arts. There are some who are more part time who trade on breaks on seminars and other deals, but someone showing up every day and teaching 2 classes for you is no longer an ‘instructor in training’ or a volunteer, she’s an employee.
    • There are loyalties in many forms, but you know when someone is motivated to make martial arts their future, and if you know they have no real back-up plan, you need to have that conversation sooner rather than later. Is their capacity to get on the payroll, can they open a branch school, can they open under their own name, and what would be a respectful way to do it?

Kombat Arts a successful gym

Great guy, great martial artist and gym owner. Click for video clip

  • Decide on your focus and be confident in your brand. Martial arts instruction is the brand that makes Kombat Arts a successful gym. Fitness and self-defense capability are useful byproducts, but no one stays long if they just want to grab some time on the bench press. They are better off referred to an affiliate specialist and good relations may be maintained by all.
    • Joey has a story of a student who originally needed more rehab and physio therapy than martial arts. Knowing that, they had their health specialists first do some sessions, define parameters that are safe and beneficial, and the customer then could make an informed decision to stay healthy and be satisfied rather than sold on a Muay Thai class that’s more fantasy than reality for his particular needs.
    • If the student is not doing martial arts, unless location relative to alternatives is paramount, can you really compete with Life Time Fitness or another super gym? You’re not going provide better value or hours.
  • Do not compete with your students. I’m going to say this again. Do not compete with your students. Of course I mean being worried about being beaten in sparring, eclipsed, or shown up by them. Even if your level makes you a little insecure, your ability to teach beyond it should only be a source of pride. Outside of protecting business interests against a snake, it’s OBVIOUS when you are and even if people understand, it’s not exactly admirable.
    • I love this story: Joey’s student Amir started out with him, and then really found his art with BJJ. So much so that he felt he needed to leave to explore, and now has come back as a black belt to teach for Joey, contributing to Kombat Arts long-term aim of being a successful gym. How many teachers can be said to truly embody this attitude, and not just offer lip-service to seem like a good guy?
    • Brendan, a Muay Thai fighter, said to me, “I’ve only been training 4 years.” How many people say, “I’ve been training for 4 years!” with their chests puffed out? Being humble makes them humble, and good.
  • Be part of the community. And not just in some random way like showing up to a parade (not that that’s a bad idea) Kombat Arts hosts co-op students, allowing those looking for a future in fitness, kinesiology, entrepreneurship, and business a place to learn and go tell their friends about the successful gym they’re working at.
    • Speaking of community, virtually every member I ran into, the first thing they’d say was Kombat Arts felt like a family. This is what people are looking for. And not just the well-heeled, the fighters or talented students. Everyone, every time, feels like they’re part of the family.

Check out Kombat Arts
By the way, when I reached out to him to work on some videos, he was happy to work with a new person with a different take on the material. Didn’t ask what was in it for him or for me, because it doesn’t matter who gets more: everyone gets raised up, and maybe that attitude has as much to do with Kombat Arts being a successful gym as the hours the whole team puts in to provide an enjoyable, professional experience for both members and employees.

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