An Olympic Champion’s Gold-Medal approach to Martial Arts Business and life

California’s multi-talented Herb Perez is the very definition of a Renaissance man. He’s an extremely successful school owner, an attorney, a city councilman and former mayor, and an academic! Oh yes, he’s also a retired Olympic taekwondo gold medalist. Meet this uniquely-gifted martial arts master who applies a winner’s mentality to conquer every endeavor he takes on!

Before Herb Perez was a successful school owner, he was a natural competitor. By the time he was in his 20s, it was obvious to everyone Perez had a one-in-a-million talent for fighting, having won the National Collegiate Championships two years running. He went on to win gold at the Olympic Sports Festival in 1986, at the Pan American Games in 1987 and at the World Cup that same year. Perez went on to win the gold medal in the -83 kilos taekwondo division in  the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. He was the only American to win a gold in taekwondo at that year’s Olympics. In addition, he’s a six-time U.S. National Team Captain and was head coach for both the Pan Am Games and the Olympic Games. 

Perez is also a scholar. He attended Rutgers Law School and earned his undergraduate degree at William Paterson University, both of which are located in New Jersey. He got his Juris Doctor (a graduate-entry professional degree in law) from Rutgers. He also earned a Masters in Sport Organizational Management at the University of Lyons in France.

Perez currently runs four hugely successful martial arts schools in Northern California. He opened what he likes to call his first “brick-and-mortar” school in Foster City 11 years ago.

“Frank Silverman [executive director of the Martial Arts Industry Association] helped me scout out locations,” says Perez, “and he came to the grand opening.” 

He says he had pre-sold about 60 memberships, but didn’t really know what to expect when he held the event. 

“We signed up 30 more in just one hour,” Perez exclaims. “By the time we actually opened the doors for our first classes, we were cash-positive and, within three months, I had surpassed my financial goal set for the year. By the five-month mark, I had surpassed our three-year goal for memberships.”

Perez’s main location in Foster City has about 800 active members and with his three other schools, he has over 1,200 students. 

Perez says the key to his success is his drive. “I recently had a colleague, another very successful school owner, tell me that I work too hard,” Perez says, laughing. “I told him I can’t help it, I have to stay busy. He doesn’t. He spends a lot of time golfing.” 

Perez stays busy traveling the globe and serving his community. He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, served on city council, was vice-mayor then went on to be mayor of Foster City.

Besides personally serving his community in an official capacity, Perez also makes sure his schools and his staff are all heavily involved in community service. 

“We probably spend upwards of $150,000 in givebacks to our communities,” he says. “We sponsor [academic] schools and school events. We also are a title sponsor for Concerts in the Park and for the Art and Wine Festivals.”

Like most schools, Gold Medal Taekwondo is about 85% children, Perez estimates. 

“The good news is we have a healthy number of teenagers, too,” he says. “A lot of schools really suffer in that area, and I agree it is hard to sign up teens. But what we’ve experienced after 10 years is that, if you involve your children, they are part of your family and they will stick with you.” 

“Many of our teenage black belts are now working at one of our schools,” Perez explains. “Each of our young black belts gets to choose to join one of our programs. We have the demo team, the competition team, the leadership team, and the assistant instructor program. These programs are all free. They love working for us because it’s better than working at Starbucks, and they’re developing leadership skills for college.”

Perez doesn’t charge extra for many things at his school. “That’s another key to our success,” he believes. “We offer free birthday parties and, every month at each of our schools, we have a free Parents Night Out where they can drop off their kids. Up to 200 children come each time.”

Three times a year, Perez promotes school-wide picnics with as many as 600 participants. His school also averages 100 to 150 students testing for their black belt at every annual rank-promotion event. 

Gold Medal Taekwondo charges $189 per month for its Basic Program and $209 for the Black Belt Program, which includes weapons training, other martial arts, and an introduction into the Olympic-style competition. Perez does have a three-month intro program for children under five, but he moves to one-year programs for older kids. He doesn’t do anything longer than that. 

“After the first year, we invite them into the Black Belt Program,” he explains. That’s when they begin to do more traditional forms and competition sparring.” 

He invented what he calls “fighting forms” that include techniques for self-defense and kicks that the kids will use later in sparring. The schools are open 7 days a week.

Perez has four major pieces of sound business advice for school owners to improve their game. 

“One, whether you have 10 students or 300, you should know each of them by name. Don’t write it on their uniform, learn their names! That’s one way you are cognizant of your customer service.

“Number two, everyone should read the book The Experience Economy. It talks about the customer experience everyone should have when they come into your business.

“Three, always put your members first and serve them. No matter how big or small your program is, they all need to feel connected.

“And four, at the end of the day, remember you are developing life skills,” he insists. “It’s the talk at the end of class that the parents will hear and that will resonate with them. That creates the ‘buy-in’ — and they’ll make the choice to stay with your and your program.”

To find more tips from Herb Perez on improving your school read the full article here.