We’re all flawed humans. We on Easton’s leadership team know this. That’s why we started our podcast: Easton Monthly All-Staff Podcast. We wanted to humanize the invisible force driving our eight-school academy to success – a team of humans, all admitting their shortcomings, yet banding together to help each other, and others, grow.
In our latest episode, our host Mike Tousignant speaks with martial arts program directors, Professor Alex Huddleston of Jiu Jitsu and Sean Madden of Muay Thai, on spear-heading the product side of Easton’s vision: building inclusive, battle-tested martial arts, and what it means to be a Program Director at Easton.
The OGs may remember us back in the day before Easton became a far-reaching martial arts name – when only a few GMs and a kids instructor ran each location. Gradually, as the academy grew, so did the need for more specific leadership roles, creating opportunities for others to step in.
Easton University: the elevated team
We kid, but…really, our academy is run more like a university than your standard martial arts school.
While the alignment of our academies may have come second in Easton’s timeline to its growth and success, the way we’ve evolved to approach the connection between our product and operations, and the need for across-the-board unity gleams much from concepts found in higher education.
Inspired by military books like those by former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink and other literature about decentralized command, then-newly appointed President Mike Tousignant began to shift the company towards a structure which alleviated the pressure of one person to run all aspects of the academy.
With an elevated team and decentralized command in lieu of one Boss, all of the roles could keep each other in check while focusing on developing their niche. On this elevated team, the driving question became “How do we improve as a team for a greater good?”
Easton expanded its leadership, adding roles of Department Heads to head up the coaches in their location’s departments, and finally Program Directors to guide the product side of the business – the martial arts.
With this system, our academies quickly flourished and grew, creating freedom for those in each area to hone their expertise.
“We make curriculum and class structure aligned,” says Mike, “so you can humanize the experience.”
Department Heads could lead their coaches and create schedules, GMs could focus on the bigger picture at their academies, and Program Directors could dive into honing the craft we teach – Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai, making sure that our product isn’t just good enough, but the best we can offer.
Tip of the spear
In many ways, the Program Director acts as the visionary for their martial arts program. They oversee the planning and developing of the goals that their program strives to achieve, and provide the structure and ability to reach those goals.
For Sean, as Easton’s Muay Thai Program Director (PD), along with making sure the curriculum across all the schools is aligned, a big part of the job entails staying on the forefront of the Muay Thai ecosystem both in the US and overseas.
It involves doing his best to keep his ear to the ground, to research current training methods and newest techniques available in Muay Thai, staying tuned into what’s happening in all the hubs – Thailand, California, New York. His job working with Easton athletes in competition permits him to frequently travel and have the opportunity to see how other gyms across the world are run – granting him the ability to absorb and bring back any helpful information to ensure we stay at the forefront of our field.
The Program Director’s position as the crux between our product and our operations make them a key focal point to take all the ideas our sprawling martial arts community might offer and merge them in a single vision – something especially important with multiple locations and numerous employees. The PD helps bring everyone’s vision together and keeps it in alignment with Easton’s overall goals.
Battle-tested martial arts
Excellence. Trust. Compassion. Stewardship.
We take our core values seriously at Easton, in all aspects of the company – the first being Excellence. This means we want to bring the best to our classrooms and we want to make sure the martial arts we teach have been battle-tested.
“We don’t want people just fighting in the ring,” says Sean, “and having a 500-record of ‘yeah they fought but they didn’t do really well.’ We want our athletes to be excellent, at the forefront.”
We want students developed through our program tested at the highest level of the sport.
Students who compete at the highest levels become especially important for newer students to see on the mats – to train with and learn from. For this reason, we make sure we have students continuously compete (at least on the amateur side) and find success at the highest level to make sure we have battle tested martial arts and Excellence.
This requires a dedication to skillset and nuances, and the best part? The bullies can’t keep up. The process naturally weeds out those who can’t endure the higher level skill sets when simply smashing their opponent no longer works.
Professor Alex Huddleston adds to this with our 75-50-25 rule.
“For competitors we want 75 percent to win their first match,” says Alex, “50 percent to medal in their division and 25 percent to win their entire weight class.”
However, not all of us compete. Not every student trains for gold; some just train for mental health. So how do we measure what success looks like across the board?
While one business aspect may include the membership count, we know that’s not the It factor. Beyond selling memberships, our core product, whose success we must measure, comes down to the quality of our martial arts and the quality of our community.
We don’t want just good martial artists – we want to build a good community. While competition can help us bring home newer and better ways to approach the game, everyone takes part in what fills the room.
While the competitor needs to exist to raise the standard with personally battle-tested martial arts, the rest get better in response, challenging their game and continuing to help those competitors improve and in turn, continue to elevate the caliber of training.
A vehicle for personal development
“Our martial arts programs are vehicles of personal development,” says Professor Alex, both for students training and for staff helping uphold, guide and develop these programs.
For anybody growing with the Easton team, both on and off the mats, Alex’s biggest piece of advice is to stay curious and keep learning.
Easton’s Reading List, full of books from those in Amal’s library when he founded the academy, to many of the books we’ve read in forming Easton’s process, holds a trove of valuable information.
As you grow in your field and take on new roles and responsibility, it becomes crucial to keep that beginners mindset that you hold when training on the mats.
“When you come to class, you’re totally ok not knowing and messing up,” says Alex, “going through reps until you acquire the skill sets. In your role, if you can stay in that beginner’s mindset, there’s nothing in our business that you can’t learn to do.”
As soon as we decide “I know how this works,” we run into hard stops; if we approach everything knowing we can learn more, we can continue to evolve endless iterations of ourselves as we grow.
Just as the journey on the mats requires constant trial and error, as does anything in life. Luckily, Eason provides a community and support system optimized to help us learn and grow, even as we mess up.
As we mentioned in that very first sentence – we all mess up. We expect it to keep happening, but we also expect you to grow and improve. With the structure in place, Easton encourages you to experiment, try new things. As long as they stay aligned with our core values and our mission to bring the best, battle-tested martial arts to Colorado, you won’t get in trouble for trying.
For this reason, we truly encourage you to utilize the vast amount of resources Easton offers to ensure your success in any role. For anybody in the company, Easton offers not only your local academy’s team but also its GM, the Department Heads of all the other academies, Program Directors, and leaders like Mike and Ian willing to give whatever guidance they have.
“The amount of people that even one DH could reach out to is a really insanely large support system,” says Sean, “and it’s unique from other martial arts businesses in that we have such a wide network.”
With the company’s growth-mindset, we have no shortage of opportunities for discourse and brainstorming. If you want to grow with Easton, the massively large network Easton has will help make you successful if you choose to use it. Those who seek answers will always find them