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September 1, 2023

Easton All-Staff: Operating from a School and Program-Wide Perspective

Tatyana Grechina

Easton All-Staff: Operating from a School and Program-Wide Perspective

In our last episode of the Easton Staff Podcast, Mike Tousignant chats with Boulder GM and Kids Muay Thai Program Director Matt Bloss and our Kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Program Director, Jordan Shipman. The three, who have all at one point held the role of GM (and, in Matt’s case, still does), talk about what it takes to run a program that guides all of Easton, how to orchestrate all the moving parts, and how to know when something is worth losing friends and money over.

Listen to the full episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

Matt Bloss

Matt Bloss joined Easton Boulder in 2014 after working in the music industry as a dj and then running his own record label. He grew up playing (and coaching) team sports and coming from a background or more traditional martial arts like karate, tae kwon do and boxing, he was initially skeptical of Easton – until he decided Muay Thai was the most beautiful and dangerous martial art that existed, and devoted himself to learning it, becoming a black shirt.

Along the way, he got the opportunity to teach a class when Boulder needed coverage, and that class turned into a weekly class, which became two. From coaching at both Boulder and Arvada before coming back to run Boulder as its GM, Matt has experienced the entire spectrum of training, leading, and all the harder moments that fall in between. 

Today, Matt also directs the Easton Kids Muay Thai Program, responsible for developing the curriculum in concurrence with the larger world of Muay Thai, maintaining the same level of excellence across the board at all academies, and making sure all of the schools’ Kids Department Heads stay on the same page.

Jordan Shipman

Jordan Shipman, who holds a brown belt in BJJ, came to Easton in 2015 with a background in theater and video production looking to get back into martial arts after a long hiatus. Jordan also had some prior martial arts experience in the more traditional form of tae kwon do as a kid, which impacted him greatly, improving his confidence not just on the mats but in school and later, on stage. 

Like we often say, many of our roles grow out of people seeing a hole and filling it. This is exactly what Jordan did, both with the media work he contributed to Easton and developing the Kids Jiu Jitsu program. While his acting background helps with coaching and understanding how to mindfully show up in any space, his experience running his own video production company and ability to create film and tell a story made him a powerful technical asset in Easton’s own digital and storytelling space.

Before he became a GM and later a PD, Jordan filmed classes, podcasts, and other educational and informational materials for Easton alongside teaching adult Jiu Jitsu classes (all the things that Michael Phipps now does!) Like he would later do when he took over the Kids BJJ Department, Jordan saw where Easton needed more infrastructure and made it happen. 

Jordan opened Easton Longmont as its GM in January 2020 and quickly learned the challenges of opening a school in the middle of a pandemic. To begin with, starting a school from scratch looks a lot different than inheriting one with a fully operating staff and member-base, but especially amid shut downs and regulations which made close-contact sports face a heavy hit.  

However, regardless of academy size or age, some things will remain the same: the responsibilities to your students, staff and parents, keeping clear streams of communication between all members of your team, and maintaining a fluid bridge between the admin side and the martial arts side of your academy.

The experience that both Matt and Jordan shared as general managers running Boulder and Longmont has helped them hone the ability to mind all of the details while keeping the bigger picture in mind as they widen their perspectives and reach, now working with all of Easton’s academies under the umbrella of the Kids Martial Arts programs rather than just their home academy.

Art of direction

You can think of the Program Director role in terms of what a director does in a theater or making a movie – the central person that brings all the talent together.

“One of my favorite ways I’ve ever heard the director role expressed,” says Jordan, “is that they are a funnel. You have all these different artists working on a project, but there has to be one person that everything funnels through so everything is aligned.” 

“If you put together a movie and you have 100 different artists working on it, it’s going to be this disjointed mess that just does not work. It’s going to be a really terrible movie to watch. Because nobody said, ‘These are amazing costume designs, but they don’t really fit within the period of the story. So we need to tweak these designs so it fits.”

The word “director” doesn’t just refer to someone in charge of a specific department. A director is someone who operates above multiple departments and who must maintain a perspective of the whole, seeing that all of the moving parts operate cohesively in service of the bigger picture. 

At Easton, rather than costumes, lights and story, our Program Directors form the bridge between operations and the martial arts side to help ensure the production stays on track.

We have experts at coaching adults, coaching kids, selling membership and even our own creative team. However, all of these brilliant components might fall off track without a singular vision holding it together — to keep our teams fundamentally aligned with Easton’s vision and fuel the engines of our academies with it.

A system of checks and balances

In a place like Easton, a variety of skills goes a long way. While it would be cool if everyone employed were to have a black belt/black shirt or a high-level competition streak, that doesn’t always happen. Truthfully, even if it did we wouldn’t necessarily want that – the best fighters don’t always make the best teachers, or know how to design artful administrative systems.

To balance all of the strengths in our organization, we want people who bring a wealth of skills, perspectives and backgrounds to the table. Sometimes this means seeing who among your staff or your academy’s cast naturally moves into opportunities for growth. Some of our most valuable people may not find themselves as active on the mats but are blackbelt admin, and we need them all. And if your strengths lie on both sides of the playing field, you can go a long way.

Both Jordan and Matt have brought not just technical expertise in their martial arts to Easton, but have created a space for themselves by adding to the infrastructure of the school itself, right down to helping develop and curate its programs and their curriculum. 

Drawing from the realms of academia and the military, rather than reinvent the wheel, we implement vetted structures like a unified mission, vision, curriculum, core values, and a system of checks and balances to keep all seven schools on the same page.

“That is why we pushed hard on having the PDs in their realms,” Mike says. “It’s obvious to have GMs – you need those for things to work. It isn’t always obvious to have Program Directors. We kind of stole that idea from colleges. What do colleges do to make sure their programs excel? They have a program director for each department and they have a dean who manages everybody.”

With a structure already in place, the biggest thing general managers and program directors have to do is hone the ability to form, maintain and strengthen relationships between departments and within different layers of each department. 

[Building An Elevated Team + Forging Battle-Tested Martial Arts]

It’s not always easy to see the forest for the trees, and working solely within your home academy can make it easy to hyperfocus on the needs of the school and not consider the bigger picture. The ability to have that wider perspective requires an extra layer of setting aside the ego and seeing what needs to be done for the whole.

It takes looking beyond your immediate needs to see what is best in the long run, for everyone. Just as important as it is for the directors on the martial arts side to be unflinching and uncompromising of the vision, it’s equally vital for the operations and sales side to question, challenge and critically implement these ideas – the visionaries and the integrators.

“At a lot of schools, it’s either bad ass competitors or really strong teachers,” says Matt, “and maybe their kids program is what helps them float. At our Easton academies – and pretty much all of them – those two things seem to be pretty prevalent. And it’s really cool to see, on the competition side, as a PD, when we bring all of the Eastons together and what that can do.”

So how do we keep everyone on track and headed in the same direction, especially when dealing with multiple academies and dozens of unique personalities? 

Staying aligned

To help guide operations, from our program directors and general managers to department heads, coaches and staff, Easton places a large emphasis on the importance of Core Values – beliefs that lay the foundation for how we operate. Our core values at Easton are Excellence, Trust, Compassion and Stewardship, and these are things we’d be willing to lose friends and money over. 

The core values give us a north star to always look to when making decisions on where we go next and how we go about getting there. They’re also a standard that everyone, including leadership, is held to. Ultimately, there will be people who choose not to set themselves to the same standards, and this is one of the toughest parts of managing with Core Values.  

Does this mean we’re ruthless? No. Rather than “my way or the highway,” it’s more like, “this is the road we’re taking, and if you no longer want to walk it, feel free to take the next exit.”

[The Power Of Core Values In Business And Life]

We’ve had to let some good people go because they made a choice along the way not to stick to our values at Easton. It never comes without pain, but that is exactly why these core values are so important to us. Not everything is worth losing friends and family over, but these are.

Part of this requires an unshakable conviction about what we are here to do. Along with the daily task of keeping everything on track, we’re also trying to move the whole train forward. This means that as steadfast as we hold to our values, we equally as diligently hone our focus.

This is why Easton will never have yoga class. Not because yoga doesn’t fit into our culture of mental health and holistic growth. It does. But so many other studios already exist that specialize in yoga, we want to leave that to them.

As we grow in the direction of having the best martial arts in Colorado, we want to bring as many capable, talented and driven people on board whose visions align with ours to get there.

Start reading, start learning, and start leaning into the skills you already have. If you have something to contribute, we want to hear it. 

If you want to join our community, sign up for a free kickboxing or Jiu Jitsu class today

[Easton All-Staff: From Martial Arts Passion To Career: Find A Space And Fill It]


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