Eight years ago, Ron Engleman came to Australia to study psychology. To pay the rent and make ends meet he started teaching small classes in krav maga, a self-defence system developed in Israel. Little did he know that by 2012 he would be opening his fourth training facility, teaching hundreds of students and turning his hobby into a successful business.
Engleman’s passion for krav maga started early, after he began training at the age of 10. "Growing up in Israel, I trained with grandmasters at an early age, like somebody in Japan would study karate or judo, I studied krav maga."
Upon turning 18, Engleman began his mandatory service in the Israeli Defence Force and due to his background he was made a certified krav maga instructor in the force.
"[Krav maga] is not about defeating an opponent, it's not about mastering your inner zen, it's wholly dedicated to developing the skills so if were attacked, you would be able to come out of that conflict safely.
"We teach people to deal with violent situations that they might realistically encounter on things that you may encounter; three people trying to attack you, if somebody threatens or tries to abduct you, we deal with defence against weapons like guns and knives, and we also teach how to avoid and de-escilate encounters that have the potential to become violent " says Engleman. "It's very simple, anybody can do it because it's based on natural reaction, what you do in moments of stress, making it very easy and practical to use."
Once he had finished his service, the lure of further study brought Engleman to Australia in 2005. Believing he could pay his way through university by teaching krav maga, he undertook a civilian instructor certification course during a brief trip home.
"Just on the basis of teaching two nights a week it became popular and it grew a lot just through word of mouth," he says. "People seemed to like what we were doing, they liked the style, it's very different from anything else on the market in terms of martial arts."
Riding the growing wave of popularity, Engleman began the Krav Maga Defence Institute (KMDI) in 2006. Some of his more dedicated students eventually become instructors themselves, and class numbers grew, but Engleman still did not expect the huge response he received.
"We expanded our operation to the city and on opening night, 100 people turned up. From there we started to understand that this was not a hobby any more, there was a lot of demand for it and it started to turn into a serious operation."
Engleman now has three facilities, a full-time training centre in Sydney’s Surry Hills, as well as other centres in the CBD and Sutherland Shire. Engleman will also be returning to Bondi, the original location of the institute, to open a fourth facility.
While Engleman has enjoyed a fair amount of success, he says there were tough times. "For the first couple of years I was working everyday from eight in the morning until 12 at night."
Engleman believes that without that kind of dedication and discipline the business would never have been grown as quickly, if at all.
His institute, which has grown to 400 active members in Surry Hills alone, has over the past few years begun to sell out courses weeks in advance and consistently quadrupled in size from year to year.
The gym now has five trainers and 11 staff all up, with many trainers taking on extra roles within the company, including the general manager, the operations manager and the marketing manager.
The 30-year-old believes his business success has come down to three key factors: the product, the focus on the client and the team, which he says is like a family.
"By the time somebody works for us, whether it's in administration or as an instructor, chances are we've known them already for couple of years established a relationship and we've singled them out from the hundreds of students we have," he says.
While Engleman hopes to grow the business he says it will all depend on the quality of product he will be able to offer. Ultimately he wants to be able to offer the public. "The idea is to not only be able to teach krav maga but also to teach more people to become krav maga instructors and to help spread to system, help people protect themselves and help people earn a living spreading that knowledge."
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