Leadership to the Xtreme – interview with Mike Chat of XMA
What are some of the most important aspects of being a leader? With the upcoming presidential election captivating the country, it’s a very relevant question. In fact, if we use the example of the presidential candidates, you could argue that they all embody key leadership qualities like the ability to inspire, mobilize, motivate and effectively communicate. But there is one key quality that I think most people in a leadership position, presidential candidates included, miss.
You see, I had to rethink this equation after sitting down and interviewing a very dynamic man who brings a new distinction to the word “leader.” His name is Mike Chat, and he’s been inducted into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame, the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, he’s a 7-time World Forms & Weapons champion, the former blue Power Ranger and the founder of XMA: Xtreme Martial Arts. And when I say he’s the founder of XMA: Xtreme Martial Arts, I’m not just talking about the building, located in North Hollywood on Lankershim Blvd- where he and his instructors teach classes from morning until night. No, Chat is the man responsible for having developed this new form of martial arts, infusing all of the different traditional styles of martial arts with dance, gymnastics, acrobatics and performance art.
“And it’s not about what you do, but how you do it,” Mike shared during our interview. “So it’s not about that block, that punch, that kick, it’s about doing it in a dynamic way and performing it.” Chat is certainly no stranger to performance, having been training and studying martial arts since the age of ten. But one area in his life where he’s not putting on a performance is in regards to his commitment to building other leaders. It’s where he feels most authentically self-expressed, having trained dozens of World Forms & Weapons champions in addition to holding the title himself. He’s also trained many of the stunt doubles for some of Hollywood’s leading men. And several of his students have gone on to have very successful film careers, probably the two most noted being Jaden Smith of Karate Kid-fame and Taylor Lautner of the Twilight saga.
And in addition to personally contributing to the lives of individuals, he’s also licensed out his XMA program to over 1400 schools, which will impact people and communities he’ll never meet. And he’s just partnered with the ATA (American Taekwondo Association), newly creating and launching his Certified Instructor Training Program for them. So needless to say, Chat has really given his life to this work, and to making Xtreme Martial Arts available to as many people as possible. And the impact he’s made has reached beyond his customers, transforming the entire industry as a whole.
Before XMA, back in the 80’s and 90’s, martial arts schools had been suffering in the retention of their teen students. According to Chat, the student body in most martial arts programs was made up of roughly 80% kids and 20% adults. And the kids were dropping out in large numbers as they became teens, which explains the huge gap between kids and adults. “What happened was first it was The Karate Kid and Ninja Turtles, and then The Matrix, Jackie Chan and Jet Li- and they all made martial arts cool again,” Chat remarked. “So kids were watching The Matrix, but taking classes and getting Karate-Kid martial arts. And they didn’t want Karate-Kid martial arts, they wanted Matrix martial arts, but there was no Matrix martial arts available.”
And after having trained and studied with Olympic-winning gymnast and Taekwondo fighters, having been accountable for the number one ranked junior martial arts competitive team along with the first international sports karate training camps- not to mention his work as a screen actor in Hollywood- it’s no surprise that someone with Chat’s skill set, business acumen and huge vision would take on finding a solution to what was missing in the market place.
“So we created a program designed to teach in schools what we were already doing in TV, Film and in tournaments and labeled it Xtreme Martial Arts,” he recalls. “So now there is actually a structure in place for schools to attract and retain students who are already excited about X Games and all of the extreme sports movements that contribute to this lifestyle.” Initially, Chat launched the program through two partnerships he fostered with Century Martial Arts, the world’s largest martial arts equipment manufacturer/distributor and with MAIA (Martial Arts Industry Association) – the industry’s largest trade organization. But once key players at the Discovery Channel got wind of this new movement, they decided the topic was potent enough to investigate and showcase, instantly launching Chat and Xtreme Martial Arts into mainstream pop culture.
The 2003 documentary, aptly titled XMA: Xtreme Martial Arts, treated viewers to a behind-the-scenes look into the world of Xtreme Martial Arts through a scientific lense, dissecting the physiology behind some of martial arts’ most popular moves as Chat trained and sparred with his then student Matt Mullins. 2003 was also the year the highly regarded The Last Samurai film was released, which Discovery cross-promoted with the XMA documentary, further legitimizing XMA’s relevance while expanding their own audience at the same time. And the impact on Chat equated to about another 4 million dollars added to his marketing budget, and ultimately led to him licensing out the XMA program to his first 500 schools.
“I felt like the stars were all aligning,” Chat shared. “People were coming to us; the doors that we wanted to open were opening and the timing was just right. We were hitting areas of our industry with our programming that nobody had ever done before. Also, there had been no avenue in which anyone could compete in these divisions, so we created avenues. And it was so amazing to see the tournament circuits, and televised events and the transformation of the industry where it became the most exciting program for people.”
In 2007, the dream that all this work had been leading up to finally materialized when Chat became a studio owner, opening the doors to his 5100 square-foot XMA World Headquarters. The studio operates as a state-of-the-art training facility, offering classes that range from beginner to advanced levels, taught by some of the most sought after instructors within the dance, acrobatics, gymnastics, stunt, circus and martial arts industries. And none of this happened by accident. Success always happens on purpose, and Mike Chat is no exception. “I grew up watching those boy scout Kung Fu movies and TV shows when I was little,” he shared. “And that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I got into martial arts and started training and competing. And then the goal after high school was to go to college, get a business degree, open up schools and work on training in the movies. And that’s exactly what I did. And now you have extreme form, extreme weapons, demo team competitions and tournaments all over the world.”
And while the headquarters’ facility is equipped for all kinds of tricks, moves and intricately choreographed performances, what’s taking place inside Chat’s studio on a daily basis is so much bigger than that. In fact, martial arts is really just the vehicle he uses to build his students up as leaders. “The reality is when you come into a martial arts class, you basically just learn some moves and a bit of philosophy,” he commented. “What we’re really doing is changing behaviors. So I implement a lot of hardcore positive anchoring and conditioning, that’s the martial part of what we do. And then we add in the art form and the life skills, and it’s the combination of the two that is the winning combo for actually changing behaviors.”
Yes, on the surface, you could argue that the appeal of XMA comes from all the flips, tricks and kicks we see in the movies and on TV. In fact, to deny the draw these features have provided would be nothing short of irrational given they are largely responsible for thrusting the art form into mainstream pop culture. But it’s important to remember that people may buy a service once based on the features, but they will only invest long terms based on how the service makes them feel and/or what it gives them access to. And in the case of XMA: Xtreme Martial Arts, students are given access to self-expression and life skills that few other activities offer.
“We use martial arts as a base,” Chat explained. “So if we’re breaking a board, we don’t focus on the problem that is the board, we focus on the solution that is getting your hand through the board. So the philosophy is simple, and when students are working on that board break, it’s all about commitment and follow-through. It really has very little to do with technique; it has everything to do with learning to follow through no matter what, and starting strong and finishing strong.”
Starting strong and finishing strong is not just a concept for Chat, it’s truly his life on-the-court. And because of this, his future and the future of the martial arts industry is ripe with possibility. He’s already opened up a second location for his XMA school out in the Agoura Hills area of Los Angeles, he’s just launched new leadership and legacy programming within the American Taekwondo Association, a 12-year process that will bring his programs to over 250,000 students worldwide- and he’s got a few TV projects that he’s developing.
It’s true, Mike Chat knows how to inspire, mobilize, motivate and effectively communicate like many leaders, but what is distinct about him is his commitment, passion and effectiveness at causing other leaders around him and around the world. “Leadership is what was given to me. If you look at anyone in a high-level position, how they got there was from helping other people. It’s just a natural progression. And when the conversation stops being about martial arts, and when people stop referring to it as ‘martial arts’ and start speaking in terms of wanting their kids to learn leadership, that’s when my work will be done.”
For more information on Mike Chat or XMA: Xtreme Martial Arts, please visit xmahq.com.
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