Interview with Danny Zelig:

In today's post, our Senior Instructor, Kurt Colpan interviews Danny Zelig, a highly successful Krav Maga Instructor and business owner of Tactica Krav Maga Institute.



Danny Zelig is a premier self-defense expert and instructor. He is a 2nd generation Israeli Krav Maga instructor of Imi Lichtenfeld. He has been training in Krav Maga since 1983. An infantry combat veteran of the IDF, he holds multiple certifications in Krav Maga, starting with a Military Krav Maga Instructor certification in 1987, through the IDF at the Wingate Institute - Military Division. He offers civilian, law enforcement, and military instructor training, as well as special topics training around the world. He founded Tactica and the Tactica Krav Maga Institute.


Kurt: Danny, tell me a little about yourself and your Krav Maga story?  

Danny: I'm Danny Zelig. I am the founder and head instructor of Tactica (a training group of combat sports, tactical training, and functional fitness) and the Tactica Krav Maga Institute

Starting from a teenager with boxing and Krav Maga, through the IDF as a Military Krav Maga Instructor and combat soldier, and later as a civilian, I have been passionate about Krav Maga for over 30 years, as a practitioner, instructor, and businessman. This has led me to be exposed to many styles and approaches.

Currently, in addition to teaching weekly classes, I hold special topics seminars and intensive training courses (firearms and Krav Maga), and also certify Krav Maga instructors through the Tactica Krav Maga Instructor Certification program that I've created from my lifetime of experience as both a student and instructor.    

Kurt: To us it looks like you're running a pretty good shop. The people look happy, you're getting out there and showing the benefits of KM and you don't look like 'just another KM school'.

There is an air of real unity in your club, from my outside opinion. Is this the case and if so how do you create it? I'm asking so Instructors can learn from this, as I feel creating that vibe is what brings the people back.

Especially when running the IKMF in my region, I used to see Instructors who just stick up a sign, who expect that people are just going to roll in because they teach KM.

But it never seems to work out like this and a lot of these people just give up. Realising a dream is hard work I guess... Tell me, was this a part of your dream and is it hard work? What does it take? What does an instructor need to do in order to succeed (financially, KM knowledge, school values, etc)? What values drives you?  

Danny: Yes, it's hard work. I opened my first Krav Maga school in 2006 in Berkeley, California, USA. It was a small room that I subleased in a BJJ facility, starting out with 0 students. There were many days where I just waited and trained by myself until students started getting interested.

After 16 months, I had 150 members, and I moved to operating exclusively out of a larger space. Shortly after, with increased membership growth, I expanded into the neighboring unit and membership just kept on growing. The school that I designed (7,000 sq ft) was used as a model for Krav Maga training facilities, and was often shown as an example for other instructors and gym owners.

After 3 years, I opened another location in San Francisco (2,400 sq ft), and then 8 years after starting out in that small room, I sold the Berkeley location and opened two more exclusive use facilities: Oakland (3,000 sq ft) and Santa Clara, CA (12,000 sq ft + outdoor).

These past 8 years have been filled with ups and downs, and required constant work on my part.

Throughout this time, I had to build a team of Instructors who would personally develop and grow together with the company. 90% of the instructors are still with me -- almost all of the ones that left did so because they moved out of state.    

Kurt: So what does it take?  

Danny: These are a few rules that I follow, and that I believe have helped the success of my business.

1. Work hard.

2. Be open and humble.

3. Be professional.

4. Be more than a gym.

1. Work hard

  • Be patient and consistent. Success takes time. Take things one at time, with discipline. No shortcuts. Don't try to "learn" and then teach from YouTube or short workshops.
  • Be present on the mat. As the owner, you need to be present and visible, even when not teaching. Just because you are the owner doesn't mean you have the option of not teaching. Don't stop being a practitioner yourself.
  • Be okay with failure. You can't succeed at everything you try to do. Successfully recovering from and learning from failure is a mindset.

2. Be open and humble

  • Drop your ego. Remind yourself: I'm not the best and I should not be the best. Talent is not enough. Keep working and growing on all levels.
  • Don't be closed-minded or elitist. Learn something from everyone. Recognize that others have strengths or qualities that you can learn from, and use their contributions and talents when you can.

3. Be professional

  • Hold yourself and your business to the highest standards. Don't let unqualified personnel teach. Use good business sense when dealing with customers. Don't lie or misrepresent yourself. Take pride in your school and what you do.
  • Be respectful. Respect your instructors, peers, employees, students, and styles/federations different from your own.
  • Be responsible. Understand your profession is self-defense. Don't teach what you don't know. Self-defense training can be and is life changing.

4. Be more than a gym

  • Create a positive environment. Surround yourself by positive people, and create a positive community for students and instructors alike.
  • Be more than a self-defense school. Our schools are a place of emotional and physical healing.

Kurt: That said above, it's not as simple as a sign, a Google ad or a yellow pages listing. Do you have a solid marketing model you work with? What kind of activities does it involve and where do you find your most students?

Finding students isn't easy work, and getting them to sign up can be even more difficult once you've got them to turn up. What has contributed to your success? What are your methods? What do you recommend instructors do?  

Danny: Marketing is useful, but is nothing compared to the experience in your school. You can spend all the money in the world on marketing and advertising or "free" trials and trick contracts, but if your classes and your school can't stand on their own, it won't work in the long run.

As for what works, I listed it all above.  

Kurt: How do you create a solid team environment and build your business with the help of others? How does a lead instructor or business owner really lead the team? And how is it done without ego and without individuals wanting to out-do each other, if you know what I mean?

  Danny: Good leadership.

Leadership is hard to teach. You have to set and be an example, and practice what you preach. You have to gain respect as a person, then as a business owner or instructor. You have to realize that true success for an instructor is when the student becomes better than you. Make sure that the environment that you create is a "cage free" environment - don't deny your instructors or students to try other styles or approaches.  

Kurt: Before we finish Danny, please if you had one piece of advice, or two, for the instructor who wants to build his school to be 'successful' then what would it be?  

Danny: Love what you do. Your passion will often be the only thing that gets you through the hard work, long hours, and failures.