We had the good fortune of connecting with Donnie Jeffcoat and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Donnie, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
From a very early age, I was taught to take risks and not let fear control my destiny. I am so grateful to my parents and mentors for teaching me to take control of my life, set goals and not be afraid of failure. I teach my students that if you do not allow yourself to take risks, your life journey will likely become stagnant. I have learned throughout my life that in order to succeed and truly flourish, I can’t be afraid of failure or mistakes. The greatest example I can share is when I decided it was time for me to make a huge career change from the entertainment industry. I had been a working actor since age 10. It was an incredibly rewarding career, but I reached a place in my life where I felt the need to pursue something more fulfilling, something that served me better as a person. I had been assistant teaching at a local martial arts school, and realized I had stumbled upon a path that was fulfilling me as much as my acting career, if not more. I felt like I was truly making a difference in people’s lives. I was able to see that impact on a daily basis. I decided it was time to take a chance, a risk. I found an investor and began the process of starting my own school. I had absolutely no money and very little knowledge of running a business. I had to embrace the fact that risk was inevitable if I wanted to succeed. During the process of building my business from the ground up, I used to wake up in a panic, asking myself, “How am I going to do this?!”. Some days it seemed insurmountable and I’d be lying if I said there were more than a few times I thought of throwing in the towel. I had the realization that I was either going to succeed or fail, and neither one of those would break me. Of course, one was preferable to the other, but what did it matter then if I threw heart and soul into success and hoped for the best? Nearly ten years later, I am so thankful I took that risk. I feel as though I’ve built a village and that village has helped me succeed. I now have over two hundred students and get to do what I love every day alongside some of my closest friends. Looking back, every time I have allowed myself to take a risk, whether I’ve failed or not, I’ve always found that the risk was worth the reward. Even if that reward was a life lesson.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I own and run a martial arts academy, focusing on practical self defense for all ages. The curriculum I teach is called American Kenpo Karate…a blend of Japanese/Okinawan Karate, Chinese Kung Fu, and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, along with several other fighting styles and concepts. Instead of only focusing on the “practical” physical teachings, we put a large emphases on building strong and moral character spiritually and mentally as well. My goal is to encourage people to find the best side of themselves, by building a strong trifecta of mind, body and spirit. Instead of hosting a corporate style atmosphere, my team and I treat the business as a “mom and pop shop”. We get to know our clients and families personally, forming, what we hope to be, a life-long bond. We welcome students of every age, race, religious affiliation, gender, regardless if they are challenged physically or mentally. We have built a very successful program for children with autism. We teach several elderly clients, keeping them active with a more “tai-chi” approach. We teach specific women’s self defense programs, hosting free community seminars to educate and empower. I strongly believe in giving back to my surrounding neighborhood, helping support those who may be financially challenged. It took me time to build my clientele and their trust. I encourage my team to teach with passion and form a trusting bond with our dojo family. This approach is actually quite the opposite of how I was trained to run a school. My first six years of being a martial arts teacher was with a large, corporate franchise. Over time, I began to realize that this business model was not for me. I did not want to be a “cookie cutter Sensei”, never allowing my students to get to know me personally. I wanted to be sure my programs were affordable for anyone willing to make the commitment. So, I started to teach my way. I poured my heart into my classes and each individual student. I began to take the liberty of giving students and families going through financial hardship, discounted tuition or scholarships. Although the owners of this franchise did not like this, I began to create a loyal bond between me and the students. I finally decided it was time for me to make a change. I wanted to do things my way. About 75% of the school followed me when I left and opened my own dojo. It was not an easy transition, but with my students help and support, we did it. I opened my school in 2011 with just enough students to pay my rent, which was a huge blessing. During the first year in business, I learned to accept my mistakes, learn from them and to never be afraid of taking chances. I would take any chance I got to be a part of community events, give free seminars at schools and local businesses and get my name out there in the neighborhood. I got to know neighboring businesses and always welcomed them to drop off business cards and/or advertising brochures in exchange for the same at their establishments. I found that the more active I was within my local area and the more creative I became with getting the word out about my school, the more I succeeded. My dream was to create a dojo where everyone feels the good vibe the minute they walk through the doors. That welcoming energy has blossomed into a truly magical and uplifting space to explore martial arts.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My list of good eats for my visiting friends and family… Koreatown for bbq, Sushi 101 in Studio City (The owner, Toshi, is the best!), authentic taco trucks in NoHo, a hot bowl of Pho from one of the many awesome Vietnamese restaurants, a culinary tasting trip through Chinatown and Little Tokyo, and the list can go on and on. I like to show my visitors a few of my favorite spots to view the Hollywood sign up in the hills. I usually take my guests to Venice and Malibu to see the ocean, boardwalk and beach vibe. One of my favorite unique places to take guests is The Lost Spirits Distillery tour. A unique experience!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I dedicate this Shoutout to the people who have gifted me with love and support throughout my journey…my family, my amazing wife, my friends and my students. Their continued support and loyalty is what keeps me motivated and excited for the future.