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Eye of the Tiger

By Dan Fazio

Brandon Keeton taught hand-to-hand combat to young Marines for 15 years. So it makes sense that after retiring from the Corps, this former enlisted guy who became an officer would set up shop teaching others how to fight.

In 2012, Keeton, 40, opened Tiger Rock Martial Arts of Central Pennsylvania in New Cumberland, Pa., a “slightly rough” neighborhood where he ended his 21-year career with the Marines as a recruiter. With 15 years of experience as a close combat instructor and another 18 years of boxing experience, Keeton teaches taekwondo with a little boxing mixed in.

It works. In only two years, his studio already has produced 13 national champions and five world champions in taekwondo. He has 68 students – many of them children – and experienced 900 percent growth between 2012 and 2013.
What benefits do children gain from martial arts?Wow! Where to start?! Of course there is discipline and self-control, but it also teaches perseverance. The martial arts aren’t really about fighting and beating people up. It’s about being a better person. Teaching people how to better themselves and seeing tangible improvement is what I enjoy most about it.

When did you decide to start your own business? The actual decision was in 2010, but I’ve been steering towards it and have always admired small business people my entire life.

What obstacles did you face?I am absolutely convinced that if you want to be told “no” on a consistent basis, that you should become a Marine Corps recruiter or a small business owner. In order to get my school the way I wanted it, I estimated that I would need about $93,000. I asked for $50,000 and I only actually got $10,000. Talk about a shoestring budget!

What has worked well in terms of building your business? The knowledge and practical application that I gained about advertising while assigned to the 4th Recruiting District as the advertising officer was absolutely invaluable. So, more than most start-ups, I had a firm handle on advertising and at least the book knowledge (master’s degree) of how to run a good business.

How did you become a better “CEO” of your company?Being involved in everything! It’s like an old CO of mine used to say when I was put in charge of my first company, “Anything that happens or fails to happen, is your fault.”

How do you measure success?When I take a kids that can’t do jumping jacks and turn them into a national or world taekwondo champion in a year … yeah, that’s a great feeling! Or when I take kids with emotional issues and make them understand that you don’t have to blow everything out of proportion and become good competitors, that’s how I measure success. Making kids (and adults) into better people than when they first started with me is how I measure success.

What advice do you have for other veteran business owners to help them become a better “CEO”?Don’t be “hands off”! Get into everything, ask the dumbest questions and don’t be afraid to admit to someone beneath you that you don’t know the answer and are looking to them for input.

Do you plan to expand?Absolutely! We started a great program with the local Recreation Department and based on those programs, we will know where we need to expand to. I have a couple of instructors that are ready to take over their own program. It’ll be fun to watch them do as I have done.

Written by Len Vermillion


About Tiger-Rock Martial Arts International
Tiger-Rock Martial Arts s a National franchising company providing health, skills and fitness training through its franchisees’ Martial Arts programs for members of all ages. Our programs enrich their personal and professional lives in many ways. Tiger-Rock programs are a blend of modern sport science, the latest research, and hundreds of years of martial arts tradition to provide you with the most effective experience available.