Customer Focus: Stealth Black Belt Academy

About Craig Smith

Growing up in the early 80’s, the advent of the video recorder was inspirational to me starting Martial Arts.  Like many of the Instructors around today I was inspired to take up Martial Arts from what I saw on the TV.

I first started training in 1985 in Wado Ryu Karate and Kendo under the late Sensei Bill Prytherch, a student of Suzuki Sensei. His methods were old school and I have fond memories of being struck on the back of the legs with a Bokken for minor stance imperfections – imagine doing that in today’s world! I also trained with Dave Jenkins and Anthony Jones, who introduced me to the competitive side of Karate. I gained my 1st Dan Black belt in 1991 and 2nd Dan in 1994, but I quit Martial Arts not long after this. I don’t really know why, but at the time I think in my own head I believed I had come full circle and there was nothing left to achieve.

The years went by and I left School to join the RAF, soon settling into my new career.  The only problem was I became too settled with the Squadron lifestyle of rapid deployment all over the world and even more rapid drinking, I ballooned to 22 stone. In 1999 I was posted to RAF Lossiemouth in the North of Scotland.  I had promised to take my eldest son Kieran to a club to learn Karate, (I was actually looking for myself but because of my size was to embarrassed to admit it). I found a local club “The Moray Black Belt academy”, and not knowing what to expect I took Kieran as my human shield.  My first impression was simply amazement as I had never seen a full time academy before, in fact I didn’t even know they existed. I think I enrolled the both of us on the spot. My first class was taken by the chief instructor, Master Lee Sansum, he took time to introduce himself and was really encouraging, we became good friends and through his encouragement and high expectations of me not only did I trim down to a very lean and powerful 16 stone but I also became a good competitor on the national Freestyle circuit. I remember with great fondness my days at MBBA (Later SBBA) it really was my ‘eye-opening’ moment in Martial Arts.

Whilst in the RAF I took full advantage of what they had to offer and was able to train with many different instructors from literally all around the world and in many different styles. It was with Master Jan De Vry that I reignited my passion for traditional Martial Arts. Jan teaches Tang Soo Do and Haedong Kumdo and is such a character, we remain firm friends to this day. He introduced me to the Late Master John Horan who inspired me to open my first club “Kaizen School of Karate”.  John graded me to 2nd Dan in Shukokai Karate and with his help Kaizen became a thriving club.

In 2006 I made the decision to leave the RAF and go full time, so with no job, no house and a pregnant wife, I started my transformation into a full time Martial Arts instructor.  It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride so far, but I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every minute.

About Stealth Black Belt Academy

“Nobody will pay for Karate classes in here, you need to get a proper job!” these were the words of encouragement from my mum upon hearing my decision to return home and open a full time Martial Arts centre. Thankfully I didn’t listen and now boast 2 full time centres in Coalville and Barwell in Leicestershire, with over 400 active students between them.

Right from the start I wanted Stealth to break the mould of your typical Martial Arts club. Being a lifelong Rugby fan and playing for the RAF national squad, I knew that the social side was equally as important as the playing side. It is on this principle that my team and I have forged the club we have today. We not only have a thriving club but we have a buzzing social scene too, which gives us a great family feel. We have our own fully licensed bar and café and we even have a kiddies play barn (Little Ninja generator) that is open during the day.

Stealth teaches my own brand of Martial arts, incorporating Traditional Karate, Sport Karate and Kickboxing. We also have a thriving pre-school Little Ninjas programme.

Initially the club was very tournament focused, but I soon came to realise that by being so, we were limiting our growth and hindering the progression of the majority of the students. We now focus on teaching the students Martial Arts rather than concentrating on the sport side and in turn are holding true to our mission statement of “building better adults”, producing some very gifted and athletic Black Belts.


Having opted to do my own billing via standing order when I was part time, I knew only too well that this was not going to be a viable option when I went full-time. I was introduced to Gerard, and can honestly say have never looked back.

Initially I saw NEST as a billing company, nowadays billing is only a small part of what NEST do for Stealth and for me personally. The company is far more than just billing and had it not been for Joy, my academies would not be running now! Like a lot of people new to business, in the early days I got side tracked very easily. Joy was very quick to challenge me and after a bit of a drilling, made me realise that if I concentrated on my core business, I would not need to go off at tangents. For this, I am eternally grateful. Within 6 months of “that conversation” with NEST’S help and Joy and Gerard’s faith in me, I had turned the business around. The transition was so great that in 2007 we won NEST’s ‘Flying Colours’ competition and the prize was an all expenses paid trip to the Martial Arts Super Show in Las Vegas.

NEST has been there for me every step of the way and I don’t see them as a separate company, I see them as an extension of my company. It really is a win/win partnership – the better I do, the better they do – it’s that simple, Gerard’s advice, mentorship and guidance over the years has been invaluable and NEST’s sector experience is unmatched and with it they provide a wealth of experience and knowledge.

Moving forward, one of the things I am most excited about is working with NEST on the technology development as this is an area that I am very passionate about.  We are often visited by other NEST clients as a sort of show academy and it’s great to show them how the V3 software has made such an impact on our business.

(Interview from April 2012 )

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