National Women’s Small Business Month Series Q&A Featuring Lili Bowen of Bowen’s Tiger Rock Martial Arts
October is Women’s Small Business Month in America! To celebrate, we’re featuring Cherokee-based women-owned businesses all month long. These inspiring stories will shed a well-deserved light on their incredible leadership, business acumen, and resilience.
This week, we’ll hear from Lili Bowen of Bowen’s Tiger Rock Martial Arts – a Woodstock-based martial arts gym that empowers families through taekwondo, extreme martial arts training, and weapons training. Follow along on cherokeega.org and via social media to like, follow, and share.
Bowen’s Tiger Rock Martial Arts was a recipient of the Cherokee Small Business grant. How has this benefited your business?
The small business grant was huge for us and very emotional. One of our Tiger Rock families who has been with us for years heard about this grant and provided me with information to apply.
This grant was so impactful for us because we did not have to let go of any of our staff, and that wouldn’t have been possible without it. When everyone was in quarantine, we were all giving our students private lessons on Zoom calls. Our students really needed individualized attention to grow and benefit as martial artists. The fact that I was able to give my staff those hours was such a gift.
What inspired you to open your own martial arts gym?
I am a generational by-product of two things – teachers and accountants. When I was a little girl, everybody was curious about what I would become. I stubbornly said, “Well I don’t want to become an accountant or a teacher.” Once I was roughly five years into my career as a martial artist, I realized I was a mixture of both.
I also had the blessing of being raised by two amazing women in my life, my mom and my grandmother. They had a small accounting firm, so watching powerful women business owners was fascinating to me. When I was younger, I would pretend to have my own business. During my teenage years, my brother and I watched Karate Kid. My brother even wanted to be Daniel San, but my mom said that when she watched me in the martial arts environment, she thought, “Oh my gosh, Lili was made for this.”
My first martial arts instructor and mentor taught me everything that I needed to know. From working as part-time staff and cleaning to having the opportunity to assist in teaching, then learning how to lead, and eventually learning the matrix of what creates a stable and relevant business – decade after decade.
How has being in Cherokee helped grow your business?
I’m from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the people there are like the people here. When I first moved to open the academy, I was in East Cobb. It was nice, but I didn’t feel a connection. I had a business friend that I met in East Cobb, and she and her husband were building a house in Eagle Watch. She encouraged me to look at the area. At the time, there wasn’t much there yet, so I was at the right place at the right time. I remember driving around, seeing the neighborhood, going into the grocery stores and gas stations, and I knew it was different. So, I took a chance and opened in Cherokee.
The first twelve families that I enrolled at the academy were my greatest cheerleaders. They helped me grow the business by telling their friends about it – that’s when I knew I was in the right place. It truly felt like home. The way we support, acknowledge, and encourage the programs, businesses, and families in Cherokee is so unique. It is a wonderful community, and the people are so interwoven and supportive of one another. When you are doing something in Cherokee that you are passionate about, everybody cares. This collaborative spirit is infectious.
In what ways can martial arts build leadership and discipline?
Every human being is born with these qualities, and we provide the opportunity to exercise them. Everyone loves doing something they’re good at. When people ask how our academy is different, our answer is always…. we catch our students doing things well. Of course, we correct the things that aren’t going well too, but when they’re doing something extraordinarily well, it’s important for us to point that out.
We often talk about the tenants of being a martial artist. These tenants are as old as martial arts itself. They are traits such as loyalty, respect, courtesy, and integrity.
At the end of every class, we have a mat chat. Recently, we were encouraging our kids to stand out in their communities, including being good citizens in their classrooms and at home. After that discussion, one of the kids and their parents shared with me that she was president of her fifth-grade class. We were able to highlight her and why that matters. This was encouraging to the other kids because they realized if she could do it, they could do it, too.
What is the best age to start martial arts?
There are different reasons why certain ages might be better to start, but the best age is whatever age you are today. We take students as young as four. Our groups include the tiger cubs (ages 4 and 5), the junior class (ages 6-11), the youth group (ages 12-15), and the adult group (16+). I’ve had the pleasure of teaching someone as old as 72, and it is remarkable. I’ve been a martial artist for 34 years, and I can tell you that every year is better for me as a student. You can’t be a great instructor without being a hardworking student first.
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
In a book called “Get Different” by Mike Michalowicz, I learned that small business ownership all boils down to a system. If somebody wants to be successful in whatever it is they’re doing, whether they own their own small business, or they’re working within that small business, or even if they’re in corporate business – all of it boils down to being able to utilize your systems to the max.
To learn more about Bowen’s Tiger Rock Martial Arts, visit https://tigerrockmartialarts.com/woodstock/.