Making a Living Following Your Passion with Chris Casamassa

Today I am joined by the legendary Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. I’m not kidding. The actor that played Scorpion in the original Mortal Kombat movie. His name is Chris Casamassa and beyond being a badass ninja that can defeat all of the enemies from Earth realm and help Shang Tsung in his goal to conquer earth realm. He’s actually an incredible business owner who owns 15 martial arts studios and runs a mastermind called Business Kombat with a K. 

Adam: When I talk to business owners, the number one thing they talk about to me is “how do you find the time in the day? How do you get everything done? How do you achieve everything that you do?” I was a professional fencer, traveled the world, internationally competing, and I was ranked in both Africa and England. 

You don’t get to be world-class at any kind of martial arts without dedication. While fencing may not have the same rules of respect, we often fling masks at each other, if we’re upset at the result, which I don’t think is common in any other martial art. But you still have to be there early, be there first, focus, know what you’re doing, and train all parts of your body. This is something you’ve brought into your business.

Chris: That is correct. Stick with it. Listen, there are two sayings that I try to do. Number one, we, you and I, and everyone listening to this are given the same amount of hours in a day that was given to Einstein, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. We’re all running on the same day. They don’t have any extra hours that we don’t, the same hours. So it’s just a matter, which is the second part, your goals and your dreams have to be stronger than your excuses.

Adam: I love that. So if there was any kind of tips you could give somebody on finding it hard to stick to a schedule or something like that, or maybe they haven’t found those big lofty goals, what are some practical steps somebody can take away from this to get their mindset in place? I’m thinking of a few people I know that need to listen to well.

Chris: Well, listen, I kind of already touched on it, right? We have families, right? So my “why” is my wife, my kids, that’s why I do what. I’m blessed, right? I genuinely love what I do, sharing my passion about martial arts, and martial arts is something that is part of my DNA practically. So I love it and I’m blessed to make a really good living at following my passion. 

A lot of people aren’t in that space, so if that’s you, first, you got to do like a Gary V thing. You have to start with a little side hustle, find something you’re passionate about, start with spending an hour a day on that thing, and then start to scale up from there. If you’re already doing it, but you’re not really where you want to be, then you have to set those goals about getting to where you want to be. What’s your driving force? Why? For me, giving up wasn’t stronger than providing for my wife and my kids.

Lessons from Playing Scorpion

Adam: I absolutely love it. This is so important for people to realize, if you’re trying to go through the motions, but you don’t really resolve it, you absolutely won’t get it, you’ll find all the excuses not to do it. I’m a massive Mortal Kombat and Scorpion fan, and one of the stories I got from talking was a really good insight into how a multimillion-dollar company can make a massive mistake by not listening to the audience.  

I talk about this all the time. I do a lot of offer creation. I help people create products and I’m always telling them the best way to create an offer is to talk to the audience. To identify what they want and then deliver that to them. The “deliver that to them” is a key component. You need to actually deliver what they want, not what you think they want. There was a moment you were telling me in the Mortal Kombat movie, the original one in 1995, where you were Scorpion, where the test screening got it wrong. If you don’t mind sharing that story because I think it’s a classic example of a mistake costing somebody a lot of money.

Chris: Yeah, and the mistake wasn’t so much that they didn’t want to deliver, it’s that they ran out of time. But, we asked for a couple more days, anyway, long story short, Ashby who played Johnny Cage, and I spent weeks rehearsing our fight scene. He really wanted to get it right. He wanted to do authenticity of the character. I was a huge fan of the game. My two favorite characters were actually Raiden and Scorpion, in that order! 

Nowadays, of course, it’s Scorpion, but then it was Raiden. So I really wanted to do some justice to the Scorpion character, having been a fan of the game myself. We were in Thailand at this celebratory force and we were getting ready to do the shots. I was there for three weeks. They didn’t get to us until the very last day.

Anybody that’s worked in the industry knows they tend to go over budget and over time, right? They’re given a certain amount of time, a certain amount of money, but things happen. Movie production is a unique animal itself, but this movie was like any other, it ran a little bit over.

Here’s the scene, just in case…

So we had this huge fight scene, like three and a half minute fighting scene, all done. We start doing the graphics for where Scorpion and the creatures are chasing through the forest. It’s going through there, we get through all those, they’re called block shots. We get through all those block shots, and it’s now getting later in the day. And I noticed it was our last day because my plane ticket had me at the airport the next day. 

So the whole production was wrapping and I looked at Linden and I went, “Man, I don’t know if we’re going to get through this.” So they go, “All right, we’re going to do the fight scene.” We did a couple of wide masters, but they’re like, “We just don’t have the time to do it. So we’re going to take the part where he runs at you and does the kick and that’s going to kill you.” And I just looked at their director and I go “One kick and Scorpion dies?!” And he’s like, yeah, you know, it’ll be fine. You know, we’ll do something in blah, blah. 

I had to defend the game, knowing like, first of all, you’re not taking Scorpion out with one kick. Anyway, it was bad enough that I knew I was going to lose. I was trying to convince him the whole time, like, no it’d be cool if Scorpion won. And they’re like, “yeah, it doesn’t save for that in a script.” I was like a nobody at the time. So I go, okay, listen, you’re the director, I’m going to do what you say. He runs at me, I take the kick, boom.

Cut to a month and a half later they do some test screenings, what you were referencing, and they get to the part where we’re in the forest. We do the thing. Johnny runs at me, hits me with that kick in the forest and I die.

I got a phone call later that night and it was the producer, Larry Chasnoff. He goes, “Chris, I got to tell you something.” I go, what? He goes, “You know the fight scene with you and Linden?” I go, yeah. He goes, “So it got to the part where he kicked you and you died. The audience stood up and threw their popcorn at the screen and said, there’s no way this would happen and walked out. Chris, it didn’t happen once, it happened three times! So we need to have you come in and we’re going to reshoot the fight scenes.”

Chris: So we’re back in LA at that time, they got this airport hanger in Santa Monica costing like 8 million to build, this was way before computers, and the stuff they can do now. But they had to build that set. You see in the film, they actually built that, we were literally fighting 20 feet up on a platform in an airport hangar in Santa Monica, which became Scorpion’s lair. We were there for I think almost four weeks shooting that fight scene. 

So it was an expensive lesson that they learned, but listen, it worked out great. The movie was number one at the box office for like six weeks straight. it’s done over time, scaling to a billion-dollar franchise. So, it was well worth the investment of time.

Adam: What I love about this is I think as a business owner, we can all appreciate the idea that, oh, we’ll just cut a corner here and cut a corner there. As you said, it’s not that they did it intentionally, it’s that they ran over time so we’ll just remove this one piece. I think we very often as business owners think about what can we get away with as opposed to what’s going to deliver for the audience, what they want. 

In this case, thankfully the filmmakers have the system of putting a screen test into test before they do a real launch, what we would call a soft launch now. They don’t just do the soft launch to make money and then do a real launch to make more money later. The soft launch is a test to see what tweaks they have to make to ensure the real launch actually flies. In this situation, it costs $8 million but made them billions on the back of it. 

So it was right, it was worth making that adjustment. So, obviously, since then you’re now mostly focused on growing your martial studios, but you also have business Kombat. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what business combat is and how it works?

Chris: So obviously it’s a tongue-and-cheek reference to Mortal Kombat, Business Kombat with a K. It’s our mastermind that we have for martial arts school owners so that they can continue to grow their business, and thrive in this industry. The majority of martial arts schools are barely making it and they got into it because they love it. They don’t know a whole lot about business or they’re not running their business the right way. 

So our template, obviously 57 years of experience, 15 locations were on track to have 20 locations by 2025, so our model just flat out works. It’s not about the style of martial arts, which is the cool thing about having a martial arts mastermind. It’s the business, it’s the systems. The thing I tell everybody is that my systems have systems. There’s no accidental thing that happens in any of our studios. It’s all on purpose. It is a designed plan that again, just flat out works. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to share that with dozens of martial arts school owners around the country. Now they’re doubling, tripling, and quadrupling their income because they’re implementing systems, not because they’re teaching anything different, but they’re putting systems in their business that allows them to get duplicatable, reliable, and predictable results time after time. And that’s what our mastermind is.

Adam: Which is fabulous. Are there a couple of those tips you wouldn’t mind sharing? Because obviously I don’t know how many martial art studios are going to listen to this, but there might be other companies that can benefit from those more obvious things if you don’t mind sharing.

Chris: Sure. Well, a couple of things. I mean, it really all comes down to this business as a customer service business. If you’re not servicing your customers and doing something they would never expect, then they’re just going to go to the martial arts school down the street. I could throw a rock at my front window and almost hit another martial arts school, they’re everywhere. 

They don’t all win, but they are everywhere. But customer service, we do unique things that they would never expect. They don’t just give us their money and we say, here, sign this contract. There’s an entire onboarding box they get, which is like a “Welcome to Red Dragon.” That’s got all of our swag in it. It’s got sticker packs, key chains, pens, pencils, folders, and stuff the kids can use. It’s got a copy of my number one best-selling book, Bully Proof, Fitness Bully, Proof Life, inside of it, and a Red Dragon studio shirt. 

It’s this whole exchange of value beyond that we do two, four, and six-week onboarding calls. When somebody signs up, we don’t just take their money and throw them in class for two weeks. There’s a call that gets scheduled to say, “Hey, how are you doing? Do you have any questions?” Four weeks, six weeks in between that we have three, five, and seven sticky letters that go out that again, show value, help us build rapport, and give them knowledge because training in martial arts isn’t something we can’t assume that they know, which is a mistake owners make.

Like, “oh, you signed up for my business. You know everything about it.” No, you don’t. We’ve been around 57 years. There’s no way in two weeks, they’re going to learn everything about a 57-year-old business. But through these processes, a series of videos goes out and emails.

It’s systems within systems that allow us to build culture quickly, build rapport fast and keep retention high

Again, it’s systems within systems that allow us to build culture quickly, build rapport fast and keep retention high because that’s the other thing, there’s a high turnover in the martial arts industry. Just like in the fitness or gym industry, there’s a high turnover, but our industry for martial arts has a 7% average turnover rate.

But for Red Dragon, we’re at 2.5%. So we’re well under the industry standard because of what we do to build that culture. I don’t know if that helps, but…

Adam: It’s so useful actually, I guess some massive takeaways. I know so many people that sell online programs and don’t do personal follow-ups. They send a digital program and that’s it. That personal follow-up is a no-brainer to make you feel like you’re cared about. It’s funny, we have a fitness company, and one of the first things we told the fitness company when we purchased the percentage of it and got them through their promotions was you need to personally text message reach outs, it’s what we’ve been doing. 

So it’s like, “Hey, how is everything? How are you finding it? Do you need any more attention?” They loved it and it made a massive change in the comfort level and the results we were getting in feedback. Everyone loved it, so I absolutely loved that. We are rounding out towards the end. Now there’s one question I always ask everyone, which is, the name of the podcast is, “Smart Businesses Do This.” If you were going to complete that sentence, what do you think smart businesses should be doing?

Chris: They have a communication channel that allows them to get their message out in a way that their customer understands. Here’s what I mean. You and I are on a podcast right now, but you’re also filming this. Some people want to hear my voice. Some people want to see me. Some people want to see you. Some people would rather read the transcription in an email. 

Some people would maybe get a text blast. Every one of my customers prefers to be communicated to. But what I know is I can communicate to them in five different ways so that no matter what, my message gets to them. So the rule is you can never over-communicate with your members.

Adam: I absolutely love that. It’s funny you say that I’ll top it off. I say the same in our company. Sometimes in our company, I’ll be saying something and someone will say to me, “Hey, you’ve said it, I’ve got the point.” I was like, “Listen, with love, I’m going to over-communicate this because it’s much better we have a habit of over-communication versus a habit of under communication.” Making sure that people fully understand

Chris: 100% agree, 100%.

Adam: I love that Chris, if people want to learn more about you, find out about Business Kombat, and some of the other things you’re doing, or maybe even join Red Dragon studio, where’s the best place for them to go?

Chris: If they’re in Southern California and they want to do martial arts, is the website to go to. If they want to find out more about me or, or anything like that, just go to You can find me there. I’m also really easy to find on just about any social media channel from Facebook to Instagram, to YouTube, to Snapchat, to TikTok. I’m everywhere.

Adam: The way I found Chris Casamassa was Scorpion Mortal Kombat movie, 1995. That’s how I did it. So I highly recommend you guys go check him out and see everything he’s doing. We’ve got a good mutual friend Michael Bernoff as well. If you guys know. Yes, Michael Bernoff, he’s an amazing person. I’ll get him on the podcast, hasn’t been on here yet. But yeah, Chris, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate having you here on the podcast.

Chris: Thanks for having me, Adam, 

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About Adam Lyons

Beyond his own portfolio of growing companies, Lyons is an advisor for over 500 brands across the US and Canada. Lyons has been featured on the Today Show, The Steve Harvey Show, Forbes, Bloomberg Business and the NY Post. He has been awarded 3 different ‘Wicked Smaht’ Awards due to his innovative business strategies and multiple 2 comma club awards. Companies he has worked with include PepsiCo, Nike, Nescafé, Discovery Digital Networks and many smaller brands.

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