View Full Version : MA quality when teaching for money vs teaching for 'free'

15th June 2003, 01:44
I'm sure this has been discussed before, just can't find the thread...

What do people think about teaching martial arts as a business? And people who teach martial arts 'in their backyard' so to speak. I'm not advocating either position, but generally speaking:

"Businesses" - more structured? Affiliation with some regulatory body so a student's qualification is recognised?

"Backyard" - more personal involvement with the instructor who is teaching purely for enjoyment? No commercial complications?

Is the quality of instruction and training the same?

15th June 2003, 04:49

In NYC, I have been studying Korean Karate and Self Defense for over 17 years. The school is 31 years old and is situated in the local Salvation Army Building, where it has been housed since it was founded.

Our Founder was disenchanted with the 'pay as you go' martial arts of the late 60's and commented to me once, that he was tired of paying his Instructor to teach the Instructor's classes. Therefore, he opened up his 'not for profit' school. Our Founder was ranked in Judo and Aikido, as well as Korean Karate (Ji Do Kwan),and only required a token fee as payment.

Since the school was founded, the fees were, and still are, $5 for each 2 hour class if one attends, once a week. $2 a class if one attends twice a week and only $1 a class if one attends 3 or more 2 hour classes in a 7 day week. This nominal sum, is donated to the Salvation Army as 'rent' for the basement space we use. Interestingly enough, no one in the years I have belonnged in the school have been, or became, members of their congregation.

There is, nor never were, contracts, or other exhorbitant fees. Belt testing starts at $1 for yellow belt, $2 for green, $3 for Purple and $5 for brown belt. There are no 'tips' or 'stripes' on our belts. One is promoted to one of two possible levels in each kyu (belt color). Black Belt tests are free. However, while there is a requirement of time between belts, and one can ask to be tested for a belt, this does not apply to Black Belt.

Black Belt candidates are told that they are being considered for Black Belt, and are chosen to be tested. This type of testing allows the Instructor to wait until the student is ready for rank. Attainment of Black Belt rank usually takes 5-7 years of 3, 2 hour classes, each week. After attaining Black Belt, one is deemed an 'Assistant Instuctor'. 3 years after achieving 1st dan, one can be considered for 2nd dan, a rank which carries with it the title of 'Instructor'. I waited over 5 years to be selected for 2nd dan testing and my testing period, interuppted by surgery, was over 3 1/2 years.

The advantage of this type of testing is that no one can claim that they have been in the school, x amount of time, and therefore, have paid $XXX and deserve to be promoted based on 'time in the system'. Heck, if I had been in some other systems that promote, at least in the dan ranks, on time, I'd be a 4th dan by now. Not for profit lets the school run without the hassels of contracts, fee collection, excuses and 'buying' rank. In our school, one EARNS everything.

The Founder, who has been retired for the last 11 years, taught totally for free. Even his successor, who has been in the school almost 30 years, does not even take 'gas money' from the small fees collected. The only 'payback' expected from the student is to show respect for rank, try to learn all that is taught, and than when rank is attained, to help teach.

All the Instructors in the school have held the rank of Black Belt for 8 or more years, except for our newest Black Belt who earned his rank, 1 1/2 years ago. In 31 years, only 35 or so Black Belts have been earned, and only 14 of these have earned Instructor rank.

Not for profit keeps it real and eliminates all the complications of money. You have to love it, to keep doing it for free.

Hope this sharing of my school and background helps answer your question.


15th June 2003, 07:43
Thanks for your reply

The school you study at sounds fantastic! I think it's a credit to your teacher and students that they have the commitment to train there consistently, and as you say, for the love of the art.

It sounds like a school where you can place a high degree of faith on a rank. I'm not saying rank is everything, but when people earn rank too quickly, irrespective of previous experience etc, it may detract from the quality of the teachings. As you say, it's also about the time you put it, not just the technique.

I also like the way your teacher tests black belt candidates. Black belts seem to be flying around nowadays, so I think it's more important than ever to have stringent standards. From what you posted, you truly did earn it.... well done!

You said in another system you might be a 4th dan by now, but I believe you're much better off where you are. Solid form, and slowly slowly progressing.... that's the way to do it!

15th June 2003, 12:12
Hello Yang,

Do searches under keywords "McDojo" or "Full-time instructors" and look through those threads.

The range of opinions for this matter you have raised is as varied as the economic/ political viewpoints of e-Budo members (Rich evil, taxes good etc.)&nbsp&nbsp:p

It would be great if we could all study for $10. a month at temples run by dedicated monks. Every town in America, Canada, U.K. and Australia with a population over 50,000 should be so equipped. But a competent forty-year old instructor in America, married with children, well he should have taken a vow of poverty for his "art".

Rent, lights, heat, equipment, insurance... also cost money!

Yes, there are countless horror stories of students being taken for a financial ride by MA scam artists for half-baked training.

What matters most are:

1) Are you happy with the service and "product" being delivered for your money?

2) Is it legitimate? (that's a loaded question open for debate)

3) Is it clear and up-front what your MA study will cost you for a year? Tuition, fees, seminars, equipment... You as the "consumer" can decide.

Some people who complain the most about spending $1,000 for a full year of martial arts instruction at their local dojo will spend $2,500 in expenses to go skiing during a five-month season.

While I am at it - are golf, boating, or pub-crawling "free" recreational activities anywhere?

15th June 2003, 14:14
Hi Senjojutsu

That's a fair point (regarding the similarity with other activities) -you're right, I've never thought of it that way.

Yeah, unfortunately basic amenities cost money - I suppose I was talking about those schools that extend into blatant commercialism (I'm sure we can cite heaps of examples).

Personally I'm comfortable paying my Aikido fees because it is in a dedicated dojo, so I understand that the cost would be higher.... you just miss it when at university you can train for like $60 for the whole year!! I know, the poor student sob story.... :)


16th June 2003, 11:55
Hello Tommy K,

I am very impressed and rejuvenated by the description of your Dojang.

I have had the pleasure of participating in the martial art for the past 30 years and have seen about every possible type of dojo that there is in the USA.

The debate of what is best is like debating what style is best. It’s what is best for that individual at that time. The McDojo’s are great for an intro to the students that want a taste of what the martial art’s can be. The only flaw in this comparison is that unlike a McDonald’s vs. a real restaurant – most people above the age of 12 years old understands the difference, the majority of the public do not understand the difference between a McDojo and real martial art’s.

Presently my instructor has gone from a real dojo to the McDojo model. As disheartening as it has been, it’s his school and his choice. It’s also my choice to stay or not – so where is your Dojang ?



16th June 2003, 13:27
My dojo is also full time, but during the day, the space is hired out to dance companies. Our ethos for the activities are MA, contempory dance and alternative medicine.

My instructor teaches both aikido and dance and manages the space.

I too have thought about the possibility of teaching MA as a profession, but realistically, this is hard to do just by itself (financially).


16th June 2003, 15:15
I get a lot of people asking this....

I personally would love to make enough money from a side source of income in order to pay the bills, but my class.... that's another story.

I teach underprivledged and at-risk children and adults Kyokushin out of a Community Center at no charge to them.

I love teaching Martial Arts and I would not consider "selling out" I pay no rent. My income from Martial Arts is donations, a yearly Open Karate Tournament, sales of Martial Arts equipment on the web, and Project Action.

23rd July 2003, 10:51
I think it depends on the cultural environment as well. Where I live (Finland) most clubs are non-profit. There are very few professional instructors and they are having hard time convincing students to pay high prices when other clubs offer same stuff for tenth of the fee.

This is largely due to the sports culture here. The government and municipalities view sport club activities as generally beneficial for all public, and therefore support it in many ways. If you register your club as a non-profit organization, you are bound by law to not make a profit. But then, when you do that, you suddenly get very cheap class time from public schools' training halls and public sports centers. Suddenly, you don't have to pay much rent, or the electric bill or anything else for that matter. A small nominal rent-per-hour that is easily covered with small student membership fees.

As this is the case, the instructor can rent the space from the municipality, pay it with the membership fees of the students, and it all stays very cheap. Everyone can concentrate on doing the thing they like without resorting to money making schemes to try and make the ends meet.

This is one thing I just love about the government around here. They feel that all physical activities are beneficial and worthy of public support. I just can't see a situation where someone wanted to study a martial art, but couldn't afford to.

23rd July 2003, 11:34
well I go to a dojo where you pay (fulltime dojo). Can't really say that I think there's anything with it. I would love to one day make a living of doing the thing that I love... wouldn't you??

I still don't get the "selling out" idea people have when teachers ask money for their time...

23rd July 2003, 11:39
Originally posted by Rogier
I would love to one day make a living of doing the thing that I love... wouldn't you??

Sure. But some people think it is against the spirit of budo to make money from it. For example, Shukumine Seiken, the founder of Taido specifically prohibited it from Taido instructors.

I still don't get the "selling out" idea people have when teachers ask money for their time...

I don't think there's anything specifically wrong about it. But it allows for the McDojo thingies to appear... And I personally would love to learn from someone who is in it because he loves it himself, not because he wants to get money from me. But as I already said, I think it is a cultural thing. Someone is grown up in a place where professional instructors are commonplace, so it seems to be no big deal. Another guy is grown up in a place where everybody only does it for the fun of it, nobody takes money from it. It seems a bit weird when someone comes to do the same and starts putting up price tags...

23rd July 2003, 12:39
There is a difference between non-profit and 'free.' I don't make a living at it, but students do pay a monthly fee out of which I receive a stipend which goes back into the program.

Even if the fee is is very low, what is taught and what the teaching is worth has a purpose. Largely, people see a monetary value in everything they do, so is not paying the value one gets out of his training? IOW, does paying nothing mean you will accept whatever it is you are learning? If you don't pay something, do you have the right to certain expectations?

It may be lost on some, but money is how we grade most things so some kind of fee should be charged. What you call it may or may not make a difference (mat fee, monthly fee for so many classes, to help pay the rent, or to maintain a well-received program), but we all pay in some manner. Unfortunately or not, money, the fee, even in programs administrated by a school system, the YMCA or YMHA, etc., have value. Charging to make a profit is something added in which the students see as a type of luxury tax; nicely appointed dojo, better mats, air-conditioning, etc. If the latter is what you expect then expect to pay for it, but if it is on the basketball court at the local Y where the students roll out the mats when you come in, then the fee should be lower, but there still should be one. You then have a say in how things are done, to a degree, but it will be more limited than the for-profit dojo down the street.


23rd July 2003, 13:17
Sure, we must pay something. I didn't mean to imply that teaching should be absolutely free. I haven't heard of any free clubs.

What I meant is this: in non-profit clubs the instructors have their day-jobs just as the rest of the members. For example, in our club, we are all sort of equal people (except when class is in session, then we bow to the sensei). We all have our day-jobs, families and occasional beer-parties. What we have in common is that we all love martial arts and one or some of us know more about it than the others. So we have a club that rents space for us to train in. The one who knows most, teaches the rest. And then we train together. We all pay enough to cover the expenses, but not enough to cover the instructor to quit his job. And the rents can be pretty low as a non-profit organization can apply for the public training halls for matt-time.

Ah.. these issues are so multifaceted and hard to describe. I try another route: in our club, we are mere comrades, friends both in and outside the dojo. Nobody pays but their own training costs and we are just a group trying to become the best we can be. We travel abroad together to meet higher ranking instructors and we go to the local bar together to enjoy some laughs and loud music. There is no business involved. This camaredier is something I value high in budo. And I feel it is often missing in a pure business relationship between sensei-the-entrepreneur and student-the-customer if you understand what I'm saying. Now, about "selling out", if our teacher (i.e. the highest ranking guy in our group) suddently quit his job and started saying that he won't teach us unless we collectively pay him enough money to cover his lost salary (even more appalling if he'd want us to sign contracts where we are supposed to make a commitment to pay his salary for some months or years on), we'd say he's selling out and we'd go elsewhere as it would be apparent that it is no longer about travelling the budo-path together, but fulfilling one guy's money-making scheme.