In my last post there was a collection of thoughts on various topics in Karate-Do by Chosin Chibana. One of these topics was his feelings on Karate-Do and money:
“A true Okinawan martial artist makes his living away from the martial arts. They should not concern themselves with the making of money out of teaching the martial arts. A martial person must make their living away from the martial arts so as not to contaminate it through the influence of ‘making money’ in order to ‘make a living.’ This is the Okinawan way.”
I wanted to start my disection of Sensei Chibana’s essay with this topic because I feel very strongly about it. Having personally seen the contamination of money in our art, I wanted to discuss the pitfalls of it and ways we can avoid it. Let me start this off with a story about an instructor who taught for money.
There was once an instructor named Fred. Fred was very loyal to his teacher. Fred owned and operated his own personal school. After a while Fred realized it was expensive to run his own school and started teaching at other locations and using the money he was given at these other locations to pay for his own school. Fred had many loyal students at both his school and these other locations. These students had nothing to do with paying Fred, they paid the places that Fred taught at and then those locations wrote Fred a check monthly for his services. Fred, needing to keep making money to fund his own school and pay his teacher’s organization began charging people a “new member’s fee” and using that fee to pay his teacher’s fee for being part of his organization.
One day Fred stopped receiving pay for his services at these other locations. The students, still having nothing to do with paying Fred directly, were not sure why Fred was not teaching anymore, but remained loyal and worked on their own together hoping Fred would return and again teach them his style. After six months of waiting, the students then learned why Fred had not returned. Fred, still needing to keep his own school running, decided it was not worth his trouble to teach at that location without knowing he would be paid. His students slowly moved on to new teachers and other styles.
The sad part of this story is that it is true. The worse part is, no one did anything devious or inherently bad – except let money come between them and Karate-Do. The organization needed a fee to pay for its own expenses, like the main Hombo (head dojo) in Okinawa, the promotion certificates, and travel costs to teach at their local branches. The instructor was just trying to be a Karate instructor, but he needed to make money too. The students could not be blamed at all. How can we avoid situations like this?
One of the things I respect most about my instructor, Richard Hooven, is that he does not teach Karate for the money. We have had to move multiple times because the price of renting the dojo went up and we were not going to charge more to our students. There has been months when people could not pay – so he just told them to help with what they could around the dojo and not to worry about it. It was a place that there were often more parents and family gathering to relax than there were actual students in the class. It was what I grew to see as true Karate and as Bushi Matsumura described it – the essence of Bu. Bu, the concept we study as Budoka (Those Who Study the Way of the Martial Arts), is meant to make a community prosper. It is not about the teacher, but rather the students he/she influences.
When you decide it is your time to begin teaching on your own. You need to recognize that you are doing it to help your students and the community they live in. If you have the mentality that, “Karate is something I love, wouldn’t it be neat to make it my job too?” – then I ask you to consider what happens when no one will pay you to teach? Do you adapt your Karate to suit the person paying you? What if they just want a high cardio workout and ask you to stop mentioning philosophy? Do you? You may have to if it is your job. In a capitalist world, the consumer is always right. This is why it is so important not to make Karate a product you are selling. You teach it because you love to teach it and you charge nothing more than it costs to keep the school open. If your students can not afford to do that, you need to cut your costs – not increase your prices or find new students. If your students can’t pay the rent, find a new place to practice Karate. If gi’s and sparring equipment are too expensive, workout in shorts and a t-shirt and practice yakusoku kumite instead of free sparring.
Now let’s talk about fees. Fred used to charge testing fees. By the time a student got to black belt, Fred had charged them about $400 in testing fees. This was with an understanding between the other locations that he taught at, that students paid one fee to the location and Fred was paid one time by the facility. The belts themselves only cost about $4. Why then would Fred charge so much? He was testing students during the time he was paid to teach, so there was no extra time spent. It was again to help pay for his school, may his organizational fees, and the left over money paid his travel cost for seminars and such.
I do not believe in testing fees. I ask that my students cover the costs of their test. This normally amounts to buying a black belt, $6-$10, and printing their certificates, $3-$5. Normally, by the time someone is testing for a black belt in front of me, they have been a close friend of mine for a few years and I am happy to pay for their belt and certificate as a gift in recognition of their hard work over the past years. I do it in the same manner one of my Sensei bought me a book (Autumn Lightning – excellent book) at my Shodan test and it spawned my research on Karate. It is something you do because your students become your friends, not a means to finance your business ventures.
Someone once commented that they thought the rank system corrupted Karate. I say that people, who take advantage of their students willingness to pay, corrupted the rank system. I am advocating a push to do as Sensei Chibana advised and keep Karate and money separate. I will do it, who will join me?