In the (traditional) martial arts community, there seems to be a disturbing trend; that is, for some unexplained reason, a large segment of people actually believe that martial arts teachers that make a living by teaching martial arts, or break even, have ‘sold out’ or have been consumed by greed. In fact, the general consensus seems to be that it is expected that a traditional martial arts teacher must surely take a vow of poverty in order to be focused and passionate about training and teaching! I’m not sure exactly where this lie originated, but I have gut feeling that many folks that feel this way have probably had a free ride in their own martial arts journey. That is, they have been able to train without paying dojo fees because they ‘worked it out with Sensei’ or they were unable to afford classes, so Sensei had pity on them and taught them for free, or they are mooches with no concept of reality. Oh yeah, that last one stings a little, doesn’t it? My personal belief is: Those that have never sacrificed, will never appreciate or understand the sacrifice of others.
Before going any further, I want to be crystal clear. In my career as a karate teacher, I have taught students for free, I’ve discounted those who I felt needed it, and I’ve waived training fees entirely when the student(s) fell on hard times. Even now, I still give scholarships to those who I feel deserve it, both in my dojo, and in the training events that I host. My only condition is that the student(s) continue to train, and when they are able to begin paying for their classes, that they voluntarily do so. And guess what? I’ve been burned a few times; that is, they don’t always follow through with their end of the agreement, but it’s no surprise really, after all, people are people. The majority of people will do the right thing, but there are always a few that have a sense of entitlement that forms in them whether they admit it or not; that is, when someone receives something for nothing, they will begin to appreciate it less and expect it more.
Does that stop me from helping those who need it? Not at all. I will always help those who I feel deserve it; if they don’t show appreciation through commitment and dedication to me, the dojo, and our art.. or if they choose to not do the right thing by paying it forward, that is their character flaw, not mine. As a teacher, I can show my students the path, and I can even personally guide them, but I will not drag them down that path. The right attitude of obligation and gratefulness (giri) has to come from within and has to be genuinely manifested without coaxing.
So, what about the traditional karate teacher taking a vow of poverty? Isn’t that the mark of a true Sensei? NO! That is a misconception that has been propagated and passed down with no sense of origin. Why then do we have to pay training fees? Even when the teacher claims that he/she doesn’t teach for the money, but for the love of the art?
Ah-ha! the right question! We can never pay our teachers for the knowledge and experience that they impart to us; it is priceless! We pay training fees to support our dojo and our Sensei; that is it. The training fees go toward the dojo expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, and equipment. If anything is left over, the balance may go to further the training and martial education of your teacher through seminars, workshops, or even training trips. Your teacher has likely spent most of his/her life and 10’s of thousands of dollars honing his/her skills, especially if their teacher resides in Okinawa or Japan..those tickets can get pricey! You can’t buy favor or special instruction, or advanced training skills from a LEGITIMATE TEACHER, but you can do your part to lessen the burden and help to ensure that you will always have a place to train by supporting your dojo.
WARNING: If you are still reading, thank you; but be warned, this next part is full-contact; the gloves are off. If you are easily offended, I encourage you to stop reading right here.
Still here? Good.
If you are one of those students that feel that you deserve free instruction because you’ve ‘already paid your dues’ or because you ‘help Sensei out around the dojo’ then you are part of the problem, and should re-evaluate exactly why you think you are so very special that you feel it’s perfectly acceptable for others to carry your weight financially. If you are not one of those, fantastic! You know the type, and there is usually at least one in every dojo; Late on their training fees, or don’t attend training events unless someone else pays the fee, or they simply stop training to ‘save money’ at certain times during the year, such as summer vacation, or the winter holidays.
If you are the type of student that allows or even expects Sensei or your Senpai to pay your way or waive training fees for you to attend training events in order to expand your knowledge, then you are part of the problem.
Does this mean that everyone who accepts help, scholarships, or discounted fees are unappreciative cheapskates and moochers? Of course not! It only applies to those who develop a false sense of entitlement..those who feel they deserve a free ride.
Does this mean that everyone should always pay to train? That depends on the teacher. In fact, I know several highly skilled teachers that refuse to accept payment, and that is perfectly fine, because these teachers have extremely high standards, and they require their students to contribute in other ways. Whether you pay in cash, trade, barter, or sweat…you pay, I pay, everyone pays. There is no free ride in the dojo, and the sooner we all get the image of our dirt poor Sensei out of our collective heads, the better.
That’s it. Pay your dues, literally and figuratively. If you are one of those that are fortunate enough to receive recognition of your dedication through reduced or waived training fees, say thank you once in a while and let your teacher know that you don’t take him/her for granted; let your teacher know that you appreciate what they do, and above all..don’t forget that you still have dues to pay. If you aren’t sure how, then ask your Sensei, I’m sure they will guide you in the right direction, after all, that’s what we do.
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