There has always been a debate in Britain about the ethics of making money from martial arts and typically the person who does that has been regarded by many as some sort of a prostitute to their art. Why should this be when we have clear evidence that professional teachers can produce superb martial artists? Whereas in Britain you can elect to be an amateur teacher, it’s far more difficult to be so here in America, where public sports centres are as rare as rocking horse droppings.
True, you can teach in the park or in your garage but far more usual is for the black belt to lease premises in one of the ubiquitous American malls that line the roads and intersections. Choice of venue is, perhaps, more critical than how good a teacher you are because so many drive past the right location and, research shows, that drive-by members are likely to make up a useful segment of your student income. You can advertise, sure, but who watches or listens to adverts anyway? Much better is a sign that announces a club while you sit everyday on your way home from work, waiting at those endless traffic lights. You watch a movie over dinner and up pops ‘Kill Bill’, immediately your thoughts focus on that sign. So that’s advertising out of the way, so what’s next?
There’s no real governing body in this vast country; no one to set standards. That’s why you can opt to present yourself as a 10th dan in ‘Winky Wonky Ryu’ and no one’s the wiser. Let’s see, you’re a 10th dan and that Hee II Cho running a studio down the road is an 8th dan, so it follows that you must be better than him, right? As Adolf Menchken once observed-’no one ever went broke under estimating the (American) public’s intelligence.’
Sadly, that superficial approach is catching on in Britain too, and I see so many Shihans and even 10th dans about now, who were never heard of back in the mid-sixties, when I gained my dan grade with the British Karate Association. Mind you, it does help if you claim some sort of authority from a vaguely Oriental source, a sort of Mr.Miyagi, for example, whom no one has heard of. ‘Why hasn’t he been heard of, if he’s so good?’ You have to be prepared for these insightful questions! ‘That’s easy’, you reply. He’s not been heard of because, unlike the late General Choi, he belonged to a secret group that only taught their deadly skills to selected, inside-doors students and you are privileged to sign this contract and become an authenticated student of that mysterious and awesome teacher just by signing here…here…and don’t forget here!’
You have a lease to pay every month and heating/cooling bills to pay. Plus you bought the mats with your credit card, so you need guaranteed income every month. That’s why the American students of these latter day ninjas sign contracts and often pre-pay the first 12 week introductory course. That’s three months lease payments and now you can afford to relax a little. Naturally, you need to be able to accept all the major credit cards. ‘That’ll do nicely!’ Britain has (or had) something called The Unfair Contracts Act’, which meant you couldn’t be bound by a contract that the court believed imposed unreasonable terms upon you. There’s no such thing here and the rule is simply who has the most money wins the court case. Ask OJ Simpson! Or get a medium to ask Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams, a member of the LA Crisps street gang.
Include a training uniform, marked up 100% on the generic store bought type, into the affiliation fee. Make it a little different to the generic type though, so people can see that what they are doing is different to (and much better than) those boring Karate students-why their uniforms don’t even have badges on them! How can they tell how good they are if they don’t have merit badges and only eight grades to reach black? Much better to have ten grades because students advance more quickly through the different colours and that keeps them motivated and therefore paying! Don’t let the black belt slow your top boys and girls either because we can add red stripes, a red and white belt and even a gold belt.
Don’t bother with National registration because, as I said earlier, there is none! Leave out insurance too because it’s not your responsibility to do other than advise the student that he/she might be well served to take out a personal accident (give the cost of medical treatment here) and third party indemnity cover too. The cost of any sort of worthwhile cover in this land of litigation would make you gasp. No, just buy insurance for your club, insurance that will cover you for all risks (including being sued) but be prepared to sit down before the broker tells you how many thousands it’s going to cost you each year. Is it worth not getting the full cover at first? You decide. Here, a coach was sued by a couple of religious students for holding a grade during a Jewish holiday. He lost a few thousand on that one.
You may be a good teacher and with enough students coming through your doors you can eventually build up a cadre of black belts who can open clubs for you. You set up a sweet franchise deal with them, so they pay you a goodly part of the income from their satellite clubs. Why shouldn’t they set up their own clubs and to hell with you? Because you get them while they are yet loyal and you have them sign a non-compete agreement. That’s another ail-American legal manoeuvre that allows you to shut them down if they ever stray from your straight and narrow. Again, such an agreement would fall foul of
British law but here…So now you have three or four satellite clubs that are dependant upon you for their equipment and their gradings.
Congratulations! You’ve made it in the land of the free! This is where the educational aspects of running a professional martial arts school are so important and developing the right type of pro- grammes for students is a prerequisite for success. Setting short-term goals with fixed monthly assessments incorporated into the grading structure is just one way of helping people develop a sense of commitment to the training programme.
Another big change was in the type of person that the school will take on as a student and what it is that you are trying to help them achieve.
Gichen Funakoshi, the founder of modern day Karate, once famously said, The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the development of the character of its participants. Therein lays the answer, for from being an instructor who once taught in a select competitive and combative approach, I now teach life skills using martial arts as the means to develop the strength and character of my students. My emphasis is no longer on how good a fighter a person is, or how high they can kick or how many boards they can break etc., but on how I can help build their confi-dence, respect and self-discipline to make them feel better about them-selves as individuals in a positive environment. The bi-product of this is that they are learning how to kick and punch as part of acquiring martial arts and self-defence skills and not the other way around.
As your school develops and even- tually grows, there is no doubt there will come a time, such as during your annual holiday or in the event of ill-ness that you must have someone prepared to stand in for you. Usually, it is the most senior grade, but this isn’t always the best solution as they may expect you to pay them a wage at a time when you are in no position to be able to take on a paid assistant, even for a short period.
As many instructors will testify’, teaching martial arts is a ‘vocation’ that often goes without reward and expectations of reward are often why some instructors become disillu-sioned with teaching and give up so soon. I run a special training pro-gramme m my schools from Blue Belt and upwards, from which potential and future instructors can be selected and groomed. I look for people who have developed a sense of ownership within the school and who can often be seen carrying out simple tasks such as tidying up, sweeping the mat or generally offering assistance out of dedication or of their own volition.
As a rule of thumb I have adapted a phrase from a very famous American President: ‘Ask not what my school can do for me, but what can I do for my school. Today I have my own fully matted and equipped full-time centre in Staple Hill, Bristol, with over 250 registered members including 24 Black Belts. In addition I have nine Satellite schools throughout Bristol, Bath South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset run by a group of highly dedicated and committed instructors. In 2000 we received an award as the
UK’s Nol Martial Arts School from the Educational Funding Company at their World Martial Arts Convention, Colorado Springs USA and in 2001 were named as International Martial Arts School of the Year at the ‘International Assembly of Sokeship, Founders & Headmasters’ World Hall of Fame Awards.