Seven Simple Questions

By John Davis
Published on Oct 29th, 2009

Worldwide, the martial arts have seen a tremendous rise in popularity. One need not look far to find some type of practice taking place. Television and the internet have given us a wide ranging view of sport and competition based combat arts. The popularity of mixed martial arts, boxing, competition karate and similar events have skyrocketed in a very short time. Venues like "YouTube" allow us to openly view martial art forms that may once have been guarded. Education, in the past, was a secretive bond between student and master. Only diligent practice was rewarded. Today's black belt may only require viewing a few DVDs. Too often wearing a black belt has become a might liken it
to playing a mediocre game of golf.

While quality may be suspect, from a business standpoint, this "market" saturation has helped to spawn the creation of many martial arts schools. Traditionally, practice was borne of necessity. The desire to teach may have been a noble calling or a necessity for the survival of a family, clan, or community. Much of the current state of martial arts education often appears to be linked to profit, rather than the support of a noble cause. While many individuals seek "identity" and "substance" from martial arts training, there are increasing numbers of teachers willing to offer image alone...for a price.

In my community of fewer than 100,000 residents, there are, at least, seven martial arts schools. They range from small strip mall storefronts to large scale commercial ventures which occupy upwards of 20,000 square feet. While driving in the area, I am constantly reminded of the marketing methods of each school, as individual transport vans (laden with advertisement) carry students to "before and after school" martial arts programs. The standard rate for such "childcare" is, on average, $100, weekly. Income for such an operation may vary. Gross revenues range widely, depending on student population. In a large school, fielding 300 "after school" or summer camp students per week, the yearly gross could be 1.5 million dollars. This figure does not take into account the additional revenue generated by a "regular" population of students involved only in practicing the art or additional retail sales and peripheral programs (i.e. yoga, kickboxing, etc.)

Most of us would like to earn such an income. If we choose this path, there is no reason that one should not pursue coaching and educating martial artists for profit. There may come a time when we are forced to decide between our values or our pocketbooks. I have trained and taught in a large commercial school, eventually moving on to the venue of my own back yard. Disillusionment with the art had set in; a result of exposure to a willingness to sell out values for profit. In my opinion, the integrity of one's practice must supersede the drive for meeting financial numbers.

Along with the possible pitfalls, we must consider our roles as current or future teachers. Take a look at the treatment we received from our own mentors and coaches. Did we value the experience, or have we moved on because of it? Are we emulating the positive virtues that the martial arts espouse or merely proliferating destructive tendencies and limited perspectives that we model from our previous teachers? To make a quick and superficial change is easy; consistent application of positive change is a challenge we all face. We may be forced to choose between the art we love and are devoted to vs. manipulation of others to feed our need for profit. For some, the choice may never become an issue. If it does, I'd like to offer a simple set of questions one can ask when faced with this dilemma. This is taken from a book on the Buddhist path, written by Ken McLeod. The questions are paraphrased from a passage about the student / teacher relationship.

I believe it can be applied to educating and coaching in any area, no matter the area of expertise or where your motivations lie. Generally speaking, if you can answer one question "yes", perhaps some soul searching is in order.

  1. Does your group (teacher) feel that it is special; a true teaching that may "save the world"?
  2. Are students restricted in the use of their own intelligence and judgment?
  3. Are questions and discussions inhibited or restricted to certain topics?
  4. Do students have to pay escalating fees or service in order to continue receiving instruction and guidance?
  5. Does the group (teacher) exploit students for its own functioning?
  6. Do students show no appreciable progress over the long term?
  7. Does the group (teacher) require severing (or restricting) connections with associates outside the group?

(Footnote 1)

In my early martial arts education, I could answer "yes" to at least six of these questions. It was a fatal combination. I nearly left the study of the martial arts because of it. Eventually, I was very fortunate to find a training group and teacher who did not fit any of the above description. Should you find your self at the same crossroads, I hope you are equally blessed.

Footnote 1 - Excerpt from Ken McLeod's Wake Up To Your Life page 13

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: John Davis

John Davis is an Associate Instructor of Ed Parker's Kenpo, currently studying with coach, Dennis Lawson. Being a life long lover of sport and adventure, John began practicing the martial arts eleven years ago out of curiosity. Throughout that time, he has attended seminars and camps with several of Kenpo's regarded masters. A career highlight came in 2006 when he was part of a group that attended the Kenpo World Championships in Utrecht, Netherlands. While training in a large commercial setting, John taught daily classes for two years. Currently, Mr. Davis supplements his martial arts training with distance cycling, coming from a background of amateur racing in that sport. When not training regularly, John enjoys cooking for friends, travelling, fine art and a good comedy.

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