Kev’s thoughts: you get what you pay for?


In most things in life (especially in my profession in the investments industry) I believe strongly in getting value for money and ensuring that you know both what you are paying for and how you are going to get it.  This attitude extends to karate, but…. do people really understand what they are paying for in the dojo?

Before being able to do this, we need to fully understand what a karate dojo is, what a karate dojo is not and how karate clubs/classes are different to other similar things.  People take up karate for many different reasons; to lose weight, get fit, learn self defence, for the interest of learning culture, to learn a skill and the history behind its development… and karate can indeed give a practitioner all of these.

Lets also look at other places where these goals can be achieved, by paying:

  • Weightloss – slimmers world, weight watchers or a gym.  All of which promise results if you pay and follow their program
  • Get fit – running club, a gym, a personal trainer.  All of which offer results such as improved physique or improved distance times if you pay and follow their instruction
  • Self defence – krav maga or other self defence classes offer realistic solutions to problems and better chances of successful defence against an assailant
  • Learning a culture – hiring a guide while travelling.  Paid purely to impart knowledge on you, expecting nothing in return but your ears
  • Learning a skill – pay for a college course, yet any qualifications involved will require application of knowledge supplied

Some of the above come with “satisfaction guarantees”, while others clearly state what you will get at the end of the contracted period, you are essentially buying the knowledge…. and this is where the confusion comes with a karate club.  Bushido Hombu is run, as are many clubs, in the traditional “not for profit” format where the instructor has a day job and teaches purely for the love of the art.  This enables the classes to be run at a minimum charge, covering only the venue hire, insurance and a small buffer of cash.  This differs greatly from the businesses that would supply the above list which also pay salaries to those trading their knowledge/facilities for your payment.

So what are you getting for your modest payments to the club?  In the martial arts world we refer to it as a “mat fee”, originally from Judo/Jiu Jitsu clubs.  We can explain this better by saying that you are essentially just paying for your place in the dojo/training hall and what you get out of having that space is really down to you.

I can hear you all now saying, “…but what about coaching/teaching/instruction?  I thought you taught because you wanted to teach, now you are saying it is all down to me?!!”

Although I do not demand people to refer to me as Sensei, I do attempt to fulfil this role.  Sensei is often incorrectly translated as “Teacher” whereas the true translation is – one who has gone before.  That is literally all that I am, I have already walked the path that you are, paid my dues and earned my place in the club and association… I may not have everything right and certainly don’t have all the answers, but what I will do is guide you on your path.

Therefore every piece of knowledge and every opportunity you attain is a product of your own efforts.  In this you should take great pride, anyone can gain things through the exchange of currency, whereas not everyone has the character and motivation to truly earn them through blood, sweat, tears and dedication.  The truth about the coloured belts is that each one shows that you have put the required effort in, shown the right level of spirit and attained a standard and level of respect from your “sensei” to earn the right to be shown the next stage of the syllabus.

So what is the benefit to the club and members of this approach?  Well, you should note the term your path.  The problem with “teaching” a class where a set amount of knowledge/ability is guaranteed after a set period and payment is that everyone must learn exactly the same stuff.  The targets/goals/expectations must be of a reasonable level for the lower end of the spectrum to attain, thus limiting what those who are putting the extra in  are going to achieve.  Instead I guide you on your path, at a speed that challenges you in return for your own efforts.  This raises the standard within the club and also enables those progressing faster to set a good example for other members.

Additionally the dedication shown will also ensure that all events are supported making it easier to hold events and give all the opportunity to train with other instructors or in other aspects of martial arts.  Effort on behalf of and in support of the club is also taken into consideration, whether it be assistance in promoting classes, tidying venues, finding new venues or taking photographs for use by the club, all is welcomed and appreciated, it is after all OUR club.

So the next time you think about asking a question such as “when will I be able to grade” or “when will my child learn their next kata”, you will not be surprised at the answer….

 …. when you/they have earned it.

by Kevin Archibald

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