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Timmy's picture
Money and the Martial Arts

Hi all,

First substantive post, here goes!

So I was listening to Iain's podcast on "Money and the Martial Arts" the other day, and there was a point that particularly interested me.  He acknowledged that the pursuit of profit through martial arts instruction *can* create an incentive to water the training quality down.  I believe I've experienced this first hand, and I feel very strongly about it.

There was a style I used to study as a teenager which was, for all intents and purposes, a style of karate.  I trained consistently for a good couple of years and I introduced two of my friends to that style.

As my training progressed, I began to notice some things that seemed quite wrong to me.  Fitness standards, I was told, were not emphasised as strongly as they used to be.  Adults had to train with children - not merely alongside them in the lesson, but sparring with them and so forth.  And when it came to gradings, which were very expensive and progressively more so as you went up the ranks, I saw that people were allowed to pass even when they quite clearly could not perform the techniques they were being tested on.

The explanation I was given was always the same: "well Tim, it's a business at the end of the day, and that's just how it is.  If the training was too hard, less capable students, children and middle aged students would lose interest and quit.  Then the club would not make enough money to keep the doors open and no-one would be able to train."

I left the style at around the time I left town to go to University, and around that time I was getting more into MMA and related sub-disciplines anyway.  My friends stayed on and they are both black belts now.  Fair play to them - they get a lot out of it and they are very good at it, so more power to them.  However, they seem content with the "it's a business" excuse and I really could not disagree with them more.

If you were a lawyer then the advice you gave would sometimes be hard for your clients to take, but you would have to give that advice anyway.  It would be no good telling them "oh no, don't worry, you'll be fine" only for them to get sued to high heaven the minute they step out of your office.  Likewise, if someone is paying you to teach them how to defend themselves then you should push them as hard as you feel you need to and pick them up on where they need to improve.  By all means be nice about it, but if you don't provide the kind of hard training you think is necessary and you don't pick them up on what they need to work on then you are deliberately lulling them into a false sense of security.  If that means that the elite seniors who take it more seriously are left without a club, well, they can just go to a club where *everyone* trains properly - there are plenty around.

Any thoughts?  Is compromise to pad out class numbers a necessary evil?

gazrichards's picture

I agree in theory but you are making the assumption that every karate club is running a self defence based syllabus. 

If I club is primarily a sport karate club then most of what they are teaching will be directed towards use on the tournament mat and thus what most of us would consider "useless" - imagine a wkf kumite champion in a street fight against one of the well know protagonists on this forum!

The flip side of that is to suggest that most of the kata demoed by the forum regulars wouldn't win any medals in a wkf event either!

not every karate club will attempt to teach what you may know as karate, but that doesn't mean they are doing it wrong and need to be shut down! It's one of the problems karate has to deal with due to the fact that it is the most common martial arts style around the world.


Timmy's picture

Well, to be clear, the club I was talking about definitely did advertise itself as a self-defence oriented club.  If you only train for fun or sport then I guess it doesn't really matter.

gazrichards's picture

Well without knowing more details about the club you are talking about its hard to judge but I think what you mention goes on a lot within "traditional" karate clubs  (jka, kugb etc etc) that train things like one step sparring and karate vs karate drills or weapons skills as if they would be relevant in self protection. 

On the subject of grading people that possibly don't deserve the rank it's another very difficult subject. Every club has its own standards and so e may be better at one thing and useless at another but I'm sure most in this forum would agree with statements that are often kicked around such as "you start learning karate at black belt" and "a 1st dan shows that you have grasped the basics of karate".

its sometimes really easy for a senior grade to perhaps forget just how little they knew or how bad they were when they were a shodan!!

stevem's picture

I don't think there's anything wrong with a club making money providing the money goes back into the club for the benefit of the club. Costs need to be covered at the end of the day, or there is no club, and that means getting students through the door session after session. 

Different clubs train in different ways; I suppose it depends on what type of 'self defense' training you want.