In the late 1980’s a sudden explosion of things martial arts schools began to do to increase revue happened. It progressed through the 1990’s and into the late 2000’s through groups like NAPMA and MAIA among others. The entire purpose of these “plans” was to build revenue generating income for dojos. Even if you have never studied any martial arts you will have heard of these programs. They are often referred to as “Black Belt Club”, “Masters Club”, “Leadership Team”, “Elite Club” and others. I will admit that I was a sucker and bought into the NAPMA stuff but eventually I WOKE UP.
Here’s the deal. When you walk in to one of these “types” of schools you get a basic starter program that often consists of only 1 30 minute class per week, or maybe two. The entire goal of this starter class is to hit you up constantly to upgrade in to their “Black Belt Club” program. They make you feel great about your training, always complimenting you and of course they would because they want you to sign up for the more expensive program.
Let’s say you join the “Black Belt Club”. You begin progressing through the ranks rather quickly, all the while thinking you are the bomb and doing awesome at great martial arts skills building. You begin to approach your green belt and all of the sudden you are “recommended” to join the “Leadership” program where they will teach you how to become an instructor and yes this will cost you more money per month, or a flat fee. If you are suckered into that one wait until you get close to your black belt and get “recommended” to join the “Master’s Club” program which will take you from 1st degree to 4th degree for A LOT OF MONEY. I think you can see my point. Sure these programs generate a lot of extra income for the schools but there is a cost to them beyond the high prices you are paying for tuition because they “recommended” you for the honor of being in them.
As you can see they prey on you. They constantly make you feel great and rarely offer criticism on your abilities because you are, well to be quite blunt, paying a lot of money for what you believe is martial arts training. Years ago I stopped following the crowd and offering this type of thing because I felt it was a complete disservice to my students. Here I am proclaiming to teach my students Karate. In order to do so with these “clubs” I had to create all sorts of “value added” classes so I could charge upgrade fees for what they should be getting anyway. Yes, you read that right, for what I should be teaching my students anyway. Quite simply it was a school changer…and for the BETTER in my dojo.
Today I don’t have any “Clubs”. I don’t have any “program upgrades”. I have four levels of training just like we did in the old days. We have a basic program which takes the student from white belt to yellow belt (basic belt ranks). We have an intermediate program which takes the student from green to purple belt and adds in Kobudo (weapons). Then we have an advanced program that takes the student from brown belt to 1st degree black belt. When a student gets a black belt they aren’t charged more in my dojo. They can train as long as they want, get as high in rank as their hard work, dedication and discipline entails, all for the same price as our advanced program. I add in special training sessions just for them, a special class just for them and for no extra cost…but in my dojo you have to earn your black belt. You can’t buy one from me and I have cancelled student memberships of people that just didn’t have the right character to be one of my black belts as well. Simple, direct and VALUABLE is how I run my programs…you, the student, deserves great training without “filler” programs.
All over the internet I see black belts from schools that offer these clubs. Most of them are accelerated programs to get you to black belt quickly too, all the while the instructor laughs all the way to bank with your hard earned money. I don’t agree with it but they know there is a niche out there of people just wanting to say they are black belt without actually having to be good enough to be one. That part of our industry (martial arts) has created what is known as the “McDojo / McDojang” phenomenon. These are schools that, as long as you pay, you will get a black belt and keep earning rank, regardless of how good your skill set, knowledge, ability to apply your art or self defense capabilities are.
No McDojo out there realizes that they are one either because this has been going on since the 1980’s sadly. So we have black belts running schools that have no clue their basic principles of what makes martial arts effective in a combat situation are not proper, correct and, in all honesty, worthless, but hey they are great “salesmen” that’s for sure. Then you have the “made up” martial art schools that pass their arts off as Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu and more. They have no idea what they are doing isn’t proper either because they think they are the next Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris.
In my dojo it is simple. You come in. You sign up. You train hard. You progress and when, after you have perfected the skill set required and proven yourself to be a good student who won’t misuse or abuse the art I am teaching you, you earn a black belt…all with one fee. No upgrades, no “clubs”, no programs added in…Just AUTHENTIC OKINAWAN KARATE…plain and simple. This is how martial arts should be taught. When money over takes the principle reasons to teach martial arts then the quality will always take a dive. I have met many “million” dollar school owners in my life time. They all say the same thing “I have my top 10% of great students and the other 90% pay the bills”. To me that is just sad and is such a disrespectful way to treat your students too. They are paying us to teach them martial arts, to do so properly, to offer them authentic training and build a great skill set. To state such a thing as 90% of the rest pay the bills lacks complete sincerity and integrity as I see it.
I feel a good, competent martial arts instructor who teaches an authentic martial art should be able to make a decent living at it. I don’t feel that students should be taken advantage of at anytime period. Our students deserve to be taught properly, given all aspects of what we offer and to be respected by teaching them correctly. Anything less is basically offering a Chevrolet Sonic when they think they are buying a Corvette and convincing them it is one. In the end the student will still have bought a car but it would be an overpriced, overpaid for pooch that will never stand up to the quality, build and ability of the corvette…but, hey, that’s just how I see it after 40 years of training and 26 years of teaching full time Karate now. As always train hard, work hard and get to the dojo 🙂
Disclaimer: Keep in mind there are some martial arts schools that use the upgrade club thing that you definitely have to earn your black belt at…not all use the upgrade clubs just as an income sources. This is just something that I won’t do in my dojo based on trial and error and determining how I want to be treated if I were a white belt beginning to train again. Everyone has a right to run their own dojo as they see fit. I am simply sharing my thoughts is all.
Steven Franz. Rokudan
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan