Archive for October, 2012

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

October 30, 2012

Tonight is Monday night and there was a very low turnout at class. I’ve noticed lately that attendance to the Monday class has been on a downward trend although the other night we train on in Covent Garden, London, is holding steady. Since we first opened the Covent Garden branch ten years ago this is the first time we’ve experienced this since the very early days and it’s prompted me to write about the effort the students must put in if they want to keep their club. Because let’s be honest, it is THEIR club, not the Sensei’s.

I’ve never met a good teacher who has made any real money out of teaching martial arts. I’m not saying there aren’t any, I just haven’t met them. Martial arts teachers generally teach because it’s their vocation in life. They love their art, they love to pass on their knowledge, they love to teach. Therefore if you as a student don’t put the hours in, your club will close. Even the most self sacrificing teacher won’t give up their time and energy and then in addition lose money every week. And by time I don’t just mean the hours in class. There is a lot of organisation that goes unnoticed in the background, not to mention time that could be spent with friends and family! I’ll use Covent Garden as an example. It’s right in the centre of London so the hall is expensive to hire. This means I need 10 people in order to break even. Tonight I had 6 which has cost me a lot of money. If this continues I’ll have to reduce the number of nights we train and therefore the number of gradings per year. I could of course put up prices but this not only penalises those that do come, it also runs the risk that I only teach to a wealthier group of people which is something I’ve always wanted to avoid. I love that fact that we attract students from all walks of life and I think the eclectic mix of people adds to the “personality” of the club. Even though I believe our club fees are really cheap, I sometimes get people calling who say it’s too expensive. Well I know that teachers of Yoga, Zumba and other fitness programmes, and even other martial arts have to put in a fraction of the time that I’ve put in before they teach and at the same price and more! I’ve been studying martial arts for 36 years now and Ju Jitsu for 29 years. What price is that kind of experience worth?

There are of course some instructors for whom martial arts is a business. I don’t have anything against that although I must admit that is something I’ve never wanted to do. I love it too much and if I started worrying about how many students came through the door because my mortgage payments were due then that would severely reduce my enjoyment. Even in those cases where it is a business I haven’t come across any millionaires! I also think that there are some instructors who compromise on the level needed to attain a new grade just to make sure the money keeps coming in. I’m glad to say that as I earn my living elsewhere I don’t have to make such compromises. In fact more than one student has left London Ju Jitsu because they felt they were ready for their next belt and Sensei Salur and I felt they were not. There is an argument that says that if martial arts is your business then the Sensei should be better as they have more time to hone their skills. There is some value in that and I certainly wish I had more time to devote to Ju Jitsu. In practice however it seems to me that the business model means teaching more and more children and although this may be very rewarding I think its unlikely to improve your skill.

In summary then this article is a piece of advice for all martial arts students. Don’t assume that your fellow students will go when you don’t and don’t assume that your instructor will always be there. It is YOUR club so YOU must make the effort if you want the club to still be there tomorrow. As the saying goes you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. I know a lot of my students who have moved away have told me how difficult they’ve found it to find a good club, and many of my students have said it took them a long time to find a good club in London. So wherever you live in the world, if you have a good martial arts club, appreciate it!