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07-18-2000, 10:41 AM
This week's poll kind of has me confused. It's kind of hard to say: Some instructors (not namin any names) should not make a living teaching Aikido, while I think others should. But this raises another question: do you think people could make a living from Aikido?


07-18-2000, 10:44 AM
It's a general question. In general, do you think that people should make a living teaching aikido?

-- Jun

Kristina Morris
07-18-2000, 12:53 PM
If you're going to ask why should a person make a living at teaching Aikido, then you have to ask why not. According to the poll, there is a percentage or responses that think a person should_ not_ make a living at teaching Aikido.
I'd be interested in knowing those reasons. I don't see teaching Aikido as a profession (for a living) any different then any other livelihood. If that is a person's calling, and they can make a living at it, then do it.

I think what a lot of people are afraid of is that it will become a commercial enterprise. Fees will increase, contracts required, (some dojos already have them), or the purity of the art itself will be compromised because the driving force behind the dojo will be bringing in the money to support the instructor. Then there is always the commercial factor of marketing goods. What about all theAikido tapes available to the consumer? Is that any different from earning a living from a dojo? I don't think so. It brings money in to someone/or some dojo.

I'd like to know how the first Japanese instructors who came to the States earned a living while trying to establish Aikido dojos. How did they do it without earning a living from Aikido? Was there support from Japan?

It's an interesting question. Any other thoughts from the gallery?


07-18-2000, 04:09 PM
Wow, psychic - I was just about to start a thread on this very topic... :D
For what it's worth, I voted No..
Don't misunderstand, I think Aikido is probably one of the more worthy ways of making a living - BUT...
I think that one of the great strengths of Aikido is how it can relate to the rest of your life, and likewise how things that happen elsewhere can feed into your Aikido. If you're doing Aikido 24/7 you risk losing this experience, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone...


07-18-2000, 04:48 PM
my head instructor has been teaching Aikido as a profession since he retired from the Air Force (after 20 years of service). As he puts it in his book, Aikido Kyohan: "I make my living through teaching Aikido, but I'm not getting rich. I make just enough to get along."

Truly, all he's known is the Air Force and the martial arts, and I feel that he has made the right choice for a career.


07-19-2000, 06:32 AM
I have to disagree that teaching aikido as a carreer would take awat from your life experience. First, no one does any job 24/7. It would kill you I suspect. People who do only work and have no personal life tend to be on the slightly messed up and unhappy side in my experience. I also think that anybody who is a teacher (of anything) is likely to get a lot of life experience from his/her job, if for no other reason than the constant social interaction and having to adjust to the different needs and personalities of different students.
I voted yes in the poll. Mostly for the reason that I feel most fields of study/practice/art advance best if there are a few skilled people that can truly dedicate themselves to it.

Chuck Clark
07-19-2000, 08:10 AM

I agree with you. I'm a professional budo teacher and have been for about ten years now. I have bits of income from other projects and I get by. (barely!) However, I'm doing what my heart tells me to do and won't mind ending my days continuing the process.

I have started fifteen dojo over the years and always kept a dojo going while working other jobs. Forty-seven years of budo practice and I continue to learn from my students and look forward to growing older while I practice. I'm beginning to understand how to practice now and am excited about learning!


Shouri (Steve)
07-19-2000, 09:29 AM
I agree that it is hard to say that someone should not make a living at teaching Aikido if they can. Why shouldn't you make a living doing something that you love?

However, I did select "No" to the poll. The reason is the same reason that sensei gave me as to why he does not like to go behind the business counter at the dojo. The dojo's sensei should not handle the money. It takes away from the spirit of the dojo.

In my opinion, if someone makes a living doing something else, but teaches Aikido just for the love of teaching it, then that is a better situation. The dojo is then a place where you learn the spirit of Aikido, and not the business of Aikido.

So, I believe that a dojo should make enough money to pay for itself, but not much more. Certainly not enough to support one or more sensei.

Of course, my perfect scenario would be a dojo-temple that is completely self-sufficient (like a Shaolin Temple) where all of the students are uchi deshi and they learn more than just Aikido (like horticulture, architecture, medicine, the sciences, etc). But, this wonderful concept has long since lost its viability in today's world.


-Shouri (Steve)

Chuck Clark
07-19-2000, 12:44 PM
Good point.

I have always found it impossible to be a "bill collector" and a teacher at the same time. For example, most physicians will not have anything to do with the money side of their practice. They have someone else who does that.

Here's a quote from our dojo policy:

"It must be understood that our dojo is not a commercial enterprise in the common sense. Sensei are not merchants and we do not offer goods, commodities, or sevices for sale. Budo is a priceless art. The teacher/student relationship must be preserved in order to learn properly and transmit this art from master to apprentice. Money is not and will never be the primary consideration in our relationship. However, practical matters demand that bills be paid, etc. We must carry out our financial responsibilities in as business-like a way as possible. Please, always feel free to discuss financial matters with the dojo kancho."

I prefer to not even get into the money aspect of students' practice. One of my senior students handles it for me. No one is ever turned away for money problems unless they show that they are unwilling to be responsible for their commitments and are trying to get a free ride.


07-19-2000, 01:09 PM

that's a very noble thing to do. It shows class over the con artists who try to squeeze as much money as they can out of their students, and teach them slowly so they can make more money. It's people like that that create many of the misconceptions in America about budo, and the kind we'd all be better off without.


Chuck Clark
07-19-2000, 02:21 PM
I have a short comment for David,

I do budo 24/7 ... after a certain point, you can't "turn it off and on," it is just who you are ... or you are it. (reference all fortune cookie philosophy you've seen or heard)

Of course, I am not in the formal role of teacher at all times (I hide!), however, I am always in the role of awake, aware human and an example of my practice. Be "aware" that may not match your preconceptions about who or what I should be! (If you haven't "been there" yet, you can't describe the scenery!)


George S. Ledyard
07-19-2000, 02:41 PM
Shouri (Steve) wrote:
I agree that it is hard to say that someone should not make a living at teaching Aikido if they can. Why shouldn't you make a living doing something that you love?

However, I did select "No" to the poll. The reason is the same reason that sensei gave me as to why he does not like to go behind the business counter at the dojo. The dojo's sensei should not handle the money. It takes away from the spirit of the dojo.

In my opinion, if someone makes a living doing something else, but teaches Aikido just for the love of teaching it, then that is a better situation. The dojo is then a place where you learn the spirit of Aikido, and not the business of Aikido.

So, I believe that a dojo should make enough money to pay for itself, but not much more. Certainly not enough to support one or more sensei.

Of course, my perfect scenario would be a dojo-temple that is completely self-sufficient (like a Shaolin Temple) where all of the students are uchi deshi and they learn more than just Aikido (like horticulture, architecture, medicine, the sciences, etc). But, this wonderful concept has long since lost its viability in today's world.


-Shouri (Steve)
This posting points out precisely why there need to be people who support themselves through their dojos in the West. You stated that the ideal was the Shaolin monsatery type of environment. Well guess what? That certainly was a professional arrangement. The monastery was supported by tax exemption and donations from the rich and famous (plus what the poor folks could kick in). That type of arrangement doesn't exist here in the West.

For a teacher to devote himself to training more than what is allowed when you have to have a different primary means of support you need to combine your living with your practice. All of the Japanese Senseis that trained as uchi-deshi under O-sensei were given just this kind of training. They attended classes and were supported by the hombu dojo. In return they did all the work on the dojo, took care of O-Sensei and instructed at the various sartellite clubs that had asked for Hombu to send them an instructor. Those guys would have been on the mat 6 - 8 hours day either training or teaching. That's why they are so good. Unless you want to accept that only Japnese people can attain that high level you have to accept that here in the West the model for supportin the Sensei is different. People always act like you aren't being spiritual enough if you aren't starving. (Usually they happen to have decent jobs but like the idea of the teacher being broke as some sort of insurance that they aren't getting ripped off in a commercial sense.) Aikido folks especially seem to take pride in having their dojos not be run very well from a business standpoint. Well I can tell you that if you look at the most successful Aikido dojos around the amount of money being made for the time being put in is nothing compared to jsut about any other occupation you could pick. So unless the ASU decides to support my family and my students feel that they should make substantial donations to my well being on a regular basis I think that the dojo will continue to be the foundation of my ability to devote myself to my training more than I ever could before when I had a demanding job that sucked my ebergy away from my practice. I know that my students would get only a fraction of the exposure to new ideas and techniques if I weren't able to put the time in that I do.

Just remember that even illustrious teachers like Takeda Sensei charged directly for the teachings they gave.

07-19-2000, 03:54 PM
Please correct my history if I'm wrong as this all very secondhand. But my understanding is that O'Sensei didn't want anything to do with money. I'm not sure if this is a cultural thing as my understanding is that women handled money in Japan or if O'Sensei was making a spiritual commentary of some sort.

I believe we generally take it for the latter approach. I've known one instructor who would literally slam the phone down on potential students who asked what the monthly dues were. I always thought this person was nuts but it was their dojo. I also found it slightly humorous when this person would be sweating over money. I'd just keep hearing the sound of one phone slamming.

Having said this, I've also heard that while O'Sensei didn't soil himself with collecting money his wife did. So despite the rhetoric, he got paid.

Money is a method of exchange which allows you to continue offering something of value. I think a lot of the problem is that people have no idea how much it costs to run a dojo. You have insurance, rent, mat expenses, electricity, heat, training (your instructor needs to attend seminars to get better don't they?), accounting fees, maintenance costs then add to that the cost of walking around the earth. It ain't cheap and when one is concerned about money it is damn hard to be centered.

But you should work and run a dojo in your spare time you say. How many of you work 15 hour days forever? I did this for 6 weeks while covering for my sensei (military obligations). He taught at 2 different places. So my schedule was work 9 hours (fortunately I could do an 8 to 5) and teach 3 nights a week for 3 hours (one class mine). Those were the easy days as the other 2 nights I was driving 2 hours (round trip) and then teaching 3 hours. I've said I taught 3 hours, actually that isn't right, you see I also had to be there early to open the dojo then I had to be the last one out, I had to handle new students, make sure things got cleaned up and all the rest of what goes on in running a dojo. I was exhausted.

A solid self-sustaining dojo makes things much cleaner and easier on everyone. I really doubt anyone is getting rich running a dojo. I can think of a couple who are probably doing pretty well but when you can make $65K for pushing the power button on a computer it just don't compare.

Sorry for the rant but pauper Aikidoism is a pet peeve of mine amongst many.

07-19-2000, 04:16 PM
I read something to this effect somewhere:

"Your dues don't repay your obligation to your instruction. Your money keeps the level of training progressing in your dojo through allowing a place to train. However, the art that your instructor is passing down to you is priceless, and cannot be measured in money."


07-19-2000, 04:20 PM
Well I've never been one to hold on to an idea after it's been proven, well, wrong in this case...
I'll bow to Chuck and George's point here, since I haven't been in Aikido long enough to reach the 24/7 stage yet - so most of my experience is with merging what's outside of the dojo with what's inside..
If it brings me anything like the composure and fluency with which they both post, and I imagine live, I'll welcome it with an open heart...


07-19-2000, 04:36 PM
I think about Aikido as much as I can, especially when I am trying to help people along in life. However, I want to get to the point where I live Aikido, not just think about it.


Chuck Clark
07-19-2000, 09:58 PM
Thanks, David.

Nicely said. I'm sure George appreciates your words as much as I do.


Shouri (Steve)
07-20-2000, 08:11 AM
I have no argument about making money teaching Aikido. Like I said in my first post, I personally think that everyone should aspire to get paid doing what they love doing. And if that is teaching Aikido, then so be it.

My point was simply that Aikido should be tought and passed on as a mission more than a business. And as long as the spirit of Aikido (and of teaching Aikido) is kept, then the rest is gravy. Unfortunately, I can only speak from my experience.

My question is, what is important? If making a living at teaching Aikido is what is important to you, then I believe that you are doing it for the wrong reasons. This may sound naive, but Aikido is and should remain pure. Certainly, I would not want to do all that work for so many hours and go bankrupt. However, if you get into teaching Aikido thinking that you will become wealthy, or even be able to make a really good living ($65K was mentioned before regarding a computer job), then I believe that you are doing yourself and all Aikidoka a disservice.

I have to admit that it would be wonderful if a sensei could devote himself 24/7 to teaching and learning Aikido. And in this society, the only way that that could really happen is to be able to make a living at it. So, I am not against making a living at teaching Aikido. I wish that every sensei could. The fact that many or most do not, to me, is proof of what Aikido is all about. Aikido is more than just time on the mat and in the dojo. Aikido is life.

And, for the record, I have no problem paying for my training. I have no problem paying alot for my training. When I am in the dojo, when I am around sensei, I feel more alive and purposeful than ever. But the one thing that makes me feel better than anything else is this: sensei would not have trained me just because I was willing to pay alot of money for that training. Rather, he agreed to train me after long hours of conversation and coming to believe that my spirit warranted Aikido. In today's world, that may be bad business sence. But it certainly is wonderful Aikido sence.

I do not at all mean to offend anyone. And if you can successfully run an Aikido business, that is great. I just pray that the spiritual comes before the financial. On any level.


07-20-2000, 08:33 AM

Well put. I hope even if the sensei doesn't get paid, he'd put the spiritual ahead of anything else.

Also- by spiritual I mean waza also :).


07-20-2000, 11:14 AM
I've been mulling this one over for a few years. Certainly my desk nerd job is harmful to my body ($65K - ROTFL! not me!)it does keep me fed and housed and able to travel to see what I am interested in ocasionally.
I have decided, however, that I want more time to do what I want, which is mostly aikido/budo, so I am in the process of changing my life to do so. I am taking classes to become a massage therapist, and find that art to be as close to aikido as a profession can be. I find it and aikido to be extremely complementary to one another. This seems to be a good way for me to strike a balance and remain "always in practice".
What I have seen is that most teachers DO have to keep a "day job" and work those long days to do what they want.
The ones who don't sometimes have a very hard time both in interpersonal relationships in the dojo and in just making ends meet! Issues can get so very confused. I think my experience was unusual, though, and while I would like to see more public support for martial training and the arts of life which go along with it, I am not sure when we will see that become widespread in our lifetimes. Gaku Homma has Nippon Kan, which I understand to be kind of a work/learn/train situation for the uchideshi. But generally, no, there is not social support or value for those who wish to, or are wished to! instruct for a living. Nor for teachers in general here in the US.
BTW, I don't teach much, though I enjoy it when I get to. Usually just train, assist, and uke.

Who else has succeeded like Gaku Homma in building a self-supporting mechanism like Nippon Kan?


07-20-2000, 01:20 PM
Disclaimer: I live in the bay area. My numbers while subject to a bit of hypberbole are not unreal. You would have great difficulty buying a house here at 65K if you even could. As you've noticed we're not quite sane around here.

One other thought as a matter of perspective. I think, don't know this for sure anymore, that Frank Doran probably has a going rate in the range of $500/dy. I likely could attend that seminar for well under $50/dy (hell I could drive to his dojo and get him for $10). Conversely a 5 day SQL Server 7 (Microsoft database) training course will run you in the neighborhood of $1,500 or more. Your instructor will in all likelihood be an independent contractor earning in the range of $600 to $1,000/dy (probably on the higher side). Frank Doran is a key reason we have Aikido in the bay area and has been doing Aikido over 30 years. Your Microsoft instructor will probably have no real-world experience and could easily have less than 2 years experience teaching probably less than 3.

We sure get it backwards don't we.

07-20-2000, 02:35 PM
I agree with what Erik is saying. When compared with, say, "distinguished" professors who give guest lectures at colleges and such and receive thousands of dollars, aikido teachers who have been studying for 30 to 40 years and practiced for years as uchideshi with the founder receive a fraction of that.

Even within the martial arts, aikido seems to get the "cheap" end of the stick. Weekend seminars (Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday) usually run in the vicinity of $70-80 for the "top notch" shihan. A weekend seminar with a good taichi teacher can easily run $300-500. Yet, I've heard people complain pretty loudly that an aikido seminar was "overpriced" when it reached the $100 mark for a weekend.

Will aikido continue to grow in this environment? Or will it become yet another one of the franchised strip-mall aikido "McDojo" if we were to change these kinds of conceptions?

-- Jun

Chuck Clark
07-20-2000, 02:36 PM
Hi mle,

Sounds as though you're making some changes. Go for it!

I think you'll find that places like Gaku Homma's dojo/restaurant, etc. are usually the result of one or more backers who help a strong and charismatic teacher put the place together. I believe that he had two such gentlemen from what I've heard.

Private dojo in Japan are usually small and hidden away on the teacher's property or business property. The large ones with full-time teachers are supported by patrons or corporate leaders or by the community. Many teachers use the local community taikukan dojo to hold classes.

Take care,

07-26-2000, 11:43 PM
The debate on whether you can (or should) make a living teaching martial arts is a lively one for all arts. The following is a story. My late Sensei had a tough internal battle about this topic:

Sensei Castilonia opened his first dojo in 72, but he was having a tough time keeping students. His first class obtained their first belt rank, and then all left! His own Sensei, Richard Kim, asked him how much he was charging his students. Sensei Kim was surprised to hear that my Sensei wasn't charging anything at all.

Sensei Kim ordered him to charge money. He did. Still it was tough. He had 3 dedicated students. Eventually, Sensei Kim asked him how much money he was charging his students. $10 a month? Foolishness! Charge more.

Sensei Kim explained that students will not value their training unless they feel that it costs them something, makes them feel vested. Westerners better understand money as the symbol. Sensei couldn't believe he was hearing this from Sensei Kim! (Sensei Kim is incredibly dedicated to his art, and almost disdains money. He is still training, it has been 70 years now.)

So Sensei charged more, and more students came. Eventually his dojo grew from 3 to 60 students. He shook his head in puzzlement. He didn't understand it, but liked it!

In 1980 he opened a commercial enterprise, which we still refer to as "the Big Dojo". He offered the going rate, which was substantially more than he was charging his original 60. More people came! In a few months, he had 140 students! In another few months, he had even more.

But it was very hard on him. In his notes, he wrote: "After four grueling years of training for six nights a week the dojo slammed into an impasse. Time, commitment, income clashed with greed, egos and opinions. I closed the Big Dojo."

I still remember discussing it with him. He had become so unhappy. Money had entered into every aspect. It was destroying his spirit. He had never opened the dojo to make money (he was a medical doctor, and had made a lot more in the emergency room than working the dojo!) But he loved the art and wanted to share it.

At the advice of his Sensei, he stopped teaching entirely, and for the next year was uchi-deshi. He rebuilt his spirit training alone or in small groups.

Afterwards, his senior students approached him asking to train again under him. He agreed, but only if they took care of all money matters. It was to be a club, not an enterprise.

So now, we pay dues, but they are small -- only $35 a month, which covers our dojo hall rent, and the occassional pizza party. The money is handled by elected club officers. We now have 7 dojo, and they are all the same.

What am I trying to say about this issue? Nothing, really. I think commercial dojo work just fine for some people. It didn't work for my Sensei, but he figured out what did. Do you really think there is one answer?

Do whatever builds your spirit.

Ron Gullon
Aoinagi Karate

Mike Collins
07-27-2000, 09:54 AM
It seems to me that the best teachers I've been fortunate to train with, people from Japan, who are pretty high ranking, are all people who held steady jobs all of their normal working lives. They may well have started to teach Aikido as a living after they retired, but that is not the point of this post.

Very few teachers in Japan seem to make their living teaching Aikido. Though there are some pretty notable and really great exceptions. It just seems that the ones I've connected with the most are those who've actually had to pay bills and balance a checkbook all of their lives.

I think that something important (to me anyway) is lost when a teacher is so removed from daily life that "mere" money details are left to others to deal with.

In this country, Aikido may be a more marketable (and I mean that in a very neutral sense) skill to teach, and I have great respect for those who run dojo as a business so that they can make a living.

In my small mind that is different from asking others to handle the mundane money matters so they can devote themselves to their art, unless they are put on stipend and made to live within the means they are given.

To want the best of both worlds-to be removed from money matters and yet get the opportunity to make smart or stupid choices with all of that money- as opposed to either running your own dojo as a business, or being completely removed from the money and living on a stipend, is wrong minded and childish.

If you want the benefit of all of the money you generate as a teacher, you create the obligation to that money and its' source, to be responsible with it and pay all of your obligations first, and treat your students as customers, deserving services such as regularly scheduled classes, clean spaces and personal attention when appropriate.

That is not to let the student off the hook of being responsible for prompt payment, help with dojo cleaning, help in the form of working with new people and a generally supportive and positive attitude.

That is, I think, the only way to really seperate money from Aikido and get on with good training.

I just saw the above post (missed it before!?!), and that is another completely cool way, if unpopular with professional teachers, to pass along the art.

I hope I have not offended, I do not teach Aikido (for free or for a living), and I have no claim to authority on the subject, but I do have an opinion. If this post offends, please re-read it and consider.

[Edited by Mikey on July 27, 2000 at 10:01am]