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Old 02-06-2008, 03:33 PM   #20
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Business and Budo

Giancarlo DiPierro wrote: View Post
If I were to charge people the opportunity cost of my time (say at an hourly rate equivalent to what I could make in computer industry), they wouldn't be able to afford it. You might say there should be some discount since teaching martial arts is more "fun" than other work, but how do you figure what that discount is? I'd rather just say that I don't care about the money at all.
The "discount" works itself out. There is an inherent limitation imposed by the market. There is a going rate for instruction, you can't exceed that by much and have any students. Given the square footage requirements for Aikido, there are a finite number of students a given space will accommodate. The space in a given market costs a certain amount. If you can figure out how to use your space more efficiently, you can make more but since most people train during the prime time hours at night, there is still an effective limit. Once you know your costs and your income you have what you can make from a dojo alone. Until you are quite senior you probably cannot augment that with videos or seminar income. So the dojo is it. Take your dojo income and subtract it from what you'd be making if you had a real job and that's your discount if you are trying to be full time. If you only teach part time and support yourself with another job, then you can choose whatever "discount" you feel like, including losing money on the dojo and subsidizing its operation out of your other income. Many folks fall into this category (not so many with spouses I suspect).

Pretty much every teacher I know teaches out of love for the art, basically giving away their time either free or very cheaply because they care about what they are doing. To the extent that there is a sense of entitlement among martial arts students who think that training should be free or very cheap, it is fostered by the fact that are so many instructors out there who will accommodate them.

And I also don't agree that these instructors are deficient in some way because they don't make a lot of money teaching martial arts. I don't think how much money a teacher makes is a good metric for that teacher's martial arts skill or even teaching ability. The only thing it tells me is how good he is at turning martial arts instruction into a profitable business, which is an entirely different skill.
In no way am I trying to say that these instructors are necessarily deficient because they don't make money. Most of my non-Aikido friends in the arts are koryu teachers and they don't make diddly. They build dojos in their yards, support themselves with other jobs, their own businesses, etc. The quality of their teaching is top level.

My point in saying what I have is to point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with teachers who do manage to make money. My Aikido is not compromised by the fact that I make my living doing this.

Look at who the teachers are who dominate the Aikido scene in America. First, you have the former uchi deshi, the Japanese instructors who were trained via professional teacher training programs in Japan. These people were trained to be professionals from the start. Then you have the senior American teachers. The majority, whereas they had jobs early in their training careers, chucked those jobs as soon as they had reached the point at which they could support themselves doing Aikido. This has allowed them to put in the time to take both their technique and teaching skill up to a high level. Consequently, these are the people whom the general Aikido public invest in as instructors. When they are gone, who will be the next generation of replacements? It isn't going to be a bunch of folks who are relatively unknown, who have been quietly teaching Aikido in their won dojos and not getting out much. The next generation will be the folks who have on some level tried to duplicate what their teachers have done. If we don't develop and support those folks now, I guarentee you that Hombu dojo will be happy to send over another generation of professional teachers, graduates of the training program at Hombu.

For example, it's quite well known that the easiest way for the typical martial artist (ie someone not born into a position where he will inherit a huge organization and its dues) to make good money teaching martial arts is turn their dojo into a babysitting service for kids. I don't have a problem with people who do that, but I certainly wouldn't consider them to be the best martial artists in the world.
No question... to make a good living just from a dojo will involve compromising the content. That's why none of the folks at the top of the teaching profession make the majority of their income from their dojos. I certainly don't. I could have a much larger dojo if I were willing to compromise the training but I won't. So the growth of my dojo is limited by that decision.

Most of the professionals I know get the majority of their income from teaching seminars. It requires a grinding work schedule; many travel 2/3 of the weekends every year. But that's the income that takes you over the top as a pro. Some have video businesses. Valdimir Vasiliev makes most of his money from videos...

But with seminars and videos, you pretty much have to deliver the goods. People will go to a seminar once, buy a video once, but if they don't feel like they got value, they won't do it again. If you want to be successful, you have to deliver value.

The exception to this is the teacher who has a "captive audience". I was at a seminar with a teacher who is the head of a major organization. It was awful. He was going through the motions. He'd do a technique and then stand off the mat watching the clock and then repeat the process. The folks at the seminar simply did the technique in question precisely the same way they knew how to when they came in the door, nothing changed. Yet the folks who invited this teacher did so again the next year because he is the one from whom all power and recognition flow.

Most of us simply can't get away with that. I HAVE to deliver the goods or I don't pay the bills. No one will ask me again if the seminar wasn't what they'd hoped for. There are plenty of other teachers they can invite if I can't do the job. That's what you get with a professional. I am not saying that you don't get that with a part time teacher... they can be top level as well. But very people can survive as professionals without being good at what they do.

It seems to me that there is an inherent conflict between between making money and being a serious martial artist. I think trying to do both at the same time will involve compromises that will likely make it difficult to do either particularly well.
If I had an independent income stream from somewhere which didn't require a 50 hour work week and only allow me a couple weeks of vacation a year, I'd say you are right. Much of what I have to do to be a professional does not directly contribute to my skill level. But I don't have that. Compared to what I would be doing if I were working at a job like the one I had back in the 80's I can put in twice the time on the mat, read three times the number of books, write far more, and attend far more seminars and camps than I could have if I weren't doing Aikido full time. I would be a fraction as good as I am if I hadn't gone full time back in 1986. It wouldn't even be close.

That doesn't mean other folks are fantastic and that other ways can't work. But is there anyone who would maintain that having been able to put more time and effort into their training wouldn't have allowed them to be better? I don't think so.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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