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Economy
Economy
by Ross Robertson
01-21-2011
Economy

The global economy seems to be on everyone's mind these days, so I thought it might be time to revisit the discussion on how aikido fits into economic structures, and some of the ways where aikido is not very economical at all.

The general idea of economy is intrinsic to good aikido. We look for ways in which small gestures can produce large, favorable results. We seek to find ways in which a small investment of energy can tie into a larger system's energy pool, and direct the flow toward desirable outcomes. Where there are agents that seek to do us harm, we examine how to transmute that very energy into a resource.

Yet when it comes to the financial aspect of economy, aikido is a dubious proposition, and one that changes considerably depending on what relationship one has with the art.

For the student, it's not so bad. There is an investment of time, energy, and money with the expectation that the return will be of equal or greater value. The student ROI (Return on Investment) is generally in the form of intangibles... fitness, friendships, joy, security, pride of accomplishment, and so on. Any financial return is likely to be an incidental side effect by virtue of better performance at work, better relations with managers, employees, and co-workers. Too, it's possible that exposure to the aiki way of thinking can provide better overall strategic and tactical planning, which can enhance financial fitness.

For the teacher of aikido, the ROI is more complicated. Granted, a good teacher is a perpetual student, so all of the benefits listed above still apply. Too, the extra investment by teachers can lead to a greater sense of satisfaction of helping the world and influencing the minds of many. But the expectation that teachers must put in far more time and energy can be costly. More time at the dojo means less time with family, less free time for other activities, and greater stress overall. Even if the instructor is not teaching professionally, they are likely to be more involved with the financial health of the dojo than most of the students. And if the dojo is lucky enough to have a motivated team of senior students who run the school (or maybe just a single but competent dojo-cho), few instructors can simply afford to be completely uninvolved in a dojo's business.

Professional aikido instructors are rare. Even where they are found, many have had to rely on re-packaging aikido to market it to the non-dojo audience. Many combine aikido with their psychology, counseling, or other therapeutic practice. Some do business consulting. Some write books, run restaurants or martial supply enterprises. But the person who can make a living purely by teaching aikido, who can support not only themselves but their family and oversee a self-sufficient dojo is very unusual. Why is that?

The simple answer is that there is little demand for the position. But then, why is that? Partly it's a systemic lack of marketing on the part of the aikido community at large. Public and private schools may hire art teachers, coaches, dance, drama, and music teachers, but rarely a self-defense staff. Corporations may have wellness programs with an on-site gym, but their programs are usually more likely to be Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi. Aikido, after all these years, is still not much on people's radar.

Within the aikido community itself there is a widespread, entrenched attitude that can actually be hostile to professionalizing the art. Beyond a handful of famous shihan, mostly Japanese, instructors are typically expected to support themselves by independent means, and donate their time, energy, at times fantastic and rare expertise, and when necessary, go out of pocket for the privilege of keeping the school open.

I find this attitude bizarre and puzzling. It's not that I'm against non-professional operations -- clearly the art is flourishing and people are learning good aikido the world over -- but I have to wonder if there isn't room for a lot more professionals in the field as well. And naturally I wonder if there wouldn't be more benefit for us all if there weren't more professional aikidoists dedicating their lives to the art and being adequately rewarded for it.

Two important points are to be made here before I go on: note that I said "adequately" rewarded. It's doubtful at this point that anyone could find an aikido business model that would make the Fortune 500. But can't there be achievable models that work on a modest scale? A professional aikido instructor ought to be able to earn the average salary for a given geo-demographical area. Second, please note that I make a careful distinction between the professional dojo and the commercial dojo. The latter's primary objective is to make money, and uses aikido as a vehicle (and yeah, good luck with that). The former's primary objective is to deliver good aikido, full time, in a way that is financially sustainable. Please keep this in mind when I'm talking about professionalism in the art.

I should also mention that I well understand the pitfalls of teaching professionally, and why it is rightly approached with great caution. First and foremost perhaps, is that an instructor simply cannot allow a dependency relationship to develop with the students. It is imperative that students be students, not customers or clients.

Yet the same caveats exist in other domains where professionals are the norm. You pay dues to the local gym and expect that they have a solid business model in place that will keep them there year after year. You'd be suspicious if it were otherwise. Same goes for the local Yoga studio. You might hire a personal trainer, and they might yell at you and hurt your feelings, even right after you've written them your check. Or they might become deeply and sincerely interested in you as a person and possible friend, but if you don't pay them they drop you from their roster like a dead weight. There are bad doctors and commercial clinics, but the good ones care more about you than your money. Still, if they don't make money, they can't care about your health.

Public school teachers are supported by taxes, private school teachers are supported by tuition and perhaps endowments. Schools fail and teachers are notoriously underpaid, but even so, there are schools and professional teachers everywhere you look. Unless you happen to be looking at aikido.

Again, why is that? I ask you, why would you choose (assuming you have the choice) an amateur over a professional when it comes to your personal safety, your personal fitness, or maybe that of your family that you have enrolled in the school? Why would you choose a part-time hobbyist over a dedicated full-time professional?

Sometimes such a decision is perfectly justified. And just to be clear, I have trained under both kinds of instructors, and have benefited greatly from both. But I personally feel that I've gotten the most benefit from the people who eat, drink, sleep, dream, and breathe aikido and who simply expect to do it as their job, their career, and their calling.

I suspect that many of you would answer that there simply are no professional aikido instructors in your town. The question then becomes, would you support your instructor if they decided to try to make a go at it full time? Would you be willing to pay a little more, be active in recruiting students, eagerly embrace a higher student/teacher ratio?

I admit that I can't prove the world would be a better place if there were more professional dojos around town. Then again, if every McDonald's were to magically turn into an aikido center overnight, I think it's hard to argue that there hadn't been a significant shift in human priorities.

Then again, I think the burden of proof is not on me, but on those who prefer the amateur model. There are so many enterprises in the world that contribute far less value than aikido has to offer, yet nevertheless manage to survive and even thrive economically. Can you convince me that aikido is so unique, so precious, so apart from the rest of normal human economy that it would wither and die if exposed to a healthy balance sheet? Isn't balance the whole point?

The word "economy" comes from Greek, and originally had to do with simple household management. For all their amazing skill and knowledge, many aikido instructors (including me) have simply not found appropriate ways to manage their own houses.

Kudos to all you instructors who manage to work regular jobs, have happy families, and still generously donate your time and expertise to the dojo for no monetary remuneration. I sincerely bow to you in respect, gratitude, and admiration. But some day there will be a few of you who realize you could do more, could do better, if you could do aikido as your primary focus. When that time comes, you'll find that you simply can't compete with those who continue to give it away for free.

As the global economy improves, I'd like to issue a challenge to the world of aikido: Embrace aikido as a respectable business occupation and start supporting it more actively. Students should demand professionalism the same way they would of schoolteachers, health care providers, or plumbers. Instructors should be unafraid of putting a percentage of dojo income into their pockets and letting everyone know that they have. Even if not full time, people deserve to be paid for what they do.

It's not for everyone, nor should it be. There are more sports enthusiasts than there are professional athletes. There are more musical hobbyists than there are pros. Nor are the pros universally better than some of the amateurs. Yet the world tolerates amateurs and professionals alike in almost all domains where the activity itself is rewarding. Just not so much in aikido.

My ongoing belief is that aikido is a way of life. It is a way of seeing the world and acting within it, and it is universally applicable. There is nowhere and no time that we should not be doing aikido. It belongs in the schools, in the arts, in the sports arenas, in the courthouses and statehouses. We may leave our shoes and our worldly concerns at the edge of the mat when we bow in, but we shouldn't leave aikido in the dojo when we leave it.

The greatest challenges facing us in this still new decade (century, millennium), are political, economical, and ecological. Let's let aikido out of its box and into those places where it is needed the most.

In so doing, let's also remember not to leave the dojo behind. The place of the way and the ones who have gone before are special institutions and people. They are special, but not necessarily magical: they need constant nourishment and occasional medicine, or else they die, just like everything else.

Happy New Year, good people. Let's work together to do something unprecedented in human history. Let's make our lifetimes the time when everything changed, and everything got better.

Love to you all.

1/3/2011
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA
www.stillpointaikido.com
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Old 01-21-2011, 01:40 PM   #2
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Spain
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Re: Economy

Great post! And I agree that aikido is a way of life. But thinking about our small island comparing the proportion of aikidokas with other budokas, judo and karate who teach also children that gives more benefits and even then this teachers have another regular job. And thinking also of the dan collectors: 5 dan in judo, jiujitsu, aikido, shorinji kempo and so on, but without real knowledge of any of them, what would happen if this "instructors" would become professional? The honest sincere aikido teacher does not think about money and would remain amateur,
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Old 01-22-2011, 03:45 AM   #3
niall
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Re: Economy

Thanks, Ross. That's interesting and challenging. Professional is too often also commercial and it shouldn't be.

Economy of energy and effort is always good. A friend of mine had an interesting economic theory of self-defence. He said if you were only interested in self-defence you should forget martial arts. You should just take the one mugging or beating you might be unlucky to get in your life and accept it. The pain and the injuries would be mimimal compared to the pain and injuries and the hours and months you spend in your life learning martial arts. I don't think he really meant it. He did do budo seriously for many years until his death.

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Old 01-23-2011, 08:34 PM   #4
graham christian
Dojo: golden center aikido-highgate
Location: london
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Re: Economy

Hi Ron. Love your columns amd this one is from what I see on other threads very thoughtful and indeed very pertinent to some peoples 'fear'
of what may happen to Aikido.
Being someone who doesn't do it as a business but more as a way if you like, I nonetheless get told often how I should.
When I looked previously at business models it all seemed to me that money could be made by having belts and gradings especially for children and I know many successful martial arts places who do just that. However that wasn't for me as I believed many of them were selling their integrity down the river.
However, now more than ever in history I see it is a very economics and money based scene which brings that old dilemma to the fore once again. There are models out there as you pointed out like people doing seminars etc. for others not of their dojo so to speak and they make a living at it.
So basically I agree with you and especially your conclusion. If someone who is concerned about the perceived situation of their Aikido organization or if they are independent and want to live it AND earn a good income from it then both have to do the same thing really. They have to think outside of the box and find out where they could be teaching it which would lead to that solution.
For example, if I wanted to and then looked lets say, over here in England, football and if it's wanted or needed there. Well, there are some managers and coaches who use various experts and teachers of other things if they see it could improve for instance the players balance or mind stability etc. etc.
If a person from an organization thus taught in another profession then people of that profession would get to know and not only get him to teach them but would join his organization as a result. A win-win. On the other hand the independent would now have a well rewarded arm to his Aikido as well as his own dojo which need not change.
That's part of my understanding from what you've written and it's been enlghtening, thank you. G.
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Old 02-04-2011, 11:04 AM   #5
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 282
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Carina Reinhardt wrote: View Post
Great post! And I agree that aikido is a way of life. But thinking about our small island comparing the proportion of aikidokas with other budokas, judo and karate who teach also children that gives more benefits and even then this teachers have another regular job. And thinking also of the dan collectors: 5 dan in judo, jiujitsu, aikido, shorinji kempo and so on, but without real knowledge of any of them, what would happen if this "instructors" would become professional? The honest sincere aikido teacher does not think about money and would remain amateur,
Hi Carina, and welcome to AikiWeb!

I think in many endeavors, amateurs stand collectively to make the most valuable contributions. Yet there is the need for professionalism and the reality of economy that even things like aikido are not, and should not, be above.

I am concerned about your last sentence... for anyone making money, doing whatever it is that they do, are they less honest or sincere because they get paid or because they need to feed a family? If a pursuit is noble, is it made dirty if money is involved? Do you pay grocers and farmers, doctors and healers, school teachers (directly or through taxes), artists, musicians, product designers, manufacturers, vendors, architects and builders?

Aikido is less valuable than some things and more valuable than others. Yet we pay people who make their living within a vast spectrum of value. Aikido sits somewhere within that spectrum, so why do we insist that it must be eternally on the outside?

Again, very happy to have your voice in the discussion.

Ross
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Old 02-04-2011, 11:09 AM   #6
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Thanks, Ross. That's interesting and challenging. Professional is too often also commercial and it shouldn't be.

Economy of energy and effort is always good. A friend of mine had an interesting economic theory of self-defence. He said if you were only interested in self-defence you should forget martial arts. You should just take the one mugging or beating you might be unlucky to get in your life and accept it. The pain and the injuries would be mimimal compared to the pain and injuries and the hours and months you spend in your life learning martial arts. I don't think he really meant it. He did do budo seriously for many years until his death.
Hi Niall,

I would reply to your friend that perhaps his definition of self-defense is artificially narrow. Street combat is one thing, but all of us practice self-defense all the time in all arenas, whether we are trained or not. Aikido is one method to help us do it with greater mindfulness, economy, effectiveness, and wisdom.

RA
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Old 02-04-2011, 11:31 AM   #7
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
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Re: Economy

Hi Graham,

For nearly the last 20 years, I've done aikido professionally. I've had my own dojo while often teaching as a volunteer elsewhere. I've taught after-school programs in elementary schools, I've done seminars around the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Israel. I'm a [ahem] famous columnist on AikiWeb. Yet last year, I chose to close my dojo and release my students. The money just wasn't there, and it would be facile for me to blame the current economy.

The integrity of which you speak is crucial. Hence my distinction between commercial dojo and professional ones, but even if living wages are not involved, the amateur must confront many of the same ethical challenges.

I never took money for tests and promotions, despite urgings form senior instructors. I never turned away those who could not pay.

I don't mind living the rest of my life as aikido amateur, since the word itself means "lover." In that regard, we should all be amateurs. At the same time, it's this deep and passionate love that calls me to do it full time, if it were but possible within my context.

I would happily spend the remainder of my years with devoted students who share the love and understand the potent medicine of aikido for an ailing world. I think much of the world is waking up to its hurt, so now we just have to find a way to share why aikido is relevant. But some of my happiest times have been when I've been able to travel and share the wonderful things that I've received from my teachers, and the occasional insights at which I've arrived on my own.

It's this last point that's crucial to the present discussion. I know without a doubt that much of what I've discovered about aikido I could not have been taught, and would never have found on my own if I had not been able to pursue it as a full time occupation. Aikido is not a fixed and finished product. We need researchers and developers, and we can all benefit from the scrupulous efforts of dedicated professionals. It's the professional (the one who "professes") who has the privilege and the obligation to go farther, see more, think deeper, practice longer, and share the treasures than can most of the rest of us who follow other livelihoods.

Best,

Ross
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Old 02-04-2011, 12:00 PM   #8
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 428
Spain
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
Hi Carina, and welcome to AikiWeb!

I think in many endeavors, amateurs stand collectively to make the most valuable contributions. Yet there is the need for professionalism and the reality of economy that even things like aikido are not, and should not, be above.

I am concerned about your last sentence... for anyone making money, doing whatever it is that they do, are they less honest or sincere because they get paid or because they need to feed a family? If a pursuit is noble, is it made dirty if money is involved? Do you pay grocers and farmers, doctors and healers, school teachers (directly or through taxes), artists, musicians, product designers, manufacturers, vendors, architects and builders?

Aikido is less valuable than some things and more valuable than others. Yet we pay people who make their living within a vast spectrum of value. Aikido sits somewhere within that spectrum, so why do we insist that it must be eternally on the outside?

Again, very happy to have your voice in the discussion.

Ross
Of course it is not dirty if money is involved, of course aikido teacher can be honest if they were professionals in a honest world. I were just thinking about what is happening in our small island and I'm very upset about it. It is because a few people who were not elected this time again for the judo and aikido federation in our place, They don't accept that they won't get again more subventions and are making trouble whereever they can. So thats why I wrote that, this really bad people who are just politicians, but don't train would get this jobs as professional teacher.
It is difficult for me to explain the situation, I thought it was finished, but now it starts again., with anonymous comments, denunciations without any reason, and so on..
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Old 02-04-2011, 02:20 PM   #9
Diana Frese
Dojo: Aikikai of S.W. Conn. (formerly)
Location: Stamford Connecticut
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 379
United_States
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Re: Economy

Hi Carina, and thanks Ross for a very important and timely perspective. I will study this column and the replies but first I'd like to suggest something as a possible resource for those who want to be able to set up their dojo so they can make the modest living that Ross mentions. I don't have the link handy, but if a person contacts the editor of USAikido Federation news, online, Laura Pavlik, or Yamada Sensei's dojo New York Aikikai someone would be happy to refer him or her to the Aikido Instructors' Organization, which offers programs to help set up a dojo so that it can be financially viable. When I find the web addresses or phone numbers I'll add them here, if I don't get criticized for advertising on AikiWeb......(just kidding)

This is just to let you know that Yamada Sensei shares these concerns and has endorsed the program. As for myself I taught at a local YMCA for around eight years in the late seventies and early eighties and so am reading about this topic with interest.

Posting in haste so interested people can start to check out the referral I made.....

P.S. I'm really sorry, Carina, about there being such a problem on such a beautiful island. I hope things get better very soon.
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Old 02-04-2011, 02:34 PM   #10
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Diana Frese wrote: View Post
P.S. I'm really sorry, Carina, about there being such a problem on such a beautiful island. I hope things get better very soon.
Hi Diana,
Thank you very much for your kindness. Things have been like that for years, we are used to them, we are just in the federation because of the insurance and of course my collegues who one day will become a teacher must have dan tests recognized by the federation. Apart from that we just train and once a year we ask the mats for the anual seminar of Frank Noel Sensei, last year they promised them,, but 2 weeks before the seminar they told us that they could not lend them to us, because of a judo event at the same time..
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Old 02-06-2011, 11:30 AM   #11
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 428
Spain
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Re: Economy

Hi Ross and Diana,
I would like to delete the bad things I wrote about what happens in our island, sometimes I'm too sincere. I just wanted to explain in my poor english, that things that are good in the US don't work in Spain.
I'm really sorry, maybe Jun can delete them,
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Old 02-06-2011, 11:45 AM   #12
Hellis
Dojo: Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido
Location: Bracknell
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 584
England
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Carina Reinhardt wrote: View Post
Hi Ross and Diana,
I would like to delete the bad things I wrote about what happens in our island, sometimes I'm too sincere. I just wanted to explain in my poor english, that things that are good in the US don't work in Spain.
I'm really sorry, maybe Jun can delete them,
Carina

You are replying to a very interesting post by Ross, if you are sincere with your comments ? stand by them. The reason that people get away with so much crap, is because so few stand up to be counted..

I like your island very much, have been there a couple of times.

Henry Ellis
http://aikidoarticles.blogspot.com/
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Old 02-06-2011, 11:52 AM   #13
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Spain
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Re: Economy

Thank you Henry, but the comments should be contructive not negative. Teacher are in Spain public employees, that could be the difference with the US
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Old 02-07-2011, 09:52 AM   #14
Diana Frese
Dojo: Aikikai of S.W. Conn. (formerly)
Location: Stamford Connecticut
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 379
United_States
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Re: Economy

Hi Carina, we have been busy with winter weather etc. but I agree with Henry that similar if not identical problems to what you mentioned occur and it's good to share your information with the rest of us.

About the Aikido Instructors Organization it deals with all phases of running a dojo. My husband is using the computer for work and said that until he can put a link on for AIO people can find it thru Google or similar web browser.... I did. I also found out it is for any aikido dojo not just the U S Aikido Federation.

Good column and comments, I'll keep studying it.
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Old 02-07-2011, 10:27 AM   #15
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 428
Spain
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Re: Economy

Thank you Diana, one positive thing about Economy, all the Canary Islands are fully booked, no hotel-bungalow- or apartment left and tourists have beautiful weather to enjoy the beach.
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Old 02-07-2011, 01:13 PM   #16
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 282
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Carina Reinhardt wrote: View Post
Hi Ross and Diana,
I would like to delete the bad things I wrote about what happens in our island, sometimes I'm too sincere. I just wanted to explain in my poor english, that things that are good in the US don't work in Spain.
I'm really sorry, maybe Jun can delete them,
Hi Carina,

I believe if you are logged in, you can edit or delete your own posts. I think this is a wise policy, and I hope none will be criticized for wanting to control their own message.

That said, I do hope you'll be unafraid to say things that express your views and feelings. Even in aiki (sometimes especially) we must find a way to criticize. We aim to be constructive, but sometimes we must tear down also as part of being a warrior and a healer.

I can't know (but perhaps I can learn?) what the political situation is for budo where you live. It's true that sometimes professionals band together to form guilds, influence legislature, exclude rivals, guard trade secrets, and so on. This is rarely a good thing.

Sometimes professionals band together to establish standards of safety and excellence. If done well, this can be a very good thing. Among building trades, this has generally balanced out to be a good thing, and its absence in Haiti has proven too tragic for words.

As I say, I can't know, but I suspect that whatever problem or concern you have in your situation also exists here in the United States somewhere and in some form. We have many aikido organizations. Many of them are self-serving, and some are specifically dedicated to the service of society. But so far we are lucky to be able to practice freely and be independent if we choose.

It's my belief that economies follow evolutionary principles. What works, persists. What persists is sometimes monstrous, sometimes beautiful. As conscientious humans, I think we are obliged to do our part to choose economies that are not monstrous. We need to sustain the ones that sustain us, the ones that promote beauty, health, joy, compassion, and dignity.

Perhaps some day I may be privileged to see your lovely island first hand. Until then, please do continue to speak your mind in whatever manner serves. Your voice matters.

Ross
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Old 02-07-2011, 01:47 PM   #17
carina reinhardt
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 428
Spain
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Re: Economy

Hi Ross,
Thank you very much for your understanding. I just wanted to explain why professionalism for aikido teacher would not work in Spain and I took the wrong way complaining about things that doesn't matter in this thread.
The teacher in Spain is a state employee. After the university the teacher must pass examinations to become a permanent employment.Here in our island the new teachers are sent first to the smaller islands, where nobody wants to go and after 3 or 4 years they can ask for a job closer to their home. It is very difficult to pass this examinations as there are many teachers and few jobs. So in the case of my teacher, an excellent aikido teacher, but who never had the opportunity to go to college,therefore he never would become this job. A friend who is 5 Dan Jiu jitsu teacher finished the university as a gym teacher for public school, he did the examinations at least four times, learning four years and presenting himself each year for the test and the last time he told me that there were still 40 persons on the list before himself.
And please tell me if you like to come to our island, I would look for a good hotel for you, even if the island is fully booked like now, perhaps you would like to visit our dojo too.
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Old 02-07-2011, 01:49 PM   #18
Demetrio Cereijo
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 1,883
Spain
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Re: Economy

Quote:
Carina Reinhardt wrote: View Post
Thank you Henry, but the comments should be contructive not negative. Teacher are in Spain public employees, that could be the difference with the US
What?

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Old 02-11-2011, 12:04 PM   #19
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 282
Offline
Re: Economy

Quote:
Carina Reinhardt wrote: View Post
Hi Ross,
[\] And please tell me if you like to come to our island, I would look for a good hotel for you, even if the island is fully booked like now, perhaps you would like to visit our dojo too.[\]
Of course I would very much love to visit your island, and train in your dojo. But as an impoverished professional aikido instructor, my salary does not allow for such travel. You do live in a part of the world I've always wanted to see, and so if my situation changes, I'll keep you in mind as a destination.

Thank you sincerely for your kind invitation and warm offer of hospitality.

Ross
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