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Home > Training > The Costs of Training with the Best
by Peter Boylan <Send E-mail to Author>

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Peter Boylan is currently the proprietor of Mugendo Budogu.

Just for reference, I spent the last two days at a professional seminar with a leading Ph.D. in his field. This is a man whose qualifications in his field are the equal of any in budo. The cost of the seminar was $1,000 per person.

Is he overpaid? I doubt it.

Are my teachers in judo, iaido and jodo underpaid? Hell yes. Kiyama Sensei, whos been training in budo for over 75 years, won't even let me buy myself a cup of coffee when I'm with him, much less get something for him. My jodo teacher is a little easier to take care of, but I suspect he would be amazed if we paid $1,000 per person for a two-day seminar with him.

I used to be one of those who thought it was wrong to take money for teaching budo. A great friend of mine in Japan disabused me of this folly. As he pointed out, many of the classical ryuha were kept alive for centuries by professional teachers. The current head of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu is the first leader of the ryuha not to be a professional budo teacher. The first in the 400-year history of the art. And most of the other ryuha that survived the Tokugawa era were taught by professional teachers throughout that time. These were the arts of the ruling class, and their teachers were respected professionals. They weren't getting rich, but they were well paid and had the respect of the community.

Most daimyo supported at least one, and often more, dojos where they and their retainers trained. This is in addition to the dojos that were supported purely through the tuition paid by students. I dont think anyone ever complained that these teachers were selling out the purity of their arts by taking money for what they taught. People respected then for what they had to offer, and would have considered them fools for not charging appropriately for their time.

There has been something of a change over the last 150 years since Admiral Perry pried open the nation of Japan with the muzzle of a cannon. Budo used to be an essential component of the education of many members of the elite classes in Japan. The last Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, spent about half of his education time studying budo. Budo was considered an essential part of the ruling class education. For the samurai class, which had the privilege and obligation of wearing 2 swords, a basic mastery of the sword was essential for personal safety. This was as much about self-defense as it was about needing to know how to handle the 75 cm razor blades they were carrying around safely so they wouldnt hurt themselves or anyone else. In their world, it was just expected that as members of the professional warrior class, they would, as a matter of course, have at minimum fundamental skills with the weapons they had too carry. They may not have had any expectation of needing those skills for combat during much of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868), but they were still expected to know the basic skills of their class, and they had to learn it somewhere.

The Tokugawa Shogunate has been over for almost 140 years though. The classical ryu and the modern budo styles aren't valued by the average Japanese anymore. The classical ryuha are looked down upon as archaic nonsense that doesn't have any relevance to modern life. If you're lucky, people in Japan will find your practice quaint, but puzzling. If you're not they'll think it's brutal and wonder why you don't find a more useful, civilized hobby.

The modern arts are looked upon as good sports that develop character, but even these aren't terribly popular. Popular sports in Japan are baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball and badminton. Judoka have roughly the same reputation as linebackers in American Football have: big, dumb, and brutal. Kendo and kendoka are seen as being more sophisticated, but they still don't have anything like the popularity of baseball and soccer. Thanks to Kyokushin tournaments and similar events, karateka are depicted in popular media as being at least as brutal as judoka, if not more so. I'm afraid Aikido is pretty much unheard of by the majority of Japanese, but on the upside, this means it doesn't have much in the way of negative connotations associated with it.

This change in the status of budo has affected how many teachers in Japan view their students. Many sword and other weapons arts became extinct after the overthrow of the Shogunate in 1868 because they were seen as being worthless curiosities of a dead era. Jujutsu managed to survive, but it was often viewed as the province of bullies and worse. Many sword and weapons teachers had to make their living performing in public matches like prizefighters. I'm always amazed that Kano Jigoro was able to make Kodokan Judo respectable in this kind of environment. Somehow he managed to make his system of jujutsu not only respectable, but so highly respected that he was able to have it included in the mandatory education system (and this was before the right wing in Japan decided that budo training was a good way to inculcate loyalty and a willingness to die for their cause in the youth of Japan).

But even with the respect that Kodokan Judo earned, it was not so highly respected that people could make a living at it. It, and kendo, became something for kids to do, not something that adults should be doing. And that's where budo sits in Japan today. It's an activity for kids. Real adults are supposed to grow up and do adult things. For an adult to do budo is to be more than a little bit weird. Most kids on the other hand, are far more interested in their Gameboys and PlayStations than in judo or kendo or karate.

The result is that teachers have had to radically shift the way they think about their students. In the old days, students often needed the skills the teachers had to offer, and they were privileged to be accepted into a dojo. Top teachers would be sought after for their skills and experience. Even mediocre teachers could make a living teaching. That's no longer the situation. Ryuha are still dying. When I approached Takada Sensei to ask him if I could study iaido, I thought I would have to get letters of introduction from people before he would consider accepting me. What I didn't know is that so few people are interested in the classical arts that I should have been worried about was him chaining me to the wall to prevent a potential student from escaping. Now teachers are often thrilled to have students. Niten Ichi Ryu for example, has a whole 19 students on its rolls these days. Many teachers actually feel privileged to have students who are truly interested in learning what they have to offer, and they are eager to share their knowledge and pass on their arts.

In "Angry White Pajamas" the Tokyo Riot Police who were doing the intensive Aikido training thought it was nuts and had no interest in continuing practice once their year of required practice was completed. This attitude is common throughout Japanese society. There are very few teachers who are able make their living teaching budo in Japan anymore. Those who do are usually attached to a competitive team at a college or police department. The police are still required to train on a regular basis, and there are police teams that compete in national judo and kendo tournaments. Their coaches are often full time instructors. The same is true at large colleges and universities where judo and kendo teams may have strong alumni support and bring the school national recognition. Outside of these few jobs, full-time, professional budo teachers are unheard of.

Teachers of budo, even in Japan, no longer expect to get lots of money anymore for teaching. The most incredible example I can think of is Niten Ichi Ryu. Kim Taylor had been learning Niten Ichi Ryu from his iaido teacher, Haruna Matsuo for years, but he wasn't a real member of the ryu. However, after Haruna Sensei's death, Imai soke seems to have felt that Kim's little group in Canada was important enough that he approached Kim and announced that he would come to Canada to continue Kim's education in Niten Ichi Ryu! Can you even imagine this? Now Kim plans a seminar and charges people $290 Canadian for 4 days with the head of the art every year. This turns the old stereotype of the student waiting at the gate for weeks before he is accepted by the teacher on its head. Now the teacher is approaching a student hes never met and asking to come teach. The place of budo has changed so completely I doubt if any of the teachers in 1868 could have conceived it.

$290 Canadian isnt exactly the $1000 US that I paid for a 2-day seminar with a top scholar in combustion engine engineering. I should point out that Imai Sensei brought along a number of his top students, so you got a lot more than just one expert, but many for that cost. And they flew in from Japan, not Texas. The fact that there aren't a lot of people really interested in what we do means that there isn't a huge market for teachers to tap. That doesn't mean we shouldn't pay them though.

Kiyama Sensei won't accept money from me. What he will accept is my gratitude, my training, and my continuing the river of training into another generation. In fact, he expects that last one from me above all the others, and so do all of my teachers. They are clearly disappointed when I tell them that I haven't established my own dojo yet. But they are pleased that I am teaching people.

And this is what differentiates budo training and seminars from the professional seminar that I attended. Budo training is not a hobby or an occupation. It is an art, a way of living, and a precious gift from the generations before us who have worked hard to create it, and shape it, and make sure its treasures are passed on from generation to generation. After you have advanced beyond a certain level within an art, that responsibility descends upon your shoulders. In the eyes of my teachers, I've clearly reached that level. And when I consider all that I have gained from my training and practice, the idea of not giving back to the art and shirking that responsibility is unthinkable. What is awe inspiring to me, is that the responsibility is really not to my teachers, but to the art. Budo has given me so much that I cannot express, and it is my responsibility to make sure that the arts I practice, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Shinto Muso Ryu, and Kodokan Judo, will be available in the future for people. If I fail in my responsibility, I let down my teachers and all the teachers before them, but worse, I let down all those who could have benefited from the living arts that I practice.

I've seen this kind of feeling for their arts in many budo teachers. Just because teachers feel that repaying their debt is so important that they will make sacrifices and find getting little or no money acceptable (and many Americans seem to feel that if you enjoy doing something then you've been paid in pleasure and they don't have to pay in coin) doesn't mean we shouldn't pay them what we can. I think it means that when someone complains about the cost of a class or a seminar, we have a responsibility to try to teach them to recognize the real value of what they have the opportunity to learn. And then we pay the fee with a smile, and say "Thank you Sensei" when the seminar is over with a true feeling of gratitude in our hearts.

The value society places on budo may have changed over the centuries, but the value of budo has not.

Peter "the Budo Bum" Boylan

Copyright © 2005 Peter Boylan, all rights reserved

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