Thursday, March 30, 2006


Epiphany again, something that happens a lot with this student. Not a martial epiphany or even a teaching epipheny, a regular old epiphany.

Why does it seem that the best martial arts instructors don't teach for money?

Read that sentance. Re-read it. Then point out, in detail, how the sentance itself is designed to mislead to a forgone conclusion. (Homework).

It's an old debate in certain circles. Everyone knows an amazing instructor who teaches out of his garage for little or no money. Everyone has been exposed to the glitzy schools that will sign you, if they can, to a contract totalling thousands of dollars that guarantees you a black belt whether you attend class or not.

From these common examples, they conclude that business sense is incompatible with "true" martial instruction. Maybe. I was in this camp for a long time, largely because 1) the best instructors I'd seen didn't charge; 2) One of the instructor lineages I was most impressed by made it a formal part of their philosophy- you didn't pay for the instruction in money now, you paid in the sweat and heartache of teaching the next generation; 3) I was told, and I believed without researching it for myself, that the Japanese Bushi class was incompatible and antagonistic to the merchant class and that there was no greater insult than to be a warrior for money.

Am I Japanese? No. Is this even true? No idea. Didn't the bushi recieve at least a stipend for their armed service? Hmmm. When all is said and done, aren't I paid and paid well to fight (in the most controlled, restrained and civilized manner possible, of course) for money? Damn right.

The person who actually got me thinking was Barry McConnell. Barry is one of those Hapkido/Arnis guys. He's also wicked, mean, funny, intelligent and sensible. Very much worth listening to. He asked, if you can't make money, maybe it's because what you're teaching isn't worth anything. Harsh, but accurate. If you feel your panties getting in a twist, take a moment and make sure it's not because he's right.

Barry got me thinking, but I can't honestly say I thought much about it. I don't need to teach for money and I've never cared for dealing with finances and accounting, so I just didn't bother charging.

On to the epiphany. This student really isn't a student. She is working on a project about teaching and I'm very eager to read what she has to say. She mentioned that in certain types of teaching, money is almost a taboo. She pointed out that I never talk about it and that not talking meant something. She plans to write a section on this. She asked the right questions to open up the back of my mind.

It's not about money. It never has been. It's about the relationship between teacher and student. In most endeavors, you hire a teacher or a guide with a pretty sure knowledge of where you want to go. A piano teacher will teach you to play the piano. If I was teaching a style, if I was _only_ teaching the motions of Sosuishitsu-ryu, it could be done this way: Give me X amount of dollars and I will show you the syllabus.

The relationship to teach about combat or survival is very different. I'm not an employee. I can't be. At some point, the student got to know me and I got to know the student and the student said, "Take me there." Take me to a dangerous, scary place that I have never seen. If I was an employee and the student was the boss, they could skip the rough spots and avoid the dangers and they would decide when they had arrived, even if they did not know what the destination looked like. The old relationship, the true relationship, has to give the guide, the instructor, the sensei freedom to push the student when the student wants to stop, freedom to force what the student most wants to avoid and freedom to terminate the relationship at any time. Sometimes because the goal has been reached, even if the student does not recognize it.

(Note- without an instructor of good heart and great experience, this system is ripe for abuse. An ignorant instructor of good heart can do nearly as much damage as an evil instructor).

She said that there is always an exchange in the student/teacher relationship. Both sides benefit in money or ego gratification or insight or skill or something else. There is always a currency exchanged. What is yours?

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