I believe I first heard it described this way from Master Chief Hartman, AKA TKDTutor. Originally, the teaching of martial arts was an avocation. This means that it was not done as a way to make a living. It was done out of love of the art. In modern times, the teaching of martial arts is done as a vocation. Meaning; that people do this as a way to earn a living. In earlier times, martial arts instructors did not expect to make their living from teaching martial arts. To the people of the older traditions, the martial arts were a way of life. When I say that I practice martial arts, I do not mean to use the word practice in the same way that a person may practice archery (doing something in order to get better at it). Rather, I mean it in the same sense as when a doctor says that he practices medicine – it is something he does every day, it is his way of life, as martial arts are for me. True, I make my living through the teaching of martial arts, but this does not lessen my feelings for what I am doing. There are only a few of us left in the world who approach martial arts this way, but at least there are that many!
So, for me and many others, the martial arts are a vocation. In America, the teaching of martial arts has become a business. Anyone who has only the most superficial knowledge of the world of business knows full well that with business comes a host of good and bad things. The interest of the student will often take a back seat to the interest of the bottom line. Money. For a business to stay open it must make money. Not only that, but the business must make enough money to keep the interest of the business owner.
There is a common business practice in the martial arts industry of using contracts (some schools use a much less threatening term “agreement”). These contracts can lock a student into months or years of tuition fees, whether or not the student continues to train. Still others schools will increase the number of belt ranks to an absurd number (some schools have over 20 color belt ranks!!!).
To have a successful martial arts school, the school will need to
A.) Attract new students
B.) Keep the current group of trainees happy enough that they stay.
C.) Develop new ways of getting current students to spend money.
As a martial arts school owner, one fact which haunts me is that every years scores of studios open up shop, and just as many close forever. This sad fact is what brings so many school owners to the point where they are more concerned with income than student (customer) satisfaction.
My school is located in my garage. This puts me in the category of instructors who are not going to make a ton of money. This also allows me to not care about making a ton of money. I have a day job with which I pay my mortgage. I do not have to worry about the things that a person who sets up his school in a strip center may have to worry about. I spoke with the owner of a TKD school in Highland Village (a suburb of Dallas), and he told me the lease on his location was $5,000.00 per month! I almost fell over dead on the spot. I cannot imagine the stress which comes with needing that much every month just to keep the doors open. When a student trains with me, they pay. When they do not train, they don not have to pay. And when someone earns a black belt though me, they have earned it.
If you train with a person operating their school out of a storefront location, you will be paying more. Often there will be a requirement that you sign into a contract. If you are the type of person who needs outside motivation, a school contract may be just the thing for you. Knowing that you have to pay for the lessons may prove to be a good motivation to continue training.
Some schools are also a part of a franchise or a national or international organization. Money paid to the school will have a portion of which will go to the organization. I do not like a lot of the business practices of schools in this category. They are usually the schools which will nickel and dime you to death. Always another thing go on with another inflated fee attached.
The larger the school, the more likely they will be participating on one of the biggest scams in the martial arts world – free labor. There are a ton of schools which have adult classes for no other reason than to get free labor and help in controlling the children enrolled in the kid’s classes. You do not get a lot back out of your higher monetary investment.
Many of these organizations have lowered or eliminated the rank requirements. I was a part of a TKD organization which did not allow us to fail a student during rank testing, unless they were behind on their monthly fees. There were a lot of people wearing black belts, but there were only a few who were the real deal.
In short, do not confuse commercial martial arts with traditional martial arts. This article should help you to understand which one is right for you.