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The Cost Of Martial Arts Training

By Christopher Caile

Too often I read disparaging comments by martial artists about others who they perceive as charging too much for lessons, equating them to some sort of monetary vampires who are impure and who betray the principles of their art. This view, I believe, is misplaced.

That's not to say I don't applaud those who teach for free, or almost free. I've done it myself. Over the years I have taught in YMCAs, in community programs and at a University. I have also studied a variety of arts in this way.

But there is also often a cost to free or very low cost classes. The teacher is not supporting himself or herself through the art. The consequences often include part-time instruction, difficult time schedules, and shared or borrowed locations that can change. And if the teacher gets a new job, has kids, gets married or his work hours change, watch out. Personally, there has been more than one instance in which my study of a martial art has abruptly ended because my instructor suddenly had new priorities and/or financial demands.

There is also the matter of perceived value. At one time I taught a free community evening karate program outside Washington, D.C., but I had trouble retaining students. One of the program directors suggested I start charging. I did, and student enrollment and retention dramatically increased -- students felt that by paying, they were getting something of value.

Students also benefited in other ways. An income allowed the purchase of kicking and punching pads and other equipment that facilitated training. And, I must admit, a few extra dollars in my pocket also helped. It showed me that my program had value. It also covered a little of my own teaching expenses.

On the other extreme are those martial artists who seek the very difficult path of trying to make a living from their art. They fully dedicate themselves to their teaching and further training. This is not an easy path, especially for those who have a spouse and family to support, to say nothing of paying for their school location, insurance and/or assisting instructors. So why disparage these professionals? They have to charge to support themselves and their school.

In return students get well maintained practice areas, locker rooms and workout equipment. These benefits costs the student. There are no guarantees, but in return they are more likely to get stability and continuity of teaching. Moreover, even in expensive schools most teachers I know make special arrangements for dedicated students who can't afford the normal fee. In my Seido karate headquarters, for example, there are work/study programs where students work in return for their training. Very few good teachers, I think, will turn away good, dedicated students for lack of money.

Thus the real issue, I think, is not what is charged, but what is given in return.

If you go to a doctor, the one time fee can easily run a $100, or much, much more if there is continued treatment. Likewise, if you decide to take music or skating lessons, the cost can be substantial. And if you decide to go back to school, the costs can run into the thousands of dollars per semester. So, what are you complaining about when martial arts teachers or schools charge?

I know what you are thinking -- that money is the root of a lot of martial arts politics, ego and other evils. And yes, there are those who abuse the system, concentrating more on business and income than on the art they represent. But there are also a lot of honest, dedicated teachers who work hard to make a living from doing what they love.

If you teach quality martial arts for free, I applaud you. But don't complain about others who must charge. And as a student, if you find free, quality instruction, feel appreciative. But also recognize the worth of other instructors who charge a fee.

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About the Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years and holds a 6th degree black belt in Seido Karate and has experience in judo, aikido, diato-ryu, boxing, Itto-Ryu Kenjutsu and several Chinese fighting arts. He is also a long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong. He is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association.

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