Thursday, August 8, 2013

Traditional Martial Arts - A Way of Life in Arizona

Torii gate
Traditional martial arts are a brotherhood and sisterhood of martial artists who prefer martial arts as a 'way of life'. Part of this concept includes 'ryu'. To traditional martial artists, ryu not only means 'style', but also means 'family'. This is why in traditional martial arts a sensei (teacher) is always concerned about students development in and outside a dojo (martial arts school). When one becomes a member of a ryu, the sensei becomes your father or mother figure and he or she becomes interested in your development. As a deshi (student) it is respectful to keep in touch with a sensei throughout your life.

Traditional martial artists are not so overly focused on competition they forget about other members of the ryu. For traditional martial artists, such as those at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate on the border of Gilbert and Mesa, the trophy is seeing others progress in martial arts and gain benefits of martial arts that include better health, focus and self-confidence. Traditional martial artists do not compete with others, only with themselves, but they are offered a curriculum of martial arts that is unmatched in sport martial arts schools. Traditional martial artists are a group of highly educated people who help one another because of their bond in the traditional way. The Great Okinawan Shorin-Ryu martial arts master, Gichin Funakoshi stated, "The purpose of Karate lies not in defeat or victory, but in the perfection of its participants".  This philosophy is still alive in traditional martial arts schools all around the globe.

One problem Traditional Martial Artists face not only in Arizona, but also worldwide, is instructors (sensei) are so focused on helping and assisting others that they forget to focus on finances. Few traditional martial artists are trained in dojo economics like many sport martial arts. On Okinawa, it is traditional for sensei to rely on the generosity of students to pay for the dojo (martial arts training facility) and donate what they can afford to keep the instructor working. Unfortunately, this does not work well in the West.

In the West, many students take advantage of low fees while martial arts instructors, who are taught the Okinawan way (teaching martial arts and not dojo economics) that they are often forced to close dojo doors because they can not make lease payments or salaries. In many cases, this is why so many taekwondo and mainland Japanese sports schools have an advantage.
Kyoju (professor) Hausel teaching jujutsu classes at the
University of Wyoming after being awarded 'International
Instructor of the Year' (University of Wyoming photo)
Pencil sketch of Gichin Funakoshi by Soke
This problem is created by the instructors themselves. Most traditional instructors feel students should be able to read their minds and provide assistance to keep the dojo running. Such marketing practices are unfair to students who ultimately suffer because of dojo closings and are often not aware of the problem.

Walk into any sport martial arts facility and you will likely be accosted by used car salesmen tactics providing a contract before you can even take a breath. Money is top priority, not training. While in most traditional martial arts schools (those without rock n' roll music blaring in the background and without trophies filling windows), the quality of instruction of martial arts is often considerably higher. Even so, few traditional martial artists ever open a dojo and most rely on teaching in colleges, private gyms, etc.

In most traditional martial arts dojo, money is seldom brought up until the potential student asks about fees. The instructor relies on the integrity of students to pay each month and unfortunately, both tactics are not good. Traditional martial arts instructors need to learn to charge more money to keep afloat as dojo leases must be paid each month because landlords never have the same attitude.

Many traditional martial artists in the world have flawless credentials compared to sport and MMA schools. Yet few Traditional Martial Artists ever charge what their martial arts education is worth. As a result, martial arts become an expensive hobby. Many have actually paid more money into martial arts than they have received.
Martial arts student (Kate Lehman) at the University of
Wyoming receiving yudansha certification in
Shorin-Ryu Karate.
I received a call from a private school in Mesa in the Phoenix Valley. They were looking for an instructor to teach karate to about 130 students. We discussed the philosophy of martial arts, the number of students, etc., and like a true traditional martial artist, I did not once ask about salary. After hanging up, I started banging my head against the wall (this is good training for breaking boards and rocks, but not so much for the walls in my office) while asking myself, why can I not think more about money? I guess it has to do with the fact that material things have never been a priority in my life. I was even on the discovery team of one of the largest gold deposits in history, and all I ever received was a consulting fee. It's true, I need help - but I haven't been able to find that rehab clinic for old traditional martial artists.

It is somehow ingrained in the thinking of traditional martial arts instructors. Traditional martial arts schools will soon be placed on the rare and endangered species list if something isn't done.

One of my students recently was searching traditional Okinawan Shihan obi on the Internet and found only one or two martial arts equipment outlets that still sell the red and white shihan obi and only one that still sold the black and red kyoshi obi. This is how rare traditional martial artists are becoming - its not from poor martial arts teaching - its from poor marketing strategy. There are hundreds of shady martial arts teachers with schools who have no lineage and no proper evidence of certification.
My best friend, Hanshi Ron Smith (left) and the author at the 2013 JKI national clinic.
I was recently told by another instructor and best friend (Hanshi Ron Smith from Virginia) that my fees are way too low for my qualifications and expertise, and my certification fees are shamefully low. I had no idea how low these were until we had this discussion at the Juko Kai International Clinic in Texas in 2013. According to Hanshi Smith, it is not uncommon for martial artists to pay a few $thousand in Japan for yudansha (black belt) promotions and certifications. I will probably never charge that much for yudansha certifications, but I never raised my rates over the decades for certifications even though inflation has run amok.

What I need to do is to grab every traditional martial arts instructor (starting with myself) and shake sense into them before every traditional dojo closes. Besides, we all love to teach and it would be nice to be able to make a living at what we love to do. What most of us need are not only marketing classes, but possibly someone else to run the marketing and \finances of a dojo. We may be black belts in karate, but we are white belts in marketing.

A common sport martial arts obi? Or a Tibetian prayer
I have one instructor in particular that I am very lucky to have who talks to students as they come into our door about my credentials and ryu. Without Sensei Bill Borea's help, I likely would have lost some potential students. This is the kind of people we need to operate our dojos as most of us are incapable of doing.

Sport martial artists on the other hand often are well off as they require contracts, exorbitant fees, and promotion practices considered by traditional martial artists to be unethical (i.e., promotions every two weeks and providing dozens of colored tapes on an obi [belt] in order to collect more fees). I recently saw a student in Utah who had so many pieces of colored tape on his obi, it looked like Tibetan prayer flags and I had no idea what his rank was.
Sensei Paula Borea (center) and Sensei Bill Borea (far right) have provided
many donations to the decor and weapons cache of our dojo. I am very
thankful for these two wonderful people.
Over the years, because of my inability to effectively run dojo finances, I've always appreciated training equipment donations by others who have made our facility much more usable. I would like to acknowledge the following people for their generosity: Sensei Bill Borea and Sensei Paula Borea provided much of the traditional Japanese decor in our dojo. Paula is originally from Japan and Bill spent five years in Japan as an Air Force pilot. Sensei Bill Borea also periodically acts as a handy man in the dojo and he and Paula also provided many hanbo and bo training weapons. Both Bill and Paula periodically donate time to teach at our hombu dojo when I am out of town on vacation or business and annually donate their house for the dojo Christmas party.

Dai-Shihan Neal Adam provides time to teach classes when I am out of town and periodically creates weapons that he donates (we also appreciate his creativity in kata). Neal is always considerable enjoyment to talk to and we enjoy having him at the dojo. He has been a student of mine since about 1990 when we first met at the University of Wyoming.
Dr. Neal Adam, professor of biology at Grand
Canyon University and Dai-Shihan for Seiyo
Kai International.
Ryan Harden has also donated weapons to our dojo which I very much appreciate. Ryan has a great attitude and has built a reputation on bruises. He is always willing to assist anyone in training. I also thank Ryan Nemec and Amanda Nemec for their training weapon donation (an old rifle), photography and also some of the best pizza any we ever tasted. These two people brighten the dojo every time they walk in and when they don't make a class, it is notable as the dojo lights seem a little dimmer.

Finally, I want to thank a wonderful individual I just met. Out of the blue, a potential student started communicating with me by email. We had never met until yesterday when this person stopped by the hombu dojo and made a donation of several $hundred in training weapons with some books. Thank you so much Scott Monahan for this donation - I greatly appreciate this contribution as this will help so much in training our students!

Although Scott is not one of my students (even though both of us had hoped otherwise), he will always be welcome at our dojo. Thank you very much Scott!!!

Sensei Ryan Harden (center), one of our best martial artists

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