Monetary Transactions in the Traditional Martial Arts School

by Ray Hughes

This blog originally started off as the PRIVATE LESSON PAYMENT PROTOCOL.  But before I could talk about that topic, I had to lay out ground work on how money is supposed to be handled in the traditional martial art school.  While doing that, it became obvious I needed to change the topic.

Handling money in the traditional martial arts has its own unique protocol.  It is quite different from other activities such as dance, gymnastics, and nontraditional martial art schools.  A traditional martial arts school is not only a school whose unbroken lineage goes back to its original creation, but also in the way it conducts itself.  In the traditional martial arts field, money is considered evil, though the necessity is understood.   Money is viewed, like in many religions, something that has a tendency to corrupt or cause one to lose one’s way.  This creates a conflict in the martial art teacher.

A legitimate traditional martial art teacher does not teach for money, but understands its importance.  To hand money directly to an instructor causes that instructor embarrassment.  This conflict is created because first, the instructor is embarrassed, and secondly, the instructor is put into a situation where if he objects to directly receiving the funds, he may create embarrassment or awkwardness in the person giving the money.  In the martial arts, it is considered bad manners to cause any embarrassment or awkwardness in anyone at anytime.  So the internal conflict starts.  If the instructor takes the money, he goes against a principle he believes in.  If he objects, the other person is embarrassed and that’s considered bad manners.  What I have done in the past to illuminate or minimize this conflict was to have other people handle the money while trying to inform my students and parents of this protocol.  That was easy when my school was small. When situations occurred where someone that did not know this protocol tried to hand me money directly, I would say simply, in a matter of fact way, to put it on the desk.  Many of you may have seen me handle situations this way when someone wanted to hand me money for a soft drink, belt promotion fee, or something else.  Some have asked why I don’t put this in our tuition pamphlet.  I’ve replied that I felt this was too much information too soon.  One needs to be involved in the martial arts for a period of time to understand this philosophy.

An example of this philosophy is when I have a guest instructor come to my school to teach a seminar.  Monetary issues are never discussed.  It is my responsibility to find out what I should be paying.  There are ways of finding this out without discussing it with the instructor.  When I make the payment, I either send the money to the appropriate place or I put it in an envelope and discretely place it in his jacket or briefcase.  Again, it is never discussed.

So how should monetary issues be handled in the traditional martial art school?  Rarely should money directly pass from student or parent to instructor.  First, procedures should be put in place so students or parents do not have to pay the instructor directly.  In my school I have hired a staff to handle the money issues of the school.  There are times I have to get involved in money matters with students or parents, but I keep it to a minimum because it makes me feel uncomfortable.   Secondly, students and parents should be educated about this protocol so they know what to do.

There are also monetary situations that do not involve the school or me.   One example is funds that are paid to an instructor from a student or parent for private lessons.  The way this should be handled is for the student or parent to put the funds in an envelope with the instructors name on it and place it on the front desk or creatively given in a discrete way.  The money situation should never really be discussed.  Are there exceptions, sure, the world is not black and white.  Making something more complicated than it needs to be is not a martial art way of handling things either.   A martial art student, parent, and instructor should always try to do the right thing at the right time within a rational and reasonable way.

This is always the dilemma in the martial arts.
Ray Hughes
Owner and Chief Karate Instructor
Scottsdale Martial Arts Center, Inc.