Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cha Ching

(thanks for the inspiration Tata)

Running a martial arts group is a labor of love.  I have yet to meet an instructor who decides to teach martial arts because they think it is a clever get rich quick strategy (there are far better ones out there).

For some teachers, it is a means to an end, and they are willing to forego material things in order to live the life they want.  For others, financial success is often achieved through having a "Day Job" or through a grueling schedule of seminars and private training courses for military/law enforcement, which means nights and weekends away from home and family (and the dojo).  For some, a combination of all of the above.

The relationships in a traditional dojo were simpler in many ways.  Casual students would come and go, and serious students ("disciples") would live with their teacher or at the dojo - helping out and training daily as part of the extended family.  The Senshusei course in Yoshinkan Aikido where all my teachers attended and taught is one example.

Nowadays, running a dojo is basically running a business.  Running a business means CUSTOMERS, since there is not a single sustainable business without them. Running a business means sales, profits, margins, marketing, customer service and all the other elements of every other type of business - increasingly including online presence, mobile apps and social media as well.  At the same time, a dojo is not a sports gym, right?  Or is it??

As teachers we are (supposed to be)  committed examples of the virtues of martial arts training.  Especially in Kali Majapahit, which is about the holy trinity of martial arts, wellness and personal development.  All of us care about our students as people, and are invested in success as their allies.  Many parents entrust our instructors to help them develop their children into strong, polite, capable young adults.  Kali Majapahit is one of the very best at this.

At the same time, at the heart of the relationship lies a terrible conflict.  Are they our students??  Our customers??  Both???

On one hand, students come to learn and grow together.  We guide them, we share our knowledge (and vice versa) and use our skills to help them across all three areas: mental, physical, emotional/spiritual.  For me, my students and fellow instructors are closer than family.  We have laughed, cried, sweated and bled together.  I would trust them with my life with no hesitation.  The fellowship is one of the things I love the most about our Kali Family.

On the other hand, some students feel more like customers than students.  To them it is a transactional relationship.  They pay money, they get training.  They expect this to be on their terms rather than the instructors' and they train at their own pace and rhythm, sometimes skipping class if they don't feel like going, or don't like the current cycle or instructor.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, since it is the same in a boxing gym as well.

However, customers have expectations of service and performance.  In a commercial contract, you give payment for services rendered.  No service no payment.  No payment, no service.  If my plumber does not fix my sink, I am not legally obliged to pay.  If I do not pay, the plumber is not obliged to fix my sink. The courts have upheld this system of fairness for several thousand years and it seems to work pretty well.

However, what about a boxing gym?  I pay for training.  Is there an implicit guarantee that I will be a great boxer?  For some people, no matter how hard they train, they will never be able to be a champion boxer.  Does that imply a breach of contract??  Precedent tells us NO.  Hospitals are also places where we pay for professionals to provide assistance.  They have a legal "duty of care" and many go far beyond that.  However, no hospital can guarantee a positive medical outcome.

One answer to this conundrum is to draw a line between casual or commercial and committed students.  Casual students are treated well, with great customer service like they should be, but the relationship is understood by both parties to be purely commercial in nature.  Committed students decide to become (and are accepted as) part of the core dojo family.  Many of them do more (helping to clean, helping at events or offering their professional skills for free or at a discount) and in exchange they are able to join other "unofficial training" or seminars and in general treated in a more personal manner than others, especially outside of class.  Some students will move between those categories over the course of their time in a dojo.

Unfortunately, some students like to play with that line.  They want to be family when it suits them and customers when it suits them.  Sometimes this becomes a feeling of entitlement, where they believe they should be afforded special treatment like a rank or belt promotion simply because they have paid their dues and showed up.   In this extreme example, the school and instructors' integrity may be put at risk.  If they say NO, they risk losing a valued member of the school community.  If they say YES, they cheapen the meaning of the ranks for everyone and undermine the perception of fairness among the other students.

This is a very difficult position indeed and one no teacher ever wants to face.  If you are the instructor, I encourage you to stand your moral ground.  As much as it hurts, don:t bend your rules for the customer who wants special treatment simply because they think they are "owed" a rank or a belt.  If you are the student, shame on you for putting your instructor in such a situation and trying to guilt-trip them into giving you what you think you deserve.  That is your EGO talking and your ego has no place in the dojo.  It is far better to either play the long game and focus on skill/knowledge rather than rank or go and join an MMA gym or a transactional dojo.

Teaching truly is the hardest job you'll ever love.

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