Clarity of Purpose

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The martial arts business is much like show business. There is confusion and internal conflict about money. “Serious” artists are concerned that they not sell out or become commercial. I saw an obese martial arts “master” on an A&E special. He said, “Martial arts is about changing lives. It’s not about making money.” Master Po has spoken. 

That kind of easy-to-spew rhetoric creates confusion in the martial arts industry. The history of martial arts is rife with stories of master instructors teaching the arts altruistically. When you hear one of those stories, it’s usually from someone who thinks charging for martial arts is wrong. Just keep in mind that: 

There is a big difference between you and the story teller or the kind master – they don’t have to pay your bills. You do! 

Like sex, money is seldom discussed, other than to complain about the lack of it. If you were raised in a family that struggled financially, you may have certain beliefs drilled into your head: such as, “The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.” “We can’t afford that!” “I’d rather be happy than rich.” “Money is the root of all evil.” “The rich put their pants on one leg at a time.” Or, my favorite of all time, “If money was so important, look at who God gave it to.” 

The message is that not only will you not have money but also that people who have money have sold their soul. The truth is that money is like a hammer: it’s just a tool. Money is also blind; it doesn’t care who has it or uses it. If you save your money, your wealth grows. If you spend it, your wealth shrinks. Money doesn’t care one way or the other. 

When you combine that kind of negative association with money – which is very common, by the way – and throw in the so-called spiritual underpinnings of the martial arts, you get idiotic statements like the one from the chubby master guy. 

Because the martial arts can be a power for good, many of us convince ourselves that we teach to help people. We feel we should sacrifice our own well-being to “help the children.” We charge too little, and we let people train for free and, when they get good enough, we hire them to teach. When they underperform we keep them on, because, well, Sally has been with me for six years. If I fire her, I don’t know what she would do. 

Many of us worked hard to make all our students happy, and I don’t mean only from a student service standpoint. Our reward is that smile on little Johnny’s face, or Cindy’s improved grades, or Joe’s raise at work because we gave him the confidence to ask for it. Most professions don’t offer those rewards. In fact, that is all the reward we need, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. Beware this dangerous trap of rationalization. 

When your well-being depends on how happy your students are, doctors call that co-dependency, and it will eat you alive. There is no way you can keep all of your students happy. This approach will wear you down and burn you out, because the human experience is a balance of good and bad for all of us, including our students. 

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