A couple of previous articles stated the business side of martial arts can affect student training, which of course impacts the overall student experience, and ultimately whether or not they give up on the martial arts forever. There's a top-down business model that in my opinion causes that, and this will touch upon one of the pieces students might be experiencing.
This one might be a bombshell for some of you that don't know a lot about the business side of the martial arts, and who knows, it might have labor law implications.
Black belt instructors with rank lower than the owners are often teaching for free, and many times, they're not teaching because they want too. They're also in many cases teaching more frequently than they want and here's why.
Thousands of school owners all over the country demand their black belts complete hundreds of teaching hours as a requirement for their next rank promotion. Here's the kicker, those hours are often unsupervised and unpaid. Many instructors slowly get pulled into doing more than just teaching. They often get involved with business matters, like helping collect student tuitions, maybe even new student sign-ups, the owner of course keeps all the money, and that free labor allows the owner to shift his focus from teaching to scaling the business, for his own personal greed. Simply, the more black belts the owner creates, the more free labor options he has, and the more he can move away from teaching. Many owners gradually move away from teaching as many classes as they can, to as few as they can, and students slowly miss out on receiving the highest level of instruction in a school.
There are literally school owners with multiple school locations operating those locations with free labor. It's true!
So picture this, a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree is running a location for the owner, and signing-up new students for that location, collecting the money, handing it over to the owner, teaching everyone there, opening and closing that school location each evening, and they aren't getting a dime for that, not even gas money. All of that is tied into them getting their next black belt promotion, because the owner has craftily decided they need to do hundreds of teaching hours to get it, and just in case that instructor gets tired of doing all that, the owner often has other black belts waiting on the sidelines. Isn't free labor, by dangling the carrot of someone's next promotion, an ingenious way to scale a business into multiple revenue producing locations?
This free labor concept also applies to single location owners, meaning those owners can have several free labor black belt instructors in their school, who have to do hundreds of free teaching hours for their next promotion.
Here's what often happens in those single location scenarios. Some owners take advantage of those free labor black belts, and either rarely teach, or in some instances, don't even show-up to the school every day. Is it just me or does anyone else see a problem with that? I kind of call the ongoing flow of money, and those providing free labor (instruction and sales), separation temptation. Owners in those situations often justify not teaching certain ranks, because someone else will, and by telling themselves it's beneath their rank, time and teaching ability to teach lower ranked students. Hear that, not worth their time! I've literally heard owners say that. Well it's certainly worth their time to take their money every month, isn't it?
That free labor money machine can slowly lead to owners becoming detached from students, students feeling detached from the owner, and that all the owner cares about is their money, and not having to deal with nor interact with them too much. Many students start to pick up on that, and resent the owner for it, but of course wouldn't say that to his face, because he is a black belt, someone who no matter what he says, does, or how he treats people, should always be respected, because being a black belt means he can and he's never wrong (especially in his mind). Shrewd and greedy martial arts school owners often play what I like to call the "respect card", and do so extremely well, whenever a black belt or student attempts to confront them about something that doesn't seem right. Owners that like to control everyone around them will usually respond angrily when confronted with something that makes them uncomfortable, usually with something like this "I outrank you, never talk to me like that again, now get out of my office." That scares off most black belts and students enough, to where they'll crawl away in shock and fear, with their tails between their legs, and their resentment towards him grows.
Sometimes a school environment eventually becomes so cold and callous, that there's literally no healthy two-way communication with the owner about anything going on in the school. Everyone just nods up-and-down and agrees with him about everything, especially if he's the "I'm always right" controlling type. Most of the owners interactions with his own black belt instructors are all business, and in regards to things like late student payments and other business matters, that they really didn't and don't want to deal with. Guess who slowly gets tired of being roped into handling the owners business concerns for free, not having a voice, nor being valued, and eventually resents providing all that free labor?
Many black belts just wanted to stay active and continue getting better, and had no interest in teaching, and never imagined they'd one day be gradually roped into handling the owners business issues and frustrations for free, as part of their next black belt promotion. It can become a very frustrating, stressful, and resentful situation for black belt instructors. However the owner wants them to continue teaching and helping with business matters for free, and keeps the pressure on them about that, because it's in his best interest. Think about this, if someone starts resenting where they are working/teaching, and didn't really want to do it in the first place, guess who that ultimately trickles down to and effects? I'm sure most of those free labor black belt instructors will continue to be professional in their dealings with students, but more often than not they probably don't really care about each and every student, nor have any desire to be personable with them.
For the free labor instructors, it's about doing their hours, giving students a decent but certainly not outstanding teaching experience for free, and at the end of the night, walking away from those people and that place as fast as they can, and trying not to think about having to do it all over again the next day. Believe me when I say this, if an instructor gets to the point where he doesn't really care whether or not students show up each day, to some extent they'll sense that. Picture this, you're paying someone $150/month, and you start to sense they really don't care about you, nor want to interact with you, or something just seems wrong and you can't put your finger on it. Plus, you're not noticing hardly any improvement in what you're doing, because the average rate of improvement towards black belt ability (4-5 yrs later) is only 2% a month. How long will most sane people keep showing up for that?
Even worse, in some of those free labor instructional situations, not only are the black belts teaching for free for their next rank promotion, but they're also still having to pay their $150/mo. tuition to that owner. One of the largest martial arts franchises in America does that, no joke. Talk about an owner double dipping, by getting free labor from his black belts, plus making them also pay $150 a month to do that free teaching. Is that crazy or what? I can't imagine how those instructors feel about that, and the percentage of instructors that quit is probably extremely high.
Due to what often turns into free labor/teaching abuse, 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees will often arrive at a series of crossroads they never imagined having to contemplate...
1). Continue teaching for their instructor, and just keep putting-up with whatever he wants
2). Quit the martial arts for good, which often depends on how burned-out or numb they've become
3). Open their own school or small program somewhere, with or without their instructors permission, because now they know how to run one, and the way they feel it should be done.
4). Find a similar school that accepts them and their rank, and doesn't require hundreds of free teaching hours per promotion
5). Take another martial arts style
6). Stay away from schools, and just do their own martial arts workouts at home
When evaluating a school, you might want to add free teaching hours, and how many you have to do, with or without making monthly payments, to your list of questions about rank promotions above 1st degree. Believe me, it's better to find out about those potential headaches and nightmares upfront, versus having them sprung on you 4-5 years later.
Like I've always said, there are things on the business side that provide clues about the quality of instruction, personal attention, and ultimately progress and success students will experience. If you want the highest level of instruction and attention in a school, often that can only be found in smaller schools, where having tons of students to pay for the rent isn't necessary, which means fewer students, often just one instructor, the owner, who isn't shielded from interaction with students. In many big schools, the majority of attention an owner is giving is to his black belt instructors, and the type of attention they're mostly getting isn't what they'd hoped for, as described in this article.
There are additional things you should know and consider, and there might be more articles about them, in the meantime, remember these nationwide statistics...
50% of beginners quit their 1st month
90% of beginners quit by their 12th month
97% of beginners quit before testing for 1st degree
And as for black belts disappearing from schools...
50% of 1st degree black belts quit before 2nd degree
50% of 2nd degree black belts quit before 3rd degree