Tae Kwon Dough
January 4, 2010 7:52 PM   Subscribe

So the not so little lester offspring (he’s 17) is in tae kwon do. He got his black belt last year. Are they being unreasonable with the promotion fees?

So the not so little lester offspring (he’s 17) is in tae kwon do. He got his black belt last year. In the past couple of months, he’s been asked to attend classes on a daily basis … because he’s now doing a lot of the instruction for the younger students. Previously, he attended 1 class 3 times per week. Now he’s attending 2 classes daily, with heavy teaching chores for the first class.

This wouldn’t be so bad except he recently received a “promotion” to a second dan. Along with this was a second promotion was some additional weapons training. What bothers me about this is the extra cost—in addition to the monthly fee, he was asked to pay about $600 for the two promotions.

My question is this, for those mefis involved in martial arts: Is it common for upper levels to pay for their promotions even though they’re also shouldering the burden of class instruction?
posted by lester's sock puppet to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My understanding when my son and I took tae kwon do was that the black belt candidates who taught classes for the rest of us were actually paid for their time. I don't know if they paid extra for the promotion. The deal we had was that if my son made black belt by age 18, it was covered by our contract. (He got involved in other things at red belt.)
posted by Doohickie at 8:22 PM on January 4, 2010

What's the rest of the fee structure?
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:31 PM on January 4, 2010

In my admittedly limited experience, this kind of thing is symptomatic of the kind of "dojo in every high school gym" martial arts franchises that operate as quasi-pyramid schemes almost purely for the financial benefit of the owners. Just a guess there.

The good places I used to go to would have classes taught by very senior students (who weren't 17-year-old 2nd dans), but not by the same teacher every day. They also didn't charge $600 for a "promotion". Personally I'd be looking somewhere else, maybe somewhere that doesn't demand this kind of almost cult-like level of devotion from its students.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:33 PM on January 4, 2010

In my admittedly limited experience, this kind of thing is symptomatic of the kind of "dojo in every high school gym" martial arts franchises that operate as quasi-pyramid schemes almost purely for the financial benefit of the owners. Just a guess there.

This is unfortunately my experience too. They really push to cultivate the idea that you should WANT to pay this money, that it is an important gesture that symbolizes your commitment to your art. I think many people find the limits of their patience with this sort of money-harvesting long before they reach the limits of their physical potential.

I think he's bound to burn out if he keeps that schedule. Probably if he speaks up and sets his own limits, those limits will be honored. I think the school will probably take and take all that he gives freely, but will respect whatever boundaries he asserts. It can be hard to deal with the feeling that you're letting someone down or that you're not giving your all, but recognizing the scope of your own commitments and then enforcing it is an important part of growing up.

As for the money -- if it's worth it to him to spend it, then he should. If it's YOUR money we're talking about here, then you need to set your own boundaries so that he really does earn it. Otherwise, the symbolism of the payment is essentially meaningless to him, right?
posted by hermitosis at 8:41 PM on January 4, 2010

If he is doing any instruction at all, he should not be paying any day to day fees. More than 3 classes a week, I would ask for payment.

Is his school affiliated with either ITF or WTF? They almost certainly have guidlines about this kind of thing.

If he has received a 2nd Dan without any grading or test (and in less than one year after getting his black belt), he should quit and join a proper organisation. However, Dan gradings can be quite serious and require a reasonably high ranked person once you get above 1st Dan which can cost a bit to set up. That said, my 1st Dan grading was $100, and my 2nd would have been $200 had I stayed on (2001 prices).
posted by scodger at 9:27 PM on January 4, 2010

For what it's worth, this sounds exactly like what my brother experiences. He's 3rd dan, and teaches (while still paying to be there) twice a week. Of course, this doesn't make it legitimate, but at least it's not unprecedented.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 10:31 PM on January 4, 2010

I'm not sure exactly what the question was. Is he paying money to receive a *promotion*, or was the money paid for extra training to receive the promotion?

That he's helping with classes means somebody's making money off of his abilities - and unless he's getting a discount off his own classes, that sounds awful fishy.
posted by chrisinseoul at 11:08 PM on January 4, 2010

I think the verdict is in, lester's sock puppet. Sounds like he is being gouged. A dojang with contracts is a business, not a dojang.

I would say get into an ITF or WTF dojang after checking out the sambum and seeing how the place works. Just because they belong to one of the established federations doesn't necessarily mean all will be well, but standard practices do tend to ensure a higher level of quality.

Problem is that if your offspring has already got the black belt in his existing school, he will be unlikely to want to switch, and a good dojang may not take him at a black belt level.

Also, you say he received a promotion...he didn't test for it?

In the WTF (in which I have my 1st Dan) the rule is that you have to spend one year per Dan level in training before you can test (1 year as a first Dan, 2 years as a second Dan and so on.) In the WTF the rules are that you cannot become a first Dan unless you are 15 years old. Under the regulations, you cannot test for second Dan until you are 16. Other federations and associations operate differently. If you are ITF have a look at their thoughts on black belts which, although they are without a policy, in my experience are more rigorous than the WTF in many cases.

I have always been suspicious of the ATA. Their camo belt originally got me worried.

Bottom line though is that if your child is enjoying what is happening, and you are comfortable with the set up and there is learning taking place, it's probably all right. But if it feels unsavoury, then you might want to look for a more serious operation. McDojangs seems to thrive in taekwondo, as it is a relatively recent invention and the emphasis on sport has taken it a long way from its traditional roots opening the doors for many variations, pyramid schemes and shyster operators.

(Also I strongly second the notion that he should be getting paid if he is teaching. Even at second Dan, he should be paid minimum wage at least, and preferably, he should not have to pay for his classes if he is teaching. Nothing exempts his sabum from treating him fairly under law.)
posted by salishsea at 11:42 PM on January 4, 2010

www.bullshido.net has lots of info on this kind of thing. Basically, it's not unheard of for (often sub-standard) martial arts schools to charge exhorbitant amounts of money for gradings and whatnot and be more about the $$$ than anything else - allowing young kids to grade up to "black belts" after 2 years training as a way to generate revenue etc. I think because it's martial arts and therefor tied up with all sorts of values like discipline and respect and whatnot, it's sometimes easier to get away with, which is unfortunate. If your son was paying for maths tutoring, and started improving to the point that he was asked to provide unpaid assistance to other students of the tutor, but his tuition fees went up, how would you feel? How about if he had to pay $600 when he graduated to the "advanced" ballroom dancing class? What are these fees actually going towards???
posted by Chrysalis at 1:06 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Furthermore, if they're not going to pay them, surely allowing advanced students to coach the kids/beginners classes in lieu of class fees is a better way of showing them that they've earned their stripes and place in the dojo than charging them extra fees?
posted by Chrysalis at 1:13 AM on January 5, 2010

Is it common for upper levels to pay for their promotions even though they’re also shouldering the burden of class instruction?

It's not uncommon for upper levels to pay for their promotions as well as teach.
That said, I wouldn't call 2nd dan upper level. Your description makes it kinda ambiguous, but if your boy hasn't spent a year between first and second dan, I'd be calling bullshit right there.

Instruction is a part of learning, so I'm not so concerned about that bit. You learn a lot when you teach other people. They're looking at you as *the* example of what to do. That really forces you to have your shit together.

Again though, 2nd dan is still pretty junior in my book. I wouldn't expect anyone to begin teaching before 3rd unless there really was no other choice. The reason I say this is that even those that are very proficient sometimes do not understand why this is the case, or misunderstand why this is the case, so when they teach others, their teaching is also flawed. They pass on a bunch of bad habits that the neophytes have to eventually unlearn.

Paying for gradings is pretty standard. My next one will cost me upwards of $500 if I pass. Luckily that's not for another three years or so. (I'll have to buy a new suit of armour for that one also which will be a lot more expensive. Eventually, you need to look the part as well). Paying for gradings is different than paying for promotions, but really that's a magic number. I've no idea what that organisation's pricing structure is like, especially compared with similar organisations.

There are a few other things that concern me more. If he's not being graded by a panel of his seniors then again, I'd be calling bullshit.

What are the consequences of refusing to grade? There should be none.
Same with the consequences of refusing to teach - 'I don't think I'm ready yet' is a perfectly fine excuse.
If you refuse the things he's being asked to pay more money for, you'll soon see whether or not the dojang is in it for the money or whether they have the student's best interests in learning at heart.

No teacher I respect would ever ask for money as a commitment to the art. The commitment you give is time, blood, sweat and tears. If they're in it solely for the money, then walk.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 3:23 AM on January 5, 2010

I'd strongly back CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet; speaking as a fellow martial artist, I'm shocked that a first dan -> second dan promotion happened in less than 2-3 years, and hearing that promotion is tied to a financial burden is troubling given the timeframe.

What's the rest of the dojo/dojang culture like? Do they charge for uniforms, patches, trophies, and the like? Is there an on-site "store" with books and videos? Do members get asked to go on costly retreats? Those are all signs of a school not focused on the training as much as they are on the money, in my experience.
posted by ellF at 5:32 AM on January 5, 2010

Promotions included a peer review and test. He's also had a bit more then a year at 1st Dan before earning his second one. The other promotion was for some weapons training--which did involve additional instruction. In addition to promotion fees, I pay $100. per month.

Overall, the experience has been good for my son, so I'm reluctant to make a significant change to the program.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:32 AM on January 5, 2010

That's consistent with what my style charges, and my school is a non-profit. Of course, those fees go to the home school, and they're *not* a non-profit, but they also administer all the tests, which involved several instructors for several days. There's also a rigid schedule for promotions that ensures no one's getting blasted up through the ranks just to make money.

You'd have to look at where that money's going, I guess. Our style offers enough services overall to be worth it, I think, but I have no idea how other styles or schools are set up.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:33 AM on January 5, 2010

Here's another question for you.
What's the student turn-over like? Do experienced students leave regularly?
Beginners drop out a lot - that's not uncommon, but how about the ones that have stayed for 12 months - what's the turn-over rate there? If you find there's an increased dropout rate that co-incides with ponying up more cash, then at least look around at other places and see what they're doing. Actually, do that anyway.

The weapons training, if given at all, should be done on an ongoing basis. A couple of weeks? months? whatever - that's about long enough to learn how not to hurt yourself and nothing else. A decade or so of consistent training will get you to a point where you're probably not a beginner anymore. I hope they're not calling him 'weapons qualified' or similar now. That would be...inaccurate (and if he is expected to pass this knowledge on, probably dangerous). I would not recommend training with weapons instructed by people with less than this amount of experience.

If the lad is enjoying it and getting something out of it, then fine. If you find yourself consistently having to pay for these unexpected extras - find another dojang. For what it's worth, I live in Japan and train in a dojo where the majority of people have a decade or two (and sometimes as much as 4) on me. The instructors (other than the head sensei) are unpaid. They do it because they love it. There are no extras. Everyone pays the same amount, which is around $50 a month.

You don't have to charge like a wounded bull to make money from a martial art. It's better to know what you're doing and have integrity. People (eventually) see through bullshit.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 6:59 AM on January 5, 2010

Another question:

Did this $600 go towards registering his new rank with a international or national governing body, or did this money go in-house? Testing and my promotion was free, but I had to pay $200 to register my shodan with one of the US Judo governing bodies (USJI). It's a bit lower than what your son is paying, but Judo is known for being cheaper than other martial arts.

None of my Judo teachers were ever really paid for their instruction, as they taught out of love of the art (whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is debated), and I would feel strange about accepting money for teaching things I learned for practically free (though I wouldn't feel strange about a reduced monthly fee or whatever.)
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:56 AM on January 5, 2010

Came in to say that there is an ATA class prior to mine and the instructors fee's are waived as long as they teach 3 or more clasess in a week and THEY get paid if they bring in additional students.
posted by bleucube at 8:02 AM on January 5, 2010

There is simply no way that a dojo that charges $500 for a 2nd dan promotion and $100 for some BS promotion for weapons training is a non-profit. They are making money hand over fist, and I would wager that this is their main purpose. I have seen a number of martial arts schools like this.

When I found a good dojo, the fees were $40 a month for twice weekly, $20 a year for the federation registration, and the $600 level grading fee was for 7th dan, for a certificate in Japanese approved by the japanese federation, etc. That would be after over 20 years of training. 1st dan was $40 and 2nd was $70. Those fees are more than respectable. $500 for a 17-year old 2nd dan is simply crazy.

Asking a 2nd dan to take on heavy teaching responsibilities is equally crazy. That is in no way an appropriate grade to teach others. 3rd dan would be a bare minimum for dojo that don't have many high ranking students.

I would imagine he is not being compensated for teaching. This, in combination with relatively quick, expensive promotions, and the dojo's practice of using cheap labor to teach other students (who also pay $100 a month and ridiculous fees for gradings) really has me convinced that this school is a money maker, nothing more.

Sure, the experience, the training, the responsibility, everything may be good for the kid. But your wallet will suffer for it, and it really shouldn't have to. You can find better, for cheaper.
posted by splice at 9:13 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The charges seems a little steep. I'll throw in the fees charged at my (aikido) dojo, for comparison:
- Monthly dues are $125.
- Kyu ranks (under black belt) are ~$20 each. There are five kyu ranks prior to reaching black belt. Also, the first two kyu ranks can usually be accomplished in six months (we test twice a year). Then, they take about a year to rack up enough hours. Probably the last kyu rank will take a longer.
- Annual registration is $50.
- Black belt test fees are more. I think they start at around $100, for 1st degree, and go up for each subsequent rank. And it is unusual to test for 2nd dan in less than a year after receiving 1st dan.

We do not reduce dues/fees for instructors. I teach twice a month, and get no discount. :(
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2010

My dojo never charged for promotions. I can't say if that's typical though.
posted by chairface at 11:13 AM on January 5, 2010

My dojo gave me a special rate because I was a full-time college student at the time. I paid $30 per promotion for everything up to red belt. The student rate for a black belt test was, I think, $75, with additional comp tests at $45 each. No college students got much beyond that while I was there. Black belts who taught regularly didn't pay for lessons but they still paid for testing/belts.
posted by thewestinggame at 11:49 AM on January 5, 2010

When I got more serious about fencing in high school and was at the salle 4-6 times a week, it was suggested that I take on more responsibilities. These were first little more than chores: sweeping, setup and take down. Later on and as I got better, I'd be asked to lead a basic footwork drill, or help out younger/less experienced fencers.

This snowballed, and in time I was working leading beginners' workouts, judging matches, running weekend tourneys, running summer camps and opening and closing the club. As I was asked to take on more responsibilities, I was offered compensation in the form of reduced membership, extra or longer private lessons, food, and ultimately cash. Never was it expected or asked that I pay more for the privilege.

Maybe because the advancement of rank in fencing (as administered by the USFA) is objective and results based* there's no room for squeezing there. Maybe my coaches knew they couldn't get more money from my family. Maybe they just needed extra help and I was there.

To answer your question - Is it common for upper levels to pay for their promotions even though they’re also shouldering the burden of class instruction? - Not in my experience, but promotions are handled differently. The burdens that I was given were in exchange for services that would have been difficult to afford.

*Promotion was formulaic: There are guidelines detailing the amount of competitors and ranks that need to be present that determine what your rank is, based on your final placement at the end of the tourney. 20 unranked fencers compete? Winner earns E.
posted by now i'm piste at 12:40 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

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