By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

 This may come as a shock to those who decry the commercialization of judo and resist charging higher fees for judo instruction, but Professor Kano actually supported the concept that judo instructors should be paid more.

In the late 1880s Professor Kano wrote, “It is my contention that the salaries paid to today’s instructors should be higher. Besides having a profound understanding of the technical aspects of judo, the ideal instructor must continually seek ways to improve himself as a teacher. In like manner, therefore, salaries should be increased accordingly.”

In this same period, and with the recognition of full-time judo instructors at the Police Headquarters, Naval Academy, and Tokyo Teachers’ Training College, Kano also wrote, “Because many of the leading judo instructors these days obtain a monthly income accounting to several hundred yen, their social status has risen as a consequence.”

The lesson to be learned here is that for the past decades we have under-valued judo as a sport and as a martial art. Where other martial arts such as tae-kwondo, karate, jiu-jitsu and BJJ have no problem charging $300-$400 per month for tuition, the average judo club continues to charge $30-$40 per month. While these low fees can be seen as a service to the community, they also devalue judo in the eyes of the consumer.

The modern buyer has come to assume that if one product or service is more expensive than the other, then the more expensive one must be better. So if another martial art is ten times more expensive than judo, does that make it ten times better than judo? We all know the answer to that. No other martial art has the breadth and depth of judo, if it is taught correctly.

The problem is that in an effort to make judo more affordable to the masses, we have in fact allowed the other martial arts to surpass judo in numbers, particularly in the United States. When other martial arts were moving into shopping malls and other high visibility venues in the 1980s, judo was still tucked away in obscure community centers and church halls.

As for paying instructors, it is fairly obvious that if you pay someone a fair wage for their time and expertise, then they are more apt to have a greater level of motivation to do a good job and improve on their skills. From personal experience, I have been to all too many dojo where sensei roll in late, or barely on time for training. Where classes are schedule to begin at a specific time, the head sensei has not arrived to unlock the doors and the mats have not been laid. As a result training does not begin on time. If we require students to be on time for training, then the instructors should be not only on time but early.

Not surprisingly, those same dojo are often poorly organized when it comes to training; they fail to maintain the correct etiquette for a Kodokan judo dojo; and do not follow any approved curriculum for instruction or promotion. When these shortfalls are pointed out to an instructor, the perennial excuse is “we are only volunteers,” as if that is an acceptable excuse. Being a volunteer is not an excuse for poor performance, but at the same time, if you are paying an instructor to teach, then the club has the right to demand a higher level of competency and professionalism.

In other sports, clubs and organizations pay for their instructors and coaches to attend training camps and instructor development programs, since ultimately they know they will reap the benefit of that investment. They also pay their coaches a fair wage for teaching their children, but to do this in judo we must first correctly value the tuition by uniformly raising club fees.

A club with sixty members, charging $30 per month, can bring in $1,800 per month. But three classes a week totals 12 classes a month, so training is valued at $2.50 per class. That model may work in a cultural center where they do not have to pay rent, but that would not even cover the monthly cost of renting a decent sized commercial space. But even at that fee structure, an instructor teaching 12 hours a week (48 hours per month), could be paid $20 per hour, for total of $960 per month.

Now, if we look at the hours that the average instructor puts in teach judo, this would equate to about 12-16 hour per week. The breakdown being two 90 minute classes, three nights a week (9 hours), and additional training or coaching tournaments on the weekend. So what is that instructor’s time worth? He or she probably spent five years to earn their black belt, and then another several years to make Sandan (3rd dan); and this does not include all the travel and expenses to certification clinics and championships. Do you pay them $10 an hour – what you would pay an unskilled worker in a fast-food restaurant – or do you pay them what they are worth? Imagine what you pay a tradesman, plumber or auto mechanic, and ask yourself if the instructor that teaches you or your children judo is worth at least that. And why is it that people are willing to pay a personal trainer at some chrome and mirrors gym $60 per hour, but then they expect to learn judo three nights a week for $2.50 per hour. This is where we have devalued judo and failed to educate the public on all the benefits of judo for them and their kids.

So the challenge becomes, how can a highly qualified judo instructor open a professional judo dojo when everyone else is charging $30 per month? Just to cover the rent on a good-sized commercial space, at a dollar a square foot, he or she needs to be bringing in excess of $2,000 per month; and that is before any salaries are paid. The investment in a set of mats will also run about $5 per square foot, or $10,000+ for a 100-tatami mat area (30’ x 60’ or 10 meters x 20 meters, approx).

One way to cover overheads is to see a permanent judo dojo as a multi-use facility where you can run judo three nights a week, plus a couple of hours on the weekend; and then rent out the mat space for a variety of other activities. These could include stretch classes, yoga, or Zumba in the mornings, self-defense classes for women in the afternoons, and other grappling sports on alternate evenings and weekend days. You can even run a kiddy daycare for a few hours each day with all the 3 and 4 year olds in judogi, but it is all a numbers game. The more hours that the mat area can be kept working, the greater the probability that the judo dojo will be able to pay the owner (judo instructor) a reasonable salary. That said, $60 to $100 per month, at a minimum, for judo tuition three to four times a week, is far more reasonable than $30. This is not commercialization of judo, but valuing judo, pricing tuition, and paying instructors what they are worth, just as Professor Kano quite clearly stated over a hundred years ago. As for service to the community, Kano also allowed students who could not afford the tuition to study at his academy for free, with the overheads being covered by the students from wealthier families who could afford the tuition.

On a personal note, one of my goals is to have a large professional judo training center in a middle- to upper-middle class part of town, where parents and students can afford the training, which will in turn generate sufficient revenue to support a nice sized dojo in a low-income part of town. This would definitely meet Professor Kano’s vision of correctly valuing judo instruction while equally benefiting the community (Jita-kyoei).


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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