I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. This is because I find myself having to do a number of things I never thought I would need or want to do in my lifetime. These things include self- promotion and setting prices for the martial arts classes and seminars I am about to start teaching. Even though I have been giving private classes here and there for some time, as well as assisting my Sifu with his classes, I am about to step things up quite a bit by offering more classes in more areas or venues which will include churches and rec centers.
For the most part, money wasn’t a big concern in the past for me. Even though I did charge a fee most of the time, it was never very much. I loved teaching so much I would do it for practically free. Of course, my own Sifu would have some words for me about not charging or undercharging my students. He believes that I’ve worked hard to develop my skills and understanding in Wing Chun and martial arts in general, and that I should not short- change myself. I’ve already put a lot of time and money into my training and it is time I made a little money in return.
The question I need to start asking myself now is, “How much do I charge?” I don’t ask myself this question because I want to get rich from teaching kung-fu. I ask this question because I want to give my students their money’s worth. In the past I’ve had difficulty finding the right balance to say I was giving my students what they were paying for. More often I would give too much rather than not enough.
Teaching someone too much too soon can present a number of problems. For one, when learning a martial art there is usually a natural order of progression one must follow. This is to avoid injury as well as make sure the student has a solid understanding of basic concepts before moving on to more complicated concepts and techniques. My Sifu would often use the analogy of building a house when it comes to learning the martial arts. A house needs to be built from a strong foundation. In the martial arts this means learning and becoming proficient with the basics of that particular art and advancing from there.
Another problem with teaching someone more than they are ready for is that, besides not fully understanding what is being taught, they may undervalue what is being passed on to them. Related to this issue is undercharging a person because, once again, they may not appreciate what is being taught. They think that because they are not being asked to pay a large sum of money, what they are learning is of little value to them. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past.
Almost a decade ago a former coworker whom I will call Tom (not his real name) came to my apartment so we could talk about martial arts and get some training in. After our first workout together he offered to teach me some of the things he learned from his Shaolin training. I was tempted and let him teach me a few things. I never followed up with Tom on his offer to train regularly with him. I figured out years later that this was probably for two reasons. One was ego. By this point I was coming along in Wing Chun and had been training in martial arts for most of my life. I didn’t think I needed to become someone’s student when I was being encouraged to teach from the instructors I was already training with. Like I said, I was letting me ego get in the way. It definitely wasn’t a money issue. Tom was offering to teach me for FREE!!!
This, believe it or not, was also part of my decision not to follow up and learn what this man had to offer. I had difficulty believing he had anything of value to offer me if he wasn’t charging me anything. I see now the fallacy of my thinking. The origins of such a thought process more than likely come from growing up in a capitalist society. Most people I know probably still follow this same line of logic. This is why I will no longer teach anyone for free (except for my children and close relatives). I’ve given free classes to people or classes at highly reduced rates and there was little or no appreciation in most cases.
I’ve come to the conclusion that people don’t appreciate anything that is simply handed to them. Often times, people are expecting a catch or fine print when a free offer is made. They find it hard to believe that anyone would want to offer a beneficial service without repayment unless it’s a scam or just crappy service. They expect the negative because it’s happened to them already before (once bitten, twice shy) or they know someone that it’s happened to.
I believe that those who train under me should earn their ranks through hard work and not high membership fees. When I teach for free, I can usually tell right away who is serious about studying hard and who doesn’t really care. And, like me so many years ago, there are a few very serious students who work their butts off to learn and move through the ranks but are dirt poor. I don’t want to ask for payment, but if I don’t charge something they may not truly value what is being passed on to them.
On the other hand I wouldn’t want to charge such high fees that it prevents people from being able to look into what I have to offer. Many yoga or tai chi schools will allow a brand new student to take their first class for free, just to see if they like what is happening there and if they feel it’s a good fit. For example, my wife won’t pay for a yoga class without doing some field research: go to a free class and decide if it’s the type of yoga she wants to study that won’t hurt her body, that fits into her time schedule, and is affordable for folks on a tight budget.
I suppose in the end it is a balancing act that I will continually need to adjust.
One thing I know for sure is that I will always do my best to give my students their money’s worth. I will do this by not holding back knowledge when they are ready to move on do the next level and always doing my best to answer any questions that come my way. I will not delay a students progress in order to keep getting money from them just as I will not attempt to have my student attempt any technique or exercise before they have developed the proper foundation.