There's a saying here that goes like this: never pick a school for the style, but for the instructor. I've been doing taekwondo for 4 years. My instructor, was awesome. He won a statewide sparring championship for 4(?) Years in a row. He was full of energy, lightning fast, young (22ish), and loved weapons and the art.

Unfortunately he quit instructing this past year. He wasn't doing enough advertising, and he just couldn't pay the bills. So he got a better paying job, but unfortunately that meant he couldn't come to my gym anymore, due to conflicting hours. So now our parent gym, brought in a fourth degree girl to run the gym. She knows her stuff, but isn't that good. She is new to instructing, so I am kinda easing her into the groove. For black belts like me (who love demo type stuff), she's not interesting.

With me being a black belt, I am there 6 hours a week, training a bunch of kids and adults. At this point, it feels like a responsibility more than a sport.

I don't like it.

I love martial arts too much to drop out completely, but there aren't any good gyms around. There is a gym in a town close to mine, that used to be part of our gym. I've been thinking about transferring there.

My question is whether or not is is my responsibility to teach here, or if I should leave. I don't enjoy it as much where I am. I guess what I'm asking more is should I stay loyal to a school because I'm needed here more, or does the instructor truly come before the school?

I understand that this can be perceived more as opinion based, but I'm really just asking if "the instructor matters more than the school", and adding my personal details to it, just for information.

  • 1
    "it feels like a responsibility more than a sport." As a karataka, I view karate as a responsibility and not a sport.
    – Thien
    Oct 29, 2014 at 19:43

6 Answers 6


Nope, you have no obligation, legal or otherwise, to stay where you are. Go and do whatever you want. Go join another school. Be happy. Explore. Life is too short. I don't even know how old you are, but I can tell you that when you get to be a certain age, attending college, having relationships, starting a family, starting a career, etc. takes over your life, and martial arts often gets put on the back-burner. So do what you need to do, and do it quick.

My wife did a lot of hopping around to different martial arts schools. When I first met her, she was doing Shaolin-Do. After a while sharing with her my observations about her school's style and after asking her what she was really interested in, it occurred to both of us that she was in the wrong school and the wrong style. That's when she got out of there and went to another school.

Her new school was much more in line with what she wanted out of martial arts. And she was happy. But after a while, she realized that this new instructor could only take her so far in the types of things she really wanted. The school did a mix of mostly traditional Shaolin kung-fu with some contemporary Wushu, and she wanted to only do contemporary wushu. So after a good amount of searching, she eventually left that school and went to another one.

She also went through some of the guilt that you're experiencing. But she overcame it by realizing that she was in it for herself, her time was limited, and eventually she was going to be too old or have too little time to devote to it. So she needed to put her guilt aside and move on for her own good.

And so it went. She went to another school, and once again she maxed out what she could learn with this new instructor. Eventually she started taking lessons from very high level instructors, but she needed to travel for that. After a while, the time came that she realized she couldn't devote the time needed to get any better, so she stopped training altogether. She was happy with what she had achieved, though.

The point of my story is this: Know what you want out of martial arts and take active steps to achieve it. If your current path doesn't allow you to do what you want, change. Because, life is short.

You feel guilty and disloyal. You feel like you have an obligation to stay. That's all normal, but don't let yourself be trapped by those emotions. Your instructor is going to be just fine without you. The school will go on. Someone else will take your place. Your instructor won't be upset that you're leaving. She'll almost certainly even let you come back if you ever wanted to in the future. It's no big deal. You can even talk with her about it ahead of time. Tell her what you're interested in, and she might even encourage you to go to that other school. Heck, she might even know of a better option for you.

Good luck!

  • I'm 16, and just got my 1st dan. I think this new instructor is here to stay. She is the only other black belt who regularly go there, so running a class of 15 students with one black belt is hard. Either way, i still pay a monthly fee, even though i haven't learned any of my material for 2nd dan yet. I dont care about money, but it doesnt feel right that im the one who basically runs the show, and am still paying the same amount ive always paid.
    – coltonon
    Oct 30, 2014 at 1:56
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    Ah, at age 16 you are in your prime. No joke. This is your time to work hard and go far. As for paying for classes and yet being forced to just teach and never learn (if that's what you're doing), then that is a raw deal. Black belts do a lot of assistant instructing. It's part of your training to learn how to lead a class. But, that should not be the only thing you're doing. You need to keep making progress yourself. It's give and take. When it's just take, you need to re-negotiate with the instructor. Sit down in private and talk about it with her. Oct 30, 2014 at 3:26
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    I'm hardly being forced, I love doing it, and I know all color belt material perfectly, its just i never get a chance to learn my stuff. I will have a talk. Thank you.
    – coltonon
    Oct 30, 2014 at 3:31

First and foremost, I would bring it up with your new instructor. Do it in an assertive way, making sure she understands that you are not criticising her but looking for a way to help her teach you. Do not talk during a session but afterwards in the pub/bar/coffee shop. She might be scared of teaching (since you say that she has not done it before) so a lot of it might be self doubt. If you helped her, you might teach her a lot. She should be open with that. Maybe you can split the teaching: you doing more things like you like and her teaching what she is wrong with. Remember: we do not have to submit to the one master, lots of followers paradigm. We can, and should, learn from each other.

If you can find a common ground: super. Keep training, learning, and teaching.

If not, then you should not stay there. Life is way too short for us to do stuff we do not enjoy. Whether you start your own gym or chose to look elsewhere is up to you really. Why not do both?

  • 1
    Just to make sure, the scary teaching has nothing to do with the instructor being female. It has to do with her being new at teaching. The same is true of men. Do I really need to say that?... Oct 29, 2014 at 11:26

I had a similar situation couple of years back. Long story short, I am glad that I decided to stay.

I would say its not really about the Style or instructor, but definitely about the art and how passionate you are for it.

I would encourage you to continue to participate and train with the people there, getting to know each and everyone, both new and veteran members.

Talk to the replacement instructor and ask if she would be ok with you offering your assistant in teaching.

Never forget to keep in touch with you old instructor and try to arrange a private lesson with him at least once a month. This will keep you spirit & style fresh and alive.

Eventually try and approach you parent gym and offer your service as an instructor. This way you also get paid doing what you love.

I did all of this, and even though the fees I get is just to cover my fuel, I feel very passionate about my art, specially when my students get promoted , or new member joins.


I ended up taking over the Taekwondo club I was training at after our instructor wanted to dissolve it so he can go join an MMA club. I told him he didn't need to do it because I'd like to step up. I was a red/black tip at that point, but until the previous year I had been training at the headquarters of TKD South Africa, so I basically knew the entire syllabus up to 3rd Dan level and my instructor was the national head instructor, so I had the inside scoop on everything. Also long story short, I had the knowledge and experience, though not the belt.

I could have also made the 20 mile trek 3 or 4 times per week to my old dojang, but I'm glad I stuck around. In my case, I actually ended up making quite a bit of pocket money in the process. Being a high school senior at the time, that was very welcome. I did lose a couple of students who thought I was boring or who seemed to just stick around because they had a crush on the previous instructor, but in the end I had three national champions that same year. I even had a world champion the following year. So it really did pay off for me to stick around. It also benefited quite a number of students who would have had no other place to train and would not have developed into the champions they were.

My situation was slightly different than yours, but I think there's enough overlap to justify sharing it. If you think you can effect positive change, then stick around. If you don't think you'll get anywhere, then join another school. I was lucky, you may not be. I don't know you or your dojang well enough to make the decision for you. Just weigh the possibilities and probabilities for yourself. And keep in mind that you can't help others until you've helped yourself.


First and foremost, you should look after #1 - which is you. You are only bound to a particular school/gym for as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial.

As a black belt you need to consider whether:

  • your new immediate senior has anything to teach you
  • why you're at that particular gym
  • do you want to spend the time and effort to "get the groove" of the new instructor
  • how likely is it this new instructor will be replaced in the near future?

When your instructor is only a low to mid rank black belt you run the chance that you will outgrow them and need to find other instruction in order to progress further. Even when your instructor is a high level black belt you can still benefit from training in other arts or under other instructors.

But do remember to consider the members you are currently teaching, evaluate carefully before you leave - otherwise you could leave them in the very predicament you currently find yourself in. You're not obligated to them, but you don't want to leave them hanging.


One option that you might consider is to approach your former instructor and ask him whether he would train you one on one, or in a group, at his home, backyard, basement, garage, or even a park. There is a lot of extremely high quality instruction happening in places that are not pristine, sparkling dojos and gyms. Years ago, I trained a little with some Bakbakan guys in Los Angeles. They had trained with the late Tatang Ilustrisimo and Edgar Sulite, often in backyards and parks.

The experience you are having, training the lower belts rather than getting the chance to advance and train yourself, is a common complaint I've heard over the years from a number of martial artists. They love the art, they excel, but then the economics of martial arts kicks in they're teaching.

There are great teachers, great warriors, and only sometimes is a person both. If the new instructor is new to instructing, she may not be very good at it. It may take her time to grow into it.

There is a responsibility that comes with martial arts, and it does rise as one rises in the ranks. However, you ultimately have to do what is best for you. You owe that to yourself.

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