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I have trained in my martial art for 6 years, followed by training to be an instructor for 4 years, and now finally am being allowed to substitute classes for other instructors. For each class we teach (30-45 min), we get $9-10. There are 4 major instructors with 7 classes/day, 5 days a week. After rounding: Money paid toward instructors/rent/utilities to $1,500 per month, the owners are left with $32,600/month.

Keep in mind, I have taught full classes before, but because I am not an "official instructor" yet so I do not get paid. On top of that, we still pay the same amount for enrolment every month as other students even though I teach 4 out of 5 classes I go to. They offer a 10% higher discount for items in their shop and seminars which seems like slap in the face. And now they've added another mandatory volunteer thing once a month.

Overall, I thought the enrolment should be way lower and the money at least a little better because its quality is high in demand, but only a few schools like this are in the state, let alone the country, while the owners of the dojo get paid about $175 per student a month, with around 200 students, on top of whatever the rent/utilities cost, WE as the instructors are the ones teaching the classes the students are going to.

Now if this was just employees at a small business, I would be more lenient, but considered the special training we have done for years, the speciality/rare art that it is to teach, and the fact that the few classes we teach are why people pay so much money a month, on top of basically paying to go there/teach (with enrolment), it keeps getting me wondering, Am I being used?

It may just be the whole system is flawed and/or we (as instructors) are not being treated fairly.

Is this okay, or am I being taken advantage of here?

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    So far you have talked about the business and the marketing (special training! specialty/rare art!). Do you personally feel like you are learning something beneficial?
    – mattm
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 15:08
  • @mattm Hear hear! I'd say that's the right question to ask!
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 16:35
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    This reminds me of the early days of my club when I was making $20/month but had to pay $100/month to the governing body. I was NOT ammused either. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 12:20
  • Having done similar to you, it does vary a lot by club. The one im with had me taking classes for 11 months of the year and then decided in the 12 month to close my dojo and merge it with a lesser attended class, and then cos i was no longer sensei of a full time class, didnt pay up..
    – BugFinder
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 19:09

5 Answers 5

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Odds are, if you're asking this question, you already have the feeling that you're not being compensated sufficiently for you. If you were totally ok with it, you wouldn't be asking, right?

So now you have some choices:

Accept it

Maybe the practice and training you get is totally worth it and the money doesn't matter. There's a lot of smaller schools which barely scrape along and no real money is being made, and all the instructors are mostly volunteers. The fact there IS money here, but it's not going to you or the other instructors in a meaningful way might be something you can just shrug off and move on.

Negotiate

This is an uncomfortable space that can lead to you getting ejected from the school in some cases. I know friends who basically were in this position and left. Money can make people funny.

Either:

  • You find out the school is actually paying a lot of debts or obligations, insurance, or has to save up money for competitions/travel, etc. and then it's reasonable that everyone's getting so little money

  • You negotiate some better pay for all the instructors involved

  • You are put back in your place, or ejected from the school

If nothing else, at least you'll get a real look at what's going on.

Reject It

There's a very real point where you have to ask if it's worth the time/energy you put into teaching. And maybe the answer is that it isn't. You can step down from being a teacher and stay on as a student. Or you can leave.

I can't say what's good for you, but I can say that usually when you have a system like that which has been in place a decent amount of time, the people in charge are ok with it, and unlikely to change how they do things. The other question is if you feel tired, burnt out or will feel resentful over time.

Likewise, nearly every example of exploitation I've seen in these situations uses a lot of leaning on good will, friendship, and mentor/student respect to cover up what's really going on. Nearly always you can find out whether you're dealing with respect or exploitation by the reaction that happens when you say "I'm not going to do that anymore" and whether you get "ok" or pressure to keep you working.

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I believe that you are grossly underestimating the amount of $$ being spent on utilities and rent and other expenses. I've looked at rents in my local (suburb of phoenix, arizona) area and the minimum I've found for a 1500 square foot space (not built out) is $4000 per month. Not including utilities, insurance and so on.

So, as an exercise, lets do some math.

200 students at $175 each is $35,000 per month. Lets take a mythical 3000 square foot studio (Which is about the minimum I would consider for a full time, 200 student school), in a subprime location at $5000 per month rent. Figure 20% of that as a ballpark utilities cost, and about the same for insurance costs (Which is on the low side). We are already up to $7000 per month.

Add another $1000 per month in advertising, and if the owners are smart, another $500-1000 per month in sunk costs such as replacing worn out equipment, facility repair, etc.

For the instructors - If you assign a blanket cost of $10 / class, there are 35 classes a week. That's $350 per week, or $1400 per month (I'm interested in how you came to $1500 for instructors AND rent AND utilities).

So far we are up to $10,500 in absolute bare minimum costs, and I have not included any association fees, costs for ongoing training for the owners, credentialing, etc. Yes, they are probably making a decent living, but it's not quite the gravy train you are making it out to be. And, if it is such a rare/specialty art, then you are paying extra for the opportunity to learn said art. You are also not taking into account the many years they probably spent on minimal income while they were working 60 hours a week to build their student base and reputation.

As far as your options, see Bankuei's excellent response.

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I have no idea how you came up with $1500/month in total expenses, but that’s not realistic at all. I work at a martial arts school where we receive over 50k a month, but the owner doesn’t get even 10k. And all our instructors are 100% volunteers. I started working there in admin and then became an instructor. One of the reasons to become an instructor was my curiosity about why the instructors were all volunteers. Now when I clock out to go teach classes I know. I love teaching and encouraging and helping my students develop. I make no money for that and have to make money somewhere else, but man, that gives me so much joy. Maybe being an instructor is not in you. Maybe you need a career to make enough money to give you the freedom to teach for free.

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I would advise not to worry about what others make, but look only at yourself.

Frankly, it does not matter how much money your boss makes, as long as you have the feeling that you are recompensated fine, either in money, or fun, or experience, or whatever it is you are getting out of it.

The flip side to this is: if and when the cost-benefit calculation does not work out for you anymore, no matter what it is that you do, then it is time to do some soul-searching and possibly look for alternatives. This could be many things. Maybe you can talk with your boss and see if they can sweeten the deal. Or you make clear that you at least do not take on the extra mandatory volume (and see what happens). Or you check with yourself - maybe teaching is in itself so rewarding that if you are able to forget how much the owners are making, it becomes acceptable for you again.

And if none of that works out for you, it's time to look for a new space to practice your martial art in. Here comes the rub: if you are so invested in your old place that it is hard for you to leave, then this is - in my opinion - a sure sign that something is wrong. This kind of addiction can be exhilarating as long as everything is fine, but can become a real problem when it is not. I've been there - money or "being used" played no role in my case, but I did not gel with the other people very much, anymore. It took me quite some time to make the decision to leave; but eventually I did a cold turkey (without even telling them why I did so), and it was a very liberating experience.

If and when you talk with them and make clear that something is up, pay attention to how they react. If they try to blame-shift, or make you feel bad for even deliberating leaving (or not accepting their terms), or play the "wise dojo master" card or any other kind of game, then this is a 100% red flag for me.

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Perhaps I'm being to harsh and I'm doing quick judge, but I have seen more than a few examples of bad and/or abusive business models in martials arts.

As a very personal opinion, as its required by your question: Unless you are becoming the next big champion, or the next real grandmaster of MA, or if you are expected to be promoted to owner of your own dojo with a respective sudden increase of your income with such training, you and the students are paying a little too much according to my calculations, mostly because there seems to be, either no good will, or a bad sense of management on such business model.

Nevertheless, I agree Bankuei's advice is a very good one.

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    That is an absurd statement to make. You have no idea of the space rental costs, utilities, insurance, advertising, etc etc etc.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:29
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    With all due respect, the reasoning might be true JhonP, nevertheless, that business model seems like a decision someone made to decrease costs, but surely not the only alternative. And that is something I would want to account for when taking a decision. Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 22:23

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