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Sunday with Sensei's Journal

Weekly Reflections on the Traditional Martial Arts
from Hanshi Tony Annesi © 2018

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McFunding vs. McTeach

More than a couple of decades ago, when I was a martial arts teacher with twenty years’ experience, I was frustrated that teachers who had half my experience were more successful at drawing in students than I. Of course, being good at what you do and being good at teaching it does not necessarily draw in students. Students have no way to measure quality. And being good at drawing in students has nothing to do with teaching them or knowledge of the subject being taught. Recognizing this dichotomy, various martial arts business programs sprung up in the final quarter of the twentieth century—programs that would teach you (or a guy like me) to maximize a school’s income. On the surface, that made perfect sense. The teacher/owner would be good at the art and the teaching while the professional funding organization would be good at the business.

Unfortunately, the teacher, now thrilled with his increased financial success tends to put his/her mind progressively more on maintaining or increasing that important aspect of the business. In other words, as a martial arts factory, the school does well. In fact, it might even be a good factory that produces respectable products (its students). But in doing so, there is a strong chance that the owner will put less emphasis what the students need to achieve success in learning the martial art. The owner will begins to measure the school’s success not just in income, but in number of students, number of students promoted to black belt, and even the reported satisfaction of the student, the very student that did not know how to measure quality and, if he/she I not exposed to other instruction, still may not. If the student is happy achieving an initial goal of black belt in the requisite 2.5 years, and becomes the 97th student to have done so, he/she considers the school a success. By implication, the student feels that he or she is a success, as well! Look up the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Having visited many schools like this, I can attest that rarely do their students have the skills and depth of knowledge that less financially successful but more instruction-oriented schools possess. So Sensei Fred McFunding has won the financial success contest with Sensei Tom McTeach. He hasn’t cheated, but he has unconsciously changed the standards by which schools were once measured. How frustrating that must be for McTeach!

McTeach hasn’t failed exactly, but he has not succeeded in bringing that black-belt-seeking student in to his dojo because, in his school, it takes 4-5 years to earn that rank. You can argue that he has succeeded, of course, since in this example at least, his students are more skilled and knowledgeable. But is that a notable success if McTeach can’t keep his dojo open?

Now, as a teacher with over five decades of experience, if I had to do it all over again, I’d mix methods. A student once suggested this to me, but I was young, stubborn, and determined to succeed in both a financial and an educational way. I knew it could be done! What my stubborn self did not see is that his was the way it might work. He suggested having an outer school that works like Fred McFunding’s school, and then have an inner McTeach school open only to those who earn black belt in the McFunding division. In that school, I’d explain that the dedication has to be greater, and the ranks will be coming much more slowly. He suggested letting my trusted senior students teach the McFunding branch while I, the elevated senior, teach the McTeach branch.

The idea went totally against my ideals and a dedicated innovative traditionalist. Little did I know that Japanese schools do this all the time! If they were my traditional ideal, they were also practical businesspeople that had innovated in order to keep the dojo alive!

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Hanshi Tony Annesi

• Advisory council, Nippon Kobudo Renmei (NKR)

• Steering Committee, International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do

• Member of 3 Martial Arts Halls of Fame

A martial artist since 1964

9th dan, Takeshin Aiki

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9th dan, Takeshin Karate

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6th Dan, Shotokan Karate

2nd dan, Judo

Hanshi, International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do

ISOK Hanshi

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