Te$Ting: TaeKwon-Dinero (in DC/MD/Nova)

Discussion in 'Tae-Kwon-Do' started by Rumy73, Jul 31, 2013.

  1. Rumy73

    Rumy73 Black Belt

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    Testing is a dirty business practice in DC/MD/Nova TKD dojangs. While it is completely valid to check on the progress of a student and to reward the student with a belt and/or certificate, the cost of such an enterprise should be de minimus. But it is not; it is a fat revenue stream. Defenders of the practice will leap forward and cite the value of "the master's time." Anticipating them, I retort, what exactly are the monthly fees for then? I have to come believe that too many schools really could careless about integrity and are more about selling a "martial arts" experience. This not a comment about the skill of the students or the quality of the curriculum. Rather, it is a pointed remark that testing fees, which are generally progressive (meaning they increase in cost with each new belt), are abhorrent when used as an additional source of income for a dojang. It preys upon the student (and parents) desire for progress and want to learn to more. Monthly tuition, proper attitude and appropriate level of technically proficiency should be enough for a student to move forward.
     
  2. sfs982000

    sfs982000 Master Black Belt

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    I agree with you, but unfortunately it appears to have become a standard practice in most schools not just TKD. When I was younger and first started studying martial arts, I only had one school that charged for testing and it was a flat rate that never changed regardless of what belt you were testing for. The organization I belong to now has testing fees that go up in price as you move up. I don't necessarily agree with it myself, but I pay it because the instruction I get is good.
     
  3. rlobrecht

    rlobrecht Brown Belt

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    Testing is a huge revenue steam for most schools. The school I recently left have switched to testing during class, with no reduction in testing fees.

    Rick
     
  4. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes MT Moderator Staff Member

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    This is one thing I like about training BJJ. It takes a few years in-between belt ranks and I've never been charged for a test.

    My instructor does have "official" seminars\evaluations about twice a year. He'll charge about $25, teach a seminar and then give participants an hour or two to grapple while we watches to see who is ready for stripes or promotions. The thing is, these sessions aren't really required to get promoted for those of us who train directly under him at the main gym. Our promotions are really based on what he sees us doing day in and day out. The evals are more for folks in the satellite clubs that he doesn't see as often or for folks at the main gym who are concerned that they might be overlooked or for people who just want to take advantage of the seminar.
     
  5. Earl Weiss

    Earl Weiss Senior Master

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    Over the years I have mulled over this question, and i have come up with a definitive answer: "It depends".

    Yes, if you have a commercial school you could set your monthly fees in a manner that covers your overhead plus a profit based upon average training time needed for test. Example: average time to test is 24 months. Test fee would be $240.00 so just bump up the monthly fee by $10.00 per month. Now, the student who needs to train 24 months at this rate before testing in reality pays less for the test than the one who needs to train 36 months at this rate. So, you could argue that it's more "Fair" to charge everyon the same for training time and tests.

    What if your competition is advertising or offering classes for $10.00 per month less but then charges extra for tests? will consumers go for the lowest price? Will they be smart enough to ask about extra fees?

    Now, you also need to compare retail schools that pay for space 24/7 and are charging $125.00 per month or more with Those at community centers, park districts, YMCAs etc with rates set by those institutions and only pay for their space for the hours used or may simply recieve a fee for their services. Students may be paying $50,00 per month or less. Yet, the test as well as ancilary time to make certificates etc. takes time and effort. Students get training at a low rate but pay extra for the tests. Then again some tests may require that High ranks be brought in and they should be compensated, and organizations my take a piece as well.
     
  6. Rumy73

    Rumy73 Black Belt

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    As a BB, I have assisted with many tests but was never compensated. I never expected any money, as I viewed it as service to my community.
     
  7. Gwai Lo Dan

    Gwai Lo Dan 2nd Black Belt

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    The aspect I disagree with most on the testing fees is the high amount while being to some extent undisclosed. A kid gets hooked on TKD after 1/2 a year, THEN then parents find the black belt goal is another $600 in testing fees alone. I think it makes it hard for many parents to budget when it's not disclosed before starting.
     
  8. WaterGal

    WaterGal Master of Arts

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    Mr Watergal and I considered going the "no testing fees but higher monthly rate" route, so nobody would feel surprised by any fees, but GM talked us out of it. He said he tried that when he started, but a bunch of the parents would b**** and moan constantly about how it wasn't fair that their kid only got to test every 3 months when they were paying just as much as the kid that was testing every 2 months. He said that cutting rates and charging for testing made that mostly go away. So I think there is something to that.
     
  9. TKDTony2179

    TKDTony2179 Blue Belt

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    I would think the same for my org. We don't get paid for judging tournys or testing. It is a part of giving back.
     
  10. Grenadier

    Grenadier Administrator Staff Member

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    In the end, though, it's the student who decides whether or not he's getting the value that he wants. If a school owner does charge progressively greater fees for exams, and if the student thinks that it's unfair, then it's up to him to decide whether or not to stay with the program, or go elsewhere.

    If people perceive that they're getting a great value, then they'll pay the $$$, even if others might not perceive the same value.

    There is a school in Hawaii that will charge you 1000 dollars for a 1st dan exam, 2000 dollars for a 2nd dan exam, 3000 for a 3rd dan exam (I think y'all know what comes next...), but that school also gets it, because the students perceive that they're getting a great value. It's not that there isn't any other place to train, or that the school is really any better than their competitors, since Hawaii is chock full o' excellent martial arts schools, but rather, they think that they're getting their money's worth.
     
  11. Daniel Sullivan

    Daniel Sullivan Grandmaster

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    I'm going to preface this by saying that I find the proliferation of testing fees and additional fees to be distasteful and by adding that I do not charge for testing.

    One of the reasons for the increase in testing fees is unrelated to greed or a lack of integrity. I live and train in the area you are posting about and I spent many years in retail, both on the sales floor and in management. Landlords in this area are rent crazy. They would rather have empty space than charge a more reasonable rent. Buildings here literally sit empty for years because of this. When I was training with my last Korean master, I saw firsthand how the mall management squeezed more and more money from him. A good friend ran a bookstore next to the dojang, which is partly how I found the dojang. He couldn't afford it, didn't want to close or move, so he accepted a buyout offer from a larger bookstore.

    GM Kim eventually got fed up and moved to warehouse space which had no foot traffic but which he could afford without going broke. My bookstore friend? The comic book store that bought his store told the mall to go screw themselves, closed the store and moved all of the inventory elsewhere.

    If you raise the tuition, people leave. If you increase testings and add fees, they are more likely to stay, especially if you create some value, be it a grafted on weapons program or a special patch or whatever else. When retail space in this area is around twenty dollars a square foot (some are lower, some are much higher).

    http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/r...s/documents/retail-space-monitor-apr-2013.pdf

    That's eighty grand a month for a 4000 square foot studio. Many studios are smaller, but forty grand a month in rent for a 20,000 square foot studio (GM Kim's was slightly bigger is kind of puts things into perspective. Just to make rent, in a small studio in a mall with a tuition rate of 100/month would require 400 students. I don't know of any studio that has that many in my immediate area. So monthly testings, black belt clubs, and five hundred dollar first dan gradings make up the difference. Many commercial schools have some kind of pro shop and they make some money there too. If the studio is in a major mall, the rent is much, much higher than average.


    Now, I haven't even gotten into payroll, but testing fees and pro shop are unlikely to make up the difference if you have fewer than 200 students. So here comes daycare, afterschool programs, and the like. All of this is just to keep the lights on and to allow the owner to make a living. Most studio owners in this area are not leading rich & famous lifestyles and many have families to support. Additionally, as business owners, they are responsible for their own health insurance. Most of these studios are two bad months away from closing their doors.

    Me? I have a day job with great benefits and rent space at a ballet studio and a fencing salle. So I can afford to have sub-seventy dollar fees and no testing fees.

    The argument could be profered that that is how martial arts should be, but the reality is that most studio owners become studio owners for the same reason that people study for and enter into other professions: because they want to work doing what they love. Why do we encourage this in other fields and discourage this in the martial arts?

    Anyway, you seem to be on a soapbox about the area. That is fine, but you should at least acknowledge the economy of the area as well.
     
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  12. mango.man

    mango.man 2nd Black Belt

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    When they tell you that little Johnny green belt's testing fee is going up because the Kukkiwon has raised their fee, that is when it is time to run away.

    Yes I have seen that in writing as the excuse for raising testing fees on color belts. So sad to report that no parents or even adult students questioned such a thing.
     
  13. Gwai Lo Dan

    Gwai Lo Dan 2nd Black Belt

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    Daniel, I think those rates are per YEAR, not per MONTH. I looked at the link and their is no explicit timeframe, but my common sense would say $80k is reasonable per year, and $1 million per year (=approximately 12 x $80k) is not reasonable.
     
  14. Gwai Lo Dan

    Gwai Lo Dan 2nd Black Belt

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    I don't agree that students necessarily think they are getting value. I would suspect that they have a sunk cost of $3000-4000 for say 3 years of tuition before they find out the black belt is $1000. They may not know that the next school is $500 to test, but even if they do, they don't want to start again.

    Using an analogy of my car, if my mechanic says the brakes need $1000 of repairs while I am getting tires, I may go elsewhere for the brakes, but still come back for tire rotation. In taekwondo, I can't say "thanks for the lessons, but I will test for my KKW black belt with Master Kim across the street - but don't worry I will continue here as a student since I have made good friends over the past 3 years before I knew how expensive the test was". Taekwondo puts such an emphasis on "loyalty" that a student can't say "no thanks" and shop elsewhere.

    As an aside, I wish the national associations had testing, where you pay say $200 and do the KKW material of taegeuks 1-8, sparring, kicking, and board braking. If you are good you pass, if not you fail. In my opinion, unbiased testing/evaluation would be ideal.
     
  15. Daniel Sullivan

    Daniel Sullivan Grandmaster

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    I did some digging and looked up monthly rent and you are correct, making the average rent for a twenty thousand square foot studio about 3,300 dollars. I'm surprised I didn't catch that myself. Thanks!

    When I left the Gaithersburg school where I had trained, they had about eighty students in total at the time. But when they were healthier, they had about a hundred, which would mean $10,000 a month. Take away 3300 in rent and you're left with 6,300 per month. Take out costs of insurance, payroll, utilities and taxes and you are probably down to around five thousand per month left over for the owner. That is roughly 60k a year gross income for the owner, which in Montgomery County, MD, isn't an outrageous salary. Now, from that 60K, he/she needs to provide themselves with health insurance, retirement, and all of the things that I get as benefits from my day job. I don't know what that works out to specifically, but if you have a family, it is not a lavish income in this area at all.
     
  16. Gwai Lo Dan

    Gwai Lo Dan 2nd Black Belt

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    Agreed it is not a lot, especially when you consider the risk. If people stop coming (e.g., due to layoffs at the big employer in town), the KJN probably still has to pay a lease for the next 5 years.

    One thing I thought was good at my previous club (before I moved) was the reduced fee structure for black belts. Colour belt tuition was in the order of $1200-$1300 per year, and black belt testing was around $500-600. However, once you tested, the black belt tuition was something like $700 per year. So although you pay $600 to test, the total per year is the same.
     
  17. Rumy73

    Rumy73 Black Belt

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    You give GM k. too much credit. Bb from other schools have transferred to his school, and he "offers" (pressures) them to BB retest in his school. He says to unwitting parents "they need certificate from our martial arts school." Total sleaze. He knows the schools these kids are coming from and should respect the BB. But hey, must be the money.


    He tells parents, you need sparring gear from his school and then prices it $40-$50 more than Warrior Emporium in Baltimore sells it for. I could cite numerous more examples since you mentioned that school. It is a McDojo.

    Yes, the guy is likable but he is a used car salesman.
     
  18. Daniel Sullivan

    Daniel Sullivan Grandmaster

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    I'm neither giving him credit nor taking away.

    I limit my comments to things that pertain to the economics of being a studio owner in this area. I will not get into what I think his motivations are nor comment on what kind of person I think he is. Not having trained there in four years, I have no idea what the training environment there is like now. All of the instructors that were there when I trained are gone, so for better or worse, it is a different place, whatever it is. However I did train with him long enough to see how the business worked and how the economics affected his decision making, so I do have some first hand knowledge of the external factors that face a studio owner. I saw a lot of changes during the time that I was there, particularly after 2008.

    In any case, his is not the only school in this area that I am familiar with and his school is far from unique (isn't that the whole point of your thread? That this sort of thing is comonplace in the area?). I am happy to discuss the trends in the region, but I will not speculate on the personal motivations or in any way disrespect specific school owners.

    The only thing in your post that I will comment on specifically is BB restests: I haven't trained at his school in several years so I couldn't tell you what he's doing now, but at during the time that I was there, henevermade anyone with a KKW dan grade retest. If the school was outside of the KKW, he let them wear their black belt and did show them respect for their grade. Asking someone from another organization/system to grade within your own is not unreasoanble. I never asked nor had any interest in what he worked out with these people financially.
     
  19. Rumy73

    Rumy73 Black Belt

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    Dan, fair enough.
     
  20. Daniel Sullivan

    Daniel Sullivan Grandmaster

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    Just to clarify, acknowledgement of the economics of the area is not approval of a lot of what I see go on. I don't much care for what I see as obvious filler and profit generating practices that do little to nothing for the art. I realize that these sorts of practices may keep the doors open and the lights on, but they also set bad precedent and move into slippery slope territory.

    Unfortunately, the economics of this area is a factor that every school owner must deal with. There is no getting around it. Not to mention the expectations and desires of the clientelle, which can often be at cross purposes to quality training.123
     

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