Fleecing black belts

Daniel Sullivan

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The OP has another thread that, aside from the specifics of dan/gup gradings, is essentially the same; bemoaning testing fees in the MD/DC/NoVA area. The following is my response on that thread:

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/re...r-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 economics of the area as well.

This is a follow up post that I had made in the other thread. Information correction:
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.
 

Tgace

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I hear through word of mouth that a local school has a policy where black belt tests will only be conducted ONLY during a yearly seminar where various martial arts notables are brought in.

The student is made to pay the $500 seminar fee (to increase seminar attendance and fund the attendees I assume) and show up for the seminar or he/she wont be promoted until he/she can attend the next seminar, typically a year later.

It's an interesting twist on the belt testing fee meme.
 
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Rumy73

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This is a follow up post that I had made in the other thread. Information correction:

This guy who Daniel mentions now runs big warehouse in Md as a dojang. No heat or AC. He does not tell parents about the lack of climate control. Nice.
 

Gorilla

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A twenty thousand square ft Dojang for 100 students is way to much square feet!

am I reading that wrong...3-5k would be more than enough!!!!!
 

Gwai Lo Dan

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This guy who Daniel mentions now runs big warehouse in Md as a dojang. No heat or AC. He does not tell parents about the lack of climate control. Nice.
I remember in his book that Chuck Norris said he started training in Korea at a place without climate control. As I recall, he said winter was fine because he could wear more clothes and warm up, but summer was terrible since he would sweat a lot, and in training for hours, he thighs would rub raw.
 

Archtkd

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A twenty thousand square ft Dojang for 100 students is way to much square feet!

am I reading that wrong...3-5k would be more than enough!!!!!

That number can't be accurate. That kind of space should be a 1,000-member dojang.
 

terrylamar

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A twenty thousand square ft Dojang for 100 students is way to much square feet!

am I reading that wrong...3-5k would be more than enough!!!!!

I could teach 100 students school in 2,000 square feet and that includes restrooms, changing rooms and office. Not every one of the 100 students would come to every class, every day. Figure 25% would come to your busiest class, maybe sometimes a few more. Even packed, we have all been to seminars where we have to turn at a 45 degree angle to fit everyone in. A 3-5K school could handle weapons like the sword or staff. In 20K floor space you would get lost.
 

terrylamar

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I remember in his book that Chuck Norris said he started training in Korea at a place without climate control. As I recall, he said winter was fine because he could wear more clothes and warm up, but summer was terrible since he would sweat a lot, and in training for hours, he thighs would rub raw.

I realize it wouldn't be for everyone, but I like this idea and have been considering it. I would call it Sparta or something like that. My idea of classes is real hard training. It may not be a commercial success, but it would have some hardcore students.
 

Carol

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I realize it wouldn't be for everyone, but I like this idea and have been considering it. I would call it Sparta or something like that. My idea of classes is real hard training. It may not be a commercial success, but it would have some hardcore students.

What, indoors? On a flat surface? Protected from the rain and the snow and the wind?

You should join me hiking up a mountain sometime. ;)
 

SJON

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i realize it wouldn't be for everyone, but i like this idea and have been considering it. I would call it sparta or something like that. My idea of classes is real hard training. It may not be a commercial success, but it would have some hardcore students.

I like the idea, but nowadays it wouldn't really be viable, except - as you say - for hardcore students, i.e. not a commercial venture.

On the other hand, the Crossfit and Crossfit-a-like gyms here in Spain are just that: basic warehouse-type facilities, very spartan. That's supposed to be part of the appeal.

But then, Crossfitters are probably a different breed to a significant proportion of potential TKD students. Also, here at least, MA gyms are not just MA. They usually have to run several activities to keep it commercially viable, so as well as the MA and weights, you find aerobics, dance, health Tai Chi, fitness classes for senior citizens, kids' summer activities, etc. That client base wouldn't take kindly to a warehouse with no showers, although even they would consider air conditioning to be something for soft Americans ;).
 

SJON

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Actually, I remember at least half of my training in the UK nearly 20 years ago was done in unheated premises (church halls, student union rooms not intended for MA practice) with hard floors and no showers, which meant blood blisters on the feet, hard falls and walking home afterwards smelling bad. The other half of the time we at least had mats on the floor.

We also did a lot of medium-to-heavy contact sparring with zero protective gear, which was also commonplace in Spain until a few years ago, and still is in some dojangs.

Perhaps that's what we mean by "hardcore". But there were always plenty of students, so either people have changed or there has been a shift in focus to target a different market.
 

Daniel Sullivan

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This guy who Daniel mentions now runs big warehouse in Md as a dojang. No heat or AC. He does not tell parents about the lack of climate control. Nice.
This is not entirely accurate. Assuming he hasn't moved or made any major renovations to the dojang, he put in six long electric base board heaters before I left. The front area and the after school program area are air conditioned and there is a duct to the training area. Ceiling fans and a large back door that we could open mitigated a lot of the issues with heat. It was not ideal, considering the size of the training area, but to say that he has no heat or AC is not correct. Now, the effectiveness of what he has is a different topic.

Not having trained there in several years, I won't comment one way or the other, as there has been time enough for him to either have moved or to have gutted the place and renovated it. You and anyone reading my post can make of it what you will.

For myself and the hardcore students, particularly the kendo students, it was tollerable except on the coldest of days. For a large school with a mix of predominantly kids? That is another matter. Most of my time with him was at the Flower Hill location, which was retail space and was heated and air conditioned. No idea how it's all working out for him.

I'm not promoting or sticking up for him, but I do have first hand knowledge of the school. If I see accusations posted about it that aren't accurate, I feel obliged to point it out. As I said on the other thread, I will not denigrate any specific schools or teachers publicly and I will not offer to discuss any issues with former dojangs privately. I've laid to rest any differences I've had with prior places of training and have moved on with my life.

Aside from it being a matter of decorum, and in the case of the gentleman you're posting about, a matter of simply not wishing to disrespect a former sabeom on a public forum, going after people online can sometimes have negative offline consequences.

In the end, what does it matter? The people who would benefit most from an online review of the school aren't on MT. I'm no longer training there and am very happy where I am and doing what I'm doing. Every place where I have trained has provided me with something positive and has increased my knowledge in some way. Sometimes in unexpected ways, but in some way nonetheless. I take the good and leave behind any negativity, and I wish him and his well.
 
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Rumy73

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This is a follow up post that I had made in the other thread. Information correction:

Actually it is accurate, I have been there more recently than you. The heaters he installed are left off or broken. There is no AC anywhere in the place. Everything I said here, I said to him.
 

Daniel Sullivan

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Actually it is accurate, I have been there more recently than you. The heaters he installed are left off or broken. There is no AC anywhere in the place. Everything I said here, I said to him.

That is unfortunate. He was very generous to my kids and I when we were there. I had hoped that things were going better.
 
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WaterGal

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That's because I was writing it wrong. Too many zeros!

Yeah, 20,000 sf is the size of a grocery store. That being said, the $3000-ish/month you had listed for a 2,000 sf space in the suburbs of a big city is on par with my experience. Our rent is more than that, though our space is larger and in a great location. Add to that another grand or more in utilities, liability insurance and marketing..... it's an expensive business.
 

Kong Soo Do

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I would like your input on a practice common in Dc, Md, NoVa. Tkd schools and hapkido schools have created gup ranks in between Dan levels. These are KKW certification issuing schools. While the KKW has no such requirement, in my experience, masters are not exactly forthcoming that the practice is a creation of the school. It allows the school the generate testing fees every month or two on top of the contractual monthly fee. The cost for black belts increases with each Dan level. In this area first Dan is about $450-$600. Although I could easily be a third Dan by now under KKW standards, I refuse to pay these fees, which I find outrageous. What do these "dan gup tests" consist of? Schools teach various weapons forms (copying Chinese and Japanese staff katas, etc.). While nice to learn, it is not KKW TKD. Students should be given the option. However, that is not the case and Dan tests are essential held hostage. Taekwon dinero.

By necessity, both martial arts and martial sports are taught by rote:

1: the use of memory usually with little intelligence <learn by rote>
2: mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition

The reason is simply to instill instinctive muscle memory to reduce reaction time. Thus the idea that a black belt, who outside of Korea probably has several years of training, needs to have gup testing (or recertification training) is beyond stupid. And any attempt to justify this money-grab by saying it motivates students to continue training doesn't speak very highly of the training itself holding the interest of the student. Indeed, it would inticate that the training in question is sub-par and that only a financial incentive being held over the head will retain students.

Money grab and nothing more.
 

RTKDCMB

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And any attempt to justify this money-grab by saying it motivates students to continue training doesn't speak very highly of the training itself holding the interest of the student.

Plus Black belts should be mentally strong enough to motivate themselves, which also reflects upon the school and its training.
 
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