Saturday, January 24, 2015

Money Corrupts ....?

Friend Andy just shared this clip:

I have seen this too and thought the same, but here's a couple added subtleties that I think need adding to the equation.

An old teacher of mine once said you should only study martial arts from a teacher who does not have a side job. What I think he meant was that you want someone to teach you who is serious and has put the time and effort needed into their practice to indeed be worthy as a teacher.

But here's the thing. I have found, and this is not limited to martial arts but many other artistic fields also, that if your livelihood is purely dependent on this income, on some level you lose your independence when you attach money to art. At the harshest level, you are prostituting yourself to the whims and wants of your clientele so you can keep them coming back and paying you.

An artist friend of mine told me once that if she wanted to earn more money, she'd just paint cats and dogs, because they are a guaranteed sale. To paint what she really wants, she has to make a conscious decision to risk NOT making that money.

You might say, well why not paint what people want? But I suspect you know that this road leads only to generic reproduction with no room for confrontational or innovative art. Substitute 'Martial Artist' for 'Fine Artist' and you might also be able to see how corrosive this path might be - Teachers only teaching 'feel good' material, and stringing their students along as far as possible with promises of the 'secret stuff' to come.

I believe this is why those that say connecting money to art is a bad thing.

BUT .......

They are missing what is probably the biggest point in this whole thing:


I'll say it again


If I have spent years and years of time and effort to understand what I know and I'm good at it, why should I give it to you?

What is YOUR part in all this? What is the student's role?

See, the student also has a responsibility. Just as I feel I have a responsibility to pass on what I know, the student has a responsibility to value the teacher. To be happy to help them financially, as well as put in their own time and effort to gain the knowledge they are being given.

Really it is the student's job to OFFER to pay for the teacher's time, no? Not the teacher's job to ask for it. Where did that get lost?

It is also the student's responsibility to value the knowledge, separate from valuing the teacher. This knowledge may well be arcane, and it will not help with fixing the leak in your bathroom, but it is part of the human experience, a very old and deep aspect of it. It should have it's place beside all the other skills and fields of study that help us connect with being alive on this planet.

So think on this, and remember, respect and responsibility go both ways. If that's not clear, just ask yourself - Why would this teacher spend they valuable time teaching me? Why would they want to give me what they spent so many years of effort to learn?

And, no, the answer is not just 'money', but it's also not just 'because they should', or 'because I'm a nice person'.


Oz said...


Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed reading it. It's nice to see a cogent argument for the case of money corrupting, but I think you missed an alternate possibility.

If we accept that the teacher must always be seen by the student to have something of value to offer, then there are two ways they can achieve that. The first as you describe is by creating the myth of "hidden" techniques. The promise of a nebulous secret sauce somewhere down the line. And that is a very real possibility in Martial Arts. But there is a second possibility, and that is the instructor training, studying, and growing themselves in order to make sure they are ahead of their students.

I suspect it comes down to a simple ethical decision on the part of the instructor. But for me there is no decision to make. I do this because I love it. By continuing to push myself and constantly striving to better myself not only do I continue to do what I love, but I also justify my continuing to charge my students. I am their guide along a path, and only by staying ahead of them on that path can I continue to hold that position.

Anyway, thanks again for the blog post, and I'm really glad one of my videos sparked some quality debate.

Take care


Maija said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts, and thanks for commenting on mine :-)
Couldn't agree more about teaching being a path to continued betterment of self, students and method. I've seen it my teachers, and I can certainly attest to it myself.

I think I was more trying to point out to students and consumers of 'Art', that they too have a role to play in this relationship.
If they want it, they must be willing to facilitate it's existence, otherwise it may will be lost.
I mean I can't honestly imagine a student saying to me: "You should teach me for free because I'm helping to make YOU better", but it's certainly a point of view that those that seem to want stuff for free might hold (... though in all honesty, I don't think they think through it that far. I suspect that all they think is - This is cool. I want it. Give it to me. :-/)

So again my question to a student would be - Why should I teach YOU? YOU as opposed to someone else? Or not teach at all, just play amongst my friends?

I know why I want to teach you ... (for the reasons you stated above) but why do YOU think I should?

Paul McRedmond said...

I've found the opposite - that the best instructors have a full - time job and teach on the side, usually for low fees.

Jim said...

I don't think you can make a hard & fast rule that a full time instructor is best/part time, doing it for the love is best. There are too many individual differences, too many compromises each may have or choose to make, too much variation in understanding and ability to communicate or teach that understandings.

That said... I've learned that if you don't value your time reasonably, nobody else will value it either. In US culture, the most common yardstick of that measurement is a dollar sign. People assume something that is too inexpensive is of lesser quality. I know that some potential students have disregarded my club because we don't charge enough, so they figure we don't have anything good to offer. It's frustrating. I've seen it happen within my own system, too. We've had people disregard the value of senior instructors's time and knowledge because they're not charging enough -- but seen those same instructors paid orders of magnitude more when invited to teach outside the system.