In a previous post, I stated that I closed my commercial storefront in June 2015 to teach privately, focusing on the handful of students who I felt had the same goals in budo that I have. My student count dropped from over 75 students to less than 10, and I convinced myself it was okay because these were true students. They came to my home to train daily and they became part of my family. This was how budo is supposed to be, right? Last week, I had a very insightful conversation with my instructor and it's set me on a course of self reflection, which is what this post is about.
We were discussing a mutual friend in our brotherhood, how his school was starting to flourish while both my instructor and I were scraping by. I'll admit, there was a slight (large) tone of jealousy in my voice because this friend was achieving what I once had and willingly gave up. Finally, my instructor said to me, "Bret, you have a gift. What are you doing with your life? You're teaching a small group out of your garage. You're wasting your talent and if we don't use the gifts God has given us, He will take them away." That's what got me thinking. Was my decision to close based upon a holier-than-thou attitude toward commercial schools and other martial artists? Had I reached an extremist mindset and forgotten why I began teaching in the first place?
The term McDojo gets thrown around a lot, and I have used it in the past, but really what is a McDojo? In my opinion, a McDojo is a school that is misleading about what they offer to their students (i.e. a sport based school claiming to teach combatives, just to get as many students as possible). A McDojo is a school that promotes their students simply upon attendance and not the student's knowledge and ability. As long as the instructor is upfront and honest about what they offer, rank is not handed out like candy and the students are learning something, I don't think that school can qualify as a McDojo. Time spent in the dojo, no matter what they're learning, is better than time spent on the streets.
As instructors, we always throw around "not all styles are for everybody" but I think it's more accurately stated that "not all schools are for everybody." Every school serves a purpose. The martial arts has so much to offer, and for many, enrolling in a commercial school is their first step on a life-long journey. Some like to compete, some like fitness, some want self defense, some want character development. The list goes on. As the student gets older and grows in their understanding of what martial arts is, they will find the right teacher that meets their goals. All we can do as instructors is guide our students on the path that is most beneficial to them. Are we teaching simply to show off what we know and to collect a paycheck, or are we teaching genuinely because we have something to offer and care about our students enough to help them find their path in budo, even if it isn't with us? There is nothing wrong with being compensated for your time, but is their tuition more important to you than their needs as a student?
It's because of this revelation that I'm reopening my doors as a school. Nothing large, just rented space from a recreation center. I may never have a 50,000 sqft. facility with hundreds of students, but I will reach out to as many as possible to share with them my love for budo and hope to guide them on their journey. That is what it means to be a sensei. You are not just an instructor, you are a mentor, a confidant, a friend, a guide. When you truly begin to put the student's needs above your own desires, you have finally earned the title of sensei.