The Value of Karate Classes
How much are karate classes really worth?
In economics terminology, something is worth “what the market will bear.” This definition may be further classified to include one or both of the following: 1) what seems reasonable based on costs and profit levels (supply side) and 2) perceived value (demand side).
From the supply side: If an instructor enjoys teaching karate classes and has a day-job that pays well, he may not require much money from the students to be satisfied. If an instructor is relying on the income of the dojo and has many expenses to cover, he may require higher payments.
From the demand side: Some people may shop around for various martial arts programs and simply choose the one that costs the least. The classes that cost the least may or may not actually be the “cheapest.” Some instructors are very undervalued and some are overvalued. This is at least partially a reflection of perception, both of the public in general and the individual consumer. It is often, however, the perceived value that determines what the market will bear.
Let’s make a few comparisons, in terms of relative value:
1. Movie – Lasts longer, more entertaining
Yes, a movie can be more entertaining. But if you are attending karate classes for entertainment purposes, what you are doing is probably not “real” karate. Karate can be entertaining. But there is a lot more to it than that. Unless you are watching an educational documentary (not so entertaining), you are probably not going to learn much from the movie that would help you become more fit, learn self-defense skills, or understand any of the other ideas explored in most karate classes.
2. Visit to the gym or community center – Can involve different activities
You can get a great workout in many different ways. Karate is only one of many choices you have if all you want to do is get in shape. But it is worth noting that unless you are fortunate enough to be working out with a friend who is helping you, or paying a hefty fee for a personal trainer, you are probably not going to learn as much as in a karate class. Also, it is sometimes more difficult to stay motivated and disciplined under such conditions. People are generally not as committed to their workouts and you may see completely different people every time you go.
3. Ballet – More “sophisticated” and “cultured” an activity
When comparing ballet and karate, it seems that perceived value becomes very evident. It is generally accepted that classes in traditional ballet cost a lot. Ballet teachers work diligently for many years to become the best that they can at their art and go on to study in more depth as they migrate to the teaching role. Although ballet may result in body flexibility, muscularity and motion control, it is probably not a very helpful tool for a self-defense encounter. This factor may make karate the more practical or “valuable” of the two, all else being equal. When compared to aerobics, including “cardio-kickboxing” and similar misnomers, both ballet and (authentic) martial arts really stand out as sophisticated, both taking many years to do well and years more to teach well. But for some reason, ballet is often perceived as having a higher value for classes than karate.
What is the value of karate classes in actual monetary terms? It obviously depends on what the individual student thinks they are worth. For some students, $10/hour may seem like a bargain. For others, that may seem a bit expensive.
In very general terms, I would say that the value of a 60- to 90-minute group karate class, at least in California’s Silicon Valley (relatively expensive for almost everything), may be something like this (note: 2002 rates):
• Good workout, with no real instruction: $5-10
• A few pointers, but nothing special; instructor as “coach”: $10-15
• Something(s) pointed out that will make a difference in the long-term; a real teacher: $15-25
• Very eye-opening experience, including many points or at least one very major one: $25-50
The event should be pleasant, educational and fulfilling. For example, if attending a one-hour class that consists of a hard workout, but no instruction, where one is injured partially due to lack of supervision/instruction, $5 might be more than enough.
Of course we must also take into consideration that a special seminar may occur with an instructor who does not visit the area frequently. For this, one may pay an extra $5-10, knowing that this opportunity may never to come again, even though it may not be much better than a regular class. The host(s) of such an event often have to pay considerable fees to hire the guest instructor, often involving travel expenses, accommodations, hourly fees and perhaps rental charges for the facilities used. As a regular member of a dojo, attending many classes, you should be expected to get a discount over the hourly fees suggested above, by paying monthly/quarterly dues, etc.
The value of the class is probably at least somewhat determined by the size of the class. If there are hundreds of participants, comments by the instructor(s) to students are probably only of the most general type. If there are only a handful of people training, the instructor can probably give much more specific comments and tailor the training more to suit the individual. For private lessons, therefore, the value of the class could easily be 5 times the value of a group class, if the instructor is very good. A one-hour class that costs in excess of $200 may be worth every penny and more, if the instructor does a fantastic job. What is learned in this one hour may be enough to keep you thinking and training for months of regular classes without any additional comments needed.
In the modern age of the internet, microwaves and other things that have made our lives, generally, so much easier than those of previous generations, many people seem to have become lazy. Some people cannot imagine traveling for more than 20 minutes to a martial arts class, considering that there are 3 or 4 places within that amount of travel time from which they can choose. They often do not realize that their time would be better spent traveling the extra 20-30 minutes to a better dojo, perhaps in another city entirely. Some people do realize the value of traveling for their training. I have numerous students, for example, who spend almost an hour each way to train at my dojo. For special events, such as the Instructors’ Classes, black belts come from as far as 2 ½ hours away to better themselves. I used to travel 90-minutes each way to train in New York City every Friday night with Mori Sensei, happy to pay the added costs of visitor fees. I did this for a couple years because I felt it was worth it. Although I do not expect everyone to jump on a plane and go to Japan as I have done so many times for my training, it seems to me as though many people could benefit by going the literal “extra mile” for their training.
I always aim to make students feel that they are getting a bargain in my classes. I charge a little more than a few other dojo in the area. But a lot less than many others. My private lessons cost more than just about anywhere else in northern California. But I think they are worth it. When I have potential new students or those visiting from other areas who are hesitant about paying a guest fee, I tell them to just pay me after class whatever they think it was worth. I try to be fair. One instructor from another area, upon hearing me tell him to “just pay me whatever you think is fair” for teaching a seminar, replied: “I don’t think we can pay that much!”
Ultimately, while some martial arts’ classes overpriced, most are generally undervalued. If you are looking for a (new) dojo and have any doubts about the prospective instructor, or classes in general, I would always suggest checking out many dojo in the area. Talk with both the instructor(s) and students to get a better idea if it is what you want to do, how you want to do it and what it might be worth for you.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published May 2002)