Iaido Journal Jan 2005
The Costs of Training with the Best
copyright © 2005 Peter Boylan, all rights reserved
Just for reference, I spent the last two days at a professional seminar
with a leading Ph.D. in his field. This is a man whose
qualifications in his field are the equal of any in budo. The
cost of the seminar was $1,000 per person.
Is he overpaid? I doubt it.
Are my teachers in judo, iaido and jodo underpaid? Hell
yes. Kiyama Sensei, who’s been training in budo for over 75
years, won't even let me buy myself a cup of coffee when I'm with him,
much less get something for him. My jodo teacher is a little
easier to take care of, but I suspect he would be amazed if we paid
$1,000 per person for a two-day seminar with him.
I used to be one of those who thought it was wrong to take money for
teaching budo. A great friend of mine in Japan disabused me of
this folly. As he pointed out, many of the classical ryuha were
kept alive for centuries by professional teachers. The current
head of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu is the first leader of the ryuha not to be a
professional budo teacher. The first in the 400-year history of
the art. And most of the other ryuha that survived the Tokugawa
era were taught by professional teachers throughout that time.
These were the arts of the ruling class, and their teachers were
respected professionals. They weren't getting rich, but they were well
paid and had the respect of the community.
Most daimyo supported at least one, and often more, dojos where they
and their retainers trained. This is in addition to the dojos
that were supported purely through the tuition paid by
students. I don’t think anyone ever complained that these
teachers were “selling out” the purity of their arts by taking money
for what they taught. People respected then for what they
had to offer, and would have considered them fools for not charging
appropriately for their time.
There has been something of a change over the last 150 years since
Admiral Perry pried open the nation of Japan with the muzzle of a
cannon. Budo used to be an essential component of the education of many
members of the elite classes in Japan. The last Tokugawa Shogun,
Tokugawa Yoshinobu, spent about half of his education time studying
budo. Budo was considered an essential part of the ruling class’
education. For the samurai class, which had the privilege and
obligation of wearing 2 swords, a basic mastery of the sword was
essential for personal safety. This was as much about
self-defense as it was about needing to know how to handle the 75 cm
razor blades they were carrying around safely so they wouldn’t hurt
themselves or anyone else. In their world, it was just
expected that as members of the professional warrior class, they would,
as a matter of course, have at minimum fundamental skills with the
weapons they had too carry. They may not have had any expectation
of needing those skills for combat during much of the Tokugawa
Shogunate (1600-1868), but they were still expected to know the basic
skills of their class, and they had to learn it somewhere.
The Tokugawa Shogunate has been over for almost 140 years though.
The classical ryu and the modern budo styles aren't valued by the
average Japanese anymore. The classical ryuha are looked down
upon as archaic nonsense that doesn't have any relevance to modern
life. If you're lucky, people in Japan will find your practice
quaint, but puzzling. If you're not they'll think it's brutal and
wonder why you don't find a more useful, civilized hobby.
The modern arts are looked upon as good sports that develop character,
but even these aren't terribly popular. Popular sports in Japan
are baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball and badminton. Judoka
have roughly the same reputation as linebackers in American Football
have: big, dumb, and brutal. Kendo and kendoka are seen as being
more sophisticated, but they still don't have anything like the
popularity of baseball and soccer. Thanks to Kyokushin
tournaments and similar events, karateka are depicted in popular media
as being at least as brutal as judoka, if not more so. I'm afraid
Aikido is pretty much unheard of by the majority of Japanese, but on
the upside, this means it doesn't have much in the way of negative
connotations associated with it.
This change in the status of budo has affected how many teachers in
Japan view their students. Many sword and other weapons arts
became extinct after the overthrow of the Shogunate in 1868 because
they were seen as being worthless curiosities of a dead era.
Jujutsu managed to survive, but it was often viewed as the province of
bullies and worse. Many sword and weapons teachers had to
make their living performing in public matches like
prizefighters. I'm always amazed that Kano Jigoro was able to
make Kodokan Judo respectable in this kind of environment.
Somehow he managed to make his system of jujutsu not only respectable,
but so highly respected that he was able to have it included in the
mandatory education system (and this was before the right wing in Japan
decided that budo training was a good way to inculcate loyalty and a
willingness to die for their cause in the youth of Japan).
But even with the respect that Kodokan Judo earned, it was not so
highly respected that people could make a living at it. It, and
kendo, became something for kids to do, not something that adults
should be doing. And that's where budo sits in Japan today.
It's an activity for kids. Real adults are supposed to grow up
and do adult things. For an adult to do budo is to be more than a
little bit weird. Most kids on the other hand, are far more
interested in their Gameboys and PlayStations than in judo or kendo or
The result is that teachers have had to radically shift the way they
think about their students. In the old days, students often
needed the skills the teachers had to offer, and they were privileged
to be accepted into a dojo. Top teachers would be sought after
for their skills and experience. Even mediocre teachers
could make a living teaching. That's no longer the
situation. Ryuha are still dying. When I approached Takada
Sensei to ask him if I could study iaido, I thought I would have to get
letters of introduction from people before he would consider accepting
me. What I didn't know is that so few people are interested in
the classical arts that I should have been worried about was him
chaining me to the wall to prevent a potential student from
escaping. Now teachers are often thrilled to have students.
Niten Ichi Ryu for example, has a whole 19 students on its rolls these
days. Many teachers actually feel privileged to have students who
are truly interested in learning what they have to offer, and they are
eager to share their knowledge and pass on their arts.
In "Angry White Pajamas" the Tokyo Riot Police who were doing the
intensive Aikido training thought it was nuts and had no interest in
continuing practice once their year of required practice was
completed. This attitude is common throughout Japanese
society. There are very few teachers who are able make their
living teaching budo in Japan anymore. Those who do are usually
attached to a competitive team at a college or police
department. The police are still required to train on a
regular basis, and there are police teams that compete in national judo
and kendo tournaments. Their coaches are often full time
instructors. The same is true at large colleges and universities
where judo and kendo teams may have strong alumni support and bring the
school national recognition. Outside of these few jobs,
full-time, professional budo teachers are unheard of.
Teachers of budo, even in Japan, no longer expect to get lots of money
anymore for teaching. The most incredible example I can think of
is Niten Ichi Ryu. Kim Taylor had been learning Niten Ichi Ryu
from his iaido teacher, Haruna Matsuo for years, but he wasn't a real
member of the ryu. However, after Haruna Sensei's death, Imai
soke seems to have felt that Kim's little group in Canada was important
enough that he approached Kim and announced that he would come to
Canada to continue Kim's education in Niten Ichi Ryu! Can you
even imagine this? Now Kim plans a seminar and charges people
$290 Canadian for 4 days with the head of the art every year.
This turns the old stereotype of the student waiting at the gate for
weeks before he is accepted by the teacher on its head. Now the
teacher is approaching a student he’s never met and asking to come
teach. The place of budo has changed so completely I doubt if any
of the teachers in 1868 could have conceived it.
$290 Canadian isn’t exactly the $1000 US that I paid for a 2-day
seminar with a top scholar in combustion engine engineering. I
should point out that Imai Sensei brought along a number of his top
students, so you got a lot more than just one expert, but many for that
cost. And they flew in from Japan, not Texas. The fact that
there aren't a lot of people really interested in what we do means that
there isn't a huge market for teachers to tap. That doesn't mean
we shouldn't pay them though.
Kiyama Sensei won't accept money from me. What he will accept is
my gratitude, my training, and my continuing the river of training into
another generation. In fact, he expects that last one from me
above all the others, and so do all of my teachers. They are
clearly disappointed when I tell them that I haven't established my own
dojo yet. But they are pleased that I am teaching people.
And this is what differentiates budo training and seminars from the
professional seminar that I attended. Budo training is not a
hobby or an occupation. It is an art, a way of living, and a
precious gift from the generations before us who have worked hard to
create it, and shape it, and make sure its treasures are passed on from
generation to generation. After you have advanced beyond a
certain level within an art, that responsibility descends upon your
shoulders. In the eyes of my teachers, I've clearly reached that
level. And when I consider all that I have gained from my
training and practice, the idea of not giving back to the art and
shirking that responsibility is unthinkable. What is awe
inspiring to me, is that the responsibility is really not to my
teachers, but to the art. Budo has given me so much that I cannot
express, and it is my responsibility to make sure that the arts I
practice, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, Shinto Muso Ryu, and Kodokan Judo,
will be available in the future for people. If I fail in my
responsibility, I let down my teachers and all the teachers before
them, but worse, I let down all those who could have benefited from the
living arts that I practice.
I've seen this kind of feeling for their arts in many budo teachers.
Just because teachers feel that repaying their debt is so important
that they will make sacrifices and find getting little or no money
acceptable (and many Americans seem to feel that if you enjoy doing
something then you've been paid in pleasure and they don't have to pay
in coin) doesn't mean we shouldn't pay them what we can. I think
it means that when someone complains about the cost of a class or a
seminar, we have a responsibility to try to teach them to recognize the
real value of what they have the opportunity to learn. And then
we pay the fee with a smile, and say "Thank you Sensei" when the
seminar is over with a true feeling of gratitude in our hearts.
The value society places on budo may have changed over the centuries,
but the value of budo has not.
Peter "the Budo Bum" Boylan