Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kendo and Money

Kendo and Money

Money plays a role in every aspect of life.
No matter what your pursuits are in life, you will need to consider your livelihood and finances.

Generally, kendo tends to be free of commercialization. This is a wonderful aspect of kendo.

Of course there are expenses if you are going to pursue kendo.

The equipment in kendo is a considerable outlay that you can expect when you begin.
  • Shinai
When managing a club you should have some extra shinai, not only as spares but also to lend to new people who want to try out kendo. Organizing everyone and placing bull orders can help with the base cost of shinai. Pooling enough spare parts that you can assemble decently matched shinai is also something you can do when you assemble enough people.
  • Dogi & Bogu
Beginners should be around for a a while.
When I was managing my university kendo club, we oftentimes  had newcomers passing through, the turnover was quite high and the majority of people who contacted me only came to one practice (if they ever actually showed up after email inquiries).

I had people who were members of the club for years, who were using borrowed dogi and bogu the whole time. In some cases it became difficult to remind them that it was not their personal property.
If you are willing to lend someone your extra equipment, or your club has storage space with club property you should formalize the lending of equipment. I would like to see borrowers sign a rental agreement form in which expectations (such as maintenance) are laid out and the borrower provides contact information themselves as well as a guarantor so you can get back in touch if the person disappears with the property.

High schools in Japan follow a national curriculum guideline set out by MEXT (the Minisrty of Education, [Culture, Sports, Science] and Technology) which mandates that one of the approved martial arts is offered as a class or club. Do to the cost of supplying kendo equipment to a number of students, schools with limited budgets tend to prefer judo which requires less expensive equipment.

Spring cleaning for the storage room of a Japanese high school's kendo club.
Money and Motivation

No matter how much you try to save money there comes
A point where you will find yourself asking members of your club or dojo to spend money.
People usually tend to be more willing to spend money if they are confronted with the expenses while the are still adventuring into new territory. If they become too accustomed to an environment where everything is provided for free they will be more averse to spending anything later. In that situation a beginner will be more likely to take practice for granted; practice does not cost them anything so it is easier to put it off while prioritizing relaxation time.
I have seen a number of people who were eagerly asking where they can buy bogu on the first day but then find themselves "busy with studying and...stuff" a few weeks later.
It is this high drop out rate that makes kindhearted people feel reluctant to push commitment and investment upon newcomers.
Maybe instilling a sense of value would foster a more serious sense of purpose among beginners.

Managing a university club
Managing a university kendo club there were university regulations on club spend, (elusive) forms of university support and constraints upon club members.
My university was huge (over 30,000 students), but maintaining the minimum number of members (3 or 4) was a challenge. Even small clubs were eligible for certain forms of support from the university but various factors made them difficult to take advantage of. Here is a list of some forms of support I found and the challenges associated with them.

  1. Facilities: A kendo club can reserve sports facilities. However you may find that scheduling can be competitive, especially if you want to use large multi-purpose spaces (like basketball courts). My university required "martial arts" groups to have a "first-aid officer" who was certified in first aid and CPR; usually individuals had to pay for their own certification course (in a place such as the Red Cross or YMCA) but one year the school provided a mass certification for free to a maximum of two people from each club.
  2. Finances: The university had an internal accounting system. Clubs had a account into which funds could be deposited. The advantage of using this account being that there was the possibility that the student government would refer to the account for possible reimbursements of expenses. However, it becomes very difficult to conduct transactions through this account and use of the account to pay outside vendors is greatly delayed and scrutinized by the university hierarchy.
  3. Use of university logos: large universities in America are well known for merchandise licensing so they are protective of logos and commercial opportunities. As there is a design review process, licensing agreements and lists of approved merchandise vendors to consider. All this made it impractical to have a few " 'x' University Kendo Club" jackets or tenugui made.
  4. Transportation: There was a system in which transportation costs could be reimbursed through the club but the vehicles used had to be approved (with proof of insurance and such), then the odometer had to be checked...
  5. Equipment: You would need a large amount of storage space to keep any equipment that the university is supplying. Then someone would have to be responsible for maintaining that equipment so that it is in a safe condition. The consumable nature and the short life span of a shinai was also something that was hard to explain to detached university bureaucrats; "you are buying 'shinai' again?! Didn't you buy those last time?"
  6. Non-student participation: Modern university sports facilities are becoming more focused on security and restricting access, so it often difficult for visitors to access the practice spaces, this often means filing paperwork and asking for money from visitors.
Overall, the financial aspects of the club were not worthwhile within the university system for such a small club.
However, university clubs could benefit from internal money management; students pay a small monthly fee into a club fund (to keep them motivated while giving value to the activity). The club fund could then be used during events to pay for travel expenses to taikai, or for food/entertainment expenses at some sort of year-end party. I often saw that poor university students were reluctant to volunteer in any event that represented a sudden and avoidable. Perhaps spreading out smaller incremental dues payments would help to raise funds for the more expensive group events.

"Find what you love and make money doing it"

This is the standard statement of blanket,  "go get 'em" optimism. Most people, however, need some more measured and nuanced vocational guidance rather than a dismissive, perfunctory platitude.
The are many professional martial arts instructors who run private businesses. But that is not the case with kendo. The few people who make money in kendo are usually just a few of the highest level individuals who host seminars and much of those seminar fees are consumed in travel costs.
In Japan the sensei who teach kendo in police departments and schools often have other duties besides kendo. High school teachers often teach other classes in school and few police instructors are purely focused on kendo instruction.
It also takes a long time to achieve the qualifications held by these very high level pros; they all had to pursue other livelihoods while developing their hobby abilities.

Recently there was a small controversy on the Workd Kendo Network Facebook group; the AirBnB website allows people to make money by hosting tourists on various tours and activities. A man in Tokyo was offering visitors a chance to try kendo. The marketing language was aimed at people who were not familiar (and probably not too serious) about kendo. However, the host offered some real knowledge of kendo, a pleasant experience, guidance with his admirable multi-lingual abilities, prepared lectures and providing accommodations such as venue arrangements, equipment.
A lot of people commenting online seemed upset at the thought of someone commercializing kendo.
The people who use the AirBnB to provide services are usually giving street tours of public places and earning fees from their labor and guidance, so it was interesting to see the controversy over a touristy kendo experience.
In February there was a program in Matsue (Shimane prefecture) which gives tourist a one hour kendo experience to boost the tourist activities in the city and get the community involved, building friendly relations with police and internationalizing the town. The class in Matsue was being taught by volunteer policemen.

Hopefully, in the future, the service industries and kendo can coexist, with the serious pursuit of kendo being an art that is maintained through the practitioners' generosity of spirit.


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