The Scott Shaw Blog Be Positive

If You Have to Ask

There’s the old saying, “If you have to ask how much something is you can’t afford it.” Though this is a snarky little saying, it is one that is used quite a lot as a joke. I know I use it every now and then, “If you have to ask…”
A bit early today, I was running my Facebook feed and I noticed that one guy had just received the price list for black belt rank advancement from the Korea Hapkido Federation and he was wondering why the man who had advanced his rank and got him certified within the organization had charged him so much more than the required price. This set me to thinking…
First of all, I need to preface all of this by stating that I too am certified by the Korea Hapkido Federation. As is well documented, I was the first non-Korean to be certified by the KHF as a 7
th Degree Black Belt.  And, that was back in 1996—a long-long time ago. I am a bit of an outlier in the martial art community, however. As my years of martial art involvement have progressed, I have come to see rank as more of an ego-driven hindrance to the enlightenment that can be found in the martial arts than as a means of a valid depiction about who and what a practitioner truly is. I’ve written a bunch of stuff about all of that, so I am not going to rehash it here.
But, to the point, and what struck me about this man’s question is, there’s nothing new in any of this. And, maybe that’s the problem.
I know when I was coming up, I paid my Korean-born instructors a lot of money when things like the Korea Hapkido Association and the World Taekwondo Federation were formed and Westerners began to be able to get certificates issued in Korea. Though the actual issuing price for the certificate was less than one-hundred dollars, the students were charged a lot more. Also, I cannot tell you about how many early practitioners I knew who were tested, paid the fees to their instructors, and then were never given their promised Korean issued certificates. This happened to me, as well, on more than one occasion.
To digress, many years after this fact, this one Korean-born instructor decided to do me a solid and he got me the Taekwondo certificate I had tested for, earned, and paid for maybe twenty-years the previous. I thought that was a nice gesture, but by then, I had come to see the ridiculousness in the whole process. Did my not having the certificate make me any less of the practitioner? No. But, in the eyes of some people it may have. But what is a certificate? It is just a piece of paper.
This is in part why, over the past twenty years or so, whenever someone has offered me rank advancement, I have declined. The problem is, there is always a price attached and why, if you are believed to have become something, you are known to possess some sort of knowledge and skillset, should a price be leveled against you to receive it? And, if you don’t pay it, you don’t get it. Is that right? Is that the way it should be?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no contempt for anyone. The system is as the system is. People, even martial arts instructors, need to make money. How they do that is to charge for teaching classes and charge for rank testing. That’s just the way it is. That is just the way it has always been, at least in terms of the modern marital arts.
If in the mind of the instructor they feel they have the right to up the price a bit for their trouble of getting someone certified, that’s what they do. Maybe it’s not right, but again, that is just the way it is.

As for the purchaser of a rank certificate, you must ask yourself, if that person did not offer you the rank advancement, how else would you get it? …Unless, of course, you traveled to South Korea and tested there? But, that would probably be a lot more expensive. So???
My belief is that teaching the martial arts should be done for free. Instructors, make your money somewhere else. My belief is, if you practice rank advancement in your system, it should be awarded for free. Did they charge you a fee when you earned your high school diploma? No.
Think about it, if rank in the martial arts did not matter—if an individual could just be as good as they can be without the need for a diploma hanging on their wall, stating who is more and who is less, think how much better the entire system of training would become. People could just be. They could come into a school and learn and never be judged by the color of the belt they wore. Wouldn’t that just make everything better? Then, a person would not have to question the price they paid for the piece of paper they received.