Martial Development

Martial arts for personal development

Should You Sign a Karate Contract?

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20 Comments

Karate class

So you visited the local Karate dojo. You enjoyed the free introductory class, and you’re ready to enroll. One minor detail stands between you and black belt prowess: The Contract.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Contract is an irrevocable commitment to a full year of Karate instruction. Should you decide to quit training for any reason—injury, lack of interest, work and family obligations, et cetera—you will nevertheless be obligated to continue paying tuition until The Contract has expired. If you fail to honor this commitment, your delinquent account will be sent to a collection agency.

The Contract allows your dojo to relocate itself ten miles away from its original location, replace its best instructors with bad ones, or shift class dates and times such that you cannot attend. Even if all these should come to pass, you will be required to submit your monthly payments until the term of The Contract is completed.

This describes a worst-case, yet surprisingly common scenario.

Some people, such as Shotokan expert Rob Redmond, advise against signing any Karate contracts whatsoever. Yes, these contracts serve to indemnify the school against its own mismanagement, at the student’s expense. Nevertheless, before rejecting it outright, I suggest you consider whether you have accepted this type of arrangement before, why you were willing to do so then, and why you hesitate now.

There aren’t many colleges or universities that accept tuition payments on a month-to-month basis. What do you think?

Categories: Karate · Philosophy · Teaching

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 wujimon // Apr 25, 2007

    Personally, I avoid contracts and recommend the same for others. If the material and services offered are really good, then I don’t see a reasons for instructors to tie students into something they may change their mind about in the future.

  • 2 Wayne // Apr 25, 2007

    I don’t see anything wrong with signing a contract once you’ve evaluated a school and determined that you want to study there.

    A contract helps the school have more stable financials, allowing it to stay open. The contract is often executed through a 3rd party loan so the school receives the money up front and the student pays off the loan over the course of the year.

    Without that commitment, a school would never know how many students will return the next month or whether they could afford the rent, insurance and electricity needed to run the school.

    It also provides a commitment on the student’s part. Yes, students often change their mind. Especially when they realize that learning a martial art is *WORK*.

    If you only have month to month, lots of people will come in and try it for a month or two and then leave.. when in those first couple months they require the most attention from instructors. Why should instructors invest that attention in students who could decide not to show up for the next class, when they could focus on those who are determined to progress?

    Obviously, I think you should evaluate a school thoroughly before signing a contract. Avoid places that don’t allow you to take a few lessons for FREE. Make sure you are compatible with the instructors and the philosophy of the school. If you are really uncomfortable with the idea of signing a contract, I would take that as a sign that you’re not really comfortable with the school.. Keep looking.

  • 3 seeker6 // Apr 28, 2007

    If the school is good it should have no need of this kind of contract.
    I would recommend potential student avoid them.

  • 4 Andy Fletcher // May 20, 2007

    Definately not! The schools financial viability should rest on the quality of it’s instruction. An individual student should be held accountable for what the instructors are responsible for maintaining. I’ve never heard of schools doing this (here in the UK) and hope I never do.

  • 5 Ian McGregor // Aug 20, 2007

    I’d have to say I’ve never heard of contracts (here in Australia), they may well exist, but if it takes a contract to encourage students to persevere with their martial arts training, I would have to question their ongoing commitment to the Martial arts.
    and from the school’s side, I’ve been involved with my school for nearly 20 years and we have had our ups and downs with membership and training numbers, but we have never been at a point where we required a contract to help with financial stability.
    On the otherside we do have an annual membership fee (very cheap as it is only to pay our insurance costs and up keep of the dojo) but if students want to continue to try us out for any length of time they can just pay the ‘casual’ fee for each training

  • 6 hermione hairpie // Sep 18, 2007

    Contracts are for fools!

  • 7 Chris // Sep 19, 2007

    Hermione, can I print your comment and give it to my mortgage broker?

  • 8 Rick // Oct 4, 2007

    Unfortunately, that’s all I found around Boston. You can’t get into a school without signing a contract. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one that does 3 monhs, but most of them are 12 to 18 months.

    I understand why they are needed from a school’s perspective, but they suck from a consumer point pf view. They favor the schools and benefit the school only.

    The idea that it is motivation for the student is a load of crap. It’s an excuse for the school to not keep the quality of the instruction or the school up to par.

    Want to know how good a school really is? Find out how long the students have bene there. If there ae only a couple who have contacts for more than a couple years, that says a lot about the school.

    Bottom line.. contracts suck for students.

  • 9 Devils Advocate // May 7, 2008

    I own a self defence school in Fresno California and the only time we require contracts is on long term payment agreements. We dont have enrollments fees we dont have hidden charges. We have a monthly rate and that is it. However we are also private instruction only.

    I defend contracts for 1 reason – reduced payment plans. We offer drasticly reduced monthly rates to students who sign a contract to continue training for 12 weeks, AND it offers opt out clauses for death, injury, relocation, change of life. It isnt air tight at all. It is just a monthly payment plan basically.

    However our monthly rates are very reasonable as it is and we offer 4 free lessons (private) to test out the system. We wouldnt dream of a contract applied there.

    We also only cater to adult self defence. Kicks are never above the waist. Typically they are knee shots to immobilize an attacker.

    A McDojo forcing a contract on first meeting is absurd. Even on second or third. Only when someone is well aware of what they want should it even be an option.

  • 10 Lee, Sung-Bak // Feb 1, 2009

    As a school owner for 26 years, I offer 2 membership options. One is a strictly month to month membership where the student can stop anytime they wish ($150 a month 3X a week), and the second is a 12 month term membership ($1400 a year) which is non-cancellable except for injury, job loss, military deployment or moving more than 10 miles away. Quality alone does not keep a member active. Quite a few seems to stop whenever they have a lazy week. A contract helps keep them active during those down times.

    Also as a professional school, I made a commitment to pay my rent and utilities as well as my families mortgage and kids healthcare insurance. I demand a level of commitment from my members so I may have a strong business for years to come.

    A contract could be a sign of a strong business and strong commitment to the members. I would actually say beware of some schools that do not use contracts since they may not be around long, and they have very poor business sense. Most of them are part time hobbies and not full time professions.

    Side note. If a member talks to me about their membership and really wants out due to a good reason, I will always let them out of their contract. I do this on a case by case basis.

  • 11 S.Smith // Feb 2, 2009

    My no-contract school suffers occasionally, not by lack of quality. It’s time I consider contracts as a second, motivating option.

    Damn, I’ve resisted it for a long time too, but the overall gravity of consumerism demands it. Cell phone bills, for example, get priority over me! My work is much more useful for lifelong development.

    Next month I’ll offer contracts; this month I derail casual, no-binding agreements.

  • 12 Chris // Feb 3, 2009

    If you can find a way to teach martial arts via text message, you’ll make a killing! ;)

  • 13 Drake Shihan // Dec 6, 2010

    I have been teaching for over 20 years, charge at least half of what contract school charge. I only have students sign a agreement that has a hold harmless, we could use pictures video’s ect. , not responsable if you loose something, and the price of the lessons on a month to month basis. We have no long term agreements. For some reasons unknow to me we have better retention then any schools in the area. We have been in our current location for three years and never missed a rent payment yet. In the years I’v been teaching I have seen a lot of schools pop up make a big noise then go out of business. I don’t know why. I don’t make it my business knowing what their problems are. I do like it that we glean students out of every one of them.

  • 14 mylittleboytucker // Dec 7, 2010

    I wish I NEVER signed my contact! My son is 7 years old and just started karate a few months ago. They have several instructors. I like all of them except for one boy. I am not sure if he is related to any of the other instuctors. I have complained one previous time about this particular instructor constantly hitting my son on the head with his hands all throughout the practice session. The Head Instructor said the other instructors use to hit them with the pads too much so he took them away and now they must be doing it with their hands. He was nice about it and I THOUGHT this would be a one time thing. He is more like a bully to my son rather than an instructor. Today, the “Head instructor” was not there and again my son got this boy. This time they were doing practicing their blocks. So, during the ENTIRE practice session this boy repeatedly hit my son with the foam pads. He held a pad in both hands and just hit my son and the other little boy over and over and over throughout the whole session. I can’t describe it. He would go real fast saying High, Middle, Low block really fast. Much too fast for a yellow belt! I understand the proper use of these pads but this CAN NOT be it! My 7 year old son just clammed up after practice and wouldn’t talk. I saw tears in his eyes and he tried to hide them. He said he doesn’t know why they had to practice blocks the whole time. I must say my son didn’t get hit as much as the other little boy. CONTRACT….NEVER AGAIN!

  • 15 MrBLT // Dec 8, 2010

    The closest to a contract I’ve ever had to sign was a waiver for injuries…and that’s it. I’ve never heard of these obligations before.

  • 16 josh young // Dec 9, 2010

    Contracts are unethical. One should not teach those who require a contractual obligation to study, attend and perform. To require such a thing shows poor character both for teacher and student. It also serves as a strong indication that an instructor or school does not have any devotion to the martial art, but rather has a devotion to commercial exploitation of the martial art. One cannot serve two masters, true devotion is priceless.

  • 17 Jolly Roger // Jan 11, 2011

    A contract is a TWO WAY STREET and school owners need to realize this. I can understand the need for financial stability, but if an owner/instructor is doing his job this shouldn’t be an issue.
    3 years ago my child started karate. There was no contract. Then the owner/instructor started bringing in his friends to teach. He showed up less and less. Even the competition team didn’t get any attention from him. Belt testings were cancelled and never rescheduled ect..
    He then announced that starting January 2011 he would be going on contracts. Our monthly fee would be based on the contract/committment we chose. This is a 50-100% increase in fees. As a prudent person, I requested a copy of the contract and told the owner to discontinue debiting my checking account until I chose which plan. ( this was in December and I had already paid for that month ). I never got the contract. I called numerous times and played phone tag. In the meantime, my child did not go to class because we had not paid. When I finally spoke with owner and explained my concerns, and asked what the contact required of HIM, he got irate. He said that he would not sign anything that required him to be “anyplace on any given day or time”. He kept referring to his “staff”, HOWEVER his website lists all of his great accomplishments as the instructor.
    To make matters worse. This man sent out an email Dec 5th saying if we wanted to purchase our kid’s competition uniforms as christmas gifts see him and the cost would be $120. I ordered my child’s uniform on Dec 6–paid in full. A few days before Christmas he told me it “hadn’t arrived yet”. I told him it was ok that it would be a birthday gift 2 weeks later. When it still didn’t arrive I started calling (part of the above mentioned phone tag) and left a message that I wanted the name and number of the company where it was ordered.
    Jan 10, 2011 when I spoke with this irate boy, he told me he CANCELLED my order on Dec 30th after I had asked to see the contact and told him to quit debiting my account. He may have cancelled the order ( in reality he never ordered it), but he had never bothered to refund my card.
    That is FRAUD and I would NEVER sign a contract with anyone who cannot commit to the students and parents.
    A REPUTABLE person will not demand a contract like this. We took our child and RAN from this dojo. there are alot more programs in town that are professionally owned and operated.

  • 18 Kevin James // Oct 18, 2011

    Contracts are great and a must have business tool.

    Not only do contracts help a school owner measure and track revenue more accurately, but if used properly, prospective student will understand what they’re REALLY making a commitment to.

    They’re not making a commitment to a casual gym workout, but rather to a lifestyle and life-changing goals. They’re committing to the spiritual and moral path of bushido. Not a bootcamp workout, a Pilates course or some other commercial fad.

    Institutions of Higher Learning and professionals in every trade use contracts!
    As a certified black belt offering expert training and rank certification…why should you perceive your contributions to society or the customer as anything of less value?

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