Adding a Sword Art to Your Existing School

I decided that I should add a page for this particular subject, as many people that contact me are also martial-artists with existing schools.

The allure of the Japanese sword attracts and magnetizes all sorts of practitioners of martial arts. I have been contacted by owners and students of: Aikido, Judo, Karate, Kenpo, Tae-kwon-do, Brazilian Jujitsu, Ninjutsu, and many things I have never heard of. Most of them are interested in adding a Sword Art to their curriculum. While such is honorable, there is much to take into consideration.

Q: Will I make money on Japanese Sword Arts?

A: Probably…. not. You will spend a lot of money though! I have been running a sword group for 8-9 years. I have never made money on it. Group sizes here are small. Maybe you can find some way to make it work. Sure, you can conscript a bunch of kids/adults into it and commercialize it (most people’s idea). If that’s what you want to try, go for it. It will be a hard, hard row. (Maybe you should just take up actual rowing instead?) Friends of mine that have to be what I consider “successful” commercial dojos in the traditional arts are barely making rent. Money was never the motivator for me.

Do consider though, that a sword art will attract more students to your school overall. Maybe not many, but you will have something else to offer. I do not mean to discourage people from taking on a sword art. I think you should! However, if money is your main motivator, perhaps you are better off with something else.

Q: Will you teach me an entire Ryu’s curriculum, sacrificing countless hours of your free-time for virtually no pay at all, over the course of some multiple years that it will take me to even conceptualize, assimilate, and achieve a base level of competency in the art, so I can open my own school or add it to my existing one?

A: In years past, I would have said, sure, but no longer. It is not what I am interested in doing now. There are however, many groups around the U.S. willing to take you on. You should research deeply to see which are legitimate and active. A menjo-paper with Japanese writing and vague references to an “old-master” are not necessarily vestiges of a legitimate lineage. Do not proceed na├»vely. The martial arts world has many charlatans. Fortunately there are legitimate & sincere people as well.

Q: What schools would you suggest, if not your own?

A: My advice, personally, is to choose an art that is active and easy to assimilate into existing schools. The first that comes to mind is Toyama Ryu. They have many active groups around the country, in Florida, California, New York, and others. Look them up. If Mugai was more active at the moment, I would of course suggest it – but one would find it extremely difficult to integrate at this time for various reasons.

Q: Can I pay you to come teach Japanese Swordsmanship classes at my school?

A: I respectfully decline. Besides, shouldn’t you meet me or get to know me first? I have been asked this question a number of times. It is likely that you would want to pay me to teach because your school will make money from it.

When someone that runs a school immediately make this offer without checking my background first, it tells me that a lot people either don’t care about credentials or history or don’t know what to look for. If I can do something that “looks like swordsmanship” it is mostly good enough…

I find this area of the country (Kentucky) a difficult place to promote these arts. You will find larger and more successful dojos in coastal or major cities.

I also have legitimate concerns that certain types of commercial dojos will seek merely to “imitate” my movements and learn my teaching style, adopt it to their own, and create their own “Ryu” so to speak.

Q: Why are you reluctant to come teach at another school, or help another school get started with your art? You are supposed to be helping your art spread, right?

A: Sure. It’s not that I haven’t tried this before. It’s just extremely hard to do for a variety of reasons. It’s difficult even if your motivations are pure…

Unfortunately I find many to have impure motivations. I have seen too many people acquire some base-level of competency, cut ties, and claim independence and legitimacy. People like this know just enough to be dangerous. They do not care about honor, their teachers, or lineage.

I am careful about who I teach. Mainly I do not want someone co-opting the art to go start their own illegitimate bullshit where they would have found someway to profit commercially while teaching degenerated techniques and only part of the curriculum. Americans seem motivated mostly by money, and not honor, unfortunately – it is our culture.

But there are a few out there that still cherish honor.

Q: Maybe you suck at business? Why don’t you want to make money?

A: I have considered the possibility that I suck at business. I did own a business in the past, and sold it. It is a difficult endeavor in any case. Again, money was never my motivator for starting a Sword Dojo. Believe it or not, I did it because I loved it. Perhaps you should consider such a notion as well. If you do not do it because you love it, and are just doing it for money, do something else. There are easier ways to make money, I promise.