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Cults: How They Make Their Money

On this page:
Volunteer abuse | Scottish Knights | Never ending new information | Mixed and then filtered information |

A number of years ago, the very pragmatic and experienced Peyton Quinn said to Marc, "Animal, you just can't make a living through teaching martial arts alone." Now granted we were talking about investing in the stock market at the time, but there is a lot of truth in that statement.

I will say there are two glaring exceptions to Peyton's comment. The first is a professionally run school. We don't just mean a dojo where the owner is making a living off the school. (We call those commercial schools.) We mean a business that is strictly run along professional, modern business standards -- not traditional martial arts standards. It is a business with paid employees, benefits, a commitment to excellent service and tangible results -- and it charges for them. They are service industries with clearly defined corporate policies.

There is nothing wrong with this. It takes money to stay open., and you make money by providing the goods or services people want. The point with these organizations is that what you pay for is what you get. You'll find is professional staff willing to provide customer service. Often, you will find that most successful endeavors in this field are augmented somehow, usually with a product line, retail sales or a health and fitness club. The sales and distribution of products extend outside the school and are well advertised in the media. These additional sources of income support not only the school, but also Peyton's contention about  making money through teaching martial arts alone.

 The second way to make money in martial arts is with a cult. Cults do not follow accepted business practices --but that doesn't mean they aren't serious revenue generators. In addition, they bring a mix of fanaticism, amateur self-improvement, fantasy self-defense, traditionalism, fake culture idealism and sometimes spirituality/metaphysical into the equation. They pander to the idea of a person changing to become something else; something vague, but superior to what they are now.

This is something you better believe cult leaders have figured out. By creating a cult following of people who want to learn your ultimate fighting system, you can make a living teaching martial arts. In fact, you can make a damn good living doing this. It just so happens to be a massive pyramid scheme. Cults  thrive on volunteer labor, fundraising, and endless stream of  required texts/videos/equipment (for advancement in the system) and  bartering of services instead of payment. When you read the warning signs of cults, you will see one of the recurring themes is making money, lots of it. And with the aforementioned tactics, make money they do.

Now this is not to imply that a successful business is automatically a cult. Far from it. However, a cult tends to have very specific money distribution patterns. In looking at the money flow, you will see an example of one of the defining differences between a cult and a healthy organization: orientation.

A healthy organization turns its focus outward, a cult's focus is inward. Keep this idea in mind as you read because you will see manifestations of it again and again. How does this inward focus manifest with finances in a cult? Simple, where is the money going? In a healthy business, the money distribution is widespread. Everybody who is working and providing services for the company is making money.  

Granted that the CEO of a corporation is making more money than a guy working in the warehouse. But they are both being paid for their time and expertise. A contractor who provides services for a corporation, does so for financial reimbursement. Products and services provided to the corporation are paid for. Furthermore, companies provide a specified product and/or service. Unless otherwise specified, once the money is paid it is a done deal. The customer, after paying his money for the product walks out the door with the product. Money for value is the rule;  consistent from top to bottom and no matter what side of the receipt you are on.

The bottom line about cults is they are making money for the cult leadership, not the members. While there will be a necessary degree of bleed off such as unavoidable operating cost (e.g. electric bills), the main flow of funds will be to the cult leadership. This creates some very distinct financial and labor patterns.

How do they do it? Several ways.

While many martial arts schools make teaching a requirement for belt advancement, cults demand volunteer labor.

Scottish Knights
Scottish Knights: Cults are the ultimate Pyramid Scheme. In fact, take a pyramid scheme and a hamster wheel and mush them together. Now you have the perfect, never-ending hustle. Although they'd prefer the term 'franchise owners' rely on Scottish Knights to fill their coffers.

Never ending new information
Remember we said a cult is combination of a pyramid scheme and a hamster wheel? Here's why we said that. While initially the information that a cult supplies is of good quality (that's the hook), past a certain point the information becomes more and more obscure and unrealistic. But these new and revealed teachings keep you on the hamster wheel. But by this time you're addicted to junk food and don't notice that all nutritional value has been sucked out of the new information.

Mixed and then filtered information
Cults are not static in nature. That is to say that they are constantly adapting to market pressures. Like other martial arts pirates, cults freely loot and pillage other sources for information (you didn't think they made up all this by themselves did you?). Like pirates, any fad in the market, any criticism of the system, any challenge to the dogma is superficially researched and then presented as part of the system. Again like other martial arts pirates this is an attempt to convince you that they offer one-stop shopping (in other words you don't need to go spend your money anywhere else).

However, cults take a very specific and dangerous approach to mixing and filtering information that is different enough from pirates to bear mentioning.

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