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Volunteers never work for free
               Joseph Bablonka


One of the biggest, boldest and most blatant swindles when it comes to commercial martial arts schools is volunteers.

Remember we said that non-commercial schools are often run by a group of martial artists who are teaching for the love of the art? The distinguishing characteristic of these schools is that nobody makes their house payments from teaching. Proceeds from teaching are usually reinvested into the school or split among instructors. There is a real sense of community, friendship and shared interest in the martial arts.

The more successful commercial schools take this exact same sense of commitment and generosity and put it to work for the owner. In fact, they put it right into the owner's pocketbook.

One of the most common forms is using volunteers to teach. A spin has developed over the last few years insisting that students cannot fully understand the martial arts until they teach them. If you hear this enough times -- especially from the day you walk into the school -- you easily will be roped into this kind of free labor. Some schools even go so far as to make your teaching for them a belt requirement.

This is free labor.

Actually, it's worse than that. Because in most volunteer situations, you are not only teaching, but are still paying student fees. That means you are paying a money-making business to teach for them. No pay, no insurance, no workers comp, no overtime and no retirement. You not only provide your time and labor, but do so in order for more people to pay more fees to the school owner. If you teach a class of 30 people, and you are providing 31 fees.

There are countless other ways that commercial schools use volunteers for profit. Any professional will be approached for free services -- computer programmers, electricians, accountants, etc.. Nonprofessionals will be enlisted to do scut work. Even so-called barter deals take on a different perspective in this light. Someone who swaps student fees for their child in exchange for cleaning services really isn't getting a fair trade. That class is going to go on regardless if there are 30 or 31 students. The school, however, will not get cleaned without paying a cleaning service. What this convenient trade is doing is saving the school's owner hard cash outlay for no extra time, effort or investment. Remember, he's probably got a volunteer teaching the class.

Be extra careful about fundraisers and drives for school events, such at tournament teams -- especially if they involve travel.

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