At many studios
"extra" hidden fees (they are hidden because they are either
completely undisclosed, or not clearly fully explained, when you first
sign up, yet required as part of your training in order to advance in
knowledge) like belt tests and/or other fees associated with advancement
in levels of learning, class or skill level can double or sometimes even
triple your actual training costs, adding up to hundreds or often
thousands of dollars extra per family member, per year. The higher
you go in training, the more expen$ive your training becomes.
We strongly disagree
with the idea of having to pay more money just so that you can move up in
level of instruction, or having a permanent rate increase per month
because you are learning more advanced material, or require a more
advanced instructor to teach you, or because the advanced classes are
smaller, and especially not being allowed to advance until you pay a fee.
At our schools, you
will NEVER have to pay a fee in order to advance to your next belt
(knowledge) level or skill level (often referred to as “Testing Fees”,
which are an additionally required separate fee from you monthly dues, and
are per family member; and increase or become more expensive the higher
the belt level). Nor is advancement at Tracy's ever based on time or
attendance (at most studios you must attend a minimum number of group
classes per week or you can not advance until a certain number of classes
or time has passed). At Tracy's, your
advancement is never based on money, time or attendance
... instead, your advancement is based solely on the time-honored
tradition of knowledge and skill.
For a detailed explanation of hidden
advancement fees at most other
studios, read on ...
"As recently as a decade ago, belt testing fees were unheard
of in Japan and China ... charging for both lessons and
additionally a belt-testing fee was an idea whose inception came in America."
WARNING: Buyers beware … you are the consumer, and you have rights.
Just say “NO!” to hidden, undisclosed fees like belt testing fees and other
hidden advancement fees.
If you are a new student researching a studio to possibly
enroll in, be sure to request a fully detailed disclosure of their policy on any
hidden required fees, and get very specific on the question, “What is the TOTAL
actual cost, of all required fees for advancement, for all belts and levels of
instruction combined at this studio, in addition to the studio's regular
If you’ve already enrolled at such a studio, you would be
well advised to request an
immediate refund of your testing fees, and of your entire enrollment contract,
because the instructor or studio violated your agreement, and your consumer
rights, if these additionally “required” hidden fees were imposed upon you after
you enrolled, and not before. At the very least, you should demand all
testing or advancement fees should be refunded from the past and waived for all
levels in the future if this was not disclosed to you before enrollment. If they object, you can easily take them to
small claims court for a modest filing fee, not to mention reporting them to
both state and federal income tax agencies for tax evasion. You would
likely be not only
entitled to a full refund of your entire course of instruction, but of all hidden fees
you’ve had to pay, and your court filing costs as well.
Belt test fees were originally created about 50 years ago as a way to
evade income tax and to allow schools and instructors to disguise the true
monthly costs of training. Cash (not checks or credit cards) was always demanded, and
the belt was the student’s only receipt. If a written receipt was demanded, it
never appeared in the school’s books. A tax audit of the school would never
reveal the belt test fee, so the money was never reported. This
"unreported" income gave the studio an unfair competitive advantage in both
hidden income and allowing false advertising of their true rates. Little has changed
in 50 years.
As recently as a decade ago, belt testing fees were unheard
of in Japan and China, and even now they are rare there. The relationship
between the instructor and student was one of respect, trust, honor and
integrity. In the monasteries of ancient China the student dedicated himself to
the work of the monastic order in order to learn. He was for all practical
purposes an indentured servant. So likewise in the secular world, Kung Fu
students became the servants of the Kung-Fu Master, working his fields, cutting
his wood, cleaning his house, and doing his bidding in order to learn from the
Master. From this tradition came the great families, the Gar (Gah). In
13th Century Japan, Kendo instructors received similar honors, except
they were often paid by lords to teach their bodyguards and even their armies.
As other martial arts developed in Japan, it was the wealthy that sought out
instructors and paid what came to be called “gessha,” which is the
equivalent of a monthly tuition. The instructor made an honorable contract with
his student to teach him a particular technique or method. When instruction was
complete, a test, the “nishansen” or “itsuhou” was given. There
was an equally honorable alternative to this in the instructor who taught for
free, and charged a “fuiku,” (meaning a fee for raising up a child) for a
“shuuryou” (completion of the course) test. The student then received
his “shuuryoushousho” (diploma) or more recently menjo (rank
certificate). Thus, the student only paid if they completed the course. In
each case the student knew exactly what they would learn and what their
instruction would cost. There were no hidden costs. Both the instructor and
the student received honor when the student achieved rank. Charging for both
the instruction and the completion tests made one lower than a “Yojimbo,” which
was lower than a prostitute. According to Oriental culture, a prostitute only sold her body—whereas the
instructor who charged for both lessons and the completion tests sold their
integrity and their soul.
Not surprisingly, charging for both lessons and
additionally a belt-testing fee was an idea whose inception came in America. It
came into being in the early 1960’s when the highest tax bracket in the United
States was over 90%. Most Karate schools were charging $8-10 dollars a month at
the time for group instruction, and a $5-10 dollar tax-free belt test fee
allowed the instructor to substantially increase their spendable income. The
belt test fee moved to the school when the Koreans made belt testing an integral
part of their systems. Among the first to adopt the “new tradition” of a
required belt testing fee for advancement were the followers of the Reverend Sun
Yung Moon (Moonies), who were the pioneers of Tae Kwon Do in America. Ed
Parker reluctantly followed the advice of a Korean friend and brought belt
testing fees into his Kenpo system. Tracy’s refused to follow, and chose
instead to follow the time honored tradition of testing for knowledge and
ability, not for money. This became one of the many early sharp divisions
between the Tracy System
of Kenpo and Ed Parker’s American Kenpo.
Several Karate and Tae Kwon Do
instructors have written to justify
charging for belt tests and advancement. Their reasoning ranges from “the
teacher is worthy of their hire”, to “everyone’s time is worth something”, or “I
have to charge more for my time because I'm the most experienced instructor in
the studio”, and “My advanced classes are much smaller so I have to charge
those students more for their classes.” Without exception, they have all failed to recognize the difference between
teaching and testing. They further justify a “cash only” policy
through a spiritual relationship between the student and the one testing, which
is unencumbered by a formal business transaction. They also state the basis of
cutting down on paperwork. They see nothing wrong with charging for lessons,
then additionally charging a testing fee to determine whether they have taught properly or
not. This is virtually unheard of outside of the martial arts. And it only
exists in the martial arts in the first place because those charging belt test
fees are either morally bankrupt, or they are so morally impoverished as to
never have had morals to sell out.
Imagine going to a school, college, or an institution where
you not only have to pay for your tuition, registration fees, uniforms and
equipment, but every time there’s a test, you have to pay extra for it. And you
are not allowed to advance to the next level of knowledge unless you take the required
test. That is precisely what happens in many karate schools today, and the
practice has become so commercialized that it is now possible to “buy” your belt
… based solely on the paying of your fee.
Ed Parker used to say, jokingly, that he would promote
anyone to black belt who would pay him $1,000, but the only way the person could
ever wear the belt was in his bedroom at night with all the lights out.
Tracy’s established the belt
system that has
been imitated and bastardized throughout karate ever since. The traditional
white belt was to be worn by any student. The belt was simply a part of the
uniform, designed for the sole purpose of holding the top together. The first
awarded belt was yellow, then orange, purple, blue, green and then brown belt.
The three degrees of brown belt were distinguished by the number of black
stripes on the tip of the belt. The sole purpose for awarding colored belts was
to distinguish rank, or level of instruction. This made it both easier
and safer for any instructor to teach you in their class if they knew what
material you were working on, and who to pair you off with to work on individual
requirements. Each colored belt in the Tracy
System has a set number of required
techniques and forms, and each belt
represents the knowledge one has attained in a progressive step towards black
belt. This is standard throughout the Tracy System. Where other Kenpo systems
later lacked the number of techniques, they simply lowered their standards.
Other Karate and TKD (Tae Kwon Do) styles use arbitrary standards that are often not standards at
all. Some systems do not even allow a beginning student to wear a white belt.
Instead, they must earn that by paying to take lessons and then paying for a belt
When an instructor charges for lessons and additionally
charges for a
belt test, they are often motivated to promote the student just to keep them,
and to get them ready for the next belt test fee. If the student fails the
test, they are unlikely to continue; so few students fail their tests.
Instructors who teach for free, and only charge for testing for advancement
tests, are, by their nature, unmotivated by money or advancing unworthy
students. Their interest is in producing students who have earned their belt
through arduous study and effort.
Instructors who charge for both lessons and belt test fees
argue that their students pass their tests because the student is not permitted
to take the test until they are ready. But that raises the question, “why would
an instructor charge for a test they know the student is going to pass because
they are ready?”
Why even have tests in the first place if the instructor knows the student has
learned the material required for the belt? Why not simply promote them
when they're ready?
It’s obvious—to get more money from the student! These are
the hidden costs of the system, detectable only by its stench. Most schools
sign students to expensive, long-term contracts (1-3 years!) without disclosing
that belt test fees are mandatory … that the student will NOT be able to advance
to further knowledge beyond a level without first paying to test for that level. These hidden fees can cost the student as much as the entire course he
or she is taking, as there may be as many as 50 tests costing $30 to $50 each,
before brown belt or red belt in a Korean system. Testing fees for degrees of
brown belt can range between $60 to $100 dollars each. And testing for black
belt can be as high as $1,000 dollars or more! This is simply for an instructor
to witness that you are ready to advance!
This policy is even less defendable where the karate system
is a sport and promotes competition. Why should one pay for a belt test, when his
or her advancement is determined by competition? Judo set the honorable
standard for awarding belts through competition, but some Kenpo and Karate
systems, and Tae Kwon Do and most Korean systems in particular, refused the
When avarice overcomes honor, it cheapens the art. We need
only look at the government corruption that is exposed around the world each day
to realize that honor is being sold. Today, one can go to China or Japan and
after paying several thousand dollars, receive a certificate for the highest
rank in a Kung Fu or Karate style.
honorable practice of charging for a hand lettered certificate, produced by a
professional calligrapher, has given way to selling belts and issuing
mass-produced certificates that carry the conviction of the proverbial three
dollar bill. These certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on.
Where in the past instructors and students paid substantial sums to attend
ceremonies that included banquets, and rituals in which expensive regalia was
worn, today, the student pays the same money just to receive their belt
advancement … and an unembroidered, plain ordinary belt only costs a studio
between $5 to $10 dollars at the most.
The reasoning is simple: The instructor, or the
organization, is devoid of meaningful tradition. The student wants to advance.
If they have the knowledge and skills, then they rightfully should be advanced. But rather than
give what for centuries was given freely, they must pay to get their advancement
and their belt—and pay big. And where cash is demanded for the belt test, it is
all illegal, tax-free income for the instructor.
While belt-testing fees are the mothers of Karate and
martial arts rip-offs, they have spawned their own evil child of rip-offs: selling and awarding black belts to
children. Only outside the Orient can you find children
as young as only 3 and 4 years old being awarded black belt ranks, as well as lower belts with
as many as 6 tips (stripes), camouflaged belts, chartreuse belts, pink belts,
and when they run out of colors, they mix the belts one half one color, the
other half another color, to which they give different colored stripes. There
is even the distinction now being made between the shading of a particular belt,
such as a “light blue” and
a “dark blue” belt, each with another
It seems there is one standard for the country where the martial
art originated, and a different standard for the western world. The standard
established in America by P.T. Barnum in 1871, when he stated “There's a sucker born every
More coming soon ...
Information on Martial
Arts Instruction & Training with us in California in:
Vacaville - Fairfield
- Vallejo - Davis