New DVD on Basic Kung Fu Techniques
You've Come a Long Way, Kwai Chang

The Journey of the Teacher/Student

My wife Nancy and I bought a building for our school in October, 2005. For decades, I had dreamed of having my own school. My class schedules were being disrupted by the people I rented space from, and when we found an inexpensive building in downtown Bettendorf, we jumped at the chance to buy it. I never really expected to open a school while working full-time, and I braced for the additional drain on my time and energy.

The past year and 4 months has been an enlightening experience in many ways. Running a martial arts school takes a lot more time than I'm able to give it when putting in 55 hours a week for my primary full-time job (including commuting time). The drain on energy has been tremendous, not to mention the financial drain. Most months, Nancy and I have contributed hundreds of dollars out of the paychecks from our full-time jobs in order to pay the school's expenses. We haven't really minded, because this is a true labor of love. I've lost thousands of dollars every year I've taught except one. But there are other realities to consider.

To make a school grow, and to make it profitable, I would need to have children's classes. I would need more "soft" tai chi classes for seniors. I love seniors (AARP says I am one) but I don't love soft tai chi.

In order for a school to succeed, I would also need more time to give demonstrations, make appearances, and a larger training room to fit more students into the classes.

Owning a school has been educational, and it's helped me sort out what's really important to me.

What's important to me as a martial artist is not necessarily doing the things you need to do to have a "school."

And so Nancy and I are selling our building, and my teaching will evolve into the next phase. We've signed an agreement with a buyer and we'll probably close by March 15th.

I'm truly excited by the evolution. In China, most teachers don't have school buildings. They train in yards, alleys, parks--anywhere they can find the space. They teach serious students only--those who will practice and devote themselves to the arts. The teachers are known for their skill and the students they produce.

And that's the teacher I want to be. I will never stop teaching, and I'll never stop studying. But I'm redefining what it means to me to be a teacher.

The students who are enrolled in the school right now will be able to continue. I doubt that I'll rent space again. I'll teach small numbers of students, and the tai chi lessons will grow more intense and martial. I'll charge by the hour instead of the month, and I'll accept only serious students who practice outside of class. It will be an exclusive group, and whether I make money from the classes is not a concern.

This will allow me to continue my own progress and improve my own skills. My skills have improved through the teaching of classes, but my personal training time has vanished. I'll continue to make DVDs and I'll continue the website, although it will be scaled down a bit.

A school is not a building. A school is the spirit, the quality of the martial arts being practiced, the atmosphere of learning created by the teacher, and the friendship and camaraderie of the students. Starting after March 15, with the spring, lessons may be offered in the park in Bettendorf, at my home, in my backyard, wherever we want and wherever there is space.

Kung Fu Quad Cities will close, but the school will continue.

Comments

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Rich Coulter

Ken,

I read your recent article and it was a very interesting read for me. As you know, I at one time had a dream of teaching and running my own KFQC
branch under you. After sitting back and watching your experience there is
a since of relief that I did not. I mean, it would have been a lot of hard
work, and I probably could have been very successful at it, but at the same
time I see how this has taken the life out of you. It’s been a pattern of conflict within the last 10 years to have struggled how you have with
trying to teach, run a school, dedicate time to your personal life, and
work full time with the commute that you have to and from work. I don’t
see this pattern changing unless you adhere to your thinking directed in
the article.

When I read articles such as this there is a part of me that is disappointed that I can’t be there to help out and live our dream we once had together. I believe a lot has changed since those times. I’m grown up
now as I like to consider. No matter what you choose to do, I’m sure
you’ll be making the right decisions for yourself and for Nancy. I’m glad
that she has been so supportive of you with all of these ambitions.

It’s so easy to lose the meaning of what a school is and what it isn’t. I
will always consider you and I to have that student/teacher relationship
for the rest of our lives. That’s my school and always will be.

It’s been 2 years in 4 days since I had my first knee surgery. Amazing how
time flies by so quickly.

Jim Criscimagna

Hey Ken,

I am very sorry to hear that you are closing your school. That is a bummer.

I hope that you are happy in your practice of Chen style Taiji. I suspect your students will follow you to the park or where ever you decide to teach.

After 25 years of teaching Taiji in Rockford, I stopped teaching at Rock Valley College a few years ago and haven't taught public classes since. I still work with a few students privately though in my home. What I do have now is more time for my own pracitce and no where to be at night, after a long day teaching school (my career). At my age, (yes, I am a few years older than you) being able to relax at night and not expend energy teaching others is a relief.

Most people just don't realize what a drain teaching can be and how much it takes to operate a public martial arts school.

Take care and best of luck to you and Nancy.

Jim

Ken

Jim,
I always enjoyed the classes you taught in the park during the summer in Rockford. We have two or three parks in Bettendorf, one with a great pavilion. My teaching might be restricted to spring through fall, who knows?

Heck, other lessons I took from you were in your back yard, and they were as good as any I ever took in a school.

Ken

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