How many people do you know that have been dedicated to something for more than three decades? Hell, most marriages don’t even last a year these days. But that is how long I have been involved in martial arts in one shape or form. Clearly my role in martial arts has little to do with getting rich, because if that was the case, I chose the wrong profession. No, and as I have noted elsewhere martial arts is an integral part of my life, for many reasons, but most importantly because the experience on the mat has helped me work through a lot of trauma from my childhood. In other words, money or not, I would do it anyway.

Coaching is a Passion, Not an Occupation

I am passionate about being a coach too. Even if I won the lotto tomorrow morning, I would still teach. While I might be a hard person to read at times, I never see my exchange between myself as coach, and my students (which include my trainers) as a transaction. I actually hate the fact that I even have to charge for my services, but like it or not, like everyone else on this planet, you need money to survive (time to win that lotto right)?

Because I don’t see it as a transaction, and because I feel I am imparting a set of skills, an Art form that I have not only dedicated my life too, but equally worked immensely hard to achieve – I do take it personally when someone treats that Art that I hold so dear simply as a commodity, as something they own as long as they are paying for it — and hence can do what ever they like with it.

In the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu they have a word for people who jump around from one academy to another, and who show no loyalty to their coach: creonte. There have been several key articles written about this term, implying that coaches who feel this way are full of shit. While I acknowledge that there will always be dubious coaches out there that apply this term more out of ego, or wanting to control students out of the fear of being shamed – I also think this is an oversimplification.

Lets put it this way. I often train people who cannot afford to pay. I have trainers on my program who came to me struggling and don’t pay, or don’t pay the full license fee. I am saying this again, and no matter what people think, it’s not about the money to me. But regardless if money is transacted or not, each student I am sure, expects me, as any coach, to fully dedicate myself to them. As any good coach, that is exactly what I do. Fully!

Beyond The Label on the Package

I spend countless hours with students and trainers. I work with them, helping them learn the game, often, and mostly beyond the time I am expected too. Because I have made all the mistakes, I teach them to achieve a level of game in a time frame I could have only wished for when I was learning. Some lessons I teach students for a $100 an hour, took me tens of thousands of Dollars to learn. I spend an equal amount of time off the mat, talking to students, and helping them work through their inner opponent they face on the mat (and in life as well). These are all hard earned lessons learned over decades of being in the trenches of the fight game. If we then want to simply make this ‘experience’ a petty transactional one, then there’s no amount of money anyone could pay me for that kind of dedication and experience.

You see this is the thing, most good coaches I know dedicate themselves to their students. They share a wellspring of knowledge gained on a journey they very well know most will never make. Do you know how many enthusiastic people come in to my studio, with all these stories on what they going to achieve, listening to how dedicated they will be, only to have them quit in no time? I have lost count. Ask any BJJ black belt today how many people they started off with in class as a white belt, and how many of those people are still around today training? Almost none! These coach’s are not robots, but living, breathing, feeling human beings. What most people see as a past time, a hobby, they see as their very existence. It is their Art, their work, their passion. While a student may pay for a lesson, coaches pay back with their souls.

We Are Not Robots

Sadly we have to acknowledge that our roles as coaches seems to somehow have people, students, place us in a different category to everyone else. Students seem to expect that we are somehow stoic warriors, robust, unfeeling, hard. It must be the case, because the way I see coaches who have dedicated their life to martial arts being treated by students appals me. I once asked my Muay Thai teacher, the legendary Apidej Sit Hirun what had changed in his life time, he replied, “Students no longer respecting their teachers.” No good coach wants to be treated like a god, but when you understand their journey, the dedication your coach has undertaken to get to where he or she is today — how can anyone not understand that it hurts them all that much more when a student treats what is imparted as nothing more than a transaction.

As coaches, we work hard to understand each student. The amount of emotional labour, laid upon our shoulders is immense. Every student thinks they are the centre or should be the centre of our universe. They don’t want to see their coach have an off day, or feel under the weather, “your the coach, you need to be there with me 100 percent all of the time!” And good coaches are. We work hard to accommodate everyone, even the most difficult of students. Not because we want a pay check, but because we care, we give a shit. And because we care, and because naively believe it is a relationship for us, it hurts even that much more, when a student we have dedicated part of our life too, our soul, turns on us out of selfish personal gain.

So while some people easily ridicule the whole ‘creonte’ thing as coaches being full of shit, that’s because they don’t understand the full story. The full story is actually that, a story of a lifetime of dedication, perseverance, grit — overcoming immense hardships, sometimes physical, sometimes financial — to finally achieve what many coaches have. This is something a person who comes in twice a week to train, and then goes about his daily life will never get. We are not robots, we feel, we care, and we hurt, just like you. Our melancholy runs deep, as it does for all artists that have dedicated their life to something they believe in.

PS. To make sure, I am not saying I have an issue with either my students or trainers training with other coaches. I encourage it. But that doesn’t have to be at the expense of loyalty to the person who got you to where you are from a time when you knew nothing. That doesn’t have to be at the expense of loyalty to the person, to your coach, who you know went way and beyond what was expected of him or her. Sadly, very few people have the maturity to put this into practice, and this is why coaches act the way they do when they feel they have been dishonoured — because it wasn’t just you that did it — it was a 1000 other students before you who did the same thing. Because we are coaches, we hope that the next student who walks into our studio, will actually do what he or she says they will. We have to dig deep to start all over again, and we do, because that’s what a good coach does!