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"Murphy was an optimist!"

Don’t Do Business With Jack Butturini August 19, 2008 4:33 pm

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Daily Life, Economy, Family, Noah, Of Being Dad, Touchy Subjects
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Don’t do business with Jack Butturini of Martial Arts America or any other karate studio/instructor that requires you to sign a 3 year contract. Think about the length of time you are asking your child to commit to a specific interest! My 12 year old has spent nearly ¼ of his life practicing karate two and three times a week. Interests wane for children. A responsible parent should encourage the child to explore different interests, and yes, a responsible parent should encourage commitment but within reason.

My son started taking karate in the summer of 2005 (earliest post). He is burned out and hasn’t gone to a single lesson for the past 3 months. He achieved his black belt and is done. He lost his motivation before the black belt testing but showed great resolve in completing the task he had begun and I found that both honorable and mature.

Today I asked Jack Butturini to absolve me of the remaining time on our contract as I find spending $175 a month to receive no services in return a little ludicrous. His studio has moved 3 times since we started with Martial Arts America (formerly Jack Butturini Karate) each time becoming further away and more inconvenient and he is now preparing for a move to his fifth building. One of the moves was damage control to remove his name from the studio after a party at the Butturini household was busted with minors allegedly being provided alcohol by the adults (see also and commentary at Dr. Helen). While others badmouthed him, I stood up for his character and the philosophies the school taught. People were unquestionably released from contracts but we stuck with him. Today, as he laid his inability to release me from a contract on the shoulders of the owner of a billing company (SEP) which will have me dishing out another $1925 for no services rendered, I decided I could no longer give the same character reference. As such, I officially retract any supportive commentary I have given Jack Butturini and Martial Arts America.

I also admonish the karate industry itself as a thieving, conniving, bunch of unscrupulous bloodsuckers who under the guise of "character development" seek to empty your wallets in contracts and testing fees. I make that statement after talking to parents of students in a variety of karate studios around town all of which ultimately seem more interested in selling uniforms, testing fees, and locking you into a monthly fee and contract comparable to leasing a car than they are in your child’s development as a martial artist.

I think karate and the other martial arts are wonderful for children. I think it develops discipline, agility, grace, balance, and muscles. I do not think parents should be baited into a long term serious economic commitment by stringing a child along for 30, 60 or 90 days then dashing their hopes "unless mommy and daddy sign this piece of paper." If you cannot find a studio with shorter commitments such as quarterly or monthly, then give up on karate and do something longer lasting such as Boy Scouts. Now if you excuse me, I have to go close a bank account and prepare to be sued. [Update: Readers request clarification of this statement. That was snarky. Although I considered it for one angry moment, I would not close that account.]

Update: Paula is happy with Eun’s Martial Arts Center, 11110 Kingston Pke, Knoxville, TN (865) 675-2255 who offers 1 year contracts.

Update: Stormare Mackee recommends Wheeler’s Karate in Powell off of exit 112 who has 6 month contracts at roughly $80 per month.

Update: To be more clear on the figures, Noah has not attended a class for 3 months, 3 x $175 = $525, so the total I will end up paying out is $2450 to not attend his school and this is why you should never attend a single day at any studio which requires a long term contract. If you get rooked into a trial period, the child will be hurt; see paula’s comment: "…The kid was devastated…"

Update: Be sure to read Toni McSorley’s comment! Sounds like a school doing the right thing!

Update: I received an email asking if my statement that "I have to go close a bank account and prepare to be sued" meant I don’t plan on honoring my contract with Jack Butturini. To clarify, that was a snarky comment made in jest. I admit I considered it but doing so would be against my nature. I asked the billing company to move the bill date from the 20th to the 5th of the month. They increased my bill from $175 to $190(They adjusted it back down to $175), that account is open, and as long as the IRS has not seized it, they’ll get their hard earned money. There is a medical clause which applies to my son that allows exiting of the contract but based on Jack Butturini’s comments I really don’t expect him to be open to that. My motive of this post? Simply to warn other parents to be cautious of placing their young children into such lengthy contracts. Think about the last time you joined a gym and later found yourself paying monthly fees and not going. This is the same thing.

Comments after advertisement


1. DylanW - August 19, 2008

Holy crap, that sucks. Then again, it sounds like issues people often have with gyms (long contracts which may not be fully used).

I took karate for about a year in junior high, and occasionally (like after seeing martial arts demos at MTAC) I’ll think that would be a neat way to get into better shape. Apparently not. ($175 a month? Seriously?)

FWIW, I think my experience was pretty good, but that was a place in Athens. Of course, I don’t know if mom and dad would have shared it if they’d had issues with them.

2. Doug McCaughan - August 19, 2008

We had a fairly good experience up until today 🙂

3. Kari, village herbalist - August 19, 2008

It’s interested what happens to people when money takes over…when a dollar is more important that humanity or even decency. My thoughts are with you and your family

4. paula - August 19, 2008

wow I wondered if it might be Butturini after I saw your tweet! we quit there after the first trial 6 month period specifically because they wanted us to sign a 3 year contract for $175 a month but what killed me was the fact it would be a 3 year contract for a 5 year old at the time! This was after they lowered class time from 45 minutes to 30 minutes unless you signed the 3 year contract. Yes they would actually stop class and dismiss the kids who did not sign up for the extended program. At that point I raised such a riot they did lower my payments for the last month or so. They tried to push us out 1 month early claiming we started & signed up when we were out of town again I went in looking for a fight. And to cap it all off when we were negotiating a shorter contract they actually suggested my husband coming down to talk with them. Pissed me off so incredibly bad. I was very unhappy with the way the ran their buisness it really left a bad tatste in my mouth! The kid was devastated as he really enjoyed going so I promised I would look around and luckily found Master Eun & Eun’s Martial arts out here in Farragut! He let me start with a 6 month contract-standard is 1 year which we happily now do and it is the same price for all students black belt, white belt and everything in between. So if anyone out there is shopping around I can not say enough nice things about Eun’s.
and as far as the parties my neice went to the ones thrown by his son several years before the daughter started.

5. Cathy - August 19, 2008

Paula – Was there alcohol involved?

6. BH - August 19, 2008

Man, I am sorry for the stress and crap this causes. Life really is too short to be bullied for a service your son doesn’t desire to perform. Plus, nearly 200 hundred dollars could buy at least 2.5 tanks of gas.

7. Doug McCaughan - August 19, 2008

I do have a contract that holds me accountable for $1925. My post is to warn others from falling into the same trap and it is a trap. I’m just thinking that $2k would be much nicer toward drum lessons and equipment, mortgage payments, food, Christmas, whatever. This feels like I am burning money when other people were released from their contracts under hostile circumstances and I broached the subject under friendlier circumstances.

8. paula - August 19, 2008


9. Doug McCaughan - August 19, 2008

Well now paula! That tidbit could really hamper his lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office!

10. Stormare Mackee - August 19, 2008

$175 per month? That’s crazy. Wheeler’s Karate in Powell off of exit 112 has a standard 6 month contract @ ~$80/month, family discounts and only a nominal fee for a belt test.

Now, even $175 is cheap compared to professional cheerleading classes… we’re talking about $120 and up per week(!)

11. Doug McCaughan - August 19, 2008

Now a 6 month contract makes more sense to me particularly at $80/mth! Worse case your child quits in January and you are out 5 months which is $400 rather than $2000 or more. I’m just trying to imagine what it must be like for a parent to enter a 3 year contract and have a child quit after 3, 4 or 6 months. Imagine being on the hook for 30 months!

Put your feet down people! Give business to karate studios like Wheeler’s. Shoot, we have adults who cannot commit to working at a single company for 3 years and we are asking children in their single digits to commit to a 3 year program? I’d sure be interested in knowing what the dropout rate is. Karate could be a great business to be in!

12. paula - August 20, 2008

probably a good thing I didn’t blog 3 years ago because I still have vivid recollection of some of the inane conversations with their employees!
One of the other things bugged me was the constant bring a friend to class pressure. You get xtra this or that if you bring a friend, we have a halloween party but you can only come if you bring someone-drove me crazy or crazier I suppose.
It is a shame because for all of the nonsense & shady business practice they are really good with the kids!

13. Doug McCaughan - August 20, 2008

3 years ago? Now that’s funny. We were probably in the dojo at the same time. Did you go to the Kingston Pike location or the Deane Hill one? Do you remember Molly, black German shepherd, sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the kids to come out from class?

14. paula - August 20, 2008

kingston pike near the carpet store. They just opened Deane Hill while we were there and the son had just gotten the dog

15. Doug McCaughan - August 20, 2008

I heard that location was nice. I never visited that one. We started at the Kingston Pike location in Bearden beside Sonic.

16. Toni McSorley - August 20, 2008

My martial arts school has a 3 or 6 month agreement which is not a binding contract. There are no belt testing fees, or other hidden fees built in. Classes are small and offered 6 days per week. Instructors donate their time, and financially disadvantaged students are always accepted on a scholarship program. The idea is to Teach Martial Arts, not make a lot of money. I understand other instructors who depend on their studios to make a living, but I don’t believe in signing students for long contracts or EVER putting some kind of pressure on children to make their parents invest money. I am part of a large group of instructors all across the United States who believe in old values. Please don’t turn you back on the arts: find a school you like and an instructor you trust. Don’t be sucked into pressure, hype and high-gloss promises. Spend time in the school before deciding if it is for you. If you want to enroll your children, spend time watching how the instructor interacts with them. If there are any alarm bells, trust your instincts and avoid that place. There are fine schools available: investigate before you join! Our school has been in Knoxville for 26 years, and there are other well-established schools you will never see on a billboard. The old values and codes of ethics still exist; don’t give up on them!

17. Doug McCaughan - August 20, 2008

Toni McSorley, that’s great to hear! How can people interested in learning more get in touch with you? If you wish to keep contact information off the Internet, feel free to email me at juggler@gmail.com and let me know what I can pass onto people who ask.

18. Garland - August 20, 2008

Doug, it looks like Sensei Toni might need some help with her web site. http://artsofthesamurai.net gives “Table ‘artsdvsamurai.sitemanagement’ doesn’t exist” (but the cached page on Google looks fine). Maybe you guys should get together!

19. Toni McSorley - August 21, 2008

Garland, you are so right! The website has been down for a week now and we are trying to get it figured out! Remember, though, that the school operates on a tight wire and most of our work such as this is donated by parents or students. Thank you for your suggestion, and your patience. This bunch of instructors, self-included, are possibly the most technically inept people you’ve ever met! However, we shall overcome!

20. Guiseppe Cornelius - August 27, 2008

Jack Butturini = Shameless Scum (IMHO)

21. Jack Butturini - August 27, 2008

Did you the make choice to sign the contract or was a gun held to your head?

In your previous post you stated ” We had pretty good experince until today”

There are always two sides to every story.

Was that the day you decided your own word was useless.

Shame on you, considering all the favors and considerations you were given.

When you couldn’t pay, we held your membership and allowed Noah to take for free. We also removed any late charges placed by the Billing Company.

I am proud of Noah and his accomplishments.

I am sure that now that we have made it to our goal, getting Noah to Black Belt, you might want to spend your money elsewhere.

By the way, Wheelers Karate, Euns etc are good, even great schools and are comfortable with what they charge.

We too are comfortable with our tuition and have always been the most expensive school in the area, this is not meant as a slight towards anyone.

But your word should be your word.

We are still here for you and Noah,and will honor any untaken lessons at anytime, but shame on you sir for simply not living up to your word.

I do not want to put anyone down, but Toni or any of her students are welcome to train with my Mixed Martial Arts team. One of my team members, my son, is arguably Knoxville’s best MMA Athlete.

This is not a threat, we promise not to hurt you or any of the nine bloggers who have spoken without hearing the other side of the story.

22. Jack Butturini - August 27, 2008

By the way Mr. McCaughan,

You still owe us for equipment that Noah used, kept and we never bothered you about due to your financial challenges.

How would you like to take care of that or should I give that for free?

You sir have taught your son a few good lessons, 1) How to quit 2) My word is useless 3) Cry like a baby when you can’t get your way.

23. Doug McCaughan - August 27, 2008

Hello Jack Butturini! I appreciate your commenting here and I will happily discuss our business situation with you on the phone or in person. To clarify a couple of points:

First and foremost: I have never said I don’t have to honor your contract. All I am doing is trying to persuade others from falling into a similar circumstance. I regret not exiting the contract when you offered the opportunity back during your difficult time.

“We also removed any late charges placed by the Billing Company.”
No you didn’t. Anytime I asked the billing company to move the date to my preferred billing date of the 5th of the month, they added $15 and it was never refunded.

“You still owe us for equipment that Noah used…”
Let’s be very clear on this. I paid for all of the equipment Noah used in full! And bought new uniforms every time you demanded it.

If you wish to discuss this further, call me.

24. Jack Butturini - August 27, 2008

Ms. Galvin wil contact on your equipment. I will honor my end of our arrangement for Noahs lessons. He can come to Karate tomorrow.

I am proud Noah and his achievment of Black Belt, and I hope you are too.

I did not bring your failure to follow through on your financial obligation to a public forum.

I would never try to sabotage a person’s way of living, especially in a public forum.

See you in class or in court.

I think the statement ” I have to change my bank account and prepared to get suied” is a threat to back out of legally binding agreement.

When the uneducated talk about the good old days, they forget that students use to have stand before a monastery and hope for a chance to do dishes and finally be accepted as a student.

We have came a long way.

I hope that the money you are trying to cheat me out of goes towards your drum set, etc.

What is sad is that you attack me in a public forum, accuse me of providing acohol to minors, defile my entire industry that I am proud of and believe in, simply beacuse your child runs your family.

I will leave this matter to powers that be.

I am very dissapointed in you.

25. Rich Wilson - September 7, 2008

Lets see,,, Has a little kid drown at one of his “martial arts” activities. Is implicated in providing alcohol to underage people. Bilks customers out of $$$. Posts threats on this site. Files bankruptcy over and over. History of a DUI in the family! Nah, he’s a great guy and a stellar pillar in our community. I have a lt of respect for Mr. B, don’t you.

26. Concerned Parent - September 7, 2008

“I do not want to put anyone down, but Toni or any of her students are welcome to train with my Mixed Martial Arts team. One of my team members, my son, is arguably Knoxville’s best MMA Athlete.

This is not a threat, we promise not to hurt you or any of the nine bloggers who have spoken without hearing the other side of the story.”


27. Albert Einstein - September 7, 2008

Jack Butturini must also be ignorant of the English language. Say his son is “arguably Lnoxville’s best MMA Athlete” means that it is debatable that he is what he states. Maybe he means that it is “inarguable.”

Graduation from High School – Very Good
College Degree – Excellent
Adequate vocabulary – Priceless

Perhaps this is why you are a Karate guy as opposed to having a real job

28. Doug McCaughan - September 7, 2008

I don’t think this needs to degenerate into flame war on Jack Butturini. I disagree with his business ethics. I simply want people to recognize that by subscribing to this model of business, you are signing your child up for the equivalent of a gym membership and typically you end up lamenting that “I really should go to the gym” and instead pay to not go.

The lessons our child received were good. He gained skills and grew through the program. We just spent (are still spending) too much money for it.

In the old world, a bad customer experience would result in the unhappy customer telling 20 other people. In the new world, we blog it.

Oh, and as a consultant who frequently hears the words “real job,” I have to take issue with Rich Wilson/Concerned Parent/Albert Einstein on that last sentence. Whatever we do. Whatever passion we follow. However evil or good we choose to be. What we do to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, is “a real job.”