Milton Friedmen once said, there's no such thing as a free lunch. As near as I can tell, he never studied martial arts.
I’m a role with the punches kind of a guy. I started Martial arts training in 1994 and from the very first, never questioned things like cleaning the training hall. Although... I cannot imagine signing a deal with an exercise gym and being told that part of the contract required me to clean the equipment. To be fair, one should wipe off the handle bars, seats, and other touchable surfaces when leaving the equipment. I mean, ewww, seriously!
So, I never really thought much about it when the Master terminated a class early one night and asked everyone to dust off the trophies, shelves, waiting room and generally clean the whole training hall. Turns out the next day we were having a test, and that meant lots of additional visitors to the school. He wanted it to look nice.
I’ve heard others complain of course, with the usual commentary about, "given how much he charges, he can afford a maid service." I won’t dispute whether or not the Master/Owner can or cannot afford a professional cleaning services, but I will support the notion that martial arts training is, and should be, very different than other forms of exercise or recreation.
The last thing I want to do is teach a teenage boy how to fight without giving him a sense of perspective – a sense of his value to the world, environment, and community around him. These lessons are no less important for girls, younger children, or adults. The case can be proffered that morality lessons should be taught at home or through religious classes, and I wouldn’t dispute that. I’d only suggest that the confidence that comes with self defense can be intoxicating, and it should be tempered with a sense of humbleness and humanity.
I cannot count the number of novice (white, yellow, orange belt) men who have regaled me with stories of how they wanted to use their new-found skill, how they've been moments away from a back-kick, reverse punch, or sudo chop. The truth is, they’d probably do more damage to themselves then anybody else at such an early stage. They feel the confidence that comes with training, but have not yet realized the calmness that comes with not being afraid. Most fights happen because of fear, not anger.
There is nothing wrong with having students maintain the school, any more than having little league ball players sweep the infield, collect the bats, or run after the practice balls. If you're thinking about taking up martial arts and don't like the idea of being a free cleaning service, keep in mind that it is not all that different than any other 'pitch in' activity. And for some of the participants, it is a crucial step in their training.