Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making a living in the martial arts

I'm not sure who wrote that if you can 'find something you love, you'll never work another day in your life'.  (or words to that effect)

Is it o.k. to make a living from teaching the martial arts?

I've rarely trained under anyone who has made any money at the martial arts game.  Sure, some teachers ran clubs that turned enough profit to cover rent for the dojo and the odd piece of equipment, but it's always been their secondary job.  It's been a labour of love for most of them.

This type of dedication is admirable.  I was making a comment over at  Jiu-Jitsu Sensei about the types of places I've trained in.  I've trained in everything from a barn and a backyard to a state of the art martial arts center.

Mainly it's been small scale dojos in rented units, often falling prey to floods, power outages and a distinct lack of air conditioning.

There has always seemed to be a certain pride in the fact that these smaller training spaces and clubs didn't have to sacrifice their art in the name of business and attracting lots of students.  

So, is it possible to run a large enough club to make a living without compromising the quality of instruction?  We often hear about McDojo's popping up here and there, purely to make a profit.  Most close up shop quickly enough.  Black belt packages, mandatory up front year long membership costs, hidden fees, mandatory accessory purchases and that sort of thing give these places a bad name.  And rightly so in most cases.

Assuming you care about your art and the quality of instruction, is it possible to grow large enough to make teaching martial arts a full time endeavor and your primary source of income?  Is it wrong to do so?  Does trying to make a living water down your martial art?  Do you compromise yourself and your art when making money is one of your concerns?

I've only seen a few dojos that have made money and stayed in business for a long time.  Typically, I have steered clear of large commercial type dojos, often assuming that they only want my money.  I've even been in one that wouldn't let you watch or take a class without paying 3 months up front.  

Can you have the best of both worlds?


  1. I belong to two different martial arts clubs. My karate instructor is a full time professional instructor. He has been running his clubs(3) for 10 years and has about 160 students in total (about two thirds are children). He runs 10 classes a week (no more than 16 students per class) and holds grading sessions 10 times a year. He also runs a schools programme where he does about 6 'taster' sessions during normal PE sessions in various primary and secondary schools in our city. Interested children can then join one of his clubs. The local schools are very enthusiastic about this project. He also works on various 'youth' projects that are run during the vacation times teaching fitness or karate. The rest of the time he spends maintaining his own fitness, training with other instructors, and preparing lesson plans etc. He does not do private 1-1 lessons.

    My jujitsu/kobudo instructor has a full time job and runs his club after work. He runs 2 classes a week (for adults) and a colleague runs 2 other classes (for children). The adult classes have a maximum of about 10 people. Gradings are held quarterly.

    Both instructors offer a high standard of training. Both have the support of a professional governing body. Neither instructor is 'rich', both drive small, old cars and live in small houses. Both are very committed to their respective arts. Both clubs are run in rented halls.

    Interestingly, I pay twice as much in fees to my jujitsu club than to my karate club and grading fees for jujitsu/kobudo belts are higher than for karate. I am also compelled to buy patches for my kobudo gi but not for my karate one. I do not have a contract for either club but my karate instructor requires payment monthly in advance and I have to pay even if I miss a week (though I can make up time at one of his other clubs if I want to). If I want to train 3 times a week instead of 2 then he does not charge me extra. My jujitsu club is a pay as you go basis.

    I hope I have shown that both ways of running a club work! There is nothing intrinsically wrong or 'immoral' about running a martial arts club as your primary job. It does not automatically mean the instructor is 'on the make'. I am very proud of both my clubs.

  2. That's exactly the type of feedback I was hoping to get. It's nice to know that both ways can work. I think with either method, the message is clear: It's not about the money, it's about the art and the sharing of knowledge. I think any instructor motivated solely by profit will fail. I suspect that part of any good instructors journey involves some level of sacrifice, be it time, money or effort.

    Thanks again for your comments.