7 posts / 0 new
Last post
Marcus_1's picture
Demise of the small club

So I am listening to Iains conversation with Peter Consterdine at the moment, in it Peter mentions the number of clubs available.  Now, I don't recall how old this podcast is, but; in my area of Kent there is only 10 clubs within a 5 mile radius of my home address.

I live in a relatively large village with several halls and a diverse age range, yet there isn't a single club in the village.  All the clubs are in located in Margate and Ramsgate, ok not far from my house, but....  I remember when I was a kid growing up in the Medway towns and Herne Bay, this is when I began my martial arts journey, there were loads of clubs.  Every school hall had a club in it of some kind.  Maybe I am living in cuckoo land, but it just seems there are very few small clubs left.  The only clubs that survive are seemingly linked to big associations/groups who have several clubs in multiple locations, some of which only teach kids with no option for adult classes (for some strange reason).

I have a dream that every large village should have a martial arts club within a mile, just seems that there is a sad lack of experienced instructors willing (or able) to set up clubs.

This is a real shame for me.

Tau's picture

I see the opposite. WHen I was young the choice of what to train in was as simple as what your town offered. I didn't conciously choose Kung Fu and then Jujitsu; that was I had. Today every man and his uncle can teach martial arts. There are clubs everywhere. Many struggle, perhaps because of saturation. Now the challenge is finding the club that suits you and that is of the standards you want.

Marcus_1's picture

Must be down to location, East Kent just doesn't seem to have the selection

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

There’s always going to be inaccuracies when we extrapolate our personal experience to the whole. With that caveat in place, there were just two karate clubs within a 30-mile radius when I started; now there are clubs in most of the towns. Lots of other arts around too, whereas it was just karate, boxing or judo when I started out. That said, I think it would be fair to say that it’s a “thinner spread” i.e. the increase in the number of clubs is not proportionate to the increase in practitioners. I certainly see more small clubs though.

The data is not that clear because “martial arts” tends to get lumped in as a homogenous whole. I think it would be fair to say there has been a decline in the number of adult practitioners in recent years, and an increase in those under sixteen.

My club has a healthy number of adult students through … which, despite inconsistent promotion on my part, I put down to the fact if you want adult students then teach adult karate.

All the best,


Bob Davis
Bob Davis's picture

Back when I orignially started (1977) I'm not sure there were any small clubs in my area. The only thing available was big association clubs and I had to travel to the nearest big town for that. There we pretty much only adult students and there were probably between 60-80 of us on any given session.

Now there seems to be a club in virtually every school or church hall around here. Their demographic seems to be mostly 5-9 years olds (some will take them from 3) so it's not really the same thing. I gave up teaching kids a long time ago, I dipped back in for a couple of years as a favour to a local school headmaster who was an ex-student and had 20 (plus a waiting list) but most clubs seem to mave around 10-15 students (because there are a lot of them) and martial arts seems very much to be seen as an afterschool activity for small children.

Unless you are prepared to put in a lot of work in marketing and promotion it's a hard sell to adults so if you have bills to pay and are using your martial arts to help with that then kids are what pay those bills.

I am fortunate in that I don't need to make any money out of what I do (although it would be nice to break even occasionally) so I can teach what I want to who I want. The upshot of that however is that on a good night I have five adult students turn up.

Most of my peers also run small independent clubs (typically bigger than mine, but then they are prepared to work harder than me) so I tend to see that there are now more small clubs than there used to be, but less people in the big ones and a different mix.

There is a market for adult training but there are a lot more options than there were, MMA, Krav, Combatives are all seen as a lot more "grown up" than karate because TMA have marketed themselves at small children for so long.

Dbryan's picture

Bob Davis wrote:
There is a market for adult training but there are a lot more options than there were, MMA, Krav, Combatives are all seen as a lot more "grown up" than karate because TMA have marketed themselves at small children for so long.

Could not agree with you more on this point. Returning to Karate 2 years ago felt a little "juvenile" initially. In a short period of time, I realized that what we were doing was not the norm. The adult curriculum at our dojo is very different from the kids program and practical applications are explored collectively which makes for an immersive and enjoyable experience. Without this experience I truly believe that I would not have continued for more than 6 months and would have tried somewhere else to learn from.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Speaking from a US perspective here, so I may be off.

The current fitness/recreation culture is related to this, a trend I have noticed over the past ten years or so is that classes are more and more geared towards small frames of time. The institutions that host them function this way - 3 months blocks of classes for x amount of money, etc. If you teach at an institution, in my experience your class will almost always be billed as "fitness", even if it's not.

Combine this with rising rents (Is that an issue in the UK too?) and it means that there will be fewer public clubs (not doing classes under an institution) and those that do exist will often cater to children's classes, because that is the most stable source of income for most teachers.

The other thing is that -lots- of training tends to be going on under the radar, when you are able to see some of this, it's going on all over the place. backyard and Garage dojos etc.

The biggest trend I notice is that when I got started (around 8, would have been around 1984) Karate classes were -big-. Adult class was up to 30 people sometimes, kids class the same or possibly bigger. this was at a Police Athletic League, but reflected other locations demographics as well.

As the field has become more diversified, I see fewer big classes with the exception of large training centers that offer "everyman MMA" and are stocked full with bags, training gear etc. These places to tend to have a business model that relies on fitness-heavy presentation of martial arts for people who are doing the "everyman"  and not the competitive track. So the entire strategy/marketing situation has changed greatly since I was a kid.

I actually see more small clubs now, they just aren't training in commerical real estate any more because it's too expensive.