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tksdaddy's picture
How do you teach yours?

Hi all,

Just recently I have found myself in a position where my personal circumstances are such that I am possibly in a position to start teaching.  I have only spent  time up to now helping out in sessions and always get positive feedback and have decided that I would like to try taking my own classes.  I really enjoy sharing what I know and helping others, and feel that now is the time to make a go of it.  I feel I am old enough and mature enough to be serious about teaching, and have 17 years consistent training to support me.

What I would like to know though, is how did you start teaching, what worked for you and what pitfalls did you have to overcome on the way? And is it really possible to make it a full time commitment?  Right now I can think of nothing better than following a career in something I love doing.  I have had a short career in the military, and I am currently working in a supermarket and don't feel happy doing any of that.  Ultimately, I would love to work for myself and just wondered what your thoughts are on pursuing martial arts as a career.

I know it won't happen overnight, but a little kick start in the right direction would be much appreciated.



michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture


Make sure you get paid. wink That's the first thing, and probably one of the most important too. I'm half kidding, but also very serious when I state this. I've been stiffed before and its no fun. I had one student, (a friend of mine) who went three months without paying dues then one day pulled up in his brand new car and said to me, "What do you think?" Needless to say I advised him that another school would suit his needs better.

1. Teach what you know and stick to what you know. If you're not a ground grappling expert, then don't pretend to be one. This also goes for anything else you might not have knowledge of. Just because you're the instructor doesn't mean one of your students isn't a champion judoka, boxer or MMA fighter. Pretenders usually get caught and getting your butt whipped in front of your own class can be pretty embarrassing.

2. Be polite and friendly, but don't try to be your students therapist or guru. Your there to teach martial arts, not solve their personal problems

3. Be honest. Tell them up front what it is you teach, how long it will take to get promoted, the class requirments, etc,etc. That way they'll know right up front if you're class is for them or not. Plus it'll save you a lot of wasted time.

4. If a student decides to leave, let them and don't begrudge them for doing so. Taking hostages leads to hostile feelings.

5. Stress all parts equally. Don't go overboard in one area or get stuck in a rutt by teaching solo kata three weeks straight. Mix things up, that way the class stays interesting for you and your students.

6.  Teaching a class that has both adults and kids is often unproductive. Adults have different needs than do children. If you're going to teach kids then fine, but the younger they are the less their attention span and the shorter your class will be. Also, its not fair for an adult to have to train in the same class as a ten year old kid, because the adult will want to press the envelope more, or else after a hard day at work will have little patience for the ten year old.

7. Start with some good warms up exercises and don't forget to include live training. Striking pads go a long way for developing stamina and making the students sweat.

8. Don't abuse your students and don't take the Drill SGT approach. Shouting, screaming and embarasing someone has no place in a karate school, nor does physical abuse. Likewise don't try and play the mystic role, nor speak in psudeo-Japanese. Just be yourself. Also don't try to come across as the baddest man/woman on the planet. There's a lot of bad people out there and some of them even wonder into karate schools, from time to time.

9. Have a standard uniform or dress code. This keeps people from showing up in grungy tee shirts with obscene logos on them or dirty sweat pants, shorts and spandex pants that are to tight, or else bikini tops during the summer time. Yes, this really happened to me one time.

10. Be dedicated to your class, but don't let it take over your life. If you can only commit to teaching two nights a week then two nights it is. Anything more will become a burden and you'll dread going to class.

11. Every three-four months take a week off and let someone else teach your class. This gives you a break to refresh, something we all need from time to time.

12. Don't be afraid to charge for promotions, but don't hold promotions every month because it lowers the standard of your class, plus charging someone a whole lot of money for a little piece of electrical tape just to go around their white belt is pretty cheap.

13. Don't quit your day job to teach martial arts. In the USA martial arts schools have one of the highest turnover rates of new businesses within the first three years of opening. If you see that your martial arts school is bringing in more money (and on a consistant basis) than your day job then you might want to consider it. However, make sure you have money saved up in the bank and make sure that all your students on contracts. I know this sounds harsh, but unemployed karate instructors are a dime a dozen. I know, I've been one of them and it ain't fun.

14. If a student doesn't want to compete in a tournament then don't force them too. Likewise if they don't want to free spar don't make them. If sparring is part of your teaching curriculum then you might explain that by not engaging they may not get promoted.

These are just a few things that I've learned over the course of over 30 years spent teaching. Hope it helps!

Have fun and enjoy your class!

Mike R

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Excellent post Mike R

The only one I differ on is No 6.  I run a mixed class once a week as families like to train together.  I run it interval style.  After warming up together, the adults work (hard) for a couple of minutes, then while they recover the juniors work etc etc.

Seems to work fine for us.


shoshinkanuk's picture

Personally I can't help you with any advice about running a dojo that makes money...............

But to get you started I would pick say 2 sessions per week that you can deliver and keep your current job - and establish those sessions, when you bursting with paying students you know you have the mix right and it may be the time to expand and make a living from it.

Personally I prefer not to make a living from it, and everyone I know who does reminds me how difficult it is to do so. But I do hope as I get older it will form part of my semi-retirment income and activity, but im only 39 so a while to go!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

tksdaddy wrote:
Right now I can think of nothing better than following a career in something I love doing ....  Ultimately, I would love to work for myself and just wondered what your thoughts are on pursuing martial arts as a career.

I’m in pretty unusual position in that I’m full time at the martial arts, but I make no money from regular classes. I have a class of 25 or so students that I teach twice a week and the club is self supporting. So I’m therefore not well placed to advise on running a profitable club because it’s not the way I wanted to do things. However, I have managed to pay all my bills and I've not had a day job for several years … so one thing I can say is that getting priorities right is vital.

There are those whose main aim is to make money though the martial arts. I’ve never yet seen this result in good quality martial arts, but I have seen it result in what I would consider unethical behaviour and questionable practises.

Then there are those who want to devote all their time to the martial arts and hence they need to find a way of generating an income to permit that. This tends to work far better as the priorities are right. The primary goal is not money but good quality martial arts. Good quality arts and a genuine enthusiasm for them have a habit of attracting people and hence a stable income. For all the guys I know who are good martial artists and make a living while doing them, it is the love of the martial arts that is primary, and the money is very much a means to an end and not the end in itself.

The above posts give loads of practical advice and all I would add is to keep training hard, keep learning, keep investing in yourself and keep moving your martial arts forward. The more you have to offer, the more people will be interested in what you do and hence it is much easier to generate a sustainable income to keep you doing what you love. From the post it sounds to me like you have the right attitude and experience so I think this could work well for you.

The other thing you want to do is “network”. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do. You’ll find that the “good ones” will be only too happy to help out, share their knowledge, and point you in the right direction if you are prepared to do the leg work. There are some who will see you as a threat and won’t help out, but you can ignore them as their insecurity normally results from the fact they have little to offer.

There’s all the practical stuff like getting a venue, getting insured, ensuring you members are insured, affiliating to a good group, how to conduct greadings and get them recognised, establishing a syllabus, etc. If you are not sure of something then ask and you’ll find people are genuinely happy to help out. You don’t need to do this alone. For what it’s worth, you can call me on 01900829406 if there is anything you want to talk through.

All the best,


tksdaddy's picture

Wow, thanks for all the great tips guys, really what I was after!

It all seems fairly common sense, although it helps to hit on some points that may be easily overlooked. Also, I don't feel like I'm out to prove a point.  I used to train with a guy who was, and I know all too well how that can end up.  I was forced out of the club which I had been with for 9 years because he had a personal issue with another instructor (which I didn't know about) and took exception to me training with him as well.  I was just after improving my karate and learning, I never thought I would get kicked out for it.  Having said that, I've never looked back since! 

Iain you were spot on about the difference between making a profit and doing it for the love of the art; my aim is to be able to support myself doing something I enjoy, not make my first million!  I only make minimum wage now anyway, so as long as I'm in a position to pay the bills I will be happy.  After leaving the Air Force because of my son and taking a huge cut in pay, I can honestly say that happiness wins over money any day!

The hardest part for me is to get the ball rolling and being confident enough to give it a go, and overcoming the fear of failure.  At the end of the day, if I don't try it I don't suppose I'll ever know!

Thanks again for the help, I'll let you all know how I get on!



Al Peasland
Al Peasland's picture


I cannot add much else to what has already been written.

The advice is all spot on

If i was to re-iterrate anything it would be to keep training yourself. I have always had a rule that I need to be training more sessions than I teach. Obviously it helps that I only teach a few sessions per week so I still have plenty of time for my own personal training.

Not only does this keep your passion alive and your enthusiasm for the arts, but it also enables you to keep growing and gaining more skills to bring back to your students.

All of the advice above is sound if you ask me - some great tips and rules to follow

And great that you're not in it for the money because, as the age old saying goes. If you want to make a million out of martial arts - start with 2 million and a martial arts dojo

The best reward is seeing your students progress to a level better than you can ever achieve, with you in the knowledge that you have played a small part in that. To pass on your skills so that they benefit far more people than just yourself.

That's something truly special

I wish you all the best and offer my support if I can be of any help at all.


Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

Be Genuine and Authentic. Let your personality come through. 

The training I have enjoyed the most, happens to be with the instructors I've connected with. This only happens when the instructor is putting himself into the way he teaches. It brings an element of life to what you do. 

Likewise, I've trained in clubs where the instructor is teaching the way he thinks 'Karate Instructors' should teach. This just felt like something was missing, but I couldn't place what. The atmosphere was stale, but the instructor was trying hard to motivate students, and was teaching solid technique. It was almost as though he didn't enjoy teaching... the kind of instructor that people talk about saying ' he's very enthusiastic about martial arts...' but they never say that he connects with them in class, and made it relevant personally.  

Have fun.

tksdaddy's picture

Thanks again all,

Just a couple of points I meant to add first time around:

  • Is it beneficial to be affiliated? I'm thinking licenses, gis, gradings courses etc...if I have a central point of contact for these things will it save me time and money so I can afford to keep my teaching fees reasonable, or is it better to start out without tying myself to an organisation that may present a conflict of interest later on, particularly if I want to teach a syllabus different to theirs?  I'm not sure how this kind of thing works. My Chief instructor started from scratch on his own and went on to develop his own association providing gis, licenses etc, but has recently affiliated himself with one of the major UK Karate organisations.  He says this adds to costs in some repects but convenience in others.  He has just recently started squad training for his students (he hasn't been involved in the competitive side for a long time) and believes that such affiliation is beneficial, but is it horses for courses?  I'd ask him for help but he is in America at the moment!
  • If I do start out on my own and develop my own syllabus, how can I ensure my gradings are sanctioned and therefore official?  I'm guessing registration with a governing body perhaps?  Again, it;s an area im unclear with, but it is important for me to develop a professional image early on.
  • Finally, for now at least, I have very high personal standards, and I hope to reflect this in my training, but just how hard should it be to pass my students at grading?  It's my personal belief that students should be in a position where they may fail, and not advanced if not up to standard.  But not so hard that people leave because they don't feel they can't cut it just beacuse they need to improve in one or two areas.  My concern is standards of my students, because I trained with several 1st/2nd kyus recently, and EVERYTHING about their attitude, technique and performance was absolutley shocking.  I won't go into details but I would not have graded them to anywhere near that standard and I was actually embarrased for one guy in particular, who if he wasn't wearing a brown-white stripe belt I would have sworn to you was a rank beginner.  This is definitely something I hope to avoid without being seen to be a miserable sod who likes to fail people for my own personal edification!


I'm a nice guy really!

GeoffG's picture

To quote Iain's blog from last year:

Failing people for gradings is never something I’m comfortable with, but my name is important to me (if my name is on the certificate you can be sure you earned it!) and, as disappointing as failing is, it would not be in the interests of the individual to award them a ranking they are not yet ready for. Personally, it always really impresses me when people fail a rank test and then just get straight back into training in order to address their current shortfalls. Those are the kind of people who have the qualities necessary to reach the higher ranks. I’ve lost count of the number of high ranking dan grades who have told me that failing an earlier grade was the making of them

I had adopted a similar mindset last year before I saw that in Iain's blog and all my students know that I will recommend them for assessment when I am convinced that they will succeed on their worst day. I don't think we are doing our students any favours by promoting them when they are clearly not up to scratch but have met some of the other criteria such as number of classes since last grade, etc. I am a member of a club that has a number of dojo's and have had one or two of my students be assessed and promoted without my knowledge, only to have other students wonder out loud "how did he/she grade?". In the short term the student has received a new shiney belt but also the impression that they are better than they are and the expectation that their next grading will occur in a timely fashion. Ultimately this leads to lowering the standard or to the loss of students who have not reached the required standard but think they should grade anyway.

I think you can be a nice guy but also a tough and fair one. I think you should set your standards, and help your students to exceed - not just reach - them before considering them for assessment. Your students will appreciate that you care enough about their growth to minimise their chance of failing by more than adequately preparing them. Those that expect to grade simply because they have graced you with their presence or put in minimal effort will get the picture and will tend to find someone who doesn't have such high standards.

Lee Taylor
Lee Taylor's picture

Hi Mike

I left my well paid job 4yrs ago to teach karate on a professional full time basis. I already had 1 club running at the time but still had 1 month to replace my wage. I opened a further 2 clubs which I have to travel to, and I am currently earning enough to support my family and all the other things associated, even when life throws challenges at you, as my wife lost her job last year. But regardles of the pressure it can create, it was the best thing I have ever done, and the hardest thing I have ever done.

Please contact me if you think my situation can offer advice to you, more than happy to pass on what little I know to people who want to make the leap!!

tksdaddy's picture

Hi all,

I just wanted to talk about a session I just had which I feel links in nicely with this thread and just wondered if my approach was correct, although I must apologise for the detail, it's one of my gifts/curses!

It was my first session at one of my instructors new clubs, with many faces I hadn't see before.  I felt a little uncomfortable at first (as you do) but settled in quickly.  We were working on four directional blocking exercises, focusing on kihon, at a level that required us all to think a little, unlike doing straight forward line work which comes pretty naturally to most of us who have trained for any length of time. 

Towards the end, my instructor, fresh off a plane from America asked us to mix grades and work on what we had trained.  I immediately went to the end of the dojo where there was a young white belt, an older (50ish) orange belt, a young purple belt and a 3rd dan jiu jutsu instructor giving karate a go.  The idea here was one person in the middle, the other four at each point of the compass delivering a single attack to which the defender would execute the turn and block/counter combo. After only a few minutes of helping and offering quiet pointers and advice, the orange belt asked the others to listen to me while I walked them through step by step what was a tricky exercise for beginners and juniors.  It wasn't my intention to teach, just to help them with what I knew would work, visualisation of where the attack was coming from and move the most logical leg away from the attack to initiate the turn - this was the trick to the exercise.

The techniques were basic, but the multiple directions threw them right off.  I encouraged them to think about what they were going to do, take their time, focus on one technique at a time and perform them as correctly as they could, but most importantly not to rush.  They soon got the hang of this but I noticed a major problem with distancing.  All of the attackers were not attempting to hit the target (a very common problem at this stage) and this left the defender too far away to deliver the counter technique.  At each stage I explained why their counter was going to be innefective, and the need to adjust the range accordingly, a shuffle here, a slide there, with small movements making a big difference, and a brief demonstration of what happens when you are within grappling range and to use you position after the block to your advantage (body control, kuzushi, sweeps and throws).

The idea wasn't to teach sweeps and throws, but to encourage the correct mindset.  I explained that although it seems advanced and confusing to some beginners, to have an understanding of such fundamentals as distance, position of advantage and disadvantage and how it intrinsically affects balance and control. I also encouraged them that being aware of these principles even when learning the basics often results in a huge improvement of the individuals execution of a technique because on both a conscious and subconoscious level they are making the training "work".  There is a reason for the basic training and just performing the techniques on there own is ultimately an unsatisfactory way to learn.  To learn that what we do, whatever it is, has a purpose gave them a focus on which to base each technique.

The difference in execution from here on in was noticable and instant.  They had stopped thinking in terms of "what move comes next" and started thinking "the attack is coming from that direction, so my response needs to be this" and so the combinations started to flow.

The footwork was no longer an issue, and neither was the distancing, as the attackers were doing so with intent.  When the defender was in an advantageous countering position, which was now more often than not, they started suggesting to me what their possible follow on action could be.  In short, they were thinking for themselves and applying what they knew.   

I told them not to try and remember everything at once, but to focus on little areas at a time until it all starts to come together, and then mindset leads to execution, rather than conscious effort to get it right. The compliments and thanks I received from both the students and my instructor have absolutely made my day and convinced me even more that teaching is what I want to do.  The reactions of these guys to a complete stranger coming in and doing things a little bit different was commendable, and their performance at the end made me proud.

This is an example of my teaching ethos and desire to share what I know and to help others improve in the most efficient and least offensive way.  I hope I have laid some good foundations for myself for the future, as my instructor has said he would be more than willing for me to take some classes, although not for pay (although he would reduce my training costs as he runs a subscription based method of payment)

I eagerly await feedback/criticism, and hope never to write a post this long again!



Boris B
Boris B's picture


just want to give my 2 cents on this topic:

First, from what I have read from you it seems that you are genuinely concerned about proper training and treating people respectfully and in a professional manner. This is great, and I congratulate you.

Now let's get down to businesscool

To my mind, it is very important that your teaching efforts are rewarded financially - therefore I was sensing "danger" as I read your last post: your instructor is happy to have you do lessons for him but without any real payment -  is this a good way to start earning money?

At my former club all karate instructors used to give karate lessons for free and even paid monthly fees. We did it as a hobby and thought nothing of it - the "do" aspect of karate jaddadadda. It took me some time to get out of this mindset - here's why: at the same time (our club offered numeerous activities) the boxing coach always got paid right from the start - and the aerobics classes as well.

And here is the thing: that is how business is done. People give their time and effort - and get money in return for it. If your boss / chief instructor is making money out of the club (or at least a part of his income is karate-based) than he is running a business. Tradition has it that a business owner pays his people. Think about your teaching ethos and what you are willing to provide: this is huge in comparison to other people working in the fitness industry (I see martial arts/ karate as a part of it). In a standard commercial gym here in Germany the "trainers" get paid plus have free training. An trainer in an aerobics class has an easier job than you: you actually care about skill development and - very important! - safety in your classes.

In conclusion: don't start your teaching career with unpaid lessons. For every lesson you give your instructor can have a break or offer other services that generate revenue for him. You are in business and you MUST get paid.   You sound like a great guy and therfore I want you to succeed.