Martial Arts Instructor News and Articles

John Graden

John Graden

Executive Director

John Graden led the martial arts into the modern era by creating the first professional association, trade journal & instructors certification program.

Each year for our annual martial arts business report, we look at the number of martial arts schools in the USA based upon the following NAICS categories:

61162013 – Karate Judo Jiu-Jitsu & Kung Fu Instruction

61162014- Martial Arts Instruction

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) evaluates and scores your Tax Form 1040 Schedule C using the NAICS code submitted on the form so this is the best barometer of the number of commercial martial arts schools in the USA. 

This doesn’t include programs that are run in recreation centers, churches, city parks, etc… unless they are paying taxes. 

Since we started this in 2013, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of martial arts schools in the USA.

This doesn’t include programs that are run in recreation centers, churches, city parks, etc… unless they are paying taxes.

Here the NAICs listing categories for our annual State of the Martial Arts School Business report.

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Since we started this in 2013, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of martial arts schools in the USA. 

Last year, we saw a slight increase, but this year, we’ve seen a modest decrease.

2013: 20,234

2016: 15,896 – 4,338

2017: 14,901 – 995

2018: 15,157 + 256

2019: 15,008 – 149

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Since we started this in 2013, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of martial arts schools in the USA.

We shared these results with school owners in various Facebook groups for school owners and asked for them to share their theories or observations for a flat industry in a booming economy.

There are three categories of responses we’re sharing here.

  1. It’s the student’s fault.
  2. It’s the shift from traditional martial arts to modern training.
  3. Rent is sky-high.

1. It’s the student’s fault.

These answers predictably skirted responsibility and blamed the market. Some people never change…

“It has to do with the Planet Fitness mentality of parents. They want cheap, they want quick, and they don’t commit to things.”

“It’s the culture. Most people don’t want to sweat or bleed anymore. Everyone wants instant gratification and easy solutions. There are none of these in the martial arts.”

“I’ve had conversations with masters and grandmasters from all over the world on this. The general observation seems to be a change in parenting in the western world specifically.”

“A lot of McDojos are run by people who claim they are instructors and promote themselves to black belts.”

“Unemployment is low but so are wages. Period. Rent is high. Parents need us but we need to have many more families with careers not jobs. Sorry but this is where we are now. But ….this means we have to try harder to keep our schools going. We can’t give up.”

“Traditional martial arts is on a decline – particularly because in the ’80s and 90’s the industry saw explosive growth that resulted in a lot of useless and fake martial arts spreading. The advent of the internet has resulted in people being more aware of useless martial arts schools.”

“Instant gratification. Kids and adults don’t want to put in the work necessary to get a black belt.”

2. The shift from traditional martial arts to modern training.

“With the popularity of MMA, are more people are joining those schools or are they tied into Dojos of traditional styles?”

“Probably traditional martial arts schools losing ground to BJJ and MMA.”

“The bigger MMA and BJJ schools are absorbing more and more serious martial artists.”

3. Rent is sky-high.

“Low tuition schools are closing because they cannot afford to pay the higher rents. A better economy causes low vacancy rates which means higher rents for spaces. Those unable to raise their rates to meet the rent close.”

“Retail rent is extremely high right now. Our area is literally charging as much as $35 psf plus $7 nnn, on 5 years.”

“In the next 10 years if you don’t own your building and have after school it will be hard to survive. Rental space is reaching all-time highs. I purchase my buildings.”

“Overhead rents insurance and payroll account for most failures. Also over-saturation of outside events tournament and Hall of Fames. Finally..inferior teachers.”

Personal Responsibility

Pablo Zamora
Thinking that our success or failure is based on anything but ourselves is suicide. I don’t worry about the economy, competitors or anything that is outside of my control. We teach children, Krav Maga and Kung Fu. We teach adults Krav Maga, JKD, and a fitness class too. I do not have camps for kids or after school. People haven’t changed all that much. We have to provide excellent service, be an example of what we do, and give people what they most want and need.

Chris Sutton
“My high school track coach taught me that if I’m looking at the competition, I’m taking my eye off the finish line. I focus on my students and the value they are receiving from my classes.”

Doug Grant
“Our numbers have gone straight up over the past two years probably do to teaching and putting money in the right places and also the economy since Trump took over.”

 

MATA’s Response

We believe that the market is more educated about martial arts than any previous generation.

It’s with that reality that we suggest the following.

CURRICULUM
A poorly designed curriculum is the kiss of a slow death. Most schools inherited a decades-old, dusty and out-dated program that is serious need of an upgrade.

IT’S SMARTER TO RIDE THE HORSE IN THE DIRECTION IT’S GOING.
Given the choice of joining a traditional school vs joining a modern school that can be learned fast, like Empower Kickboxing, most people will choose easy to learn and easy to understand vs the hard to learn and hard to understand.

Wouldn’t you?

MARKETING IS TOO COMPLEX TO DO IT YOURSELF ANYMORE
Like most small business owners, school owners are still struggling with marketing.

While that has always been the case, marketing in today’s world is far more complex with SEO, Social Media, and the declining value of media appearances.

CLONING OUT-DATED PROGRAMS
Too many schools have become clones of schools they perceive as being more successful.

How many schools market that they “are more than punching and kicking? Or proclaim, “we are a black belt school.”

Every school in town says the same thing and wears the same ugly karate gi.

NOT TAKING TEACHING SKILLS SERIOUS ENOUGH
It is foolish to believe that earning a black belt prepares someone to teach well.

Even if you’ve been teaching for decades, there is a good chance you are repeating bad habits until you learn differently.

That is why the MATA Certification program is so important and popular.

If you are going to make your living teaching martial arts, you have to get certified.

If you are afraid of spending $297 to upgrade your teaching skills and provide your staff with a common standard and language for teaching, then you are not a business owner. You are a hobbyist.

What do you think?

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Notice Tyson’s hand is by his face, not his hip.

His chin is down instead of up.

His shoulder is up instead of pulled back.

His body is sideways to his opponent instead of squared off.

His legs are under his body not spread apart like he was riding a horse.

With this kind of form, he would fail his orange belt exam in most schools. 

How does that make any sense?

Sensei Tyson?

If Mike Tyson or a world champion kickboxer came to your school to teach your black belts. What do you think he would work on? Double punches, square blocks, and keeping your chin up?

I’m pretty sure he would emphasize head movement, how to snap your punches and a defense that does NOT include pulling your punch back to your hip.

I’m sure the students would learn advanced applications to adjust for different fighters. Notice I said advanced applications, not advanced strikes.

When you focus on application, you can apply that to almost any technique.

For instance, if the drill is about how to fight a taller fighter, the answer is more about footwork to stay on the outside until you can secure quick access. My brothers are 6′ 3″ and 6′ 4″ so I know something about fighting a taller opponent.

Drills that teach that application do not require complexity. They require simplicity.

The more complex a skill becomes, the less chance it can be used. Have you ever seen a double punch? Only in kata and here:

If you eliminated all kata and traditional skills, you could devote that time to drills and conditioning that would give your students a true advantage in sparring or self-defense.

Imagine teaching fewer skills that are easy to teach and learn than traditional skills and kata.

You could spend more time on the application of those skills rather than stepping up and down the classroom and holding blocks and punches out in the air, which leaves you wide open for a counterattack.

Rather than spending student’s time with the complexity and frustration of spending years perfecting the bad habits of pulling their hand back to their hip, keeping their chin up, aiming and holding a punch in the air, and blocking with power while stepping forward, your retention will improve. Your student quality will improve. Your curriculum consistency will improve.

This is the core of our white to black belt curriculum Empower Kickboxing.

It’s an old saying, but true. “Less is best.”

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