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Business aspects


In the past, practicing and teaching a martial art was an avocation, done because the practitioners enjoyed the challenge, the hard work, and the dedication required to perfect the art. Being a martial artist was a way of life. Martial art instructors did not, nor did they expect to, get rich, or even make a living from teaching a martial art. They did it because they believed what they were doing enriched their lives and could do the same for others.

Martial arts as an avocation

Many martial art classes are taught as a part of some other organization, such as a college, community center, YMCA/YWCA, or church, which furnishes a location for the classes. These classes can be found just about anywhere, such as in gyms, in health centers, in garages or basements, or in backyards or parks, While the instructor may get paid for his or her services, the instructor usually does not operate the classes as a business, so there are usually no business expenses, except maybe for space rental, so costs for these classes are usually minimal. Some of the instructors may be seeking to make a few extra dollars but most are teaching just because they enjoy the martial arts and teaching the martial arts.

The quality of instruction may vary from pitiful to outstanding. Since the instructors are not too concerned about keeping students, they tend to be old school and teach martial arts the traditional way. You train, you pay; if you do not train, you do not pay. These schools have rigorous rank requirements and it may take many years to earn a black belt, but when you do, you will feel proud and have reason to be proud.

Martial arts as a vocation

the martial arts are a vocation for most instructors. They are a business, with all the good and bad aspects of a business. For a business to stay in business, it must bring in more money than it spends. For a business to be successful, it must make enough money to make it worthwhile for the owner to remain in business.

For many schools, the way to make money is to lock students into long-term contracts that must be paid whether the student attends class or not. They create numerous ranks and charge large testing fees for each one, require school sponsored uniforms and equipment to prevent students from buying from cheaper sources, and require students attend tournaments, seminars, camps, etc. from which the school gets a cut of the profits. They require students to learn extra stuff that is not included in the classes but which is offered in books or videos or on DVDs that they sell to the students and they offer all types of expensive items for sale that advertise the school on them.

Some businesses make something, such as Microsoft; some sell things that others have made, such as Wal-Mart; while others provide a service, such as martial art schools. To succeed in a service business, a business must provide a service the public needs or wants at a price they are willing to pay. For the service business to grow, it must keep new customers coming in, retain current customers, provide more services and new services, and provide all this at a price people are still willing to pay.

Martial art students come and go every day for a variety of reasons. For a martial art school to succeed and grow as a business, it must advertise to attract new students, keep current students happy with the service they receive, and add new services or products to extract more money from current students. Many martial art businesses open every year, and almost as many close every year. Many commercial schools are more concerned about staying in business than they are in maintaining the tradition and purpose of the martial arts. Thankfully, many commercial schools care as much, if not more, for their students as they for their businesses.

Business types

Storefront martial art schools fall into two categories: those operated as a part-time business and those operated as a full-time business. Some owners of the part-time schools operate them to earn some extra money and some operate them as a hobby mostly, not wanting to lose money but not really caring whether they make money as long as they break even. Full-time school owners operate the schools to earn a living. They not only have at least to break even in the business, they must make enough money to support themselves, their families, and their lifestyles. For some, supporting their lifestyles requires a lot of money, and this money comes from the students, so everything in the business is geared toward extracting as much money as possible from the students.


Some schools are franchises, they are licensed by their organization, and the school must pay a licensing fee and a portion of their profits to the organization. The organization signs the schools to long-term contracts that require the schools to purchase insurance through the organization, pay for and attend various seminars, pay to bring organization officials to the school for seminars and training sessions, pay for extra certifications, and pay a portion of the student testing fees to the organization. All these methods keep a constant flow of money coming in from the franchise schools. The organization officials get rich while the schools struggle. To make more money, the schools must bring in more students, even though it means they must send even more money to the organization. As explained in other topics, the martial art organizational system is designed to generate more instructors and have them obligated to the organization. These schools may be branches of the main school or separate franchises. Either way, it means more money goes to the organization.

To generate even more money income, the organization franchises separate children programs, cardio programs, women’s self-defense programs, demonstration teams, etc. Each one requiring students to pay out more and more money. As children get hooked into the system, the parents get dragged deeper into the programs until they feel committed, and usually, since they have signed long-term contracts, they are committed.

Where does your money go?

Money gets you a lot of pretty certificates that are worthless outside of the organization, pretty uniform patches, maybe a newsletter or magazine (which usually is just to inform you about all the things the organization has to offer), and tournaments and camps to attend (which charge exorbitant fees). You may still get all the benefit that the martial art itself has to offer, but you could get that without being a part of any major organization. As a matter of fact, you probably would get more of the benefit from a martial art by not being in a major organization.

To bring in more students and keep them paying, organizations have lowered rank requirements so anyone with money can attain a black belt. Therefore, there are lots of black belt wearers, but few true black belts. It is like when you are purchasing a house and you are visiting houses that are for sale. You visit two houses, one is vacant, and the owners still live in the other one. They both look the same from the outside, but the vacant one has no soul.

Commercial taekwondo schools are like daycare centers or public schools. They are set up for children, and adults are used to help train and control the children. If you are an adult student, your classes will be overrun with teenagers and you will be expected to help control and train them. At camps and tournaments, adults compete, then chaperone the children and teens for the remainder of the competition. Adult classes are usually offered out of necessity, the schools want the free labor.

Some commercial martial art schools are professional gyms that specialize in adult students. They train adults to be professional, semi-professional, or amateur fighters. They usually are not operated as a traditional martial art school and do not have any of the standard martial art decor, uniforms, or procedures; they just concentrate on the fighting aspects of the martial arts. These schools may not appear to be rip-offs, but they have their own set of problems. They may use the name of a famous fighter, but you will probably never see the fighter, and will certainly not be trained by the fighter, even though the high fees you pay will go toward paying for the fighter’s training.

Bottom line

If you understand what is involved in commercial martial arts schools and still want to participate in them, that is your choice. Just don’t confuse commercial martial arts schools with traditional martial arts schools and don’t believe that just because you train in a commercial martial art school that you are getting better instruction.

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