Ethical Rules for Selling Martial Arts Tuition

Let’s not pretend that making money from teaching martial arts is a bad thing. If someone can be paid as a sports coach, a yoga teacher or any other type of teacher then it stands to reason that being able to be a professional martial artist relies on being paid for teaching. If that is a problem for you, you probably will want to start here before going any further.

However, as with anything, there’s a right and a wrong way to do things. Earn money, yes, but most martial arts teachers at least conciously want to do things the right way, represent themselves and their style well and pass something good on to paying students. That said, here are some suggestions to avoid the absolute worst. If you have been aware of the martial arts for more than five minutes, you’ve seen martial artists selling their ways in a way that wouldn’t be out of place selling snake oil at the carnival.

Here are some suggestions. Don’t like them, fine, but face up to the fact that your communications might not be as well intentioned as you think.

1) Don’t advertise things you don’t teach. There are two things that this usually applies to.

1a) The firsts is MMA. You might have a BJJ teacher and you might have a points Karate teacher but if they’re separate people and separate classes and the striking and grappling never meets, then what you don’t have is an MMA school. MMA is something that exists in its own right so much so it has its own wikipedia page. Don’t try to use the term to refer to any school which offers multiple martial arts – that just simply isn’t what the term means now. To argue that Escrima and Taekwon-do make mixed martial arts is like arguing that you play for Manchester United because some of your team mates are from Manchester and you are united with them. Abusing misinformation like this is low to an audience who may not be well informed.

1b) The second is Self Defence. If you advertise self defence you have to teach it. Classical forms do not equal self defence, neither does points fighting, nor one step sparring, nor any other kind of sport or martial artists vs. martial artist activity. If your Self Defence teaching doesn’t cover awareness, posturing, handling verbals, defusing situations, being assertive and preparing for adrenal stress then you just aren’t teaching self defence. Compliant headlock escapes and the twisting of fingers does not cover it. Almost every teacher advertises something that they simply do not teach. Another way of looking at this is that if you want to advertise self defence, you have to start changing your classes to cover it. This is a good place to start.

2) Don’t  say you’ll help people to meet their goals if you never ask people what their goals are. Don’t say it if you’re not willing to change the emphasis of your class to help them. I am not asking you to do anything differently, only not to make a claim if you’re not willing to follow through on it.

3) Don’t exaggerate your rank. Don’t claim to have rank from someone you don’t have rank from. Don’t make false claims about your background. Don’t use someone else’s name to sell your classes unless you have rank from them or their permission. Don’t mention your black belt or other certification without saying what it is in. Should be a no-brainer, right? All too common. Teaching BJJ with a black belt in Judo – no problem in and of itself, but don’t try to intentionally mislead people.

4) Don’t sell your classes by demeaning other classes or styles. You don’t have to like what other people do. If you see technical flaws among others, you have the right to say so. Selling your classes as being superior to others is classless though. If you aren’t willing to make a positive argument focusing on benefits, you have no business marketing your class.

5) Don’t sign someone up without fully explaining the costs of training. This includes grading fees and roughly how often they’ll want to grade. This includes letting them know that they may have to purchase equipment down the line. You would say you want people to dedicate themselves and take it seriously – take their demands seriously too and give them a full and honest financial proposition to sign up to.

6) Don’t sign long term contracts with newcomers who have no experience and no idea if they’d like it. You’re a teacher, not a used car salesman shifting a lemon.

7) Don’t promise to make them into a black belt. Universities aren’t allowed to say, “Degree Guarenteed”. If there is no possibility of failure, then it’s not worth doing.

8) Don’t force new students to replace existing equipment with branded equipment…..ever. What are you? A graffitti tagger? You have to have your name on everything? Utility comes first and you don’t get to attach a string to someone else’s purse. Bundle the uniform with the joining fee if you wish but equipment is just equipment.

9) Don’t sign someone up before a trial class. Why would you do that? Surely even you’d like to see if they just start flipping out like a maniac or run out the door if they hear a police siren. It’s best for both of you if you let them see or be in a real class, taught by the real usual instructor. No selling on one to one tuition with grandmasters and being put in a class taught by blue belts. And don’t change the class to impress people either. They’ve come to see people learning, so show them the real product.

10) Finally and most of all, the Will Wheaton principle.



If the answer is no, don’t get all testy about it. Don’t bitch and gripe.

If the person knows what they are looking at and doesn’t sign up, accept their opinion, move on and find people who will get on board and do great things for you.

This is the one on the list I am going to share a real life example of following training at a dojang on a trial basis for two weeks. I was also training at a university club with a really good set of instructors who are highly experienced and well thought after but explained to this Instructor that I was considering joing somewhere else for some additional training sessions, especially during periods where the main club was closed but potentially throughout the year. I quit the class forthe best part of a year before this exchange. Enjoy.


[MY NAME], It is a year later and we are starting another year of TaeKwon-Do at [SCHOOL NAME].  I hope you can join us.


Thanks for your email. My situation hasn’t changed too much since last time in that I am doing some training at the university amongst other places and fairly satisfied with that…….As you know, I’m relatively reluctant to take up any kind of membership with [TAEKWON-DO ORGANISATION] because it remains my understanding that….I would have to pay a sizeable conversion fee on my current rank. This is not to say that I am looking to pursue a grading at the moment but this also plays into my decision making. Good luck with the new year at your club and best wishes for the coming months.


[WITH NO INTRODUCTION TO THE REPLY, A DESTRIPTION OF THE INSTRUCTOR’S AMAZING HUGE GRADING AND THE AMAZING HUGE SEMINARS THE ORGANISATION PUTS ON]….I respect your opinion to keep your costs lower, but I hope your training doesn’t suffer because of it.

Dude, don’t be suggesting that if I don’t sign with you, my martial arts will suffer.

Don’t suggest that some instructors with way more experience are unable to teach to a high enough standard that my training won’t suffer.

I already went to your class and I didn’t bite…..and didn’t return over the course of a year in which I continued to train. That means I wasn’t very impressed, so no, I don’t think my training will suffer. You aren’t Liam Neeson. You don’t get to track people down and imply that they are going to suffer.


Anyway, thanks for letting my personal rant end this perfectly otherwise sensible article. Let’s cheer ourselves up with the best martial arts marketing ever by clicking here.


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