Why Martial Arts IS a Business… and Why You Should Pay For it!

This is something that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for several months, if not longer. Two posts by friends have brought this back to my mind and I thought I’d discuss some thoughts about martial arts being a business, the reputation it has as a business and why I insist on thinking of it as one.

The first story is of a friend who runs a small fitness and martial arts club with her husband. They are very much a community and family-oriented gym. They insist on keeping prices low and affordable to help their clients, which is admirable and, I’m sure, much appreciated by their clients. They are about helping people – but who is there to help them? Are they helping themselves?

The other is a post by friend and self-defence expert who was saying that he is proud of his business for being exactly that – a business. His thoughts were that by running it like a business, he’s been able to access and approach a lot more people who have benefited from his excellent self-defence training. If he wouldn’t have treated it like a business, then those people may not have received life-saving training.

So which one do you agree with? Should martial arts/ self-defence be only ‘for the love of it?’ How much is too much to charge? What, when you stop and think about it, are you actually paying for?!


These are all good questions.

It’s an unfortunate reality that the vast majority of martial artists can’t make a living from their art. They have ‘real jobs’, and they teach for the love of it and charge what they can to pay the bills. Very often they’ll be losing money and will continue teaching in order to respect the tradition and the art and to share with others what they learned. And that, to me, is a sad, sad state of affairs, as often this is out of necessity rather than choice.

Much like any other industry, martial arts are affected by industry trends. And much like all industries, especially the arts, they are also greatly affected by similar factors. These include popular culture and social media and the proliferation of the ‘fast food’ mentality among both consumers and providers.

Unfortunately, there has also been a huge increase in the number of ‘belt factories’, online schools and ‘McDojos’ that give the rest a bad name.

But from a client perspective, this is also an issue. People are often after something cheap that’ll ‘do the job.’ Martial arts classes are often selected by convenience factors such as how close they are to your house and whether one place is $5 per month cheaper than the one down the road.

I mean a punch is a punch, right?

Interesting theory…

If you needed to have open-heart surgery, would you say ‘a surgeon’s a surgeon,’ and find the cheapest, nastiest one you can? Would $5 dissuade you from going to a better surgeon? What about $50? $500? $5,000?

You can see where I’m going with this. When the choice is whether you live or die, you’ll be willing to spend the money. I think self-defence and martial arts classes are similar. If the skills you learn can save you or your family from bullying, or sexual assault, or serious injury or even death, then finding someone who knows what they are doing is worth it.

And yes – that often means you will need to pay a premium. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. You wouldn’t expect to buy an economy class ticket and get seated in first class, right? Not only that, you’d be pretty pissed off if you bought a first class ticket and were seated in economy, right?!

So when it comes to saving lives, I’m sure you agree. But what about martial arts that are done for other reasons, such as fitness or community or skill development or fun?

My answer doesn’t change – more often than not, you get what you pay for. You will get fit, learn a cool art, and develop as a person as a result of training. In my opinion, it’s worth paying for. Not enough? You also get to relieve stress, learn how to deal with conflict, develop great physical and mental attributes, meet like-minded people… the list goes on.

When we run a school like a business, we have the potential of sharing our art with, and giving these benefits to, a lot more people than if we didn’t.

It allows us to provide better training facilities and equipment.

It means we focus our energy on providing a better service. It allows us to provide better art!

If you agree with me so far, great! This leaves two main questions that come to mind:

  1. What happens if I want to learn martial arts or self-defence, and I know of a great club, but I simply can’t afford it? Tough question, and one that can also splinter into several different arguments.First and foremost, I think you need to ask yourself how badly you want to train. If you are dead keen, it is often possible to make the small sacrifices that will free up the cash flow you need. I was there myself on more than one occasion. This, to me, was a powerful lesson in my early 20s. It taught me about making and owning decisions and prioritizing activities, behaviors, and people in my life.

    Obviously, some people may simply not be able to do this for whatever unfortunate circumstances have impacted them.

    But on a general level, I believe that for the most part (unless you teach in areas of extreme hardship, etc.) it really does come down to priorities. For person A, it may mean eating out less. For person B, it may mean partying less. For person C, it could be as simple as downgrading or canceling a Netflix subscription or not buying a coffee every day on the way to work. For person D, it could mean foregoing more substantial things.

    It can be a tough choice to make. As such, it depends on the individual to make the right decision for themselves.

    For some training becomes a way of life. For others, it’s a bit of fun. The majority of people will not be training addicts. As such, when things get rough because money is tight the first thing to go is often little Jonny’s karate classes, rather than foregoing a couple of hazelnut swirl soy lattes every week. For me, the choice seems obvious, but that’s not to say that it’s the same for everyone, nor should it be.

    Something else to consider is that some teachers will make allowances for this. When I started training, I was hurting for cash. In the space of 3 days had lost my job and ended a long-term relationship. My sensei was more than happy to let me train, providing I repaid what I could and did other work to help. I put down and packed up the mats, swept the floors, helped with kids classes, etc. That being said, I was doing those things anyway because they seemed like the right way to act. I respected my Sensei and the dojo and wanted to help because I loved being a part of it. I never asked to train for free in the brief periods that I did so. The discussion came about when I said I had to stop because I was broke, and it was offered to me because my behavior merited it.

    You never know when someone will do you a great kindness like that if you show your commitment and dedication.

    But first things first… Ask yourself how serious are you about wanting to train. Ask yourself whether you are willing to make some sacrifices to afford it. If the answer to the latter ‘yes’, then ask yourself what sacrifices you are willing to make. If something is out of your control.

  2. I’m happy to pay for quality, but how do I know what’s good?This is a tough question to answer if you have no experience in martial arts and you don’t know where to start looking. Lucky for you, I have some great pieces of advice that can help with that! You can find them here, here and here.

At the end of the day, I think that the positives of running a martial arts school like a business outweigh the negatives… But only providing that the business is run in a way that is ethical, honest, transparent, etc. In other words, it should follow the same values that one would expect to learn through training in the martial arts!

A Bushido business!

Stay safe, stay tuned,

Osu

Ron Amram
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Ron Amram

Director and Instructor at Combat Arts Institute of Australia
I'm a martial artist and school owner from Perth, Western Australia. I hold a 2nd Dan in Krav Maga, Shodan in Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt in Dennis Survival Jujutsu and am also a dedicated boxer and a keen BJJ and Escrima practitioner. I love meeting other like-minded martial artists, and always happy to talk about all things martial arts! Osu
Ron Amram
Follow me
Ron Amram
About Ron Amram 7 Articles
I'm a martial artist and school owner from Perth, Western Australia. I hold a 2nd Dan in Krav Maga, Shodan in Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt in Dennis Survival Jujutsu and am also a dedicated boxer and a keen BJJ and Escrima practitioner. I love meeting other like-minded martial artists, and always happy to talk about all things martial arts! Osu

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