What are the Requirements to Become a Martial Arts Instructor?

Many aspiring martial artists fall in love with their art, and would be honored to spread its life-changing impact to others. Some have a missionary-like drive to teach and make the world a better place through the tenets of Tae Kwon Do or the brotherhood of BJJ, for example. Most of these martial artists have the best of intentions, and some of them open their own school or teach others in some capacity.

Can anyone start teaching martial arts?

Essentially anyone can open up a facility, call it a martial arts school, charge tuition, and teach whatever they like.

On the one hand, it’s great that many countries allow the freedom for people to congregate (if it’s not immediately dangerous to society) or teach others without oversight. On the other hand, however, this can lead to very poor experiences for students because of a possible lack of instructor education and certification.

Source: Adobe Stock by Rawf8

What education, certificates, or training do most martial arts instructors have?

GMAU Instructor Bios

Most martial arts instructors hold at least a black belt in the style they teach. Some schools say that only those who hold black belts are able to teach the style and rank students. This is an old approach, based upon the “pass it on” philosophy of oral traditions.

Back in yesteryear, a black belt (i.e., a highly-advanced student, even before belts were used) would help beginners with their training. This did not mean that he or she would necessarily start a training school and teach 80-100 students each night, like what you see in a modern-day school.

GMAU Instructor Bios

Some instructors have completed martial arts teacher-training certification. A surprisingly small percentage of professional instructors have gone through a teacher-training program. These instructors tend to run very impressive schools, with top gear students, and have a long career (just an observation, not an absolute).

Teacher-training programs help instructors master the art of teaching, which is a completely different art than that of self defense or fighting. This training enables instructors to better connect with their students, teach in a positive way, organize an effective curriculum, handle issues within their academies, and grow their schools for the benefit of their staff members and communities.

GMAU Instructor Bios

Some instructors have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Some martial arts instructors originally went to school to become engineers, accountants, or other professionals. Some even hold master’s degrees or doctorates. While these educational achievements don’t tend to hold a great deal of weight in determining the success or failure of a martial arts instructor, some exceptions could be degrees in education or kinesiology.

GMAU Instructor Bios

The majority or instructors simply teach how their instructors taught them. Teaching just like your instructor did might not seem like a bad idea, especially if your instructor was a standout individual. The downside to this, however, is that most martial arts instructors did not pursue additional teacher training and are perfectly comfortable with how they were taught. This is a very limited, one-lane style of teaching. Such instructors have incomplete and even old-fashioned concepts for running a class, correcting and motivating students, developing a progressive curriculum, testing, working with problem students, and much more.

Source: Adobe Stock by Andrey Popov

Are there any legal requirements or licenses I must hold to teach martial arts?

The need for instructor licensing varies depending on the country you live in. In the United States, you’re not required to hold a specific license to operate a martial arts school. Some other countries monitor and enforce teaching-license requirements for martial arts.

For teacher-licensing requirements in your area, contact your ministry of sport or your martial arts association. They should be able to point you toward the correct information.

Something else you should absolutely look into is purchasing liability insurance to protect yourself and your students in the event of an injury or other unfortunate incident.

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Do I need to be connected with a martial arts association?

You’re most likely already connected to a martial arts association, even if you don’t know it. Take a look at your most recent belt-rank certificate — what association issued the rank to you? If it’s not listed, ask your instructor what association the school is affiliated with.

Martial arts associations set standards for rank requirements, tournament regulations, and teaching standards (in some cases). By being aligned with an association you’ll have a legitimate connection for issuing accredited rank to your own students, having the ability to continue ranking up yourself, and earning instructor certification.

Global Martial Arts University (CMAT) Certified Martial Arts Teacher

Are there any online options for becoming a certified martial arts instructor?

If your local school or association does not offer a comprehensive instructor training and certification program, you should consider looking for alternatives.

One option is the Certified Martial Arts Teacher (CMAT™) course and certification. This is a fully online course of study that’s offered from a university-style approach.

By becoming a CMAT™ you’ll have the skills, confidence, and certification needed to have a highly successful career as a martial arts instructor.

Sensei Michael Hodge Founder and Head Instructor of Global Martial Arts University

7 thoughts on “What are the Requirements to Become a Martial Arts Instructor?”

  1. James Shackelton

    Hello, I have been studying martial arts for 8 years.
    I have started learning boxing, kick boxing, and BJJ in 2012 by black belt instructor Chris phiefer.
    By 2015 I went to Arkansas to learn IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Krav maga by staff sergeant U.S Army special forces Timothy Kutcher SR. He holds rank E5.
    By 2019 I have started learning more depts of karate and aikido.
    As of today I have been teaching self defense classes only problem I have is not being certified. I have been researching schools to see if they will accept my experience and able to give me a exam test to become certified. I can downloads all videos of my teaching experience weekly. Let me know what is my steps.
    I prefer not to spend arm and leg.

    1. Hi James,
      If you have a rank certificate in Krav Maga or Shotokan Karate, we will be very happy to receive a rank-transfer request from you. Please read this guideline article for details << https://globalmartialarts.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/9000198733-how-do-i-transfer-my-current-rank-to-a-gmau-program- >> And to have the rank-transfer processed, please create a new support ticket at: https://globalmartialarts.freshdesk.com/support/tickets/new
      Best regards,
      – The GMAU

  2. Theodore Widen

    Hello, My name is TJ Widen and I currently reside in the US. I am an experienced and advanced martial artist who has been training consistently and steadily since 2008, 15 years now. I have studied extensively under systems and arts as American boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Wing Chun, Wu Shu Chinese Boxing, Thai Boxing, some military hand-to-hand, karate, Tae Kwon Do, multiple weapons training, and more in this time. As of almost two years ago a good friend of mine and fellow martial artist for near his whole life suggested I mix my multiple styles and techniques into one unique comprehensive system which I have been doing. As of this writing my mixed system is almost complete and I am about to start taking on students, small numbers at first. Will I run into any potential legal hurdles as I am not certified, at least on paper. Most of my instruction has been on a private individual basis. I honestly want to help a core of people protect themselves and to make a living at it as well! Thank you for any and all support and advice! Sincerely, TJ Widen

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