What are the Requirements to Becoming 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. You can feel a sense of evangelism and missionary-like drive to teach and make the world a better place through the tenets of Tae Kwon Do, or the brotherhood of BJJ. Most of these martial artists have the best of intentions, and some of them go on to opening up their own school, or teaching others in some capacity.

Can anyone start teaching martial arts?

Depending on the country that you live in, the answer is usually yes. Essentially anyone can open up a facility, call it a martial arts school, charge for tuition, and teach whatever they would like. On the one hand, it is great that governments give us the freedom to do as we please, and teach or congregate (if it is not immediately dangerous to society), without unnecessary oversight. On the other hand, this can lead to very poor experiences for students, due to the lack of a professional education on the instructor’s part.

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

  1. Most instructors hold at least a black belt in the style that they teach. Some schools will state that if you hold a black belt, you are then able to teach the style and rank students. This is an old tradition, more based upon the “pass it on” philosophy of oral traditions. Back in yesteryear, a black belt (highly advanced student, even before belts were used), would then begin to help beginners in their own training. This did not mean that they necessarily started their own training school and began teaching 80-100 students each night (like what you would see in a modern day school).
  2. Some instructors have completed a martial arts teacher training certification. A surprisingly small percentage of professional instructors have gone through a teacher training program. These same instructors tend to run very impressive schools, with top gear students, and have a long career (just an observation, not an absolute). These training programs help the individual master the art of teaching – which is a completely different art than that of self defense or fighting. This allows the individual to connect with their students, help them make real improvement, organize an effective curriculum, handle issues within their academy, and grow the school for the sake of their staff and community.
  3. Some instructors have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some martial arts instructors originally went to school to become an engineer, an accountant, or a wide range of other professions. Some even hold a master’s degree or doctorate. These educational accolades don’t tend to hold a great deal of weight in determining the success or failure of a martial arts instructor. A few exceptions could be a degree in education or kinesiology.
  4. The majority or instructors simply teach how their instructor taught them. This might not seem like that bad of a teaching method, especially if your instructor was a standout individual. The downside here, is that these individuals (most martial arts instructors that you meet) did not feel a need to pursue additional teaching training, and are comfortable with how they were taught. This is a very limiting, one-lane style for the teacher. They are limited to certain concepts regarding running a class, correcting a student, forms of motivation, how to develop progress, testing, working with problem students, and so much more.

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

This will vary depending on the country that you live in. In the United States, you are not required to hold a specific license to operate a school. You do need sport’s liability insurance, to protect yourself and your students in the event of an injury or other incident.

Some countries monitor and enforce the requirement of a teaching license for martial arts. Contact your country’s ministry of sport. Or, contact your martial arts association, and they can point you toward the correct information.

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

You most likely are, even if you don’t know it. Take a look at your most recent belt rank certificate, what association issued the rank to you? And, if it is 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 your association, you will have a legitimate connection for issuing accredited rank to your own students, having the ability to continue ranking up yourself, and even earning an instructor certification.

Are there any online alternatives to 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 alternative is the CMAT™ (Certified Martial Arts Teacher) Course and Certification. This is a fully online course of study that is offered from a university-style approach. By becoming a CMAT™, you will have the skills, confidence, and certification needed to have a highly successful career as a martial arts instructor.

Written by Michael Hodge
I am a Lead Instructor at the Global Martial Arts University. I live with my three energetic kids and wonderful wife on a prairie in Texas. I also lead The Abundance Projects.