How to Fund and Start a Martial Arts School

By Joel Williams | Instructors

Sep 01

Starting a martial arts school can be a daunting task. It seems easy enough, just rent a space, get some mats, and do what you love – right? Well, for many, getting into the numbers, funding, business plan, pricing, marketing, lease, build-out, can get a little tricky.

To help de-mystify the very first stage or launching a school – funding your school – I interviewed five successful school owners. This group of individuals come from very different backgrounds, from teaching karate to krav maga, to working in law enforcement to designing jewelry. They all used different tactics to fund and launch their school. Here are their stories.

Dustin Koppel Second School
This is Dustin Koppel’s first school. Here you can see a packed house!

“The dream is free … the hard work is sold separately”
– Author Unknown

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” – Peter F. Drucker


Advice From Successful School Owners

1. What was the most difficult aspect of getting started?

  • Major Theme: Building the initial student base, often from zero.
  • Other Issues: Managing fear and stress of investing savings into the start up of the school. Dealing with the stress of waiting on others (e.g., contractors) to complete work required to open the school.
  • Take Away Lessons: Invest wisely. Be patient. Hustle, market, and network.

2. What came easy for you in establishing your school?

  • Major Theme 1: Leverage previous business experience / Absorb everything you can about planning, marketing, implementing.
  • Major Theme 2: Getting to work / Keeping up the momentum once you start.
  • Other Issues: One school owner started small and had little to no financial expenses, so his start up experience was more about finding training partners (and keeping them motivated to train) rather than having to deal with the realities of opening a school from scratch with considerable overhead costs.
  • Take Away Lessons: Learn continuously. Be patient. Work hard.

3. How did you fund the start up of your school?

  • Major Theme 1: 60% school owners self-funded their start up.
  • Major Theme 2: Two of the five school owners interviewed had investor support.
  • Take Away Lessons: Invest wisely. Be patient. Hustle, market, and network.

4. What did you do to keep the doors open?

  • Major Theme: Be willing to start out small. The majority of school owner interviewed only had a few students in initial classes. They would even show up to train even if by themselves.
  • Other Issues: There were several important, yet specific, tidbits that arose:
  1. Shoe leather marketing (getting out in the community to drum up business).
  2. Utilize electronic marketing resources (especially free ones and social media platforms).
  3. Teach EXCELLENT classes.
  4. Learn students’ names and learn things about their families.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Take out loans if necessary.
  7. Cut business costs even if that means firing non-productive staff.
  • Take Away Lessons: Be patient. Work lean. Genuinely invest in people. Provide students with the best class experience you can.

5. What are the most important tips you would give to new school owners?

  • Main Theme: Make use of the web and social media.
  • Other Issues: Again, there were several important, yet specific, tidbits that arose:
  1. Learn as much as you can about business.
  2. Develop a business goal and plan.
  3. Invest in yourself: earn rank.
  4. Invest in yourself: learn how to teach.
  5. Decide if this is a hobby or a true business.
  6. Be careful how you spend money.
  7. Consider partnering on space.
  • Take Away Lessons: learn continuously, be purposeful in the business aspects of your school, use electronic platforms to your advantage, prioritize personal/professional growth and development.

Time to Learn from 5 School Owners Who Have Been There

Michael Hodge of Global Martial Arts University in Scurry, Texas

Michael Hodge got his start helping out at his father’s dojo. Mr. Hodge opened his first school in 2008, now operating at a new location. He is also the Head Instructor and Director of the Global Martial Arts University where he teaches bojutsu and shotokan karate.

Additional advice for new school owners:

“Regarding funding, I recommend bootstrapping a school. What I did, is, each month as we grew and had some extra profit, I would make a re-investment into the school. One month some branded Wavemasters, next month tables and chairs in the lobby, next month a better channel letter sign outside, etc. You really just need a clean location, good parking, and some good mats. Mats can really add a level of quality and professionalism. To fund the school, make sure and have a pre-enrollment campaign. You could pre-enroll, let’s say 50 students with a “founder’s membership” (a special price that will never change for them). You could actually take the funds you get from their registration fees and first months or paid in fulls, and fund most of your costs” – Sensei Michael Hodge

Michael South of National Martial Arts in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Michael South is a 3rd Dan black belt in Krav Maga, a 1st Dan black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and is a GMAU Instructor. Coach South incorporated his LLC in April of 2013 and began operating his school in August of 2013 where he teaches Krav Maga and BJJ.

Additional advice for new school owners:

“In my experience as a School Owner and Consultant in this industry, THE NUMBER ONE MISTAKE that all new owners make is thinking that being a “pure” Martial Artist”/dedicated Instructor and being a good businessperson that makes money are mutually exclusive pursuits. Until you can pay your bills with your passion and good intentions, your landlord and vendors will only accept MONEY to pay your bills. So if you are insistent on teaching some irrelevant style that nobody wants to learn, or simply undercharging for your services, you will experience unnecessary hardships that could bring it all crashing down. I’m NOT suggesting that you ‘sell out’ or sell belts. Again, just be intellectually honest with how you run your school. Maintain your integrity as an Instructor, and listen to the market and other successful School Owners with regards to how you make decisions.”
– Coach Michael South

Dan Gador of The Martial Arts School in Kiryat Gat, Israel

Dan Gador is a 3rd Dan black belt in Krav Maga, runs a school in Israel, and serves as on the GMAU Board of Directors. After instructing martial arts for 13 years, he opened his own school 5 years ago where he teaches Krav Maga and self-defense.

Additional advice for new school owners:

“Educate yourself (business wise)… When a cook learns to be a chef, he learns not only more sophisticated ways to make an omelet, he learns management. He learns budgeting. He learns marketing. You may be the best instructor in the world and non of that will matter if you can’t afford to pay rent or don’t have enough students to train” – Mr. Dan Gador

Trent Praytor of Carolina Combatives & Fitness in Anderson, South Carolina

Trent Praytor is a 1st Dan black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and is a student in the GMAU Certified Krav Maga Instructor program. He opened his first school (from his home garage) when he moved to South Carolina from North Carolina in 2012. Subsequently, he utilized space in a Taekwondo school before moving to his current location where he teaches BJJ, Krav Maga, and Martial Blade Concepts/Counter Blade Concepts, and Muay Thai/Kickboxing.

Additional advice for new school owners:

“My emphasis has not been on running my academy as a business as much as a mission field and a family. After a few years it is a profitable business at least in a part time capacity. The friendships created and bonds between students who would have otherwise never crossed paths, have been invaluable. For me, Carolina Combatives & Fitness is a legacy more than a business or a hobby.”
– Coach Trent Praytor

Dustin Koppel of National Martial Arts in Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Dustin Koppel is a 3rd Dan black belt in Krav Maga, a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and is a GMAU Instructor. He was a staff instructor at schools in California for many years and opened his own first school 6 years ago where he teaches Krav Maga, Kickboxing, and BJJ.

Additional advice for new school owners:

“Make sure to have a mentor, awesome business systems, a clean school, and be professional on and off the mat! ”
– Coach Dustin Koppel


Summary

There were many good tips listed in this blog. The advice that really stands out to me includes: learning as much as possible about business, being purposeful in planning and delivery, using electronic resources, developing patience, working hard, driving forward no matter what, and pursuing continuous growth. I would like to personally thank each school owner for taking time out of their busy schedules to provide is with their genuine, and thoughtful recommendations.


Check Out These Other Useful Resources:

How to create a business plan – The SBA guides you in creating a business plan.

Advice you likely haven’t heard – From Forbes, 10 tips to starting a small business.

Start up legal considerations – A helpful guide from the folks at Legal Zoom.

Tips from famous entrepreneurs – An easy to consume article with some perspective from famous founders.

Small Dojo Big Profits – A great book written by Mike Massie, that simplifies the start-up and organization of your school.

Rank Up: Become an Elite Instructor and Grow Your Martial Arts School – A podcast designed for instructors looking to launch a top-level school, without having to figure it all out on their own.

About the Author

Husband. Father. University Professor. GMAU Certified Krav Maga Instructor.

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: