What are the Requirements to Becoming a Martial Arts Instructor?

By Michael Hodge | Instructors

Nov 19

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.

About the Author

I am a Lead Instructor at the Global Martial Arts University. I live with my three energetic kids on a prairie in Texas. I also lead The Abundance Projects.

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(12) comments

sarah marrow April 26, 2019

I’m thinking about becoming a martial arts instructor I’m not a black belt yet but I’m thinking about becoming one and I just want to know the steps to becoming one thanks

    Michael Hodge May 17, 2019

    Hi Sarah, I hope this article was helpful so that you can see the steps you need to take in order to get there. If you love the martial arts, always keep a student mentality, and then learn some foundation principles to teaching – you will do great.

Rebecca Cote August 19, 2019

Thank you for posting this. My husband and I recently started taking Taekwondo classes. We live up in the New England. We are instructed by Master Daniel Jung a 7th degree black belt from the World Taekwondo Federation and an 8th degree black belt from the Universal Martial Arts Federation. It has been an honor training with him as he has instructed all branches of the South Korean army. We just received our yellow belts so we’re fairly new. Even in this short time Taekwondo has impacted our lives more than we could ever imagine. I hope to one day strive to teach others this lifestyle and to show them that this isn’t just a sport, it is a way of life and a way of being. Even though we are new to this at 35yo (me) and 37yo (husband) we hope to inspire others that it is never to late to embrace this life style. Again, thank you for posting this and inspiring others to better themselves and their communities.

    Michael Hodge August 20, 2019

    Absolutely! Welcome to the martial arts, I am so glad you are on this journey with us. I got a physical feeling over me as I read your comment, sort of a compass pointing to truth, is the only way I can explain it. I know that you and your husband will do great things via teaching taekwondo and we would love to help you on that journey at some point. You might consider subscribing to my new podcast “Rank Up: Become an Elite Instructor and Grow Your Martial Arts School”, and keep in touch with us. Of course, focus on your own training and growth as a practitioner, but there is nothing wrong with setting these other goals.

Zach Redding August 21, 2019

I’m thinking about doing something like teaching martial arts because that’s one thing I’m good at. My only problem is that I was taken out of my dojo because my family wanted me to focus more on school. I made it to brown belt. I’m would try going back to earn my black belt, but now I don’t have money to train there. I kept up my training on my own despite this and I’ve learned a lot through the years. I did go back to my old dojo and my skills have reached the level of a black belt there. I even went to another school that does Taekwondo and my kicks were just as good as the black belts there.

I don’t consider myself a master by any means, but teaching martial arts would be super fun! If I can, I would like to learn more about it.

If it helps, I trained at Red Tiger Karate here in Texas. That’s where I got my brown belt. After that, I tried out an MMA gym and learned a little Jujitsu. Now, when I find the time, I go to a Muay Thai gym for their free class to spar and I also occasionally attend a group in Denton called ARMA for swordplay.

    Michael Hodge August 25, 2019

    I highly recommend earning your black belt and then saving up a little money to enter the CMAT course – it would help launch you into this successfully!

Arunava November 21, 2019

I have learnt kyokushin karate,taekwondo and japanese jujistsu.I would like to open a school of martial art in india mainly in mysore,bangalore and coonor

    Michael Hodge November 21, 2019

    That’s fantastic! We’d love to help you do that. The Certified Martial Arts Teacher course is definitely what I would recommend.

Mohd shifak December 5, 2019

I am black belt i know many tachniqu in martial art i have black belt certificate and i am graduate and i am had been play international level championship

    Michael Hodge December 5, 2019

    That’s fantastic!

Shashank December 5, 2019

Hi. I have taken martial arts classes at your site. But I did not give exam.
How should I give the exam and will I get a belt and certificate.

    Michael Hodge December 5, 2019

    You need to enroll as a full active student. Once you are an enrolled (paying) student, you complete all lessons and classes at a level, log the appropriate number of hours, and complete your assignments. You can then take the test on the “Testing” tab.

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