How to Become a Martial Arts Instructor?


How to Become a Martial Arts Instructor?

We all know that the sportspeople are the reason most people watch and train (professional) sports. Whether it’s football, baseball or boxing, we all want to become like the pros, like our idols. It is a known fact that many great non-American basketball players decided to pursue basketball after watching the legendary “Dream Team”, probably the best team in the history of sports, play at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. But just like the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team”, each professional sportsperson or team has one key figure behind them – the coach (or the instructor). The names are different (manager, coach, head coach, instructor, etc.), but the essence is the same – the coach trains and prepares the sportspeople and teams for competitions and matches. But despite their vital role in the process, coaches are more often than not in the shadow of their “students” and that is why we’ve decided to dedicate today’s article to them, the unsung heroes of all the champions in modern sports.

In general, to become a martial arts instructor, you have to have some experience in the given martial art. Also, you will have to obtain some sort of certificate to be able to teach martial arts.

That was put as simply as possible. But, there is more to it. In this article, we will go through all things you should know if you want to become a martial arts instructor.

If your desired martial art is wrestling, then be sure to check out our specific guide to become a wrestling coach.

What Does a Martial Arts Instructor Do?

The job of a martial arts coach is pretty demanding and stressful. They can train both amateurs and professionals, but whether it’s the one or the other – the job is pretty demanding. Your goal is for your protégé to win, for him to learn something and improve a lot on his skills.

Simply put, your job is for him to be the best. And in order for him to be the best, he has to be better than all of his potential opponents. The thing is – all the other trainees and coaches think exactly the same as you do, so you’re dealing with a perpetual need to outwit your opponent at every step. 

A martial arts instructor has two main jobs – preparation and analysis. 

When talking about the preparatory aspect of martial arts training, an instructor needs to have good knowledge of kinesiology, the art itself and great organisational skills. He needs to know how the human body works and how he can enhance his protégés’ abilities and physique.

He needs to plan and organise training sessions, work out a lesson plan (usually for the whole year, because training sessions usually function like a school year, along with the tournament schedules), find the best types of workout for a trainee’s evolution and also be able to motivate his protégé to follow the demanding training.

Amateurs and recreationalists are slightly less demanding than (potential) professionals, but the fact is that all these groups require work, time and determination, because even if two of them won’t bring you any trophies or a ticket to the Olympics, they steel need you and your guidance so you have to be prepared to do your job.

And that is exactly why an instructor is absolutely necessary, because the trainees need to focus on the training; the coach is there to direct his course. 

When dealing with this aspect, we have to stress out that an instructor also has to be a good psychologist and a pedagogue, especially when working with kids. Instructors usually work in groups and it requires some skill and knowledge for them to coordinate the whole group and to resolve any potential quarrels.

Also, if an instructor is dealing with children, he has to be good with them. He has to know how to talk to them, how to motivate them, but also how to listen to them and how to help them, because he can be an important role-model for young(er) children.

Analysis concerns both tactics and scouting. Although most martial arts are individual sports (well, practically all of them are, but there are some exceptions within some arts and sports) where tactical variants are relatively limited compared to team sports, that does not mean you can just enter a future match without any kind of preparation.

Certainly, some fighters have a plethora of moves and approaches, but some fighters have signature moves and you need to prepare your strategy to successfully fight an opponent and win. This is where scouting comes in. You have to study your opponent to be able to prepare for a fight against him.

A trainee or fighter can do some partial scouting himself, but it is the coach that has to combine both these analytical elements into one aspect and create an idea on how to win. 

What Qualifications Do You Need to Teach Martial Arts?

When education is concerned, there are several possibilities and this is where it actually gets tricky. Namely, there is no unified standard for martial arts instructors and each art, each school even, has their own criteria which vary differently between each other. 

Most instructors usually need at least a 1st degree black belt in the martial art they are instructing. This is logical because of two reasons.

Firstly, black belts in martial arts are usually considered to be instructor belts, meaning that by obtaining one, the holder automatically becomes eligible for an instructing position; some martial arts (like BJJ, for example) require higher degrees of a black belt for a holder to start instructing, but the general idea is nevertheless the same.

Secondly, in order to teach, it is only logical that you need to have mastered all the necessary skills to do so, and a black belt is usually proof enough of that, which is why you need to have one before you start passing your knowledge onto others.

Another usual prerequisite are licences. Most school or college instructors need to have some sort of licence, which means that college and professional coaches have to be certified by state, national or international organisations, while instructors at different gyms may or may not need one to work there.

Despite your experience and education, your employer might demand that you pass an official licence exam and obtain a certificate. You’ll need to attend obligatory courses, pass exams and obtain a license before you can be officially certified. Such certification is required at higher levels, but it can be substituted with obligatory courses and training for lower levels.

But as we’ve said, this is not universally accepted so you might just find a place where they don’t ask for a certificate or licence. 

Both professional and amateur instructors usually hold a bachelor’s degree, although there is no strict formal standard when it comes to the education of martial arts instructors.

The degree can typically be in any field, but most instructors have studied sports sciences, kinesiology, or some similar discipline that covers some aspects of training a professional sportsperson.

A classic exception, and this is very specific, are high school wrestling coaches, who are typically professors and/or school administrators that take on an extra role; high school sports generally work like that (p.e. the history teacher is also the basketball coach), so wrestling is not an exception. 

A fourth possibility is just imitating your mentor and instructor. A lot of instructors, regardless of the above-mentioned criteria, just copy what they’ve been taught, which can be good, but also very bad. If your teacher was a great one, a professional and a famous master of the art, then replicating him can be a good idea since you pass on knowledge with proven quality.

On the other hand, if you just have an illusion of him being good, this can do a lot of harm to your students and can decrease your value as an instructor, because you’re not only bad, you’re also lacking in originality. 

Experience in the art is desired, but it is also not a prerequisite, especially in high school sports. Even some random episodes count towards experience, but the more you have, the better. Trainees will usually want to work with more experienced instructors as they can also teach them from experience, in addition to classical theoretical stuff. 

What Is the Salary of Martial Arts Instructors?

Typical annual incomes for martial arts instructors in the United States aren’t that high. Martial arts are generally not particularly popular (with MMA and professional boxing being notable exceptions) and are certainly not part of global phenomena such as UFC or elite boxing.

Although there are no exact numbers, we’ve managed to find that the average yearly income for instructors is around $42,000, which is not much. Some employers offer higher salaries that can exceed even $50,000, but the numbers tend to be lower. 

Of course, martial arts instructors employed by professional fighters who train for the Olympics earn more, as do instructors employed by MMA fighters, but these numbers are mostly kept hidden from the public, as they are considered to be protected under privacy laws. We hope we’ve helped you with this, although we haven’t given you that much to start with. 

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Martial Arts Instructor?

Before we conclude our text, we’ll bring you a short list of the basic skills needed to start off as a good martial arts instructor: 

  • Good communication skills
  • Good motivational skills
  • Decision making skills
  • Analytical mind
  • Tactical skills
  • Scouting experience
  • Dedication
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Good listening skills
  • Basic knowledge of psychology
  • Basic knowledge of child psychology
  • Experience in pedagogy 
  • Basic knowledge of the human body (anatomy, medicine, physiology, …)
  • Patience 
  • Respect for your protégé and others
  • Sportsmanship
  • Leadership skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Experience in wrestling
  • Wider knowledge

That covers about everything you need to know if you’re pondering a career of a martial arts instructor. It is by no means an easy task – you have to know a lot and work even more – but it’s nothing unsurmountable and you can easily be a good instructor if you invest yourself hard enough. There are some basic skills you need to have and things you need to do before getting the hang of it (e.g. a black belt, a certificate, etc.), but once you’re done with that – you’re ready to go. 

The money isn’t that big, but you can be satisfied with other aspects, such as the success of your protégé. And who knows, you might even reach the Olympics as an instructor at one point or even become an instructor for an MMA fighter, where your skills and determination will also provide you with more money. 

That’s all for today. We hope you found our article informative and interesting, and that you will keep following us for more of the same. Until next time! 

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