How to Start a Martial Arts Studio – Introduction

So, you have dreams of owning and operating a martial arts, fitness, dance, or yoga studio someday.  Well, I have been fortunate enough to have accomplished this feat.  I have been a speaker at numerous seminars on this topic and have successfully advised others in their pursuit of starting their own martial arts studio.

Starting a martial arts studio
Learning how to start a martial arts studio is challenging

For the sake of simplicity, from this point forward I will only refer to martial arts studios.  The information I will give can be easily applied to any fitness, dance, yoga, or similar type studio.  It is generic and not specific to martial arts even though that is the type of business I have accomplished.

Over the course of 7 articles, I will go over how I started, grew, and maintained a successful martial arts school.  Why am I doing this?  Well, there are two reasons.  The first reason is that over the last year and a half (and longer) the COVID19 pandemic has decimated my business.  Once we are past this, I will be in a regrowing phase and documented my past successes will only help me get back on track.

The other reason is that there may be other people out there in the same position who could use some guidance.  There may also be some people who are looking to start over or start something new during this time of change and may be able to use this as a guide to a new venture.

The same process can be applied to starting a yoga studio
The same process of how to start a martial arts studio can be applied to starting a yoga studio

It was during the financial crisis of 2008 when I took the leap and became a full-time studio owner.  So, just because we are in a tough time, it does not mean it cannot also be an opportune time.  For more information and details on the story of my studio, please check this out.

As I mentioned, this is going to be a 7-part series.  Over the next several weeks and months, the following articles will be published.  These may even be the basis of a book someday.

  • Introduction
  • The Soft Start
  • The Part Time Commercial Studio
  • The Business Plan
  • The Full Time Commercial Studio
  • Efficiently Growing Studio to Fullest Potential
  • Maintaining Studio at Maximum

In this post, I will be introducing some key concepts as well as ask you some key questions to see if this is right for you.  The process I will be going over is how I went about doing it.  There are many other ideas that work.  I have studied many other methods and the one I used is what worked for me.  You need to find what works for you and what your comfortable doing.  Take the information I give and use what works while ignoring what doesn’t.

Starting a karate school is not rocket science
Starting a karate school is not rocket science

Before my full-time studio career, I was an aerospace engineer…a rocket scientist.  I used the problem-solving skills and mindset in my quest to start, grow, and maintain a martial arts studio.  I have no formal business training although I have read many books on various business topics.  During my advising of others and speaking at conferences, I have been called “eccentric” and “unique”.  My process for doing things is certainly not the norm.

Starting a fitness studio is the same process as a martial arts studio
Starting a fitness studio is the same process as a martial arts studio

The first question you need to ask yourself is “am I qualified?”  The martial arts industry, much like other fitness industries, do not have a certification process for becoming an instructor.  Some large martial arts organizations have instructor certifications, but these are not the same throughout the industry.  In fact, many instructor certifications are no more involved than filling out a form and paying a fee.  No courses, no tests, no mentoring, no accountability.

In my opinion, many of the people that start teaching martial arts are not qualified.  I’ve seen people start schools after training for 3-4 years.  If you own a studio, you need to be an expert not only in the martial art but also in teaching.  There is no way someone can be an expert in both areas after only 3-4 years.

So, what is the proper amount of time and experience before being a studio owner?  I don’t know exactly.  At a minimum, you should spend several years training (black belt equivalent), then several more years as an assistant instructor with a mentor before thinking about it.  It all depends on how much time you’re willing to put into it.

The next thing you need to consider is what type of studio owner you want to be.  Do you want to be the type of owner that has other people teach the classes and you run the business?  Would you like to be a completely silent owner and have instructors and employees do everything?  Do you want to teach most if not all the classes and handle a lot of the business activities?

For me, my primary focus is teaching students.  That is what I enjoy and that is why I started a studio.  I also like to have a hand in the business activities since I want to be sure my studio is operating the way I want.  Call me a control freak if you want (it’s ok, I am).  I have created systems and processes that allow me to operate a lean and efficient studio so I can focus on teaching.

Finally, do you have the time and patience to slowly build and grow?  The first part of my process is sometimes called a “soft start”.  Essentially this is a way to slowly build a student base before committing to a part-time or full-time commercial space.  This is a slower process than simply securing a space and jumping all in right from the get-go.

If you have a lot of startup capital and are a big risk taker, the soft start might not be for you.  While the soft start is less risky, it is not without risk completely.  The risk will just come later and be spread out over time.  

So, if your answers to these questions align with mine, I encourage you to continue reading the rest of the posts in this series.

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  1. I am looking forward to this series. I started my martial arts studio as classes offered through a YMCA in 2015. I had coached high school wrestling for five years, so I knew how to coach. I was a purple belt in BJJ (6 years of training) and a green belt in Judo (3 years), plus many years in wrestling. I opened my commercial studio in 2019 after developing a teaching style and curriculum over the years at the Y. We had to shut down during Covid, but are back in full swing. We are trying to build it back up to pre-Covid numbers. It has been a wonderful journey so far.

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