When I created Martial Arts Professional magazine, I purposely put Martial Arts before Professional. In my view, the martial arts come first. Very few school owners are “professional” before they are martial artists. Even those from corporate or professional backgrounds have a difficult time translating that experience into a martial arts school. I have never met anyone who joined a martial arts school with the intent of opening his own school. People don’t join a martial arts school as a career path. Again, the Martial Arts precede the Professional.

This is a unique business. I liken it in many ways to show business, in that the conflux of art and money creates a tremendous amount of confusion, delusion, and insecurity.

In all areas of art, there is a balance between the integrity of your art and the economic realities of Western culture. A rock band may be pushed by a record label to create hits, when their real passion and talent is in music of more depth and consequence. A serious, well-trained actor may take a formula action film role for fun and money, yet face ridicule for “wasting her talents on drivel.” A world-champion kickboxer may pass a child on a belt exam, rather than lose the student’s tuition if he drops out or, worse, face the wrath of the mother. Most black belts would rather climb in the ring against a Frank and Ken Shamrock tag team than face a livid mother who knows better than you what a blue belt should look like.

So, what is a Martial Arts Professional? It’s someone who is teaching for money. Regardless of how much money or to what degree it represents your total income, if you are asking people for money in exchange for your knowledge, you are a professional.

If we are going to ask for money, we have an obligation to our students to become the best professional possible. This is an important attitude, and I bring it up  because, if you do not accept that running a school is first and foremost a business, then all the strategies and techniques you learn will be of little use.

Our industry does not need another black belt boasting that he teaches only authentic martial arts and that everyone else is a belt factory. This is what I call the “Higher Purpose Defense,” when a guy lacks either the skill or the confidence to build a strong, thriving, profitable school, so he falls back on an altruistic cop-out. He says he’s not a sell-out or that he teaches true martial arts and that the other schools are just McDojos. He is taking the Higher Purpose Defense. However, if I could wave a magic wand and give this guy 300 students and $40,000 a month gross, his new higher purpose would be the higher gross. This is the delusion I referred to above.

Online polls from the Martial Arts Teachers’ Association website indicated that, out of more than 500 responses, more than 58 percent of martial arts businesses grossed less than $7,500 per month in their schools; 48 percent charged less than $80 per month; 51 percent earned less than $40,000 from teaching. This tells us there is plenty of room for growth in the martial arts business.

Here is an interesting point. Odds are that, even at these low levels, some of these instructors are already overpaid. There are still plenty of dungeon dojos out there. We don’t need more. Of course, there are also people who teach part-time and never plan to go full-time.

But I can say this with a lot of certainty: Most of these respondents are underpaid. Most are good black belts who simply need a system, some encouragement, and then some accountability. This book and my programs are designed to help owners break out of these levels and earn rewards in line with their contributions to the community. For instance, our Quantum Leap Program groups owners into teams that meet every 90 days to share statistics, train together, grow together, and hold each other accountable for execution over the previous 90 days. Our first goal in the QLP is to get our members to a six-figure income.

Of course, some owners will reach that level without my help and that’s great. However, most owners will accomplish it much faster with some help and support.

Our industry will grow when black belts commit to learning how to teach age-specific classes professionally and safely – when they support those teaching skills with ethical, proven business systems that add value to the student’s experience and to the owner’s own bottom line. None of that is part of anyone’s black belt exam. Earning a black belt is just the ticket to get into the school.


Widely recognized as the man who revolutionized the martial arts industry, John Graden launched organizations such as NAPMA (National Association of Professional Martial Artists), ACMA (American Council on Martial Arts), and MATA (Martial Arts Teachers Association). Graden also introduced the first trade magazine for the martial arts business, Martial Arts Professional.

John Graden’s latest book, The Truth about the Martial Arts Business looks into key strategies involved in launching a martial arts business and includes Graden’s own experience as a student, a leader and a business owner.

Graden is the author of six books including The Truth about the Martial Arts Business, The Impostor Syndrome: How to Replace Self-Doubt with Self-Confidence and Train Your Brain for Success, Mr. Graden has been profiled by hundreds of international publications including over 20 magazine cover stories and a comprehensive profile in the Wall Street Journal.

Presentations include: The Impostor Syndrome, Black Belt Leadership, The Secret to Self Confidence, and How to Create a Life Instead of Making a Living, John has taught his proven and unique principles of success to thousands of people on three continents since 1987.

From keynote presentations for thousands to one-on-one coaching sessions, John Graden is a dynamic speaker, teacher, and media personality who brings passion and entertainment to his presentations.

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