Martial arts business coaching

Do instructors need martial arts business coaching?

This article looks at the relatively new area of martial arts business coaching and explores if it can move along the martial arts club development pathway. It not only examines how important it is to surround yourself with people that will help move you forward but also how identifying your ‘why’ is crucial in deciding what level to take your business to.

Newton’s law of motion states that an object stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force. I would suggest that this is also true for martial arts coaches, clubs and organisations. Without labouring the point, if you want to get different results, you need to change how you do things.

Often we get stuck in our comfortable ways and need a kick in the ass to force us to reassess the current situation and investigate where improvements can be made. This is not just in terms of managing our martial arts business but also in our everyday life. If this sounds like you, consider this the kick you need.

Confirmation bias describes the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs. This is what i think happens when we are comfortable in the way we do things. We think that we already have the ‘best’ way because looking for new ways takes brainpower, effort and occasionally a change in mindset.

Change isn’t necessarily good or bad but often the uncertainty of change can cement us in place. I think that a solution to this problem is to put yourself in a position of uncertainty a little more frequently. The most restrictive phrase I hear from martial arts coaches is ‘……but we have always done it that way’. Just because you have always managed your club in a specific way, that does not mean there is not a better way or that your current way cannot be improved.

Whether you change with the times or not, change will still happen all around you and if you are not careful, you will be left behind. Over the last decade or so we have seen many ‘too big to fail’ businesses disappear from our high streets due to their inability to innovate and move with the times. Some of these companies and had been around over 100 years.

Over the last 10-15 years sports coaching education and research has taken a massive leap forward. While martial arts governing bodies are still struggling to catch up with the progress made in the sports coaching world, as a club you can be much more nibble. As such you are able to plan and implement change much faster. If you can take the latest research from the sports coaching world and implement it in your martial arts club, you will have a great advantage over other martial arts instructors teaching how they were taught decades ago.

You can operate a martial arts club at many different levels. Many start by teaching as a hobby, which then leads to a ‘side hustle’ and then some take the leap and become self-employed. Earning a living from teaching martial arts can be a big step but not quite as big as moving from being self employed to running a business. The difference between the two is that when you run a business, you spend more time working on your business than in it. That’s not to say that you give up coaching altogether but you teach because you want to rather than because you have to. If you can get to this stage, you are able to take time off if you are ill, for courses or a couple of weeks holiday and while you are away, your business still functions as normal.

The last step in this business model is to become a multi school owner or to franchise your product / service. To do this effectively you need to have a documented business model, great branding, some form of operations documentation, an annual marketing plan and materials, documented martial arts programmes and most importantly the right people involved. We currently run two full time centres and I would be happy to have a third but only if I have the right, motivated staff ready to take on the challenge.  

Before you decide what level defines martial arts business mastery to you, you need to identify your ‘why’. The ‘what’ you want will be determined by your ‘why’. This is important before you go ahead and build a monster organisation that takes up all your free time if your ‘why’ is spending more time with your family. Get clear on your ‘why’ and then start working towards developing your business to a level that facilitates your vision for the future.

Often at this point the next question is ‘How will I get to where I want to be?’. Remember the saying ‘You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”? It turns out there is some truth in this statement and it can affect you in more ways that you realise. A study by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler carried out extensive studies that show that if you had an obese friend, you are 45% more likely to gain weight over the following 2-4 years. They also found that if your friend smokes, you are 61% more likely to be a smoker yourself. On a more positive note they also found that if your close friends are happy, this increases your probability of being happy by 25%. The take away from these studies is to surround yourself with people you want to be more like.

In the last few years we have seen an increase in the number of life / business coaches and mastermind groups. While I do believe that coaches and mentors can help you along your journey, I also know that finding the right one is just as important as your decision to have one. While I know some people suggest that ‘Free advice is worth every penny’, I don’t think that by putting a hefty price tag on the same advice it somehow transforms it into liquid gold. Examine the values of any mentors that you are considering working with. Are they inline with your own? While it is not essential that business coaches have had amazing results running a martial arts club, it is important that they have been able to help others reach goals similar to yours. The ‘goals similar to your’ is important to consider as each tend to have their specialist areas. Some will be better at the bottom end getting you to 100 students and other will be better at helping you franchise your business.

‘Select a business coach based on your needs and their strengths’

Phill Payne

Gordon Burcham has had a big impact on the UK martial arts business scene since introducing his Martial Arts Business Mastery company in 2016. Over the past few years he has been building his services and offers both business coaching and mastermind groups. Besides Gordon there are other UK martial arts business coaches that can help you master your martial arts business. Dan Woodruff, Lee Mainprize and Ken Pankiewicz (KickFit Consulting) are a few offering similar coaching services and at least two of them offer some form or mastermind or membership group (at the time of writing).  

There are many companies and individuals providing services to help you improve your business skills but not as many helping you become a better martial arts coach. If you want to progress efficiently you will need to work on both your martial arts business and martial arts coaching skills equally. Neglecting your martial arts marketing may cause you may struggle to get new students through the door. If your coaching skills are your weak point, you may suffer from poor retention. 

Choose your mentors, coaches and masterminds carefully and don’t just jump on the first one you come across. If you can’t afford to pay for a mentor or coach, closely follow people that you admire and would like to be more like. Subscribe to their blogs, read their books, listen to their podcasts and jump on courses face to face whenever you get chance. Likewise if you cannot afford to join a mastermind, have a small group of friends that you can use to bounce ideas off and help make you accountable. If you consider the studies by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler mentioned above, you should try to make sure that you have at least one person in your group that is further on the path than you. If you are the lowest on the ladder in your group, all the better.

Confidence is something that we push our students to develop and often we nudge them towards completing hard tasks. Yet in many cases we fall short of challenging ourselves on a regular basis. Now I am not necessarily talking about making huge changes and taking unnecessary risks. If you highlight a new opportunity in your martial arts club, you do your homework and the odds are in your favour, have a go. I usually find that new projects don’t result in excellence or total failure but land somewhere in the middle. What ever happens, take the results as feedback and then go back and see how you can make improvements. Don’t forget than many people that taste success have often had their fair share of failures too.


  1. Why am i doing this?
  2. What level do i want to take my martial arts club / business to?
  3. Which areas to i need help with to move me to the next level (business / coaching)?
  4. Who can help me move towards my goal (mentor / coach / peer group)?
  5. What ‘one thing‘ can i do now that will move me closer to my goal?

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