Your martial arts dollar

With a few seminars coming to town in March, I thought I’d write about how to get the most out of your martial arts dollar, and if you teach, how to advise your students for a better long-term relationship.

First thing’s first: pay your teacher on time. They don’t write off aging-AR, they just close their doors.

Rick Faye seminar best way to spend your martial arts dollar

One of the best seminars you can go to is Rick Faye

savate seminar

Presents very interesting take on both Muay Thai and savate

Now a plug for the seminars:

  • Rick Faye, March 19, 12-5 PM, hosted by MKG Detroit & Cleveland plus Attributive Martial Arts
  • Salem Assli, March 12-13, hosted by Dallo Martial Arts
  • plus the never-ending other mini seminars & jiujitsu ones

So let’s look at what March might look like as far as your wellness, fitness, and martial arts dollar goes (links to places I can recommend):


woah I know kung fu

Woah, $1000 to know kung fu this month!

In my 20s with a decent salary this wasn’t a problem for my major hobby and obsession, but for at least half your gym membership this is impossible to swing. People are tighter with money than they were even at the height of the recession. Blame it on what you will: stagnant wages, crumbling support structures, and my cohort entering their parenting years, but these days it’s all about value.

In order to define how to best spend your martial arts dollar, let’s first define some objectives:

  • Learn interesting skills
  • Fitness
  • Fight/compete
  • Self defense/tactical
  • Camaraderie/community (what is sometimes derided as ‘the social martial artist’)

Of these, fitness is the only one that can be truly done outside the gym, and yet I believe the only one that should never be compromised unless most of your group does supplemental conditioning, such as a fighter’s group or if you run an extra conditioning class. For the remainder, they probably rely on the one-hour class to get some kind of fitness benefit, even if minor by an elite standard. This is particularly true if they had to choose between martial arts or a traditional fitness studio.

I would advise investigating where on the spectrum your students sit because fitness will keep them feeling good more than any amount of technique you can show them. Feeling good means coming back. In that vein, the more you can keep people healthy, the fewer dollars they have to spend outside the gym to do so. That can be teaching functional fitness, not getting twisted into a pretzel by the 200-lb gorilla, on-site or affiliate deals with other services, or most importantly: basic stretching.

So whatever budget required to stay healthy comes first, and some smart adjustments can change that. Reduce heavy sparring or hitting and just stretch more and you may find your wellness expenses go down.

bobby nash fitness

Our friend Bobby ‘Nashty’ Nash keeping fit in Miami

You may find that it’s best to rotate your spending priorities after that, but here’s some thoughts:

  1. Beginners should take an intro one-on-one lesson. This immediately tells the student if the teaching style and knowledge suits them, and gives the teacher direct feedback on their learning modes, which is useful even in group classes, where teaching style can adjust to attendance.
  2. Swag and gear are as much motivation as functional. Gear represents physical ownership of training, is a mark of progression of commitment, and preserves community equipment. It’s also an outlet for their enthusiasm. So I would resist the temptation to maximize the introductory package (although I believe a small one is a good idea) and thus have milestones to stay engaged and leave a more stable cash flow. It also leaves money left over for more important things.

    recommended kickboxing gear

    Click to see gear I use

  3. Keep classes focused while acknowledging social needs. Let’s face it: martial artists can be a quirky bunch. As Ajarn Steve Wilson puts it, “We all study martial arts because there’s something wrong with us.” I hate a class that is spent gabbing, but remember that this can be an important source of community. A lot of seminar time can be burned up with wanting to touch greatness (Dan Inosanto shows great patience and wisdom in understanding this and rolling with it), but is also a motivator if channeled correctly.
  4. No seminar is worth the equivalent in private lessons. Until you’re working at an advanced level, there’s quite frankly no seminar that will make you better than a bunch of privates if you have the right instructor.
    Seminars are good for overall exposure, generating excitement, and community, but are not generally the best learning tool when getting better is your top priority. Don’t underestimate the social and motivational benefits of seminars, but if you’re budget constrained, invest your martial arts dollar wisely.

    • There’s literally only one exception: Erik Paulson if you need to download a bunch of repertoire to take into your next fight AND you have the ability to try stuff you haven’t mastered. (I’d put Greg Nelson in that category too, but he doesn’t run a heavy seminar circuit)
  5. Private lessons offer the best value. If your teacher is good, it’s an undeniable fact. I had done Muay Thai for years with great teachers before finding Christian Malgeri, and he had no shortage of things to improve upon for me. Lessons can be pure instruction, sparring or pad holding, but after the beginning phase, focus on improvement. Don’t use privates as personal training unless you have the money and you’re time-constrained. It’s otherwise a waste of resources and a little boring. Develop the point below to free up your private time forĀ  more constructive activity.
  6. Be a good coach to work on our own time with like-minded people. The easiest way to have a constant supply of training partners is to make sure you give more than you take. Good pad holding (check out last week’s post), feedback, motivation, and of course high-level sparring means when you want to get a few extra rounds in, you’ll have no shortage of choices. As a teacher, promoting this will allow you to have better classes and better focus. Students can leave heavy sparring or off-topic questions for later, confident they don’t always need your attention.

Whether you’re fighting, learning skills, or practicing self-defense, core time spent with an instructor should look remarkably similar: introduction of a skill, repetition, application in sparring (whatever that means for your needs. Your teacher can be sparring or observing), fine tuning, advance understanding (in combination, other applications, counters and re-counters).

The focus, intensity, and supplemental training are what differentiates them. Fighters sometimes downplay instruction, either for budgetary or idiocy reasons, and the others sometimes neglect athleticism or realism. Both lead to a long-term deficiency and inability to realize the goals of their training. (Martial artists, like the high school experience they’re so desperately trying to forget, can be unforgiving, so even if you’re mainly interested in the social aspect you’ll find pushing yourself or excelling in some category makes it easier to make friends.)

your martial arts dollar

Understand money like this guy. Don’t be this guy.


So let’s look at our budget for an average month if we make some adjustments:

  • Seminar (average 1 per quarter): $50
  • Martial arts membership: $100
  • Wellness: $125 from being less damaged, more stretching
  • Private lessons: $100 Go to bi-weekly, 1/2 hour, or semi-private. Good partners allow this.
  • Normal gym: $0. Park workouts and alternatives. Fortunately it’s trending these days.
  • Gear: $20. There really is always something if you’re training heavy.
  • PPV: $5. Chip in at a group event: it’s more fun anyways.
  • Supplements: $0. Eat well, fuck supplements.

$400 for what is still a very serious hobby. You’re getting more value, better training, and hopefully a more stable and appreciative customer from the other side.

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