T Nation

Starting a MA Class

I am writing this to get some T-Nation advice on starting a Martial Arts based class.

I have found so much good information and advice on T-Nation over the years that I think this is a good place to write this. I think this is a place where I will actually get advice and not just trolls/trolling. Sorry for all the text, but I thought some background/info would help me to get better advice.

Some history: I grew up studying a traditional MA. I was a member of a large organization. I became an instructor when I was still a teen. When I went to university I had my own club/class and trained. I had a bit of a falling out with the org and I handed off my class to some of my students and I walked away. I spent years away from martial arts. This was back in the UFC #1 days and the guys I was training with (like many at that time) were talking about broadening the base and " taking what works and discarding the rest " Like a lot of folks, we were moved away from " which style is best" and studied a large number of styles/etc. Our instructor was encouraging us to branch out. I really enjoyed the variety. A lot of the falling out with the org centered on these ideas.

Perhaps I am romanticizing things, but I was thinking of getting a club started up again. About a year ago, I started meeting back up with my old instructor and doing some training. He and another friend would help and help teach if I take the lead. I won t be doing a TMA class though, nor will I be doing some sort of MMA class (I would not feel comfortable marketing myself in this way). My basic idea would be a class with a strong focus on fitness and good technique. We would borrow from a lot of different styles. I have not finalized my thoughts yet, but the idea is to study what we want to study and just try to have fun. Really, I am not looking to make a lot of money with this, but I want to finance my hobby and hopefully find some like-minded people to train with.

I am thinking of just sending out a few letters and then following up with some calls to local gyms/fitness centers to offer this class. I am hoping to get one of them to sign off on my class and operate under their insurance and with their equipment. Right now, I do not want to try to start my own gym. I have seen friends do that. Some are successful, some failed, and most struggle to pay the rent every month. All of them have made this their lives. That is not what I want. Anyone have any advice as to how to market myself? What is the market now? What are gyms looking for? I am thinking of selling this as a fitness class based-upon martial techniques or some-such. Perhaps I am not wording this well, but does anyone have any thoughts?

Things are VERY different than when I had a club so long ago. Now people are talking about insurance, insurance, insurance. I attended some classes and I was blown away at the amount of (what I thought of as silly) padding/gear. I watched a testing with some higher ranking students where one got really angry when another one caught him with a stiff hook. I was blown away; we used to THANK people who showed us our weaknesses. Anyway, my understanding is that liability is causing these cultural changes ? and necessitating huge amounts of gear/no-touching-rules/etc. I feel like a noob again. What do I need to know?

This post got away from me a bit. But I am thinking of starting a small class/club, I would appreciate any advice/suggestions.

As always, thanks in advance.

edit: to fix formatting issues. Apparently I should not copy and paste from word

Go pack go

Well first I’ll say from my experience as both a personal trainer and MA instructor that even if you can find a gym that would let you teach such a class under their insurance (which I don’t think you’re going to find), that you’d still be wise to purchase some individual liability insurance. It’s not really very expensive, and you’ll be glad you’ve got it if you need it.

Second, it’s very true what you say about the lack of contact found in many MA classes, but if you are going to teach this as a gym class (and not try to open your own school inside a gym, not the same thing), then you are probably going to find that either substantial protective gear is going to be required (and honestly is a good idea for longevity purposes), or you might even find that very little (in some cases no) contact will be allowed by the gym ownership. Like you said, it’s all about insurance/liability in their eyes.

I know this probably isn’t the answer you were hoping for but it’s the reality in many fitness facilities these days. If you say " hey I’d like to teach a MA class" they’ll picture/expect you to be doing katas and maybe breaking some boards every now and then (no hitting/contact). If you say you want to teach kickboxing, they’ll expect Tae Bo or at most hitting bags/mitts. If you say you want to teach conditioning they might be a little looser about getting hands on, just bill it as “partner resisted exercises” and you should be fine.

Good luck though, maybe the gyms where you live are different from the ones in my area.

Thanks Sentoguy, that type of information is EXACTLY what I’m looking for. Someone who is actually doing this now. It’s been over a decade for me. 10-15 years ago when I was teaching, both the schools I worked at had their insurance through the gym (as a “class” or something) despite the fact that we were considered “schools” within the gym. The gym covered the floor space, a (very) small amount of equipment (we bought the rest), insurance, and gave a percentage on each student in the door. They also helped a bit with advertising. Have you seen something like this these days? Is that a bye-gone system?

The guys I know around here now all have rented out storefronts and run the school out of there. Honestly the two that I know the best have different stories to tell. One is doing very well. The other struggles to make rent every month (although he’s trying to expand thinking that with help…maybe it will). The thing is, they BOTH spend their lives revolving around their small business. I know I’m not ready for that kind of commitment now.

Also, can I ask, do you have “sexual abuse” insurance? One place I talked to said they would mandate that I have it. I’ve honestly never even heard of it before (of course, they knew a guy they could put me in contact with).

Thanks again for the post.

Not a legal opinion, but I would expect my liability insurance to cover sexual abuse claims. Probably a question for your insurance agent though.

Thanks dd_jim. I’ll be looking into it as I get closer to the goal. I was just surprised to hear about it.

Does anyone have a “school in the gym” anymore? Is that model finished? Perhaps I can bring it back, lol.

[quote]Gambit_Lost wrote:
Thanks dd_jim. I’ll be looking into it as I get closer to the goal. I was just surprised to hear about it.

Does anyone have a “school in the gym” anymore? Is that model finished? Perhaps I can bring it back, lol.[/quote]

I do, but like I said, I had to purchase my own liability insurance (I’ll have to look back through the policy to see what it covers in regards to sexual misconduct). The gym I am in also owns an athletic training facility and had a special membership add on where members could receive more personal and intensive training (my classes included) for an additional monthly fee (and the gym would then pay myself and the other athletic trainers to teach the classes). Unfortunately, this model doesn’t really work out that well for the gym (unless maybe you’re somewhere like South Beach, Venice Beach, Manhattan, or some other large metropolitan area where the population is both used to and capable of forking over large sums of money for services and where appearance is a large latter of the culture) as only a small portion of the total gym going population is going to be serious enough about their training to be willing to pay for the additional classes and that’s not likely to be enough to cover the amount needed to pay the instructors to teach the classes.

As a result, I’m still technically located in the gym, but the school is not at all paid for by the gym (since I’m also a Trainer at the gym the ownership does not charge me a traditional rent, but instead just asks that I pay them a percentage of what I bring in, like regular training), but instead I had to collect training dues just like a stand alone school. I think it’s still a pretty good deal, but there are limitations that I would not have to deal with if I had my own space (for instance having to schedule my classes in and around the gym’s regular group classes, having to put down, take up, and store my mats between my classes rather than being able to keep them down, not having the sign seen from the street announce my school being there/advertising).

Like many things in business it’s a risk/reward ratio that you’ve gotta weigh for yourself and decide how far you are prepared to go. If you don’t want this to become your livelihood, then I’d suggest looking into teaching a cardio kickboxing class (you can still teach correct striking, just make sure that the primary emphasis is on keeping people moving and the workout, the average person taking such a class doesn’t care about textbook punching skills) or maybe MMA conditioning class (where you might be able to slowly introduce some partner resisted drills, but again, there isn’t a large portion of the gym population that is going to be willing or comfortable grappling or even picking each other up).

I mean, you could do the classes any way you want, but from my experience what I suggested above will bring in the most people, and you have to bring in enough people to keep the gym convinced that your class is worth them paying you for.

Good luck.

I agree with Sento - you’ve got to have a good handle on what exactly you want to teach first. If you’re looking to teach just a cardio session with a little technique, why worry about how much contact there’s going to be? People who are taking that are only going to want to work out anyway, they’re not going to be looking to spar.

Insurance is a good idea and likely necessary no matter where you go… in NJ at least, there is at least one “sensei” or martial arts instructor every year caught molesting kids, so the fact that they’re worried about that in particular does not surprise me.

If you’re looking to do something a little bit more hardcore - like self defense combatives or something like that - going the route Kelly McCann described in his book of making it more “Fight Club” ish with no fees and having it take place in the basement of a firehouse and nobody really talks about it might be the way to go.

But like Sento said - gotta make sure your vision aligns with your gym owner’s, or else you’re doomed from the start.

Thanks for the insights guys. This stuff really is helpful. I’m planning on setting out a few feelers this week and see what comes back. I’ll probably try to sell this as a more “tae-bo/cardio-kickboxing” type of class, but I’d like the freedom to do a bit more. I’d really like to be able to do some grappling at the least…but maybe I’ll just get my foot in the door before I cross that bridge. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been able to grapple, and the guys I train with now are … well… a little old and a lot injured. So a part of this is simply finding some like-minded people who can do some drills with me.

I’m NOT looking for this to be my livelihood. I want this to be a hobby that pays for itself, essentially. A big part of that challenge looks like it will be dealing with insurance companies. To me, this will be new.

Thanks again for your posts.

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
I agree with Sento - you’ve got to have a good handle on what exactly you want to teach first. If you’re looking to teach just a cardio session with a little technique, why worry about how much contact there’s going to be? People who are taking that are only going to want to work out anyway, they’re not going to be looking to spar.

Insurance is a good idea and likely necessary no matter where you go… in NJ at least, there is at least one “sensei” or martial arts instructor every year caught molesting kids, so the fact that they’re worried about that in particular does not surprise me.

If you’re looking to do something a little bit more hardcore - like self defense combatives or something like that - going the route Kelly McCann described in his book of making it more “Fight Club” ish with no fees and having it take place in the basement of a firehouse and nobody really talks about it might be the way to go.

But like Sento said - gotta make sure your vision aligns with your gym owner’s, or else you’re doomed from the start.[/quote]

The problem with doing it “fight club” style is that:

  1. it has no legitimacy from a legality standpoint or liability protection. In other words all it takes is one person to wind up in the emergency room and decide that they’d rather not pay for their medical bills to have the whole thing blow up in your face. What are you going to argue “oh, it’s all good judge, we were just fighting Fight Club style, so I’m not at fault”? News flash, fighting is illegal unless it’s a sanctioned or at least liscensed establishment and even then it’s really only the liability insurance and legal waivers that is going to prevent someone from taking your house, school, or at least money from you in the case of injury. Unless you plan on going all “Project Mayham” and infiltrating law enforcement agencies and other legally influential organizations (or are already a member like McCann), then it’s a very dangerous game to play.

  2. if nobody talks about it, you never get any new people, new skill sets, or new body types/attributes to work with, which ultimately limits your development. Truth is though that people will talk about it, and again all it takes is one bad egg to bring the whole thing down in flames.

In short, don’t do it fight club style unless you are already part of the “power structure” and even then you are risking a lot just to be cheap essentially. Also, try to get people to sign liability waivers (all gyms should have these as part of the general membership anyhow, but if you are going to go beyond the average gym going exercises to things like grappling and striking, then you want additional liability coverage).

[quote]Sentoguy wrote:

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
I agree with Sento - you’ve got to have a good handle on what exactly you want to teach first. If you’re looking to teach just a cardio session with a little technique, why worry about how much contact there’s going to be? People who are taking that are only going to want to work out anyway, they’re not going to be looking to spar.

Insurance is a good idea and likely necessary no matter where you go… in NJ at least, there is at least one “sensei” or martial arts instructor every year caught molesting kids, so the fact that they’re worried about that in particular does not surprise me.

If you’re looking to do something a little bit more hardcore - like self defense combatives or something like that - going the route Kelly McCann described in his book of making it more “Fight Club” ish with no fees and having it take place in the basement of a firehouse and nobody really talks about it might be the way to go.

But like Sento said - gotta make sure your vision aligns with your gym owner’s, or else you’re doomed from the start.[/quote]

The problem with doing it “fight club” style is that:

  1. it has no legitimacy from a legality standpoint or liability protection. In other words all it takes is one person to wind up in the emergency room and decide that they’d rather not pay for their medical bills to have the whole thing blow up in your face. What are you going to argue “oh, it’s all good judge, we were just fighting Fight Club style, so I’m not at fault”? News flash, fighting is illegal unless it’s a sanctioned or at least liscensed establishment and even then it’s really only the liability insurance and legal waivers that is going to prevent someone from taking your house, school, or at least money from you in the case of injury. Unless you plan on going all “Project Mayham” and infiltrating law enforcement agencies and other legally influential organizations (or are already a member like McCann), then it’s a very dangerous game to play.

  2. if nobody talks about it, you never get any new people, new skill sets, or new body types/attributes to work with, which ultimately limits your development. Truth is though that people will talk about it, and again all it takes is one bad egg to bring the whole thing down in flames.

In short, don’t do it fight club style unless you are already part of the “power structure” and even then you are risking a lot just to be cheap essentially. Also, try to get people to sign liability waivers (all gyms should have these as part of the general membership anyhow, but if you are going to go beyond the average gym going exercises to things like grappling and striking, then you want additional liability coverage).[/quote]

You’re totally misinterpreting what I wrote. I’m not talking about doing it where guys are fighting as they did in the movie. It was probably a poor analogy to use it was just the first one I thought of at that second - don’t focus too much on that.

What I mean was more of an informal training group that doesn’t operate out of a gym, and isn’t open to everyone - people must be vouched for before joining because there’s no money involved.

Read his book for a better (but still brief) description of this, I don’t have time to go through it. But it’s not fight club.

If I’m understanding you right FI, you’re just saying to try to “expand” what I’m doing right now: getting together with some friends to train where we can. No forms-to-file/insurance/etc, just relationships telling us we aren’t going to sue if something happens, right?

Yeah, maybe I misunderstood exactly what you meant, but I still stand by my position that doing things that way is not a great way to go about things. We are talking about potentially crippling or even life threatening/ending skills here. In an ideal world everyone would check their egos at the door, accidents would never happen, and people would never have falling outs that resulted in animosity. That’s not the real world though. Without some legal legitimacy or written statement of consent/waiver you’re just one slip from potential ruin.

Do what you want though OP, it’s your ass on the line not mine.

I currently teach myself and I agree with sento guy to get additional insurance, especially since you are located in America.
I’m located in Europe and here we are all insured to a certain degree, but I have told all my students to get insured and if they choose not to do so, that I will not be held liable. I have evidence of me telling them to get insurance and of me not being liable.

In America I know they are a lot more free regarding insuring members and trainers, but I wouldn’t try to cut corners here.
Get your insurance in order and don’t get sued for all your money when you’re just trying to train and have a good time.