Why Do Martial Arts Cost So Much? Tuition – Fees Explained

There is a ‘sticker shock’ sometimes waiting for a parent looking to sign their children up for martial arts classes. Adults wanting classes for themselves find the same issue. What is it that drives up the price for tuition in most every style and system of martial arts?

The costs of martial arts are so high for most schools due to the expenses of running a studio location. Rent, utilities, advertising, insurance, instructor salaries, equipment, professional development, etc. All of these drive the prices of tuition higher and higher depending on the area.

Many of these expenses are associated with making the studio look the way students and parents expect, and locating it in a ‘nicer’ area to attract these students. The truth is, the prices are driven by marketing decisions rather than better instruction and wider offerings. Sometimes these higher expenses translate into more income for the instructor, sometimes they do not.

What Do These Costs Look Like For The Majority of Students?

For most martial arts students, there are some major and obvious areas that will require payment. These can be either easily guessed or expressly stated at the beginning.

There are also other hidden costs that many don’t know are coming. There are many forms these ‘back door’ fees take. Let’s look at a rundown of costs to get an idea of what is meant when someone says that ‘martial arts classes cost so much.’

Martial Arts Tuition Can Be Expensive

So what can you expect in regards to the base tuition? Tuition prices can seriously range from $50 per month up to as much as $250 per month for a single student. It comes down to several factors.

  • Perceived value of the martial art style in the current market.
    • Fads contribute to this
    • The latest sports and movie trends play a part
  • The location city is a huge factor.
    • What is the average cost of living/income of the area?
    • Is it in a run down area?
    • Is the school located in a posh shopping district?
  • The age of the student matters.
    • Children’s classes may not be cheaper in the beginning
    • Yet there are usually family discounts

With the rise of Mixed Martial Arts cage dueling style matches as a sport, many of these ‘gyms’ have sprung up tapping into the trending market. Some have descent to good instruction for that specific sport, while others are simply riding the wave of popularity.

The problem with this is the tendency of fads to overshadow reality. Many call this the ‘ultimate’ in fighting and combat. This may be an important portion, but by no means is the ultimate version.

With no weapons, no multiple assailants, having rules mandating matted and delineated similar areas, and definite start and ending times with no ambushes… this claim can be seen for the trending fad it is. Because of the popularity and accessibility of it as entertainment, the costs of training in MMA can be rather steep.

This may or may not be the case with the school you are looking into for your training, but most assuredly, the city and area in which it sits will affect the price tremendously. This tends to be the single most decisive factor in how expensive or affordable martial arts classes will be.

Most larger city suburbs have a higher income per household than those in more rural or inner city areas. This is in direct proportion to the housing market in most cases.

If you notice the housing prices in an area you can get a good handle on whether the price of martial arts classes will be on the higher or lower side.

Of course there will be those that over-estimate the value in their classes, but usually the market will smack them back into place after a while of struggling to get students and parents to fork over their hard earned money.

Then there are the discounts that come with families with multiple students training. Though it may not help the single student, these discounts can certainly reduce the cost per child or parent.

Testing Fees Are Always a Variable

Believe it or not, this can be a controversial subject in martial arts instructor circles. These fees can actually be steep and usually aren’t disclosed or openly stated in the beginning.

Testing fees can be as low as $25 per student up to several hundred dollars for one test. Usually this includes the new belt and any material like boards, stripes, etc., but this is not always the case.

Testing fees for some are a way to pay association fees, material costs, and make a modest profit to pay salaries or other expenses. Yet, many use high testing fees as a way to offset intentionally lower tuition rates in order to lure students into signing long term contracts.

They lower their desired tuition charges and add to these monthly or quarterly testing fees. This is where the debate among instructors exists. Some, and I would say rightly so, say this is dishonest. Others claim it is simply a standard marketing strategy.

Most students would agree with the former.

Those that critique this lower tuition – high testing fee system usually advocate a testing fee included plan. Others wanting to be honest with their students keep testing fees at a level that just covers expenses.

Whatever the program, don’t be fooled. You are paying testing fees. They are included, high enough to cover costs, or very high in order to allow for cheaper monthly tuition.

Mandatory Equipment And Uniforms Are A Surprisingly High Expense

There will be equipment costs for any style of martial arts training. Here are just some that can be expected.

Grappling has…

  • expensive Gis
  • wrestling shoes
  • even mats for your home practice

Striking has…

  • sparring gear (gloves, headgear, etc.)
  • heavy bags for home practice
  • advanced student uniforms

Weapons training requires…

  • simulated wooden or metal weapons
  • padded weapons
  • sparring gear (gloves, headgear, etc.)

This could be an expense that is incurred over time, or it could be something that is necessary right up front. In either case, this one thing can cause the prices of training to rise steeply.

Some instructors require students to only buy from them, items with their specific logo attached. The problem here is that this captive customer experience allows these teachers to set the prices at much higher levels than many parents and students would otherwise be willing to pay.

There is definitely a need for some level of uniformity in a training group. Yet, this can be abused and a chance for less scrupulous school owners to price gouge.

It is a great thing to support your instructor and group with your purchasing power. That being said, when that instructor limits your ability to choose, this changes from support to near extortion.

Tournament, Seminar, and Workshop Fees Are Heavily Pushed By Some Instructors

Here you may find more or less of these costs in locations or with instructors with whom you are training. There are some styles or specific instructors that push these options more than others. You will know it when you see it.

Let me say here, none of these things are bad or even unethical to promote in themselves. On the contrary, tournaments and seminars specifically can elevate the level of knowledge and instruction in many martial arts groups.

The problem here can arise when and instructor adds any revenue from kickbacks or straight profits using these into their monthly budgets. These should be periodic events and unlike speeding tickets that are figured into city and town budgets, these should not be relied upon to maintain a business.

If a school makes a habit of monthly or even bi-monthly events like these, it can become taxing on the pocketbooks of students and cause them to rightfully resent the constant extra charges.

Many of these will be offered as optional activities. Yet in most situations, the reality is there will be at least some sort of pressure from instructors and other members of the group to participate.

You may have a great group of people that accepts you and your decisions not to participate, but that sadly doesn’t seem to be the norm. Money changes things.

What Causes The Martial Arts To Be So Expensive In Many Areas?

So what are the expenses that come with running a ‘brick and mortar’ martial arts school location. Some of the expenses may surprise you. And here is an inside tip. The majority of martial arts instructors in the U.S. at least are not making their full time living from teaching martial arts.

It is a hard business to succeed in. One of the reasons is the expense that begins to quickly accumulate. Much of what an instructor must invest in is not inventory which holds some value that can be sold off and recouped.

This is a plus and a minus in several ways. Some see this as a low barrier to starting a martial arts school. Understandably, many start a studio under this assumption and quickly loose not only their investments, but also their shirts.

It is good for those with proper business plans and investment capital in reserve. Those that understand that a profit may not come for up to two years are in a position to make a moderately high income from the business.

There are a select few that really have a handle on offering quality martial arts and the business side of running a full time location. With this you will also know it when you see it. Here is just one example of one of these schools.

Gokor Chivichyan’s Hayastan Academy in North Holywood, California

With all this in mind. What are some of the actual expenses? Here is chart that may help put it into perspective.

ExpensesLarge Markets
(Populated Metro Areas)
Smaller Markets
(Smaller-Rural Areas)
Location Rent4k – 10k per month1k – 4k per month
Liability Insurance$100 – $300 per month$50 – $200 per month
Property Insurance$100 – $200 per month$50 – $100 per month
Equipment (mats, pads, etc.)$10k – $20k up front$3k – $10k up front or over time
Advertising Costs (Usually approx. 10% of gross revenues)$5k – $10k per month$1k – $3k per month
Instructor Payroll$50k – $100k per year$0 – $50k per year
Professional Services (Cleaning, Accounting, etc.)$150 – $500 per month$0 – $250 per month
Business Tax$5k – $25k per year$2.5k – $15k per year
Association Fees $500 per year – upwards of 10-20% of gross income$500 per year – upwards of 10-20% of gross income
All figures are estimates and can vary on choice and location.

All of these are estimates of course, and there can be exceptions for sure. Yet through my research, owning many schools, and running many for others, this is a good idea of what these guys are looking at to stay solvent.

Some will also choose to hover near the upper ends of these numbers in a gamble that the increased quality of the location, facility, and hired instructors will result in an overall higher income each month. This sometimes pans out, and sometimes it is a struggle to just break even.

Keep in mind, for an instructor turned business owner, all of these come due whether there is one paying student or hundreds. This is the risk of running a small business.

You might then ask, “Why then are the tuition and fees so high for each student?” On the surface that might seem a reasonable question. Just look at retail stores. They sell things with only a minimal profit on most of it. What makes martial arts instruction costs so high?

The answer is volume. There are literally hundreds of thousands of products sold in some retail stores, and only a couple of hundred memberships in a martial arts studio. If you sell 100,000 items with a two dollar profit, you can see that you actually make a decent amount.

Yet, 100 students paying $100 per month is $10,000 a month. Now look back at that chart. In smaller markets you are maybe just making it or breaking even. In larger ones you are bleeding money. And let me tell you from experience: more than 100 students in smaller markets is a golden unicorn.

Most schools hover around the 50 – 100 student mark for many years. Only well established schools surpass this in most cases and this really doesn’t happen that often outside of at least medium sized cities and their suburbs.

Are There Cheaper Options With The Same Quality of Instruction?

It should be mentioned here that the above is describing the ‘professional school’ situation. These are schools meant to be run like a business and not as a hobby.

In reality there are many groups and classes that are not designed to bring an instructor a full-time income. These are part time endeavors that usually run for the enjoyment of the art, camaraderie among the members, and to have a healthy activity.

Many of these are definitely noticeable in their differences from professionally run studios. Students may have similar gear, but it is hit and miss whether the facilities will have any or none of the equipment.

That being said, I would like to point to a fact that may or may not be obvious to some. The facility has little to do with the quality of instruction or the ability of the instructor. Some of the best martial artists I have ever come across didn’t own professional schools and never planned on it.

Let me give you an example.

I met a guy many years ago that changed my view on this forever. He is an elementary school teacher. He looks nothing like the MMA personalities you see acting out their parts in interviews and posing for cameras.

He, like most of us spends time with his kids and simply doesn’t care for the ‘act’ that many of those guys feel the need to perpetuate.

Let me be clear here. I have traveled the world, met international champions in many different styles of martial arts. I have trained military, police, and government agents all over the globe.

This elementary teacher would knock these guys out cold, in minutes, and would hardly break a sweat. This is not an exaggeration. He is the best striker I personally have ever met.

Do you know where I met him?

In the basement of a church teaching a handful of mixed age kids and adults.

He only wanted to work out, learn, and get better.

You would never know who you are talking to just by meeting him.

These classes aren’t inferior because they don’t have slick facades and lots of money backing them. Yes, you could find some real duds. There are guys just hiding and teaching that way because they lack actual skill. Yet, you can find that in some shiny new dojos as well.

If you do your homework, you could find one of these gems and pay pennies on the dollar for classes and come out light years ahead of someone paying at a ‘professional school.’ These professional schools pass on their expenses to their students.

If you think the atmosphere is important, by all means, go that route. There are really some beautiful facilities with good instructors. Just get your wallet ready for the shockwave.

If you are just in the market for quality instruction from a skilled instructor, sometimes you can find it in the oddest of places.

Online Martial Arts Instruction Could Break The Cycle of High Training Prices

Other than searching the back rooms of community centers or local parks, what could be a solution to the budget busting prices many of these professional schools feel the need to charge?

Again, I am not saying there is not benefit to some of these places. Sometimes, you have the money and that is just what you are looking for.

What I have found though is that parents especially really want a good role model, quality instruction they can count on to remain consistent, and an affordable price. Kids can get expensive, and sometimes the latest chic warehouse renovated into a shiny new martial arts studio just isn’t necessary.

This is where online training from your own living room or playroom comes in. You can control the environment, keep down high pressure sales attempts, and usually with proper research pay nearly half the price of location based instruction.

Some may say, “But can you really learn the martial arts online?” The short answer is a definite yes for children and a yes up to an intermediate level for adults. I go over all of the ins and outs of this in a separate article.

If you want to learn more about if online training in the martial arts is really possible, click here and read my article laying out the pros and cons.

With most universities and colleges moving rapidly toward e-learning as a mainstay of their offerings, is it any wonder others are on the same path?

Most larger corporations have completely transitioned to online instruction for their corporate education programs. Many of the professional development programs for teachers around the country have moved to online platforms.

You would be hard pressed to find a professional office in most any environment that at least someone working it hit hasn’t had some part of their education or training online.

With modern advances in live streaming technology that allows students and teachers to connect in real time and in HD, almost no class cannot be done via the internet.

So what does this have to do with the high cost of martial arts training? Everything. The costs associated with running a professional business laid out in the chart above are cut exponentially. This translates, or should translate at any rate, to radically cheaper prices.

What you may find in the beginning, as instructors switch more and more to this option, is an attempt to charge the same high tuition rates as on-site schools. As long as people resist this tendency, the prices will come down eventually. The market sets the price and not the instructors.

In my Little Ninja Online Classes for kids, I have jumped all of these transitional hurdles. My classes are priced at pennies on the dollar of ‘brick and mortar’ professional schools. I have much of the same to offer in modified form at under half the cost.

How can I do this? I ditched the physical location route years ago and have developed a program that I bring to groups where they are. This translates perfectly to the online format as well.

I send out through the mail all material that are needed. We have an even more interactive class with HD videos, high quality microphones, and screen sharing for multimedia.

I spotlight each child, have personal interaction with each, and facilitate a high energy class all while they are kicking and Judo throwing ‘stuffies’ in their own living rooms.

If you have a Little Ninja and would like them to get started online, this is an excellent opportunity to have them learn self defense, good character, and earn those coveted belt colors. You can also control their environment all at the same time.

Here is a video and a link that can give you all the details…

If you would like to see all the details about the class, just visit this link and you are literally minutes away from starting your Little Ninja on a path that could change their lives.

The Martial Arts High Cost Takeaway…

So, why do most location based martial arts cost so much? They are swimming in a sea of debt and expenses with a limited number of students to collect from. This leads to them into trying to ‘creatively’ charge fees and invent new ‘programs’ to entice their same student base to pay more and more.

Does this happen universally in all professional school programs? It doesn’t to the same degree, but it is a practice that most of these small business owners fall prey to at some point.

Charging higher tuition doesn’t always work. If the market can’t bare it, the school ends up with less students. So, most try to charge a larger student base a lower tuition and do an end around with additional fees later on.

There are other physical location options as opposed to the professional school. Many of these are cheaper, but involve a bit more work on the part of the student or parent. Quality instructors can be found this way, but it will take some effort.

There is also the new, emerging Live Online training option. This is becoming one of the most inexpensive and accessible options for many students. It brings instruction as a whole for kids and up to intermediate levels for teens and adults into a new world of technology.

If you are looking for a cheaper option that still has personal interaction with instructors (don’t settle for pre-redorded videos) and much of the same instruction as a physical location, this could be your solution.

It may take some getting used to, some self motivation, and a willingness to participate a bit more in your learning, but online martial arts definitely can be the answer to bringing down the cost of martial arts training.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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