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11 reasons why it sucks to be a martial arts sensei, instructor, coach or teacher

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Teaching can be so wonderful. Taking in a bumpkin and gradually transforming him into an articulate and able martial artist feels rewarding in itself. Of course, not everything is nice and rosy and teaching does have its bad sides. Here are eleven annoyances of being to be a martial arts instructor. If you are planning on opening a training hall or already have one, this list should help you prepare against potential problems. Instructions on how to deal with the issues are out of the scope as we believe it is up to each instructor to come up with their own solutions.

11 reasons why it sucks to be a martial arts instructor



1- Instructors are treated as a consumer good

In occidental countries, teachers are not regarded with much value or even respect. Perhaps, the capitalist culture of consumerism may explain this tendency, since people are used to measure values in terms of monetary worth. Because martial arts instruction or even any type of education in general is relatively cheap, people do not respect the teaching or the instructors.

The common expectation from martial arts instructors and noodles: instant gratification
photo taken from © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

In the mind of the students (and their parents), they pay for martial arts lessons and expect to be taught. Consuming students are not alone to be blamed, after all, it can be said that the first requirement needed of a student in order to gain entry to a school is that he pays his tuition fee.


2- Always judged, questioned and criticized by new comers

Newcomers often do not know much about genuine martial arts and base their preconceived notions and expectations from unrealistic movies. This leads students (and their parents) to question and criticize the instructor when they perceive progress to be too slow or when they think the instructor is not doing an adequate job, especially when compared to Hollywood movies.

These occurrences can be explained by the fact that most people do not have any point of reference to compare the quality of the teaching, so they refer to notions (as wrong as they are) from movies.


3- Constantly training newcomers becomes repetitive

One of the joys of learning martial arts is the feeling of progressing, learning new things and growing as a martial artist. After a few months of training, the excitement wanes down and  many get start feeling bored, as learning new techniques slows down to make place for fine tuning of details in known techniques. Anyone who practiced martial arts for a long period of time can relate to the perceived feeling of not progressing leading to a loss of motivation.

“Do not be afraid of advancing slowly, only be afraid of standing still” said a Chinese fortune cookie.
photo taken from 3268zauber / wikipedia commons 

Because of that loss of motivation, many will quit after only a few years of training, while new recruits who have to learn everything from scratch continue coming in. This explains why schools are usually filled with lower belts rather than higher belts.

This often means that the biggest group in terms of number of people in the school is always lower belts which incidentally require more attention and time from the instructor. After years of always teaching the same basic mechanics, the teacher may feel like he is not progressing in his teaching skills and may lose motivation, just like students would.


4- Some people need to be disciplined and motivated

Most instructors do not have any degrees in education, learning the ways of teaching from their martial arts teachers and their personal experience. Teaching, may be fun and easy for the students who earnestly try their best to follow the instructions, but what of the children that do not want to listen and otherwise disrupts other students? The instructor cannot inflict physical punishment or even elevate their voices in hopes of disciplining the student at fault, without risking getting in trouble with over-protective parents or local laws.

Possible tool for motivating people
photo taken from Cgoodwin / wikipedia commons

Teaching exclusively to adults also has its potential share of problems. The instructors may need to take care of cases of animosity between students, lack of respect, confrontational attitudes, bullying, sexual harassment etc.


5- No gratitude or recognition

Gratefulness is not a natural trait of human beings, which may explain the lack of gratitude exhibited by most students. One Canadian 6th dan Tae Kwon Do instructor once argued that his personal achievement were due to his hard work and had very little to do with being taught by his teacher and went on asserting that he would have achieved the same skill levels had he trained under any other teacher. He relegated the role of a teacher to being a learning tool, not unlike a book or instructional DVD.

Opinion from a 6th Dan: "These are as good as any sensei or teacher!"
Photo taken from Tom Woodward / wikipedia commons

In a society that gives little importance of teachers, is the 6th dan’s point of view so surprising? Who can name the teacher of Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Benny Urquidez or even Jackie Chan or Jet Li? The only famous student-teacher relationship universally known by the public was between Bruce Lee** and Yip Man (Ip Man).

*Chong Lee is a 10th dan Grand-Master accredited with being the first to introduce Korean Tae Kwon Do in Canada.

** The known relationship is not in itself that surprising since it is Bruce Lee we are talking about. People’s obsession lead them to dig for any tidbit of information they could find on him, including what he ate for breakfast and what his favorite color was.



6- People tend to disappear without a word


Photo taken from Paul Robinson / wikipedia common; modified by Hao Wong

Despite the appearance of the contrary, most martial arts instructors have feelings. To them, each student is like a piece raw material which he forms and sculpts into a fine vessel of martial art abilities. As such, they tend to get attached to their best students and feel helpless and disappointed if the student leaves before reaching his full potential.

To make matters worse, many students leave without explanation and sometimes without even warning the teacher of his permanent departure.


7- Demands high level of dedication

Until the instructor trains students long enough to have trusted and technically advanced students, he is likely going to have to run the show on his own. That means he needs to come at least fifteen minutes before each class to open the doors, wait till all his students leave after the class to clean up, sometimes meaning he gets to stay at the training hall for up to an hour after class has finished to finally close the school.

Unlike his students, the instructor does not have the luxury to skip a practice because the weather is nice and he doesn’t feel like locking himself in with a bunch sweaty people. In order for his school to function properly, he needs to be present at least most of the time. Should he take time off for any reason, he would have to find a suitable replacement willing to take his place, which isn’t always easy.


8- Teaching means less time to train

The only certain fairness shared amongst human beings of all age is the amount of time per day they possess. Chances are, instructors have a life outside of the training hall, meaning their work, family and friends take up most of their time. Only what little remaining time they have left can be dedicated to either practicing or teaching martial arts. In other words, unless they can free up more time to assign to martial arts, their training time will decrease as their teaching time increases.


9- Additional stress caused by local regulations, insurance, rent, tuition collecting, marketing

Properly teaching martial arts novice, making sure they have a solid foundation already requires lots thoughts and energy from the instructor.  It is safe to assume instructors would do without the additional burden that all schools of any type of organized activities have to go through.

Painkillers may be required to deal with the headaches
photo taken from Ragesoss / wikipedia commons
  • Local regulations: School owners have to make sure the building is which their training hall is well maintained that fire escapes are properly designated, that the air quality respects the norms etc. If non conform, they may expose themselves to fines. If they are leasing the room, then they have to make sure that the building owner conforms to the regulation.

Other regulation they need to be careful for include any health and sport activity related laws that their locality may have.

  • Tuition collecting: Like any merchant, the instructor has to make sure he is duly paid, which not only means getting paid in totality and on time, but also making sure that checks do not bounce, bills are not fakes, etc.

It also means having to deal with people who try to bargain down the price for various reasons or dedicated students who for are in financial trouble and are obligated to delay payment.

  • Rent: When the school is full and the cash is flowing, paying rent is no problem, but what happens when there are less students, either because it is summertime or simply because there are not enough students to cover the costs?

If the instructor wants to go on in hopes that things will pick up, he may have to dish out some of his own money to cover some of the rent.

  • Marketing: In the situation where there are not enough students to cover the rent, the teacher may want to do some marketing in hopes of attracting new students. He can do so by sending out flyers, doing demonstrations in front of a larger public, offer promotional price for new students etc. The instructor needs to do his marketing in a way that will excite without giving outrageously unrealistic expectations to prospective students.

  • Insurance: Sometimes required by the city in which the training hall is set up, insurance cover essentially two aspects: insurance of the equipment of the training hall (striking targets, armors, weapons, etc.) and insurance for the students.
  • The second type of insurance covers medical expenses for injuries occurring in the practice of the martial art. It may also cover the instructor in case of lawsuits. Even if they divert the insurance fees to the students, they still need to keep track of the coverage and collect the money on time.


10- May be harder than expected to make good money

Many instructors’ primary concern is the mercantile aspect of operating a school, hoping to make their martial arts operation their main source of income. There are some who enjoy success at it, but they are only a small minority.

The abundance of aspiring teachers in most major cities coupled with the contradicting virtues of martial arts versus the darkness of greed also makes it morally harder for upright teachers to resort to trickery to inflate their income.


11- Organizational Politics

Once an instructor gathers a sizeable amount of students, he will inevitably become the envy of other local schools who may be competing for the same students. This exposes the instructor to campaigns of defamation, back stabbing and other animosity.

Conflicts may also come from within, as some members of the organization the teacher is affiliated to may want to use him as a political weight.

If the school is not affiliated with any organization, the instructor may be courted into having his school join the organization.


Regardless of these annoyances, someone with high motivation and a minimal amount of organizational skills should be able to able to overcome these annoyances. Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions below.


Articles that may interest you:



Sources and references:

  • Unnamed World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF) technical director, 6th dan
  • Peter Choo-Foo, TyFung Kung Fu




  • Wikipedia Commons
















Last Updated on Saturday, 29 October 2011 10:36  

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