One on One:
How to Become a Private Instructor of the Martial Arts

By Scott Shaw

There are numerous reasons why a martial arts technician may decide to become a private instructor. First, and perhaps most prominent to the Black Belt on a budget is the fact that as a private instructor you do not have to set up a studio. As rents, especially in large urban centers, have skyrocketed, the ideal of a fully equipped dojo is often times out of reach. By offering one-on-one services, not only can you build up a client base for a studio in the future — but your overhead will be very low, as all that is required is the most basic of equipment: various portable striking bags, focus gloves, and a folding mat.

More than simply the need to operate outside of the large financial requirements of a martial art studio, as a private instructor you are allowed to make your own schedule — revolving it around other life factors such as a job, school, or training with your own instructor. By teaching at this level, you are allowed to define your own time table.

No doubt one of the most alluring incentives to becoming a private instructor is the fact that you can charge much more for your services than if you were a school owner. It is a simple fact of economics that martial art schools, located in close proximity to one another, need to be competitively priced. The new student, not necessarily sure of what style he or she wishes to study, will often times begin their martial art training based upon economic factors; i.e. the cheapest school, rather than on the credentials and achievements of the school's owner.

The fact of the matter is, as a private instructor you cater to a completely different level of clientele than that of a studio owner. Namely, people who are not basing their decision for where to train solely upon financial concerns. With this, you can adjust your fees based not only upon your own qualifications but on the economic standards of the community you are serving.

The Roving Trainer
It is important to understand that there are a few down sides to becoming a private instructor of the martial arts that must be examined before you decide to follow this path. First of all, you must travel to your client. Therefore you must possess a reliable vehicle to get your equipment and yourself to the location on time. The quickest way you will lose a private client is if you are continually late or you cancel at the last minute. No matter what the reason, when a person pays to have you come to his or her home to train them, they expect you to be there. No excuse will calm them if you do not show up.

Though private clients hate it if you do not show up, they will, however, often times cancel at the last minute on you. Therefore, it must be delineated at the outset of your relationship what will occur if they cancel without a twenty-four hour notice. (This subject will be discussed further in the paragraphs that follow).

With the basic criteria for becoming a private instructor understood — becoming a roving martial arts teacher does not mean that it does not take work to become successful in the field. Therefore, we must study some of the factors involved in creating a successful private martial arts instructor program.

Advertising
First of all, you must develop a client base. To do this you must get the information out to the public about the fact that you teach martial arts on a personal level. The style of this advertisement can range from flyers placed in supermarkets or on university billboards, to taking out ads in the newspaper.

As you are deciding what is the best initial step for you to begin your private martial art instructor publicity campaign, you must initially understand that people who see your ad in a supermarket are not generally going to possess the funds to pay a large fee for your time. To this end, though you may wish to begin your teaching program by serving the community and teaching people for a low fee, to move to the level of receiving a higher payment for your services, you will want to attract clients from the upper-level financial echelon. The most effective way to achieve this is to place newspaper ads in affluent communities where a large percentage of the populous is of the higher income bracket.

What your ad says about you and what you have to offer a client is equally as important as where you place it. In your ad you must tell your potential client your credentials and the services you provide in as few words a possible.

It is important to never lie and claim untruths about yourself. First of all, lying is against the Code of the Bushido, and lies always come back to haunt you. Therefore, be honest as to your Black Belt status and let the people know what you have to offer them — if it self-defense, cardio-aerobic martial arts, a traditional system, or weapon training? From what you say in your advertisement, the specific type of client will seek you out according to what you have to teach.

The Fee Basis
When you begin the process of becoming a private instructor you must decide what fee you will charge for your services. This is a highly variable issue. Your decision will not only be based on the economic standards of your community, but how far you have to travel to reach your client. It is also based upon the amount of time you will train them at each session, the level of qualifications you possess, and the type of client you wish to teach. Remember, your fee can certainly be adjusted depending upon each individual student.

For an idea of what to base your fee structure upon; here in Los Angeles, a private martial arts instructor never goes out for less than $125.00 an hour. The average is $200.00 an hour, and it goes up from there. On the high end, with a wealthy client, the fee is about $300.00 an hour — but this is based on a private instructor with an extensive track record and a long list of recommendations.

Your Initial Contact
Once your ads have been placed, your fee established, and a client has contacted you, the recommended first step is to speak with them at length on the telephone. Find out what they want, what they expect, and if you are the person who can provide the desired instruction to them. The image of the private martial arts instructor in the movie Action Jackson comes to mind. The private instructor went to the home of the character played by actor Craig T. Nelson and was immediately beat up by Nelson, who then stated, “Lesson Over!” In other words, have a very clear idea of what you are getting into before you ever travel to the home of a new client.

The Private Instructor Form
Once you are at their home, it is very important to define as clearly as possible what the structure of your teacher/student relationship is going to be. Create a Private Instructor's Form and have several copies of it printed out. Speak to the perspective client and find out what it is he or she wants to learn, why he or she wants to learn it, and what he or she expects from you. On your Private Instructor's Form, write down, as clearly and precisely as possible, what their course of instruction is going to be over a defined period of time — usually one month. The clearer you define in writing what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it, the less chance you will have of ending up with a dissatisfied customer.

Many personal instructors become lost in the fact that they may be getting paid a substantial sum of money and, thus, they lie to a perspective client in the hope of luring them into an instruction program by promising such things as, “You will be a great martial artist in a few months,” “You'll be able to beat up anybody after only two lessons,” and so on. If you treat clients in this fashion and what you promise does not come to pass, you will develop a reputation as a charlatan and your clients will not recommend you to their friends. Thus, you will not possess an ever-expanding client base.

It is very important at this early stage of the relationship to be willing to walk away if either your potential client or you feel ill at ease. Trust your feelings and trust theirs. If you cannot truly provide them with what they are expecting, the relationship will only deteriorate and both your client and yourself will not be motivated to properly follow through with the prescribed course of study.

The Training Schedule
Once you have substantiated what you will be teaching, you must then define a time structure for you to do it within. As is the case with most traditional martial art classes, a person's attention, particularly at the early stages of martial art training, can be held for approximately one hour to one hour and a half. Thus, you should set up a training schedule where you will visit the client a specific number of times and provide martial art instruction for a predetermined period of time. If you do not clearly define the time structure on your Private Instructor's Form, unmet expectations may occur. Thus, it is very important to clearly state the amount of time you will teach during each lesson throughout the course of instruction.

Certainly, situations arise in everyone's life where schedules, particularly ones set over a period of a month, will need to be altered. You should put it in writing on your Private Instructor's Form that cancellations must be made at least twenty-four hours prior to the scheduled class. It is a good rule of thumb to establish at the outset, that if a class is canceled with less then the required notice it will be viewed as a class given and cannot be rescheduled and must be paid for. It is for this reason that you always have a student pay you at least one month in advance; preferably more. Thus, you are protected from continued cancellations.

Once all of the delineating factors have been written into your Private Instructors's Form, have the new client look it over and agree to it in writing. Give them a copy of the Form. With this, you will have a basis to begin your instructor/student relationship.

The Injury Release
Injury Release Forms are commonly used in martial art studios. This is a form where the student relinquishes their right to sue the martial art studio, its instructors, and its students in the case of injury. Though this form is almost universally non-binding, due to the fact that in the United States a person cannot sign away their rights; it, none-the-less, may keep a student from filing a frivolous complaint.

The legality of private instruction is a bit different from the case of a student who enters a martial art studio. First of all, the instructor is on the student's property. Thus, any injury could be attributed to the property owner. In any case, it is an important and sadly necessary step to include an Injury Release on your Private Instructor's Form. With this you can at least partially protect yourself if your student becomes injured.

The Teaching Begins
Teaching students on the private level is much different from teaching martial art classes. In a one-on-one situation you cannot use an advanced student to demonstrate techniques. You must show your student the movement and then let them practice it upon you. This type of instruction can become very trying, especially if you are training your student in throwing or ground fighting techniques and they must sent you to the ground time and time again.

In one-on-one instruction the level of training can become boring to the student much more quickly then in a class structure. This is due to the fact that there is limited personal interaction. Though this is, in fact, the reason many people initially choose personal instruction over a class situation, it is imperatively important to keep the curriculum changing and evolving to hold the private student's interest.

One method to add diversity to your private student's course of study is to occasionally or on special occasions, such as a promotion test, bring in a martial art associate and allow them to work with your student under your instruction. This additional individual should never be a martial arts novice, as then your main client will feel cheated of their time. The person must be at least a competent advanced student.

Bringing a second individual into the learning environment must be first Okayed by your primary student. Once this has occurred, they can then experience how it feels to interact and work out with another person.

Promotions
When you teach in a traditional martial art studio it is the common practice to award colored belts to signify a student's achievement and ongoing mastery of a particular system. This is a time-honored practice that gives the student a goal to set and something to work towards. In teaching privately, it is rare that the student will wear a traditional martial arts uniform during training — particularly if they are an adult. Thus, you need to find a method for them to stay interested in your training, other then simply the mental and physical benefits.

It is important to remember that the reality of teaching privately is that most students who train at this level do not wish to become martial art masters. Thus, their training time tends to be short lived. As is the case with many people who have a passing interest in the martial arts, they join a studio and then after a month or so their interest fades and they leave the studio. Though this is a common occurrence, with the added incentive of something to work towards such as rank advancement, your private students may wish to remain in your training for a longer period of time.

If you are not teaching with the traditional belt system, one way of providing motivational stimuli for your client to remain in training is to award him or her a certificate indicating a specific period of time in training. This can be on a one month basis or as you see fit.

If you are training them in a more formal system of martial arts and they are advancing successfully through its prescribed steps, at a certain point in time you can provide them with a yellow belt certificate, then a blue belt certificate, and so on. Whatever method you ultimately choose to use to reward their progress, it is important that you keep them motivated and make them realize that they are, in fact, achieving something and becoming a better person because of it.

The Expanding Client Base
As you progress along the road of personal martial art instruction, you will come to find that you will develop a client base of not only singular individuals or multiple children of a single family but organizations will come to you to teach larger groups, as well. To this end, it is good to inform such organized groups as the local police force, social clubs, youth groups, Boy Scouts, and YMCA's, as to your traveling martial art instructor profession.

Private Instruction in the Martial Art Studio
Private Instruction is not only for the instructor who does not possess a formal studio, martial art school owner's can additionally benefit by offering private classes within the walls of their school or by traveling to a particular student's home. As a school owner, you obviously will not have the time to travel long distances to train a large numbers of private students as would the person who has no daily studio orientated classes to teach. None-the-less the school owner can also financially benefit by seeking out those particular individuals who desire to obtain martial art knowledge on a private basis.


Copyright © 1998 — All Right Reserved
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.