Charging for Lessons

Charging for a Lesson

Your Full Time Job

I have discussed a few times on why you shouldn’t make teaching martial arts your full time job. Chosin Chibana talked extensively on how you would become a worse teacher when your livelihood depended on keeping students. It is my belief that when you make your personal income the direct result of student fees with the main variable in how much you get paid, how attractive you can make your school, and how many people you can get to pay a belt/testing fee that you water down the martial art.

With this in mind, I also recognize that it is impossible for most schools to operate when you remove any sort of income. I think what Chibana was talking about either referred to making a large profit on martial arts (karate specifically in his case) or using it as your sole income. Perhaps two centuries ago it was possible to teach martial arts for free in your spare time, in today’s crowded cities there simply isn’t room unless you rent a training facility and maintaining one requires a lot of personal charity or fees to the members who use the club.


Now that we have established that schools need to charge money to operate, how do we decide how much? Most American (and I believe this holds true internationally) schools use a per student monthly rate and then add on additional fees for testing for belts. In many cases there is a contract that requires the student to pay for 12 or 24 months and charges them an early termination fee similar to cell phone contracts. The argument is that without this most new schools would go under in a few months, but by ensuring 12 or 24 months of income they can get off the ground.

After almost three years of polling and statistics research, the average cost for lessons is $75.81 USD a month. The highest was $180 a month in New York City and the lowest was Oldenburg, Germany that charged only $17.38 USD a month for lessons. These figures do not reflect the number of lessons or benefits, but give an idea of what most schools charge. So how should you decide on your price? $180 a month per student sound pretty nice doesn’t it? If you had 50 students you’d be making $108,000 a year!

Value Based

The first method of pricing we will talk about is value based costing. We look at how much we think our product, martial arts instruction, is worth and then we set the price. This type of pricing usually results in a higher price and is used by companies like Lamborghini and Rolex to put high prices on things that are rare. If you are the only martial arts school in your area and many people want to attend you may put the price high enough that some cannot afford to join, but you maximize your profit.

This type of pricing is what Chibana argued against. Here you are treating martial arts as a money making business and you give yourself incentives to promote people and keep them coming back to give you more money. From an economic side, it is hard to do because martial arts schools tend to have lots of competition. Even in places like rural Indiana you will find 5 or 6 schools competing with each other.

Cost Based

The second type of pricing is called cost based. Here you assess how much it costs you to run your school and set a price that allows a small margin to pay yourself for the cost of your time. If our school’s rent is $1000 a month, we have 20 students, and the insurance is $100 a month we will charge them each $55 to cover our costs plus another $10 a month to pay ourselves for the time we are investing into the school. Notice that $200 a month likely is below minimum wage. If we gain 20 more students, we can cut everyone’s dues down to almost $26 and still maintain our school. Most teacher’s will leave the price per student where it is and use the extra money to reinvest into growing the school and proving more benefits to the members (such as pads and mats).

This is an excellent idea. What shouldn’t be done is taking that extra $1000 a month and lining the instructors pockets.

Your Decision

At the end of the day, it is your decision on how you price your services. Even when using cost based pricing, you have to determine the value of your time. If you are a lawyer who makes $200 an hour and you are dedicating a few hours every month to testing your students, then it is not unreasonable to charge them more for belt/testing fees. The philosophy of karate-do would suggest that you give back your time in honor of all the people before you who gave their time to progress your training. I personally will be teaching karate for as cheap as possible for a long time to pay back all the people who invested in my training.

Feeling like lowering your prices or is this just too altruistic for your tastes? Let us know in the comments.

By KruczekKruczek on FacebookKruczek on Google+Kruczek on Twitter Visit author's website

Theodore Kruczek is the founder and head writer of the Okinawan Karate-do Institute. He is a 4th Degree Black Belt in Okinawan Shorin-ryu with more than 14 years of experience. This site was created as his way of both teaching his own Karate and learning about others.

Comments (6)

    • Having read some of your work, I consider this a big compliment. I have not read Dojo Dynamics, but am due to get some new karate books soon. I will put it on my list.

      While I am limited in my advice for running a school – I will consider putting up more articles on the nitty gritty stuff. Few things I think people would really enjoy are: “How to cut costs at your dojo” and “Marketing tricks for dojo owners”. Thanks for the suggestion.

  1. I believe you missed a scenario, one which I often used when I had my commercial school. You can charge for time to access the school, you know the hours themselves. Lawyers may charge $200/hour but that is for their time not their knowledge. Of course, you would not value their time if it was not for their knowledge but how many times have you paid for such only to find out that the knowledge was either bad or not useful. It’s not like you can get the time back once it is spent now can you. To be blunt, students couldn’t afford to “pay” for my knowledge just as I could not afford to pay for the knowledge I was given.

    I always told my students that they were paying for the opportunity to gain the knowledge I have not the knowledge itself because it can’t be sold. I also told them that that means the onus is on them to do something with the opportunity not on me to make sure they “get it.” My knowledge was always free, but my time is very limited so it is very valuable to me. What I charge for my time is my decision and whether or not someone pays for that time is a decision they make based on their belief of what that access to knowledge might be worth.

    I spent many years paying for time from some of the greatest masters. Not to speak badly of anyone, but what would a hour of time with a great master be versus an hour of time from a local instructor with a few years knowledge? I once paid $200+/hour to learn from a particular BJJ instructor but what he taught me in that hour was more than I had been taught in 12 months of training at the local school. The knowledge was the same, from the same source but the time with the master was worth more to me because of the value of it and his ability to deliver it in a short period of time, which saved me a lot of my own personal time grinding it out in the mat.

    To me, the only altruistic endeavor in life is to help people and that sometimes means providing barriers to protect them and hoops for them to earn the learning. You see a teacher does not appear until the student is ready no matter how much they are paying. A decent value for time transaction (charging for lessons) is a good way of determining that they are ready (at least they think they are buy agreeing to pay for the time to have the opportunity to learn what you have learned).

    Either way, I like your blog and I feel that you are sincere. I wish you the best.

    Jason Brinn

    • Jason I loved your counter points. I think it was when I was talking to someone about Iain Abernethy that someone explained that he could not do all of the things he does without being somewhat financially dependent on martial arts. He sells books and holds seminars to have the financial ability to be able to spread unique and valuable knowledge.

      While it may not be the route I would choose, you are right, that is another option and it isn’t automatically evil just because it would cost money.

      Thank you for this awesome comment and I hope to hear more from you in the future.

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