So, You Want to Become a Karate Pro? Read This First.


I love weekends.

Do you?

(Let me hear a “hell yeah!“)

Well, if that’s the case, let me tell you a fun thing: Up until the year 1820 or so, today’s concept of “weekends” didn’t even exist. In fact, here’s an even funnier thing: The unemployment rate in the world was also zero at that time.

That’s right.

Because what we today refer to as a “job” didn’t exist yet!

Until the Industrial Revolution came around and flipped our lives upside down, most people worked on the land or for their family. The idea that you would gladly commute to another man’s factory, do his job for him, and then get some money for that, was ludicrous at best. The Industrial Revolution changed this and it also changed our government, regulations, school, culture and basically society as a whole.

Today, fluorescent lights are the only thing that separates work from hell for most people.

And we accept this because it happened before we were born.

It’s the only lifestyle we know!

“9 to 5” as we call it.


Is it, really?

I mean, it doesn’t have to be that way anymore, has it? What if you could instead turn your passion into a job? Huh?

What if…

…you could put food on the table through Karate!?

Awesome, right!?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can.

A new revolution is replacing the fading industrial age. What’s happening now is that we have a revolution built with connections about ideas, people to people, with the ability to reach markets in a whole new way. Just fifty years ago, we’d have never thought that one person working by him- or herself anywhere in the world with nothing but a passion for, say, ‘graphic design’, ‘programming’, or ‘blogging’ could literally touch a million or a billion people with just a laptop and some enthusiasm.

So what stops you from turning YOUR passion into cold, hard cash?

Well, gee, don’t look at me. I already work with Karate. And I’m loving every goddang second of it.

Can you do it too?

Sure you can.

And I’ll gladly help you on your merry way. To make it easier for you to decide if turning Karate into a profession is the right thing for you, here’s five quick ideas that I know have worked very well for many people.

Check ’em out:

    1. Run your own Karate dojo: If you’re good at Karate, and passionate about teaching it to other folks (and remember, you don’t have to be the best, just better than your students), you could open up a dojo. It doesn’t have to be a giant Japanese-style temple dojo with calligraphy on the walls and a golden statue of me in the front or anything (although I would appreciate it). You could literally just rent a small space at a college campus or wherever – and simply start teaching local kids and parents. But remember: Taxes, marketing, paperwork, scrubbing floors etc. is all an integral part of running a dojo – either you learn to enjoy this stuff or have somebody else do it for you.
    2. Teach Karate as a freelancer: If you don’t want to (or can’t) teach in your own dojo, you could just drive to other dojos and teach – regular classes, special classes, private classes or seminars. This is particularly good if you are famous for your skills in a certain area of Karate (kumite, bunkai, kata, self-defense etc.) and people need your help. Although you can often charge premium for this, the downside of being a “sensei on the road” is that it could be stressful sometimes. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and make sure you have a cool business card.
    3. Write books and produce DVDs: If you’re more comfortable behind a desk, writing books and producing DVDs could be a viable option. Again, you still need to be good at Karate (so that people feel your products are worth their price), but if you can make it work it could be a nice source of long-term income. The great thing about this is that you only have to make the product (book, video) once – but you’ll keep on getting income for years (as opposed to physical training/seminars where you need to hold the actual class again and again to get paid).
    4. Compete (and find generous sponsors): While competing in Karate by itself will not make you a millionaire (on the contrary, it’s often pretty expensive to travel, train and compete), you could always get sponsors to help you out. At least if you’re good-looking and win a lot. But, sponsorship deals don’t necessarily make you cash – more likely, it’s often rental cars, food, travel, accommodation, PR and such. In other words, it saves you cash. However, many top competitors I know get an actual monthly salary when they’re the best in their national team (Italy, France, Turkey, Iran etc.), so private sponsors isn’t the only approach. Still, becoming a professional Karate athlete takes a lot of training (and the right connections), but can make life pretty sweet when you’re at the top. The best idea is to combine competing with other approaches – open up a dojo, hold seminars around the world and create products that showcase your expertise. Or work at McDonalds.
    5. Take a Karate desk job: If you love Karate and bureaucracy, this is the perfect path for you. I’ll explain what I mean in a second, but first let me just ask you; “Are you cuh-ray-zee?”. Nobody loves bureaucracy! But if you do, working at a big organization with administrative tasks (doing PR, website admin, accounting, press releases, taxes, secretary work etc.) could be the right path for you, my freaky, freaky friend. The larger an organization is, the more competent people behind its desks it will need. That person could be you – and I’ve heard the salary is okay. But when I think about it, working behind the desk of a Karate magazine is probably more fun than an organization. Whatever floats your boat.

So, how does that sound?

As if the above list isn’t enough, there’s a ton of other areas that you could theoretically combine with your Karate to become a sought-after Karate-ka.

Lucio Maurino, multiple-times World/European Champion and long-time reader of KbJ (he even has The Karate Code) regularly holds international seminars. He’s also a doctor. And heavily sponsored. And has his own dojo. And his own organization. And his own videos. And holds private lessons. And lectures at university. He’s awesome. Also, I think I have a man crush on him.

For example, in no particular order:

  • Anatomy/physiology
  • Kinesiology/sports science
  • Nutrition
  • First aid/sports medicine
  • Weight training
  • Other martial arts
  • Reality-based self-defense
  • Herbology
  • Asian history
  • Asian religions/philosophy
  • Asian art
  • Stunt/fight co-ordinator (movies/theatre)
  • Linguistics/translations
  • Dance
  • Gymnastics
  • Psychology (of any flavor)
  • Anthropology
  • Acupuncture
  • And much more…

The list is endless.

In the end, no matter what approach you choose to take towards becoming a Karate professional, there’s something you strongly need to consider:

Are you ready to sacrifice your art?

It’s a well known fact that most people who choose to monetize their passion will have to sacrifice some part(s) of it. As “students” suddenly become “customers”, “techniques” become “products” and “discipline” becomes “dollars”, you will have to make some ethical and moral compromises initially if you want to be truly successful as a Karate pro – unless you have the resources to do otherwise.

The important thing is to be comfortable with this.

And always remain true to your art.

Or else it will all have been for nothing.

Question: Do YOU work with Karate in some way? I would love to hear your story! Use the comment section below.


  • Chuck
    Greetings Jesse San; I've taught a small group for close to 20 years. We have a great relationship with the church we've rented from. Since the dojo opened in 1985 (I took over in '94 when the original instructor move on) they have never raised our rent. We assist with physical labor around the building when needed. By not having a busload of overhead, I am able to keep costs down for the students I take on. As long as I cover rent and insurance, everything else goes back into the dojo - mats, training weapons, etc. What I like most about the arrangement is that I'm not a slave to a large rent payment and required to take on or keep students that are "issues". We are able to do what we do and not be influenced by the latest craze. I can quickly and confidently tell people that we're not what they're looking for, but they are still welcome to take a class or two to see if it is a good fit. We've also done a number of seminars around the St. Louis area for some of the corporations or colleges. Again, if there's money in their budget it goes back into the dojo for supplies, but if not, we do it gratis and build our relationship with the area.
    • Chuck-sensei, thanks for making your presence felt! Your thoughts about teaching totally resonate with me, and I wish you the best of luck with your students. Keep it up!
  • Andreas Quast
  • Blue Wave Karate
    I've been teaching my own small club, with the assistance of another black belt friend of mine, for about five years now. It's incredible. I don't know if it will ever put food on my table, but it doesn't really matter. Whatever else my day is like, I walk into the church where we rent hall space and teach a small class of amazing people twice a week for ninety minutes. Totally worth it. (And who knows, maybe someday I will figure out how to make it a living!)
    • Philip-sensei, thanks for sharing your journey. Good luck with teaching and training - your heart is in the right place!
  • bernhard
    Hi Jesse! :D Love your Karate stuff, but Ancient Greece had lots of people who had to work for money to survive. Roman Empire: same thing. Even ancient mesopotamia had free people who had to work for other people. In the Roman Empire unemployment and the comeptition between slaves and free workers was quite a dicey topic. However, it is true that the industrial revolution made wage labour the widespread way of putting bread on the table we know today. But the problem with agriculture is/was hidden unemployment. And in times of need some of the redundant mouths had to find other ways to survive. I am from Austria(little german speaking country around the alps) and poor farmers in the alps had pretty hard way of dealing with this problem: During the sommer they sent some of their children to germany to work on wealthier farms. This custom dates back to the end of medieval times and was abolished in the late 1920s.
    • Bernhard-san, your historical knowledge is truly impressive. And phew - I'm glad we don't live in Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia or the Roman Empire then! ;)
      • bernhard
        Yep, they didn't even have a belt system :D
        • Elisha Gaugh
          Awesome joke, bernhard.
  • RH Gutierrez
    Hi Jesse-san I always enjoy your site. I teach Clinical Anatomy at a Doctoral program, professional programs, and community colleges. Occasionally I have been asked and asked to do a seminar on injuries in martial arts but it is not enough to live off of as most people seem not to care about reality, they believe what they want to. Maybe I need to find someone who can sell me.
    • Hi Rafael-san, and thanks for chiming in! Your story is fascinating and unfortunate at the same time; because, like you write, people generally buy what they want - not what they need. To tackle this issue, great marketing is essential in your case. You have the knowledge, make sure people know they need it. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
  • Anne
    Hi Jesse I have only recently starting reading your website but I enjoy your articles and I find your writing refreshing and easy to understand. I have only been a karate-ka for 4 years now (I'm over 40, I started late!) but I am passionate about training and improving myself and have been competing in veteran class, so much so that I am moving into coaching as I love working with the children - I assist with all the children's classes. I am also starting to write books for children to introduce them and help them understand our art. Pointers to any websites (other than your own!) or books to give me some ideas would be amazing! Thank you so much!
  • When I started teaching (for pay) many years ago, I knew I had to educate myself in the business of running a school (and I am still learning). I also had to convince myself that my instruction deserved to be remunerated. Yeah, I thought Karate was to be taught for free, but experience taught me otherwise. I constantly talk to people who run successful schools (of any style of martial art) to learn how they make it work. I keep an open mind and decide which things I am willing to implement, and what doesn't fit with our culture. I look around and see that there are too many mediocre schools (to be kind) that are great businesses, and too few great schools and teachers that are/have viable businesses. I think this can change, but only if "traditional" Karate schools are willing to educate themselves in how a business must run (yes, making a profit is important). You don't have to sell out or become a belt factory to be successful (I don't believe). But I do think that we must be willing to learn things like Customer Service, Marketing, Sales, business practices, accounting, tax laws, employment laws, insurance requirements, etc. In addition to continue learning and training Karate. I started teaching my own kids at home, then rented a few rooms at local rec centers. While going to School, working a full time job, training, and competing (and still finding time for my wife and children). Yeah it was crazy. Later on got a loan from the Small Business Administration and bought our dojo building. After a few years I figured that it was too much of a strain to continue the same way. I had finished school, had a great career, but the Dojo was my passion. So I took loans on everything I could to carry me through the switch, left my job, and put 100% into our Dojo. Well, so far, so good. It is not easy, but it is great to be able to do what you love, make a living from it, and help your community through our instruction.
    • Inspiring, impressive and interesting (to say the least), Willy-san. I'm glad you chimed in - looking forward to hearing more from you!
  • Jesse San. Loving your article(s) I teach with a small but popular club. We have a couple if England squad members and are very well established within the completion circuits. I teach regularly, mainly adults and occasionally children. Our club is a non profit organisation and I myself don't get paid. It's all done for the love of the sport and the martial art. I consider myself fortunate in that I don't get paid as I agree with what you said, but if I could, I would love to teach and train all day every day. Jeremy San
  • I left my well paid job and had 1 month to replace the income, and teaching karate was my dream. I already had 1 small club so when I left my job i opened 2 more clubs teaching 3 nights a week with about 2 classes at each dojo. That was back in 2007, I now have 5 clubs teaching 5 nights a week, and I haven't worked a day in over 6 years!
  • Harish
    Hi Jesse I wanna be karate athlete. If u have some connections in dubai plz let me know thanks
  • Hector W. Ramos
    I am currently a 2nd kyu at my dojo. How would I get started to work as a freelance instructor.
  • Ola
    Hi Jesse San, I've been teaching kids karate for the past 3 years now. I started off with a small group of 5-9 year olds when I advanced to the 4th kyu. Since then I have taken on 4 more groups at my dojo with the age range from 3 to 12 years. Unfortunately the moment I started teaching my own training took the toll because I didn't have as much time to attend my own training in between work and school. Finally I managed to organise my timetable to fit everything in, and I love being back in training regularly! I forgot how much I used to enjoy training karate and not just teaching it. Although I did advance, at least in a more spiritual way, in my karate training through teaching kids. I have to say that teaching, for me, is a great deal of work and fun, and I love it!

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