Martial Arts Curriculum Strategies

BudoBanker medium blank

Andries Pruim | October 2020

Martial Arts SuperShow Insights

Being an avid follower of Martial Arts Business seminars and courses, I dove in with both feet at the last MA SuperShow which was Virtual for the first (and hopefully only) time last summer. As seen from the photo below, I took a ton of notes, especially from those sessions where either Business or Teaching Methodology was the primary subject.

MASS Notes

In reviewing my copious notes, I decided to put together a small synopsis of the best recommendations on how to properly develop your school’s curriculum. While I have paraphrased some of the recommendations, for the most part I have simply summarized a number of the session comments together with my personal experience of over 40 years of being a Sensei.

Developing a Martial Arts School Curriculum

A structured and documented curriculum is something that is often missing in a number of today’s Martial Arts schools. The most common approach for a lot of Instructors is the “technique of the day” strategy. This is where an instructor would show a few random techniques during class, often without any unifying theme or continuation of previously taught material. If they’re more diligent, instructors might prepare a week or two worth of material in advance, hopefully covering the same theme or related positions/techniques.

The problem with these kinds of approaches is that it makes it more difficult to bring new members up to speed in your school’s curriculum. This is especially true for grappling or jujitsu schools, due primarily to the sizable number of different positions one might encounter while training. Consequently, when designing a Martial Arts School curriculum, you must ensure that it maintains both retention and program quality so that the students are continually excited about coming to class.

Structuring your curriculum around your style's basic techniques

The most fundamental part of a good curriculum is teaching of the “basics”. Beginners need the most guidance and structure to help them understand the techniques being taught. The basics provide the foundation upon which you can expand with more advanced instruction later.

It should be understood that the criteria for your Ranks (Grades) does not necessarily make for the best foundation for today’s curriculum. When you build a basics curriculum, your goal should be to garner new members and to bring beginners up to speed as quickly as possible. This way your students can better appreciate and enjoy the art you are teaching, and not quit because they feel lost.

Consider the following when developing your new curriculum:

                  List all the techniques you consider basic or fundamental, especially for beginners.

                  For each technique, think about the principles that are important to know at the most basic level.

                  For each technique, list 2-3 attacks you consider appropriate for the technique.

                  Do the same for escapes / defenses for each technique.

                  Estimate the number of classes needed to cover each technique on the list. Sometimes multiple techniques can be covered in a single session if they complement each other, and sometimes a single technique would require multiple sessions to cover in full.

                  Using the information, you gathered, build a timeline using the class schedule you currently maintain or if starting a new school, build your class schedule to accommodate your curriculum.

You now have preliminary outline of your basic’s curriculum. It should cover the full extent of your school’s foundation for a Beginner/New Student to (at the very least) your Advanced Level (e.g.: Black Belt). If your school grows to where you have an extended Instructor base and ranking system (e.g.: Dan/Degrees), then your Curriculum must also include possible career paths for some of these dedicated students.

The Introductory Session.

Even with a structured curriculum, it takes time for new students to understand the terminology and basic movements and what is expected of them as members of the school. That’s where the Introduction Class comes into play.

It would be here where an Assistant Instructor takes all prospects (who have come in for their first session) aside in order to show them the very basics of your style without going into too much detail. 

These ‘Basics’ could entail:

                  How to enter the training area (e.g.: proper bowing into the class)

o   Provides insight to school’s tradition or simply logistics whereby students enter the facility through a separate entrance from Spectators, Instructors, etc.

                  How to properly put on the training uniform/belt or equipment

o   Some schools have a traditional way of putting on uniforms, for others it’s simply due to the complexity of the equipment involved.

                  Introduce them to basic martial arts etiquette, as it is practiced in your school.

o   Allows the new member to be comfortable when entering the classes and can provide some history of the school and/or style being practiced.

                  Explain what the new Student can expect in their first few classes.

o   This includes providing insight to the format of the classes (how to line up, how to address the instructors as well as other students), the pace of the class and possibly content if your classes are tightly structured.

                  Basic Physical elements of your martial art, including a Stance, a Block, a Strike and/or a Hold.

o   Allows the student to complete some homework before entering their first formal class and in turn allows them to come up to speed with the rest of the class quicker.

In summary, you are going over those details which should help to reduce confusion (friction) and better prepare new people for attending regular classes.

Adult Instruction


Probably your most complex demographic to work with due to the diversity in tastes for most adult students. This is not to say children are not diverse in their wants and desires, nevertheless new adult students have experienced the world (for the most part) and have already established their opinions on many aspects of life including the way (or what) they are being taught.

For this reason, when developing an adult curriculum, you should focus on the following:

Adult Times for Adult Students:

Adults are Busy! It is as simple as that and for this reason alone you must look at class scheduling as one of the primary factors when establishing an Adult Martial Arts program. Adults will require some flexibility in when they are able to train so your class schedule should allow for several options.

While you can easily ask your Adult students and possible Leads when they would prefer to train (always good to survey your students on a regular basis), nevertheless some research on your location’s Adult demographic may assist you in your curriculum design.

For example, if your school is located in an area where a number of young professionals reside, then you may wish to have classes later at night as most young professionals work long or unusual hours. Alternatively, your school may be located in a more industrial area of the city where there is a lot of shift work type of employment requiring your classes to be scheduled at all times of the day.

Fitness and Strength Training

One of the major surprises that I found interesting in Adults wanting to train at the martial arts is the lack of interest in the martial arts styles, history (re: tradition) or philosophy. They may have a small interest (or knowledge) but the main factor in getting Adults to train is primarily Fitness. The fact that there may be some self-defense benefits from the training may definitely be a contributing influencer, but not the main reason for trying out a class.

If you are looking to attract new Adult clients, leave the Karate Kid/Miyagi sensei themes for the movies and simply emphasis the physical nature of your martial art. Most Adults do not care if you are teaching Kanazawa Ryu Shotokan Karate or Traditional Japanese Kokodo Jujitsu as they are more interested in how the training can physically benefit them.

Training principles and methodologies that offer the best of the new, with the best of the old.

This relates to more to those who have been training for decades and still wish to maintain some semblance of the martial art they grew up (and old) with. Most of us who trained in the early years of Karate (usually known as the Pre-Karate Kid era) have been repeatedly told that our training methods were archaic at best. Even so, many now acknowledge that not everything we were taught nor how we were taught was all that bad. For this reason, some consideration to mature, long time martial arts practitioners may provide for an excellent additional revenue source as well as provide for some quality time for your adult students.

One last comment on developing a true adult martial arts class. Most adult classes in today’s child-centric martial arts schools are basically just classes for those kids who are too old for the children’s programs and need somewhere to train. Obviously, these are more teen classes than a true adult class. In other words, take time to design your adult class and not just as an afterthought.

Children's Classes

Teaching Children is sizably different from Adult instruction for in most cases children find it more difficult to concentrate for long periods or understand abstract concepts., especially younger children.

An effective approach is to incorporate regular instruction with games that include the movements or techniques you want to teach. The goal is to have the kids perform the moves naturally while having fun, and then tie it together as an actual technique they can repeat in regular formal basics training.

Gamification is a new paradigm where business and learning (for example) are changing the way they engage their customers and/or students. It tries to move away from the mundane and in some cases simply trying to make their jobs, tasks or routines more enjoyable.

So, while the Children’s Curriculum you design can be based on the basics curriculum you already have in place, the timeline might need to be adjusted to account for the difference in instruction. You may have to allocate more time to specific parts which are more important, and then less time (or even none at all) to parts of the instruction you feel might be too advanced or dangerous for children who have just started your program.


Advanced Instruction

Advanced instruction would be everything that requires a solid grasp of the basics. 

Some considerations to remember to:

1)      Student-Centric Instruction: Focusing on the student instead of the instructor;

2)     Results-Based Learning (aka Outcome Based Results): Focusing on getting results instead of adhering to outdated style doctrine;

3)     Highly Structured Curriculum Delivery:  Focusing on a proven development path that is understandable and transparent to all students.

Student Centric Instruction

Traditionally the student/teacher relationship in the martial arts has been focused on the instructor. Certainly, while you as the instructor are worthy of a degree of respect, your focus should be on the student, which in business terms is your client.

If you centralized the attention, you will find that ego can often get in the way of turning out good students, and the traditional image of the instructor as the all-knowing master only serves to perpetuate this. With the advent of the Internet age, this all-knowing persona is a recipe for failure in today’s martial arts industry.

A quality and considerate instructor will actually want to turn out students who are better than they are. It is a high sign of success for respected instructors to produce students who exceed them, both technically as well as in character.

By implementing student-focused instruction, it doesn’t mean giving up all tradition and courtesy. On the contrary, working in the best interests of your students empowers them and makes each one feel like they can accomplish what you’ve achieved and more.

Results-Based Learning

We have to understand and accept that we’re dealing with an entirely new generation of students who learn quite a bit differently than the previous generation of Martial Arts students.

This new generation has been raised on technology and media, and thus they present unique challenges that must be addressed in order to retain more students and turn out Black Belts (for example) who are worthy of carrying on your school’s name.

Results Based or Outcome Based Results is a model of education that rejects the traditional methodology of how the martial arts is taught to students, in favor of making students demonstrate that they "know and are able to do" whatever the required techniques are meant to do. This obviously is a more hands on approach to teaching and totally appropriate for our Industry. In other words, Results-Based Learning asks you to “look outside the box” and use whatever it takes to ensure your students learn, understand and apply the techniques being taught.

Highly Structured Curriculum Delivery

If your abilities in the martial arts is limited to a single style or martial art, then the likelihood of your school being successful will also be limited. In today’s Martial Arts Business world, the student is looking for a diversified syllabus of techniques and routines which means your repertoire must be all encompassing.

If you are not able to personally provide all the martial arts needed to successfully run a martial arts school, you can always look to various professionally designed curriculum delivery options. This is similar to a lot of new FinTech’s where an upstart technology firm starts with a core function and then purchases various prebuilt applications to allow for features necessary to make the business a success.

This principle can now be applied to new Martial Arts schools, where an investor or a new Black Belt can start with a core style (e.g.: Karate) and then purchase a myriad of proven programs to ensure the success of the business.

Some examples of these high-quality programs include:

If you are not strong in the teaching of younger children, then you can go out and purchase the “MAIA Pre-Skillz program where a complete selection of activity and drills makes it easy to establish a successful small kids program. There are not many of us that can easily manage a group of 4,5 or 6-year-old which is a lucrative market in today’s martial arts schools.


A lot of martial arts karate schools are hesitant to implement a Sparring program as it discourages a lot of new members from signing up. Again, there is an excellent and proven method for establishing a sparring program that is fun and inviting. The "Retention Based Sparring" program is another offering from MAIA and can ensure that both safety and inclusiveness is part of your fighting program.

Finally, if you wish to expand your schools class options and have decided that a weapons class is something that your students may enjoy. Unfortunately, if your martial arts style did not include weapons and considering the sensitivity of today’s society, then your choice of weapons to teach must be researched extensively. Fortunately, there are a number of quality courses available and one of the best is the "MAIA Flow System" which is headed up by two World Champions who have carefully designed both a class syllabus as well as having developed a “Teach the Teacher” course allowing you or your Black Belts to become qualified Instructors. In this way, you can quickly incorporate a new weapon of choice into your curriculum allowing for you to have another discipline in your school’s course inventory.

You can see how easily it is to properly develop a martial arts school curriculum as long as you keep an open mind about the business side of your school’s success.

Special Needs Instruction

If you are contemplating accepting “Special Needs” students, then you will need to be prepared to take on the added responsibilities and high maintenance nature of these type of students. In addition, based on the type of “Special Needs” being considered, this will in all likelihood involve some Governmental bureaucracy, thus again adding a layer of complexity and possible litigation issues (Risk Management). A customized curriculum would have to be designed, based on the circumstances of your interests and may have to be approved by a regulatory agency of some kind.

The teaching of ‘Special Needs” students requires a special type of instructor so make sure you have what it takes and are aware of all the responsibilities involved. Of course, the satisfaction of seeing special needs kids flourish is usually worth the extra effort.

Review your Curriculum Regularly

Don’t expect to create the perfect curriculum in one attempt. No matter how much you plan ahead, you can only tell if something works when you try it out in practice, and then observe the results.

Keep an open mind and be willing to change and update your instruction based on how well it’s received.

If you wish more information or need assistance in developing your custom curriculum, please contact a MAPS Advisors Consultant, or one of the MAIA Consultants, where they have the expertise and resources to ensure the success of your Martial Art Business.


Although every care has been taken by the MAPS Advisors Group Ltd., in the preparation of this publication, no warranty is given by the MAPS Advisors Group Ltd. as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained within it and the MAPS Advisors Group Ltd. shall not be responsible or liable for any loss or damage whatsoever arising by virtue of such information or any instructions or advice contained within this publication or by any of the aforementioned.