How To Become A Karate Instructor

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In this article, I’ll tell you all about how to become a Karate instructor from my own experience. I reached brown-belt in Kenpo Karate within a year and that allowed me to start instructing part-time whilst still studying and doing other sports at school.

I’ll tell you a bit about my own story and answer some questions I’m sure you’ll have, so let’s get right to it!

My Experience Becoming A Karate Instructor

A karate master teaching his student

Let me tell you a personal story and give you a quick glimpse behind the curtain.

Like all work, it really boils down to networking.

Yes, it’s not as mystical as you think it would be.  No travel to some ancient land.  No training under some immortal sensei.

For this writer (and former Kenpo Karate instructor), it was all about knowing someone.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t know what I was doing or that a relative was the head instructor.

But being a student and knowing what you’re doing really helps.  And it doesn’t require climbing a misty mountain or going on some legendary quest.

It requires knowing your art first and foremost. Know your technique.

Then it requires understanding how to convey your knowledge to others in a way that’s instructional while also not being full of rubbish.

It also means not abusing students just because they paid for it or because you want to wail on people. They aren’t punching bags and they’ve put their trust in you to guide them.

It means teaching, but also mentorship.

That’s what an instructor is.  A teacher at the beginning of every lesson, yet a mentor that a former student can always reach out to. It is very personal.  Not just for the student.

It’s also for the instructor.

Yet you have to enjoy teaching. Be ready to instruct, correct, and answer questions.  Be patient.  Form your instruction, not just based on how you learned, but also how best the student receives said instruction.

Remember, as an instructor, you are always a student. They teach you and re-teach you as you provide guidance. It’s a constant give-and-take.

But the best students are always open, as are the best instructors.

How to Become a Certified Karate Instructor

A karate master standing on the mats in his gym

To become a certified Karate instructor (in my case, Kenpo) required a lot of studies, work, and testing.  I had to earn the trust of my lead.  I had to be Belt qualified (i.e., I had to know the system adequately enough to not just earn my Belts but also explain what we were teaching).  But I also had to demonstrate my ability to teach the techniques the system demanded.

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So how do you do that?

It honestly depends on your lead instructor’s faith in you. 

But it also depends on you. You can spend many more hours improving yourself and teaching yourself Karate in your own time to expand your ability.

There is an element of trust but also knowledge, skill, and personality.


Be able to convey knowledge without becoming a drill sergeant.  Understand each student is different.  Confirm your instructions to said student.

For me, my journey to becoming a Kenpo Karate instructor was intense, brutal, often just plain miserable.

Actually, it wasn’t that awful. I was in high school and doing Kenpo while also playing football, doing track, and wrestling.

The main thing is I was really good at Kenpo.  So good that I earned my 3rd degree Brown Belt in about a year.

This also speaks to having a great head instructor who was just starting his school, so, he had an unusual amount of time to devote to me.  I was essentially getting three private sessions a week, not including group classes.

Now, what else?

First things first, let’s get some stuff out of the way:

To become an instructor, you first need to gain the trust of the lead instructor at your school.  It doesn’t matter what your Master is called.  You call Him or Her what they prefer and what you, ultimately, will put up with.  Mine was called Barry and we were on a first-name basis and it was just fine.

Also, you don’t need to know another martial art as long as what you’re teaching is what you’re good at.  However, it does help to be familiar with other forms. Me: I was proficient in Kenpo but was also teaching Kali Silat, Kickboxing, and Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu.

Of course, this all leads to:

So How Do You Become Certified as an Instructor?

To become a certified instructor requires the confidence of the one certifying you.  Bottom line.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Gain their confidence and then prove through light sessions you know how to convey the lessons.

It is possible to get certified online and a lot of people pursue this now due to the pandemic.  But those people usually have instructing experience at a junior level, or already have a Brown Belt and qualify for instructor status.  Again, it depends on who is granting it.

But the real thing is this: you’re conveying knowledge to someone else.  You’re a teacher.  Can you provide that guidance without help?  It’s important to know the fact you can distribute knowledge and have it sink in.  

In a way, instruction should have its own black belt.  Because learning and teaching are two very different things.

The good thing is, if you’re in a good school, your head instructor should see this in you pretty much after you commit for 6-months.

Requirements to Become a Karate Instructor

Know your Art.  Capital “A” on the Martial Art you’re actually teaching.

And have the trust of the lead instructor.

Everything else follows.

In all honesty, you really need to be about a Brown belt (in the system I learned in).  But you also need to be personable.  The lead instructor will identify you as a candidate and pursue you if you appear to be, you know, able to speak and convey instruction.

The bottom line with instruction, as someone who has taught martial arts, but also how to work on a Naval engine, it’s all in the presentation.  And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, your students will see right through you.

Right through you.

The good thing, though, is you don’t need to be licensed by a particular state (that I’m aware of) unless things have changed.  The main thing is having the trust and confidence of your head instructor.  Everything trickles down from there.

How Much Do Karate Instructors Make?

Karate master teaching a kick to his students

It always comes down to pay, right?  Not movie star money but you’re making something, right?

The main thing to remember is that a martial arts school is not a fast-food franchise.  It’s usually owned by someone passionate about the arts.

Not that people aren’t passionate about fast food.

Martial arts instructors are different, as mentors are different. They tend to be a struggling business until they get a bedrock of students.  They are focused on building a foundation.  Until then, they’ll hire young people they see potential in.  It is the case for most small businesses.

What you can expect, if it’s still the case, is an hourly rate based on your actual classes taught, not what you’re scheduled to teach.  Basically, this is what you DID and this is what you’re PAID.

That’s in the USA.

But what I started out at was the minimum wage for an instructor, which was about $12 an hour. Which was awesome for a high school student. I was clearing $200 a week. Gravy.

May not be your case.

Again, talk to your potential instructor (boss).

And also, how well established are you in your martial art, having a good schooling foundation, and just being a good person? It all adds up.

How To Be A Good Karate Instructor

A Karate green belt teaching a young student

Which brings us to how to be a good Karate Instructor?  For everyone, and this isn’t just martial arts, writing, or teaching my own kids.  It’s about communication.

You tell me your story. I’ll tell you mine.

I’ll give you a personal story.  This writer was teaching his recently turned ten-year-old how to foil a knife attack.  And she was fascinated with the science of it. Not necessarily the technique itself. But when I walked her through it, she saw the motion, misdirection, and counter

And her eyes lit up.

That is good instruction. Teach a child and understand everything.

But understand what you’re teaching them conveys…

To Sum It Up

So, in the end, being a good instructor is like being a good teacher.

Love the stuff you’re teaching and love the people you’re teaching.  Everything else will follow.

And it will follow.  

And you will have excellent students.

If you love it and own it.

Now you should be clearer on how to become a Karate instructor yourself and start that new career you’ve always wanted!

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