Judo as a Profession

I’m so tired of hearing Judo people say that you can’t make money teaching Judo, that I can’t take it anymore.  Why is it that TKD, BJJ and MMA instructors can teach for a living, but we Judo coaches can’t?  An obvious reason is that if you’re charging $30 a month for your twice a week classes, and you only have a handful of students, it’s hard to envision how you can earn a living.  The instructors in the other arts have already figured out that a different business model is needed, a model that may run contrary to everything we’ve ever been told about Judo.  To our detriment, we in Judo are allergic to the use of “business” in conjunction with Judo.  To be successful, we must comes to terms that our Judo club is a business.  Left to discuss is how successful do we want that business to be?

If it were up to me, there’d be a national project to encourage some of our players to consider teaching Judo as a profession.  Since there isn’t any such project, it’s up to coaches who are already teaching Judo as a profession to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Many of our graduating high school kids are not too sure what they want to be or study.  A college education, which saddles many college graduates with tremendous debt, is no longer the mandatory path after graduation, especially if the chosen major is one that offers few opportunities for employment.  And with current budget cutbacks, it’s getting harder to choose the military option.  However, the American entrepreneurial spirit still lives on.  This is an option that we should encourage some of our people to take.

There are three aspects to teaching Judo for a living: the Judo, or technical, part; the business part; and the academic part that complements the technical and business parts.  Becoming an entrepreneur is not for everyone.  If becoming your own boss is the way to go for you, here are few things you must do.  Since the answers to running a successful martial arts program are not likely to be found within Judo literature, you must be prepared to:

  • Be a voracious reader
  • Be an autodidact, or self-learner
  • Have one or several mentors

Prepare Early

You may be a recent high school graduate or someone going through a mid-life crisis looking for a career change.  Whatever your situation, start preparing to be a professional coach as soon as you decide you’d like to teach for a living. It will take you some time to get you to the point where you can start living your dream.

Choose an Educational Path

If you desire to teach Judo for a living, I’d suggest an alternative educational path, especially if you have no higher education.  This path might include college, but not necessarily a college degree. Pick and choose courses that make sense for your entrepreneurial goals, rather than earn a BA or MA chock full of useless classes for your chosen career.  A few colleges allow you to create your own degree.  If the available courses work for you, and the cost is not prohibitive, this may be a compromise whereby your earn a college degree with courses that are meaningful to your profession.

Since this is often not the case, here are some great options.  See what your 2-year community college has to offer.  You’ll be looking for courses in business English, advertising, marketing, salesmanship, communication, leadership, kinesiology, sports psychology, physical education for elementary children, child development, first aid, etc.

Next up are certificate programs, personal enrichment and online classes and courses, and professional adult/continuing education offered by the Extended Studies department of your local universities.  These are short, cost effective, to-the-point classes that offer the very specific information you need for career advancement.  The University of California, San Diego, one of my local universities, offers the following Extended Studies courses that would be beneficial to someone running a Judo business: behavioral counseling, learning theory, practical market research, and marketing via social media.

There’s a plethora of professional associations and groups (some martial arts specific and some not) that offer certification, enrichment materials, continuing education credits, liability insurance, advertising support, and access to research papers and peer reviewed articles.  National Association of Martial Arts Professionals (NAPMA), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), The Physician and Sports Medicine,  IDEA Health and Fitness Association,  American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are just a few of them.

Master Your Art

There’s a lot of competition out there vying for the same small market share.  While you don’t have to have been a world class athlete to become a successful Judo businessman, you must be the very best judoplayer you can be.  Here are some suggestions.

  • Know what the big boys and girls are doing at the international level.  It’s not enough to know only the go kyo no waza and the kata.  Look at video clips of international matches.  Do the players grip and move differently?  Do their techniques mimic the traditional forms within the go kyo and nage no kata, or are they altered to be more functional and more successful?
  • Your coach may have technical limitations that hold your development back.  Be prepared to either get another coach, or participate in as many seminars, camps or clinics to help your growth.
  • Be more proficient in ne waza than the average stand-up judoplayer.  Your main competition for members will come from Brazilian Jiujitsu, so it behooves you to know more than kesa gatame and juji gatame.  Studying Brazilian jiujitsu would be very helpful.
  • Be in shape and stay in shape.  You’ll be selling Judo as a form of fitness and health.  Being overweight and out of shape sends the wrong message.  In the long-term, continue to train as long as you can even if it means doing randori with your junior students.
  • Become a better athlete in order to become a better judoplayer.  Develop your strength, stamina and flexibility.  More importantly, become more agile and have better control over your body movement.
  • Become a Judo technician, whether you’re a good fighter or not.  This requires a good understanding of biomechanics.  Be capable of teaching more than your own tokui waza.
  • Look at your Judo practice in a different light.  How would you teach the technique that your coach just showed?  Can you spot your teammates’ biomechanical mistakes while you observe practice?  What kind of feedback does your coach provide you?  What feedback would you want or prefer?  Does your coach like to hear himself talk, while you sit there wanting to train?

A Second Art?

If you have a background in a second art, then your chances of success in the martial arts business just went up.  The Korean Judo teachers that landed in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s all had a duo background of Tae kwon do and Judo.  My own sensei, Benso Tsuji, had blacks belts in Aikido and Judo.  Today, the combination of Judo and Brazilian jiujitsu, sambo or wrestling would make sense.

The second art doesn’t necessarily have to be a martial art.  It could be a healing art, yoga, strength and conditioning, etc.

Learn to Teach

Being a great judoplayer and being a great teacher require two different skill sets.  You are not a great teacher simply because you are a great competitor.  Once you have mastered your art, you’ll need to do the same thing with your teaching skills.  This is where things get a little tricky.  Your coach may not be the best example of how to run a commercial Judo club if he doesn’t understand the three Rs: recruiting, retention, revenue.  If that’s the case, this is where a mentor and the National Association of Martial Arts Professionals come into play.

The average Judo club’s curriculum and ways of introducing Judo to beginners leave a lot to be desired.  Recruiting new students and retaining them require something other than boring warm-ups, mat bashing, static uchi komi, and randori.

Much has been written on teaching methodologies, although most does not specifically address Judo.  You’ll have to read a lot, understand the ideas, connect the dots, and apply them to Judo.  You should have a working knowledge of backward-forward shaping, bridge or open project method, games approach, decision approach, technique vs situation approach, whole-part-whole, etc.

Before you embark on your own, find a way to get teaching experience within your own dojo, most likely as an assistant coach.  Chances are you will be hampered by the instructional model of your coach, but there is so much to learn that this is still better than not teaching at all.  You might try questioning the model, and suggest different methods.

I’ve mentioned having a mentor several times.  Even though your average Judo player tends to view tae kwon do as a McDojo operation and a sellout to the art, the truth is that the McDojo makes lots of money.  So, why not develop a relationship with one of the tae kwon do instructors in your city?  See how he and his assistants teach.  Learn his business model, use what’s useful, and discard what you can’t stomach.

Start Small

You’ve done all your homework, and gotten some teaching experience.  Now you’re ready to take the plunge on your own.  The start-up costs of a Judo business can be significant.  Rent, mats, business licenses, and insurance all add up pretty quickly.  So, before you rent a commercial spot, why not teach at an established martial arts studio, YMCA, or community center, and build your following?  Even better than that, start a Judo club in your play room or garage like Migoto Judo Club and SoCal Judo did in Southern California.

One final temporary or permanent option: team up with a partner who teaches another art and is willing to share facilities.  I’ve done this successfully with partners in aikido and kempo karate.


Jimmy Pedro has gone on record as saying that even if we could develop a large demand for Judo based on winning Olympic medals, we’re in no position to service the demand.  He’s right.  We don’t have enough coaches and clubs.  And we’ll probably never have enough clubs until we can convince enough players to teach Judo as a profession.  The crises still is in coaching.  While Nanka, the Los Angeles based yudanshakai, is proud of its development of very young (some pre-teens) referees, what is it doing to develop coaches willing to run commercially successful dojos?  What are you willing to do to stem the crisis in coaching?

One thought on “Judo as a Profession

  1. Good article. I believe that in order to increase interest in judo falls in line with Jimmy Pedro. I would try to get wrestlers to give Judo a shot!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *