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Interesting e-mail on dojo pricing

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    Interesting e-mail on dojo pricing

    Here is a copy of an e-mail I received from Mike Massie who wrote a book called Small Dojo big profits. Mr. Massie's point is that $80 to $150 is about the right price to charge per month for lessons. the exception would come at say a college where the instructor did not have to pay rent or certain other expenses for the hall they were using. Since I've seen Yoga instruction at $8 to $10 in connecticut we could use such pricing to arrive at a reasonable monthly rate for instruction. for example. A month = 4.3 weeks so say 9 lessons a month at $8 per lesson = $72 but at $10 per lesson = $90. If however there were unlimited lessons or at least three oportunities a week we could go to $8 x 13 = $104 or $10 x 13 = $130. If one wants a rate lower then $90 a month then one could argue that there should be some explaination. I.e. lower overhead costs, long term commitment, (say a years contract) or other circumstances, like multiple family members enrolled at the same school. I did think his points were interesting and worthy of discussion.

    "Today's topic: Martial arts tuition - what you should charge and why.

    - July 11th, 2005

    Dear Samuel,

    Recently, I was on one of the major martial arts forums in the "martial arts management" section, and came across a thread about martial arts studios charging too much.

    This individual was crying about having to pay $70.00 a month for lessons. The person who started the thread wasn't even an instructor (why they were posting in the school owner's section, I'll never know) so they had no inkling as to what it costs to run a studio in today's economy.

    But what really amazed me were some of the responses coming from actual instructors and school owners, who were in agreement with the guy who started the thread!

    You know, it never ceases to amaze me that some instructors are okay with giving away their talent, knowledge, and expertise - that they would rather have their families suffer than charge a fair price for their services.

    Needless to say, I felt compelled to write a rather extensive response, which I've included below for your benefit.

    Here's how it went:

    "...when you look at what the cost of martial arts classes were in the 50's and 60's and calculate for inflation $80 - $150 per month is about right. For example, Chuck Sullivan of the IKCF says he paid $15 a month (as I recall - might be off a bit) when he started in 1959 under Ed Parker. With inflation, that's the equivalent of about $95 per month today.

    I also read that the Tracy brothers were charging something like $40.00 a month back in the sixties. Today that's easily the equivalent of over $200.00 per month when you calculate for inflation.

    I speak with school owners all the time who are struggling and ready to close their schools because they aren't making enough money. The majority of the time, they are charging 1960's rates in a 2005 economy. Unless an instructor is getting free rent, you just can't make the bills charging less than $100.00 a month and still expect to make a decent living.

    You can argue the inflation thing all you want, but I'd challenge any of you who think that $100.00 is expensive to examine whether you'd be willing to work for 1960's wages in your chosen profession.

    Anyway, I'd say anything under $125.00 a month is a good deal for competent instruction at a nicely equipped, full-time studio... however, I didn't always feel that way.

    When I was a student (read: "...before I knew how much it costs to rent commercial space, advertise, pay utilities, buy insurance, and etc.") I thought paying more than $50.00 a month was steep. But then again back then I never thought about the fact that my instructors had bills to pay and mouths to feed, just like everyone else. Of course, since that time I've changed my tune, because I know from experience what it is like to struggle to make ends meet because you aren't charging enough to pay your bills.

    So, if a student wants to train at a full-time school, with nice facilities, new equipment, and with an instructor who is the best he or she can be because they devote their full attention to making your learning experience a great one, then you should be willing to pay a fair fee for such an experience.

    I hope this sheds some light on why your local studio is charging $100+ per month for lessons. I know it's hard to understand when you're the one paying tuition every month."

    Now, why am I taking the time to send this to you? Two reasons:

    First, to help you overcome any lingering feelings of guilt you may have over charging a decent amount for your services.

    And second, so that the next time a potential student questions your tuition rates, you'll be able to explain and justify why you've set your fees where they are.

    Until next time,

    Mike Massie, author "Small Dojo, BIG Profits"

    Sounds reasonable to me. I'd rather be going to a good school charging $100 a month and have them be economically viable rather than charging me $50 a month and be out of business in less than a year.
    Last edited by katana; 7/11/2005 4:10pm, .



      Oddly enough, I had never really thought of general cost-of-living expenses/inflation as being a factor in what pricing should be, in broad terms.

      A bit of an eye-opener to consider historic pricing in relative terms.

      Still does not excuse gouging for poor instruction, but a good post.


        I'd be interested to see those inflation calculations applied to Bruce Lee and his private classes. Before he was famous he was training Hollywood celebrities for way over $100 a session apparently.

        I guess thats similar now to the 'personal trainer to the stars' types who get a few hundred bucks a session.
        The Wastrel - So attractive he HAS to be a woman.
        - Pizdoff


          Thats way to fucking expensive, hell, even my instructor who charges 20 bucks a month for 2 often private lessons a week thinks 70 bucks canadian is way to expensive, considering for a year with all the other shit put in my mom was paying 1000 bucks a year.
          I don't care about inflation or that shit, we are the consumers, we should pay whats fair.


            If you have a state of the art dojo, regular access and even half-decent instruction then it is worth the $80 + CDN or US dollars for sure.

            But, if you train in a small gym or crowded dojo and only a half-decent instruction with limited availability no way.

            Either way the dojo and/or the teaching can make the difference in value.


              I would not pay 70-100 dollars a month for martial arts instruction. However, this is because I've been doing MA enough that I really don't need to be paying that much for someone to walk me through the basics.

              That's not to say that having a very good fighter walk you through the basics again is not beneficial. Having an expert look at and critique your fundamentals is always valuable. It's just that unless you are a genuine newcomer, I don't think that it's worth 70-100 dollars a month.

              Now, if the 70-100 dollars a month also allowed you access to the dojo so you could show up and do some cardio or bag work, that might be worth it, since it'd sort of double for a health club membership. But just for group instruction? I really couldn't recommend paying that much unless the instructor was very good and the student was a total n00b.

              Personally, I've been pretty lucky. I've had a lot of great martial arts instruction either for free or for very minimal fees. Thing is, I only went to a dojo once. In the other cases, it was either a club or an individual instructor without facilities. I might have been uncommonly lucky, but it seems to me that it would make a lot more sense to work out with, say, an amateur kickboxer who has skills and experience but who dosen't run a school. If you're just working out for mutual love of your sport/martial art, then it can be free, and you don't have to get held back by a classroom full of diverse individuals who the instructor has to also pander to.

              Think about it this way. If you maintain really nice looking facilities in a nice area, and you charge a hundred dollars or more per month for tuition, who are you going to get as students? Aggressive and poor young men who want to learn how to fight? No. You're going to get soccer moms and middle aged businessmen, none of whom really want to get hit. So if I went to a martial arts school that looked really spiffy and that charged that much, I'd not be getting instruction on how to fight better. I'd be getting martial arts fitness geared towards soccer moms and middle aged businessmen. A young person who wants to learn how to fight would be held back by the rest of the class and would be paying all that money just to waste his time. I've seen middle aged professionals in a kickboxing setting having trouble doing drills because they were afraid of getting bruises on their face, not even realizing that it's really unlikely you'll get a bruise on your face from a drill.

              I'd take ratty looking facilities in a strange area with an eager and aggressive student body with lower tuition prices any day over the 100 dollar plus trap of nonfunctional soccer mom instruction.
              Last edited by Wounded Ronin; 7/11/2005 9:04pm, .
              Lone Wolf McQuade Final Fight:


                This kind of thinking continues to fuel the view that martial arts is primarily a business practice... I'm not an instructor but it seems like this is the source of much bullshido. Why not hype what you do to make more money? Isn't this just good business?
                Some of the best "schools" I've seen in TMA's were non-profit in nature. Students pay enough to keep the school up and running and compensate the instructor. The instructor has a day job and and junior instructors who help out and generally work for free in exchange for extra training.
                Otherwise, paying this much doesn't seem to make sense unless you're talking about a gym.
                Granted, the more progressive MA's know that what they do is valuable and tend to be fairly expensive... My way of dealing with this is to learn by sparring with the MMA guys in my area outside of their class. Probably not as good in many ways but it seems to help some...


                  Well instructors need to eat too and it takes a lot of time to run a school from what I've seen. We're not talking about a guy teaching out of his garage here. If we were then yeah you should probably pay less. If you run a commercial school or even rent-space from a commercial school you have some serious costs to consider:

                  1) Rent/lease of the space each month.
                  2) Equiping the gym with mats, bags, kick shields, gloves, etc. and keeping this gear in working condition.
                  3) Insurance for you, your students, and your landlord.
                  4) Water, electricity, gas, phone.
                  5) Marketing.
                  6) Office expenses, billing, accounting, etc.
                  7) Paying your own personal bills.

                  So as an example you have 100 students who pay you $100 a month. That's a cool $10,000 in your pocket right? Not so fast. Your gym space costs a couple thousand a month in most cities. Now you have $8000. You have to pay for those expensive mats and your other gear that gets worn down. So figure in about $200 a month in depreciation in equipment ($2400 a year in equipment replacement costs). So now you have $7800. Insurance is probably going to cost (I'm guessing here) $500-$1000 a month because of the huge liability you face. So now you have $6800 a month. Gotta pay those utility bills which will cost you probably $500 a month for heat, AC, phone, keeping the lights on. Now you have $$6300 a month. You gotta advertise your school in the yellow pages and around town and those ads are expensive so lop off another $300 a month at least. Now you're at $6000. Now you have to keep your students paying and keep good books for the tax man. So you can take off another $200 a month to keep your accountant paid and taxes in order. Now you're at $5800.

                  Ok so now you have your $5800 take home pay. That's about $70K a year. Not too bad (of course we didn't take out any more for paying your partners or assistant instructors, or seminars, etc.). $70K a year is pretty good. Oh wait! You have to pay self-employment tax (that's the other half of Social Security you don't see when you work for someone else). That's about %15 of your earnings. So take off $10,500 and set that aside for your retirement fund that you'll never see again. Now you have to pay Uncle Sam and he wants at a minimum %25 in that bracket and most states want at least %5 too. Don't forget medicare! That's another %1.5 with no earnings cap. That's %31.5 total of the remainder. So let's see:

                  -$10,500 Self-employment/social security tax

                  $59,500 remaining
                  -$18,742 Federal and state taxes
                  $40,758 after all said and done.

                  Oh wait! You need health insurance because you get injured a lot doing MA. That's probably about $300 a month for you and your significant other (if you have children it's about $1000 a month at least). That's another $3,600 ro $12,000 a year. So now you have about $35,000 a year to pay your bills, mortgage and eat.

                  Now realize I don't even run a school and I suspect my numbers may be low in several areas. Keep in mind how much time instructors spend at the school too. I know many who are there seven days a week and are constantly meeting with students handling their personal issues, meeting new students, doing demos, etc. It's hard work. Many instructors also have day jobs because they can't make enough running a school. That also speaks volumes about how much they really don't make.

                  So what am I saying? $100 a month, put in context of running a modern school with modern expenses, is not highway robbery by any stretch.
                  Last edited by katana; 7/11/2005 10:27pm, .


                    I don't think I've ever trained in a school that had 100 consistent students.



                      Originally posted by Poop-Loops
                      I don't think I've ever trained in a school that had 100 consistent students.

                      Exactly. If you think you only have 50 consistently paying students take the numbers and divide it by half that you take home. Your other expenses probably remain about the same though regardless of the number of active students you have. The only part of the equation that really changes is how much you get to take home with you.

                      There's a reason why so many schools want contracts. They know the turnover is high, but they need to keep the lights on. I'm not convinced that most schools that use contracts (even though I hate them myself) are necessarily McDojos. I think they have made a business decision (however bad) to make their school economically viable.


                        Originally posted by katana
                        So what am I saying? $100 a month, put in context of running a modern school with modern expenses, is not highway robbery by any stretch.

                        I'm in total agreement with you there; the expenses of running a place can be outrageous, and those costs have got to be covered somehow.

                        But, I think that by the time the costs are at $100 or more a month and you have a school which needs very badly to appeal to better off members of the general public, you're already creating an environment which is not geared towards creating fighters, but rather towards appealing to the general public, who don't want to get hit and don't have a lot of time they want to devote to MA. So, if you are a serious student who really wants to learn how to fight, by the time you're paying that much money at a big dojo you're already not where you want to be.
                        Lone Wolf McQuade Final Fight:


                          This guy who complained about the fees at his dojo being 'too high' is a complete jackass. To me that is like going to the grocery store and saying that Fruit Loops are 'too expensive.'

                          Econ 101 tells us that just like any other industry, instructors are going to charge as much as they can get away with and their students are going to pay as little as they can get away with. Depending on the supply of instructors and the demand for instruction, an equilibrium price is reached that maximizes profit for the instructors.

                          If someone thinks that their dojo's fees are too high or the quality of instruction is too low for what they are paying, I have a tip for them: DON'T PATRONIZE THAT DOJO. Just like if I think Fruit Loops at my local grocery store are too expensive, I don't buy them.

                          However, on the flipside, I don't want to hear this B.S. about instructors having to feed their kids. My advice to instructors are: charge the maximum you can charge (anyone who thinks that you shouldn't is an idiot) but don't complain if your revenue is not high enough to make ends meet. That's business and everyone has to suffer in this world of scarcity.


                            Originally posted by Osiris
                            Regardless, 125 is NOT a good deal. Its fair enough, but its pretty much the top of the prices. And watch what a mcdojo instructer rides. They are NOT starving, yet they dont all tend to charge 125. As far as consistently paying students, thats what contracts are for.
                            Perhaps some people who run schools currently can chime in on what they actually pay. Regardless, I don't think most people running MA schools are rolling in cash especially for the amount of work they put into it. I don't see a problem with an instructor making a good living doing what they're doing especially if they've worked hard to build up their school. Same as in any other vocation.


                              I cant believe people bitch and moan about 125 for a month of many lessons... sure if you were only allowed one class a week then maybe just maybe the bitching and moaning would be slightly justified... but in most cases its multiple classes a week in pretty good gyms (for those that post here)... jesus people want the best for peanuts....
                              "If you can get it from my kungfu grip then you can have it... otherwise... step off b*t*h!!!" - Meet the Parents

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                              People have been telling him that it's stupid and will not work... for 1200 years." - Leodom

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