When it comes to long-term practioners, martial artists can be a peculiar breed. When one falls in love with the martial arts, and you do it for years, you can’t help but want to give back in some way through your training, to share that which you love so much with the world. The ones who REALLY love it, try to find some way to make a career out of it. This is not an easy thing. Martial arts skills are highly specific and not in huge demand in a variety of fields. The obvious choice is to open a martial arts school, but if you don’t have other teachers to support the school, or you’re not interested in teaching children, it’s challenging to make a living solely from teaching martial arts. There are a number of natural career paths though that draw in martial artists, however. Ones that can complement teaching, even running a dojo. Here are a few:
This one is an obvious one, particularly if your martial art is oriented toward self-defense applications, like our style of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu is. The founder of our style was a police officer and an instructor for law enforcement agencies. The heir apparent of our style has been in the RCMP for decades and is the trainer who trains the trainers. I know quite a few of Jiu-jitsu instructors, from our style and from other styles, who went into these fields as well. Our dojo’s own Chris Olson Sensei works in the security field as well, and Glenn, one of our brown belts, entered a career as a sheriff after training at our dojo for years. I had considered this field myself a couple of decades ago, but I decided that lifestyle wasn’t for me. As much as it puts you in a position in which you can see and experience the real life applications of your training, you also have to be comfortable with facing some of the negative sides of humanity on a regular basis. Also, much of the higher level martial techniques don’t come into play on the job because the vast majority of perpetrators are untrained the simplest principles are usually more than enough to take care of the situation. You may, however, find that you get to see how your training holds up under pressure when adrenalized.
In many martial arts styles, healing and health is the other side of the coin on which the martial arts reside. We train in the martial arts to stay fit and healthy. Some martial arts, like Taichi, are founded on health principles (i.e. “chi”) which directly relate to healing arts like acupuncture, acupressure, and other forms of Chinese medicine. But the connection is not limited to Asian healing/health traditions. I’ve met a number of instructors who have pursued careers as massage therapists, fitness trainers, physio-therapists, yoga/pilates instructors, etc. If the individual’s wants to teach martial arts, these fields can all serve to increase your offerings at your school location.
Some people find their way into the martial arts because they faced some sort of violence like bullying, gang violence, sexual assault, domestic abuse, etc. The use the martial arts to help rebuild their confidence, to empower themselves, physically and mentally. As a result, these people often seek out fields in which they are in a position to help people who face the same situations or are at risk to face the same situations they did. These include fields like violence awareness/prevention, youth workers, women’s shelter support staff, psychologists/therapists, guidance counsellors, etc. While these careers definitely help scratch the itch that may have brought someone into the martial arts in the first place, it doesn’t really work as a complement to one’s dojo development, at least not in terms of physical training. I’ve had some of this itch to work in an empowerment field, but have chosen to focus this through my dojo activities, helping children to deal with difficult emotions through their training, teaching women’s self-defense classes, and outside the dojo by volunteering as a Big Sister. The other thing I do that satisfies this itch is writing. Much of what I write, whether it’s for my dojo blog or the fictional pieces I work on, has an edge of empowerment, particularly for women.
Some martial artists compete as part of their training. The ones who are willing to train A LOT and have some natural proclivities for fighting, may explore competing professionally. This can be a very exciting career, and more directly related to martial arts training, at least if you train in one that focuses on competition like boxing or MMA, but not many make enough doing this to make a living. Most have other jobs and fight as a side job, seeing any money they make as an extra bonus they get doing what they love. The other trouble is that even if you manage to make enough to make a living doing professional fighting, it’s not a long-term career, unless you’re Randy Couture. You would have to explore other career paths for the future.
If you happen to live in a city that has a thriving film industry, or are willing to relocate to one, you might fancy the idea of becoming a stunt performer to put your skills to use in a professional capacity. Personally, I went in this direction, and am continuing to develop my career in this field. It’s definitely not for everyone. If you want regular, guaranteed work, and a clear path of development for success in the field, this is not the field for you. I’ve heard stunt coordinators say that you have to be willing to commit to around 6 years of training and development in the stunt field before you’ll start seeing regular work coming your way. For some it’s more, for some it’s less, depending on the needs of the industry. Some manage to get to a place where they can afford to do stunt work as their main source of income without any other side work, but most do not. Most do other work on the side, whether it’s tending bar or waiting on tables, or some other work more related to their skill specialties, like being a gymnastics coach, a stable manager, or a martial arts instructor. And with all the drawbacks of the industry when you first get started and even once you get a little more established, you still have the massive benefit of those great moments when you get to do something cool on set, like a slick fight scene, an impressive fall, or being set on fire. The other massive benefit is being able to write off all your martial arts training and equipment, in addition to any training and development in a wide variety of other extreme sports like riding motorcycles, scuba diving, rock climbing, horseback riding, etc.
Now over to you. Did the martial arts inspire your career choice, directly or indirectly? If so, what do you do for work, whether it’s your main career or a side career alongside teaching martial arts?