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Do You Need To Be A Black Belt To Teach Martial Arts? (Why Belts Don’t Matter)

If you’re reading this, then you more than likely have an interest in becoming a martial arts instructor, and are wondering if you need a black belt to do so. Or perhaps you have a martial arts instructor who isn’t a black belt themselves, and you’re wondering if you can trust them to teach as well as a black belt. Well look no further my friend, because in this post I will be answering the question: Do you need a black belt to teach martial arts?

No, you do not need to have a black belt to be a martial arts instructor. Someone with a high belt ranking always has something they can teach a lower ranked student, and it is fairly common to see non-black belts running a class. However, in order to award black belts, most martial arts require you to have a black belt yourself. Of course, in non-ranked martial arts (Boxing, Muay Thai), anyone can be an instructor, as long as they have a mix of experience, knowledge, and authority.

However, becoming a martial arts instructor is a lot more complicated than just having a certain belt color. In the rest of this post, I am going to explain how you can become a martial arts instructor, the differences between the martial arts relating to instruction, and how to determine the credibility of an instructor.

What Belt Rank Should An Instructor Have?

So first off, I must emphasize the belt ranking system of any martial art is purely symbolic. A belt holds no value in any realistic combat scenario, and in the real world, it is very possible for a white belt to beat a black belt.

That being said, a belt is a good way to quickly gauge the knowledge and ability of a student. Given that gym/dojo awarding the belts is a credible one, you should be able to easily predict who would win between two differently ranked students, should they spar each other.

So back to the question, what rank should an instructor have? Well in all honesty, it does not matter. Yes, your instructor should have good knowledge of the martial art in question, but anyone with a higher belt ranking than you will be able to teach you something, and vice versa.

Here you can see a purple belt (left) teaching a white belt, despite the fact that the instructor is two ranks away from a black belt in bjj.
Here you can see a purple belt (left) teaching a white belt, despite the fact that the instructor is two ranks away from a black belt in BJJ.

However, to be able to teach a class of many people, the instructor should be one of the more knowledgeable people in the group. Because of this, it is pretty common to have a black belt as a head instructor, and then have lower- ranked students as sub-instructors.

So to sum up this question, if somebody is teaching you a new skill, they should generally be high ranked than you. However, there are exceptions, as a lower ranked student might just happen to know a move that hasn’t been taught yet, or perhaps has more in-competition experience.

Can Anyone Teach Martial Arts?

The quick answer to this is yes. A martial art can be learned and performed by anyone, and can be taught by the same number of people who have learned it.

Of course, the instructor must have experience and knowledge before they can teach martial arts to other people. But in martial arts, everyone has a different perspective on combat, and their opinion or idea that can influence your fighting style for the better.

The most important part of being a martial arts teacher is live experience. Practicing moves hypothetically is very easy, anyone could do it. But to perform a move on a resisting opponent is difficult, and doing so successfully gives you the credibility needed to teach.

This is why in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the ranking system is synonymous around the world. Jiu-Jitsu students compete against same-ranked students from other schools, with their matching rank and weight making it a fair competition. When it is clear that a student is outclassing his opponents, then they are clearly deserving of a higher rank.

Two purple belts compete in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match.
Two purple belts compete in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match.

If you are thinking of becoming a martial arts instructor, you should first evaluate the credibility of your gym. Practice the techniques you drill in live sparring sessions, and go to competitions. This way, you are gaining experience and getting ranked as a student, so that when you do ultimately decide to become an instructor, you have all the tools to do so.

If you’re wondering how long it will take for you to master your martial before you can become an instructor, check out a post I made called How Long Does It Take To Master A Martial Art? In the post, I detail how you can speed up your progress, and how to identify good instructors.

How Can I Become A Martial Arts Instructor?

As I’ve already mentioned, live experience and extensive knowledge are the most important parts of being an instructor. Assuming you have both of these, what are the next steps towards becoming an instructor? Well first, I must make it clear that you do not need any type of certification to become a martial arts instructor. As long as people trust you to teach them, then you can teach.

Next, you should decide whether to teach at someone’s gym, or open your own. I would recommend beginning at someone else’s gym, at least while you are gaining experience as an instructor. I’d recommend getting to meet your instructor better as you advance as a student.

This way, as time passes, your instructor will know you’re serious about the martial art, and will consider you for an instructor role should the opportunity arise.

However, if you feel that you are easily able to convey your knowledge of martial arts to other people, then you should start your own gym. Of course, there are a lot more responsibilities to consider when running your own gym.

Firstly, you will have to be able to convey your credibility to potential students before they even step foot in the gym. This means publicizing your experience and authority in martial arts on your website and social media. This includes mentioning your accomplishments and accolades in the martial art, as well as those of your trainers.

As a gym owner, you will also need to have students sign a consent form, in case anyone gets hurt. Of course, having a good reputation of non-injured students is just as important. Then you can set prices, outline your class structure and schedule,

Becoming A Non-Ranked Martial Arts Instructor (Boxing, Muay Thai, Etc)

As you probably know, there are may martial arts that don’t have a belt ranking system, the prime examples being boxing and MMA. Given that you can’t gauge someone’s experience as quickly as you could in a ranked martial art, it is more difficult to determine if someone is better than you.

The great thing about boxing is that if you think you are better than someone, you can just spar them!

In boxing, it is very easy to spot people who don’t have a clue what they are talking about. This is because sparring is very common, and sparring will instantly let you know if a person is better than you or not. If you have a boxing instructor, there is a very big chance that they have a professional record, or at the very least, amateur experience.

If you want to become an instructor in a martial art such as boxing, then you have to be a good boxer. Not only that, but you have to prove it as well.

That’s the reason why Jiu-Jitsu expert Garry Tonon began competing as a professional MMA fighter. Garry has stated that he began fighting because it would give him credibility, and it would be easier for his students to trust him since he has done it himself.

Multiple-time Jiu-Jitsu Champion Garry Tonon began competing in MMA to have more credibility as an instructor.
Multiple-time Jiu-Jitsu Champion Garry Tonon began competing in MMA to have more credibility as an instructor.

You will likely become an instructor in the same way you would any other martial art. That is first by gaining experience yourself, then helping out other less-experienced students, and lastly, getting the recognition of your instructor as a trainer. Learning Muay Thai is a quicker process than a martial art such as Jiu-Jitsu, something I address in the post How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Muay Thai?

How To Know If You Have A Good Instructor

If you’ve been paying attention to the rest of the post, then you already know the two things I’m going to say: experience and knowledge. But believe me when I say, I wouldn’t stress these two things if they were not of great importance when talking about an instructor.

As mentioned before, a belt ranking is a good way to gauge this. However, how do you know if that belt was genuinely earned, and not just ordered off Amazon? Or what if they don’t wear their rankings in your gym?

Well to confirm your instructor’s authority in the martial art, you will have to look at their history. First, look to see if they have competitive experience. The best proof of credibility would be competing in MMA, whether as a pro or an amateur. If they don’t have MMA experience, then the next best thing is full-contact competition.

This means real, live competition where the two competitors are actively trying to beat the other, and where there are real consequences to their mistakes (such as getting hit or submitted).

However, not all instructors will have real-life experience like the ones mentioned. But this does not mean they cannot teach their martial art effectively, you just need to look at their technique. The last way to confirm their knowledge is to simply fact-check it.

Shane Fazen is a martial arts instructor who runs the popular Youtube channel FightTips. Despite not having professional or amateur fights, he is recognized as an excellent and credible martial artist. 
Shane Fazen is a martial arts instructor who runs the popular Youtube channel FightTips. Despite not having professional or amateur fights, he is recognized as an excellent and credible martial artist.

The best way to do this is to take a move they taught you in class, and compare it to a well-known professional. For this example, we’ll say they taught you a wheel kick. I would compare the instructor’s technique to that of a well-known instructor online, such as Shane Fazen, an MMA instructor with a specialty in striking.

Then compare their technique to that of an MMA fighter who successfully landed the attack. If your instructor’s technique is similar to the real thing, then they most likely know what they are talking about.

I would also read reviews about the gym, and hear other’s opinions. With the growing popularity of MMA, fake martial arts black belts have been exposed by their own lack of competitive experience. Martial artists are very passionate about teaching real-life skills, so asking noteworthy individuals in the community about a certain gym is a good way to know if it is legit.

In conclusion, a black belt is a good way to gauge someone’s experience, but only if it is legitimate. Although your instructor will probably be a black belt, it is not necessarily a requirement, as anyone can teach martial arts, as long as they have the right knowledge and experience. Thanks for reading!