12 Defining Traits And Qualities Of A Great Martial Arts Instructor And Signs Of A Bad One

Finding the right dojo is a lot more than just googling martial arts schools in your area. Some schools are better than others due to various reasons like the quality of the gym equipment, cleanliness, and the competency of the instructor. 

If you’ve never trained in martial arts before, you probably have no idea how to evaluate the competency of a martial arts instructor. No worries, this article will go over all the important things you should pay attention to when trying to figure out how if an instructor is right for you. 


Twelve Defining Qualities And Trains Of An Excellent Martial Arts Instructor

Ready to find out what separates good martial arts instructors from bad ones? Let’s jump right into our list:


1) Excellent Physical And Mental Fitness


Anyone who has lived according to the principles martial arts teaches for a few years should be in excellent physical shape. Some fighting styles like Muay Thai, Wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can burn over 1,000 calories for every hour spent on the mats. It’s difficult to be completely out of shape and obese when you’re training in martial arts often. 

A martial arts instructor being out of shape can mean several things. It might be a sign that they are not as qualified as the claim or a sign they haven’t been taking their training seriously.

Good martial arts instructors don’t just get their black belts and stop training. That would be the equivalent of you getting a bachelor’s degree and thinking you’re done with learning for the rest of your life. 

Instructors are constantly looking for ways to improve their techniques so they can serve their students better. Their physiques should be visual representations of all their hard work over the years. Imagine walking into a fitness aerobics class and the instructor looked like they were 40 kilograms overweight. That will probably be all you need to see to go check out another gym. 


2) A Positive Attitude

Martial arts dojos should have positive atmospheres since that’s when most people learn best. The instructor has a lot of power when it comes to setting the tone for the class. A good instructor should have a contagious positive attitude that infects everyone around them. Their positive vibes should make you want to emulate their attitude. 

A good martial arts teacher is a natural leader who knows how to lead by example. They should have a decent sense of humor and should be willing to laugh at themselves when they make mistakes. The attitude of the instructor is one of the main factors that determine how much fun you get to have during class. 

Avoid instructors with negative attitudes or those who try to put you down. A good martial arts instructor builds up their students instead of tearing them down. 


3) A Strong Passion For Martial Arts

bjj drills

Good martial arts instructors aren’t typically people who learn martial arts for the sole purpose of having a career as an instructor. The thought isn’t on most people’s minds when they walk into a dojo for the first time. 

Instructors often emerge over years of training. They are typically a lot more passionate about martial arts than the average student and they typically love helping other students improve. An instructor might offer them an assistant role based on how helpful they are during class, which is typically when they first realize they could be an instructor or own a dojo someday. 

Avoid instructors who act like training you is a chore they’re being forced to do. These are the types that typically only view being an instructor as a way to earn an income, not improve people’s lives. 


4) Ethical

A good martial arts instructor should be a paragon of virtue. They shouldn’t have a bunch of scandals surrounding them or lots of negative reviews from former students. Good martial arts instructors embrace the technical and philosophical aspects of martial arts training. They are honorable, respectful, and disciplined in their everyday dealings. 


5) Excellent Communication

muay thai class technique correction

A good martial arts instructor is an excellent communicator. They are well-versed in communicating verbally and non-verbally with people of all ages and backgrounds. They often are educated in fields like psychology, kinesiology, and communications.

There are rarely ever dull moments in class when dealing with a quality martial arts instructor. They know when to turn on their humorous, technical, or serious side as needed. These types of instructors aren’t happy with you just showing up for classes. They want to get to know you. 


6) No Ego

A good martial arts instructor doesn’t have anything to prove. Most of these people have been martial artists for years before they even considered teaching, and they already have lots of accolades that show how good they are. 

Such instructors don’t have any problem bringing more skilled martial artists like other instructors to their classes to show their students something new. A good instructor is even open to learning new techniques from their students if it seems effective. 


7) Exceptional Martial Arts Skills

Teco Shinzato teaching a BJJ technique in class

Here’s another one of the defining traits of a good martial artist. Your instructor should be the best martial artist in the class most of the time, and they should be way better than you. Competent martial arts instructors understand that they have to earn their students’ respect with their actions, not just their words. 

They often spar with students so it’s only a matter of time before you get a chance to test your skills against theirs. Don’t worry: good martial artists aren’t egotistical so they’ll take it easy on you. However, we should note that you should never challenge your instructor to a sparring match. That is seen as disrespectful in most circles.


8) High-Energy Teacher

A good martial arts instructor maintains high energy during their classes even on days they might be feeling a bit under the weather. Their passion for teaching martial arts outweighs any distractions they might have in their personal lives, and they are at their happiest when they’re on the mats teaching.


9) Understands The Fighting Mind

penaek muay thai muay femur seminar

Another defining trait of an excellent martial arts instructor is their understanding of the fighting mind. They know exactly what to say to get their students over humps and can talk for days about things like combat visualization, meditation, and getting into the zone. 

A great martial arts instructor is an asset you can call on anytime you have a martial arts-related issue. It might be jitters about your upcoming competition or struggles with a specific technique. 


10) Constantly Improving

An excellent martial arts instructor never stops learning. Teaching you martial arts is part of their journey as a martial arts instructor and they are constantly striving to improve their skills. These people have a love for all martial arts, not just the style they specialize in, and regularly add new techniques to their training curriculum. 


11) Doesn’t Play Favorites

bjj students warming up

A great martial arts instructor treats all students the same. Everyone gets to follow the same rules and meet the same requirements for belt promotions. Watch out for instructors who have favorites they pay more attention to during class regularly or instructors who had out belts to people who haven’t earned them. 


12) Never Gives Up On Students

A good martial arts instructor never gives up on their students regardless of how much they struggle on the mat. These professionals understand that everyone’s martial arts journey is different. Some people are naturals, while others struggle with the most basic techniques. 

An experienced instructor understands that any of these students struggling with basic techniques might end up becoming the best student in class someday. Your instructor should serve as a support system that helps you get past hurdles on the mat. 


Traits Of A Bad Martial Arts Instructor

Now that we’ve gone over some of the traits you should look for when searching for a new martial arts instructor, let’s go over some of the defining characteristics of a bad martial arts instructor:


1) Arrogant And Selfish

This is one of the signs that let you know you should keep looking for a martial arts instructor. Martial arts are about being respectful and humble, so an instructor who’s arrogant and selfish is the opposite of what martial artists should be. 

Such instructors are typically egomaniacs who only focus on the physical aspects of martial arts training and ignore the philosophical side. 


2) Exaggerating Abilities

We’ve all seen videos of martial arts instructors fighting off 20 students and effortlessly knocking each one down with strikes that sometimes don’t even make contact with their targets. Stay away from martial art instructors who promise to teach you deadly ancient styles that will make you invincible. Good martial art instructors don’t waste their time putting on shows to impress gullible minds. 


3) Abusive

A martial arts instructor should never be abusive or condescending to their students. These types of instructors often use excessive force when demonstrating techniques or silly rituals that involve the instructor beating the students. 

Find somewhere else to train if you run across an instructor who belittles or condescends to their students when they make a mistake or are slow to pick up techniques. That’s an instructor who started training people for the wrong reasons. 


4) Severely Out Of Shape

A martial arts instructor who is badly out of shape is a massive red flag. We’re not saying your instructor needs to have washboard abs, but they should look like someone who’s spent most of their lives training martial arts. 


5) Guaranteed Belt Promotions 

Shady martial arts instructors often advertise guaranteed promotions to increase their enrollment. Like BJJ legend Renzo Gracie once said, “a black belt only covers two inches of your ass.” The belt itself doesn’t give you any special powers, it’s the techniques you learn and the adversity you overcome during your journey that makes you a black belt. 

An instructor that promises that all their students will get their black belts if they keep training for x amount of time doesn’t have any intention of properly training you. These characters are typically focused on getting as many heads as possible through their doors so they can maximize their profits. 


6) No Ethical Code

One of the defining characteristics that separates good martial arts instructors from bad ones is not having an ethical code. A good martial artist learns about the physical, philosophical, and ethical aspects of martial arts during their training. These things typically carry over to other aspects of their lives. 

A good martial arts instructor talks to their students about the ethical and philosophical aspects of martial arts and educates them on how things like honor, respect, humility, positivity, self-discipline, and self-control can positively impact their lives. These are valuable attributes that will make you more successful in your academic and professional lives. 

A bad martial arts instructor only focuses on the physical aspects of martial arts. You get watered-down training that makes you a poorly-rounded martial artist. 


7) No Sparring Rule Or Not Sparring With Students 

A martial arts instructor not allowing students to spar in class is another red flag. Sparring is one of the most important aspects of martial arts training since that’s how you learn to execute techniques on resisting opponents. 

An instructor who only demonstrates techniques but never allows students to spar is cheating their students. It isn’t martial arts at that point, just choreographed fancy moves. 

You should also watch out for instructors who never spar with their students occasionally. Your instructor should be able to practice what they preach and showcase their knowledge against resisting opponents. 


8) Money Hungry

handing over money

Martial arts classes typically aren’t free, so expect to pay a monthly fee if you decide to train. Compare the prices of instructors around you and compare their experience levels. An instructor being cheaper doesn’t necessarily make them better. Neither does being more expensive automatically make them bad instructors. Some instructors are more expensive because they are more qualified than others. For example, you wouldn’t expect an MMA champion to charge the same as some lesser accomplished instructor, would you? 

When we say money hungry, we mean instructors who regularly harass you for money. For example, some shady instructors might have hidden fees on top of their standard training fee or force you to buy all your gear from them. Many instructors sell their own gear, but they don’t force their students to make purchases. If your instructor keeps coming up with ways to extract more money out of you, find a new one.


Learn From The Best 

Having a good martial art instructor for your martial arts journey is extremely important. After all, you’re looking at someone who no only has the accolades of one but also one with the right qualities to guide you along your martial arts journey.

If you’re looking to learn from the best, why not give our complimentary trial class a try with our World Champion Instructors here at Evolve MMA?


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