Thursday, 19 April 2012

How much did your Black Belt cost?

Have you ever considered how much it has cost you to get from white belt to black belt in your martial art? Are you getting value for money or do you think your club overcharges – forcing you to jump through expensive but unnecessary hoops along the way, e.g. lots of intermediate belt gradings, compulsory attendance at expensive additional courses, lots of compulsory badges to buy, expensive grading fees, compulsory uniform only available through the club at extortionate rates etc?

I think that my club gives good value for money so I decided to sit down and calculate how much it has cost me to get from white belt to black belt.

The things I took into consideration were:

1.   Cost of lessons: It took me exactly four years to get my black belt which is 48 months. I paid for two lessons per week as part of a family membership scheme.  As there are four of us training on this membership, I divided our total fees bill over the four years by four to get the figure for just my fees.

2.   Licence fees: It is compulsory for us to pay an annual licence/insurance fee to our organisation. Again, we have a family licence scheme and so I divided the total by four.

3.   Grading fees: There were 9 kyu gradings and 1 dan grading. All grading fees include the new belt.

4.   Black/Brown belt courses: These are run by our organisation and are not compulsory except for the pre-dan course. These are run four times a year and I have attended approximately nine of them.

5.   Gis/ badges/sparring mitts/sports bag: I have bought 4 gis in total and 3 badges. We only have to wear one badge on our gi which is our organisation badge. We can order gis through our instructor who gets them at heavily discounted prices. He passes these discounts onto us so our gis cost approximately half to two-thirds the website price. I have only bought one set of sparring mitts, one gum shield and one sports bag.

Cost of lessons
Licence fees
Grading fees
Black/Brown belt courses
Gis/ badges/etc

So my black belt has cost £1577 (US $2525.25). This equates to £7.58 (US $12) per week!

However, I have been able to take advantage of generous family discounts for both my lesson fees and licence fees. So, since most people probably pay as a single member I have recalculated the figures below as if I were a single member of the club paying for 2 lessons per week:

Cost of lessons
Licence fees
Grading fees
Black/Brown belt courses
Gis/ badges/etc

As a single member in my club, training twice a week, attending the majority of Black/Brown belt courses, buying four gis and other necessary equipment and achieving black belt after 4 years (the minimum possible) it costs around £2360 (US $3783) or, put another way, about £11.35 (US $18) per week!

I think this represents good value for money, thank you Sensei! 

Have you tried calculating how much your black belt has cost?

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The Strongest Karate said...

Your post was not only informative, but also thought provoking. My school, also, doesn't have an assortment of belts, badges, stripes, and other doo-dads for students to buy. So I imagine my costs would be roughly equal to yours, per capita.

Honestly though, for most things I really think about "cost" in terms of time rather than currency. If I decide to purchase that new sexy doo-dad, how much time will it take me to save up and buy it? What other enjoyment could be had from that much time? From that much money?


. said...

Great post Sue. Not something we usually consider I wouldn't think.

I think we're extremely lucky as a family with the club we train in. It is a not for profit organisation and is run as a family centred/community club. Our prices are as follows:

£4.00 per year insurance
£10 for a club log book (not compulsary)
£3.00 per session (but fees are capped so no individual ever pays more than £12/w and no family more than £15/w no matter how many times they train (a God send for us!).
£5.00 for grading (but they are held in lieu of normal training sessions so only £2 different)
£4.00 for a belt (but only if you opt to keep yours and have a new one, you can trade your old one and it costs you nothing).
£12 for kids Gis, £16 for adults (my last one was slightly more expensive but I asked Shihan to order me a heavy weight one).

All in all is real value for money.

Charles James said...

Hi, Sue: Sigh....

Charles James said...

Ok, I thought about it and what my black belt cost me:

Obi from Naha: $4.00
Lessons: $0
Uniform: $19.95
Weapons (sai, kama, tuifa, bo): $30.00 total in Naha

Total costs to Sho-dan: $53.95 :-)

Charles James said...

p.s. Okinawa 1972 prices ;-)

Cath said...

Not got a black belt yet 16 years of practice £15 a year insurance and membership. Used to be £2.50 a class but is now £5, three gi's. One hakama one instructors course and teaching insurance. Lots of bokken and two jo. No grading fees ever. One £40 course two £10 courses several £20 courses. My estimate...£7180 and I'm not there yet. Include travel costs and it would probably be double that!

John Coles said...

My school is more in the Cath tradition. I graded shodan in 9yrs 11mths, and that was fast. I'm currently training two 1st kyu's for shodan, and they have been doing jujutsu for 20yrs. And our school was the most expensive in Perth. ~ A$150 per month for multiple lessons. I was fortunate. I was asked to be an instructor after 2yrs, when I was 3rd kyu, which meant I didn't pay fees in exchange for teaching. However, the opportunity cost in terms of career, well, there I'd hate to put a cost to it.

Sue C said...


I can't think of a more enjoyable way of spending my time than doing martial arts (whether its training, teaching, reading/writing about it) - in that sense getting the black belt was completely priceless!


You sound really lucky to have found such a community based club. Having a family discount for our fees has also been a God send for us...


Sigh....those sound like the good ol' days ;-) Not that I'm saying you're old or anything - but 1972? (Just joking)


I suppose if you divide it my the number of years training it doesn't sound so bad....


9years 11mths was quick eh? Just shows that there's shodan and there's shodan...

I'm also in the fortunate position that I no longer pay fees now that I am an instructor and can cover classes when sensei is away.

etali said...

I pay £20 a year for insurance, lessons cost £5 each for an individual, or £30 for as many as you can attend per month. If you're part of a family you get a discount on individual lesson costs. My schedule is erratic so I tend to pay per lesson - sometimes that means I pay extra, but most months it means I'm paying less.

Kyu Gradings are £15 each, which includes the belt. Black belt gradings cost more, but if you fail you can re-test for free up to 3 times.

Sparring mitts were £8, my pair lasted nearly 2 years but I need new ones now. The club gum shields are horrible so I buy my own boil-and-bite ones from sports stores.

Club courses and seminars vary depending on the cost of the venue. They're not compulsory, and I haven't been able to make it to one yet. Competitions cost £8 for one event, or £10 for as many of the events as you want to enter (Kata, team kata, graded kumite and open kumite).

I have one gi, I think it cost about £25. I'll be buying a new one soon.

Charles James said...

Actually it was a typo, it was 79 I got Sho-dan, 76 begain serious training and 72 did judo and boxing, etc.

Sigh, the memories are the first thing to go, right .... wait, what were we talking about ;-)

Prices were in 79 on Okinawa.

Felicia said...

Like Marie, my first school was non-profit. The only thing I ever paid for was personal gear - gi, patches, sparring equipment - most of which I did not have to purchase from my sensei (meaning I could - and did - find it cheaper), association patches and insurance ($25 a year) and grading fees (my underbelt gradings were about $20 each and there were 8 of those and my shodan grading was $100. The only other expenses were optional seminars and tournaments, so suffice to say I paid under $500 for my four-and-a-half-years to shodan, which is quite inexpensive.

In the last three years, I've trained at a different school. In addition to the fees ($60 a month), there are gas/tolls (the school is about 50 miles away) and time (as a two-hour class costs me a minimum of four hours total) to "pay" - which is why my sensei discounts the fees so much. But still, the fees alone for the last three years total $2160 - plus another $720 for my son who is now away at college now but trained there for two years at a discounted "under 18" rate. Still quite a bargin because of the level of instruction and training. My school, my sensei and my training partners are worth every penny.

Now that I also teach (we started a sister school in my area almost two years ago), we charge $25 a year per student. The only other costs are personal equipment (gis, sparring gear, etc., which I also get at a discount and pass that savings onto my students), promotion fees ($10 - which covers certificate, belt or stripe and necessary patches) and two required tournaments a year (one of which is free). The idea was to not have price be the reason folks were unable to train, and since the space we use is donated to us for free, there is no need to charge more than what is needed to cover the little overhead we have. It works for us.

That being said, time is what I've spent the most of in MA so far. And to me, it's been time well-spent :-)

John W. Zimmer said...

Hey Sue,

I remember signing up for a couple of $495.00 programs that included one private a week along with groups. I did buy a gi or two as well as sparring pads.

After I was a brown belt - lessons were free because I was teaching.

My best guess is I spent about $1,200 but then I bought a school and made money back.

No way to tell but I made a living at this for a couple of years so I think the lessons were a good financial investment.

No insurance, testing or other fees. I did fight in tournaments but that was sport (fun).

All in all I think it was money well spent. :)

Sue C said...

Etali, your overall costs sound very similar to mine...

Charles, I'll put your typo error down to a 'senior moment' ;-)

Felicia, $500 sounds like excellent value to me... However, though it's now costing you more, you can't put a price on good instruction and great training partners... I think its great that you are passing on your own good fortune of training at a non-profit school to your own students.

John, definitely money well spent ;-)

SenseiMattKlein said...

Cost me lots of blood, sweat, tears, and relationship breakups (putting karate first). The classes were cheap, and the best investment I ever made as I now do it for a living. Would do it again in a heartbeat. Thought-provoking post Sue, enjoyed it!

Sue C said...

Hi Matt, there are so many benefits to doing martial arts it's actually hard to put a real price on it!

Creaky Karate Dad said...

Really interesting post!

My costs are running at $50/week, but I expect that number to drop. I have only recently reached 6th kyu, so the costs of my gi and sparring gear are skewing the number. If I'm able to achieve shodan within my goals, then the cost will drop to $32/week.

And worth every penny!

Sue C said...

Hi Creaky Karate Dad, your costs don't sound to bad but like you say - worth every penny. Thanks for commenting.

Fliff said...


I have had a wide variety of experiences with school costs. The school in Colorado that I was attending for a while charged close to $200 a month, and I was on the cheapy plan, not a member of the prestigious "Black Belt Club" which got to train extra times a week. I'm sure it varies widely here in the states depending on what part of the country you are in, but most schools that I looked at in my area for Colorado were at LEAST $100 a month for classes of up to 3 times a week. I now don't have to pay for class since I'm an uchideshi, but I work hard to help out with Sensei Nick's school.

As for our school Nick tries to keep costs pretty low, and as we work on growing the school, student costs is something we will look at in more depth. Currently we have monthly fees that vary depending on how often you want to attend class, but I think we will end up switching to a flat fee and allow students to come as many times a week as they want. At the moment we don't have patches or sparring gear, which at some point may change for the Karate students as far as sparring gear goes. We will have a student hand book at some point, but have considered including that with the purchase of your Gi. A Gi is $50 as we usually opt for the very thick heavy duty Judo Gi as we do a lot of throws in Aiki and some in Karate.

Finally, the issue of testing fees. Both Nick and I have had bad experiences with this. I wrote a whole bunch, but then decided it would be better posted as its own post. @.@ So that will be showing up on my blog in the near future. Anyway, a very though provoking post to be sure!

Sue C said...

Samurai Girl, I'll look forward to your post...

Abigail Marr said...

Hi Sue=)

Got a laugh at this post, but its worth the cost anyway. Thanks for sharing your journey in martial arts.

Martial Arts Brisbane

Abigail Marr said...

Hi Sue=)

Got a laugh at this post, but its worth the cost anyway. Thanks for sharing your journey in martial arts.

Martial Arts Brisbane

Sue C said...

Hi Abigail, thanks for passing by and leaving a comment, glad it raised a smile :-)

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