Should You Sign a Karate Contract?

Karate class

So you visited the local Karate dojo. You enjoyed the free introductory class, and you’re ready to enroll. One minor detail stands between you and black belt prowess: The Contract.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Contract is an irrevocable commitment to a full year of Karate instruction. Should you decide to quit training for any reason—injury, lack of interest, work and family obligations, et cetera—you will nevertheless be obligated to continue paying tuition until The Contract has expired. If you fail to honor this commitment, your delinquent account will be sent to a collection agency.

The Contract allows your dojo to relocate itself ten miles away from its original location, replace its best instructors with bad ones, or shift class dates and times such that you cannot attend. Even if all these should come to pass, you will be required to submit your monthly payments until the term of The Contract is completed.

This describes a worst-case, yet surprisingly common scenario.

Some people, such as Shotokan expert Rob Redmond, advise against signing any Karate contracts whatsoever. Yes, these contracts serve to indemnify the school against its own mismanagement, at the student’s expense. Nevertheless, before rejecting it outright, I suggest you consider whether you have accepted this type of arrangement before, why you were willing to do so then, and why you hesitate now.

There aren’t many colleges or universities that accept tuition payments on a month-to-month basis. What do you think?


  1. Personally, I avoid contracts and recommend the same for others. If the material and services offered are really good, then I don’t see a reasons for instructors to tie students into something they may change their mind about in the future.

  2. I don’t see anything wrong with signing a contract once you’ve evaluated a school and determined that you want to study there.

    A contract helps the school have more stable financials, allowing it to stay open. The contract is often executed through a 3rd party loan so the school receives the money up front and the student pays off the loan over the course of the year.

    Without that commitment, a school would never know how many students will return the next month or whether they could afford the rent, insurance and electricity needed to run the school.

    It also provides a commitment on the student’s part. Yes, students often change their mind. Especially when they realize that learning a martial art is *WORK*.

    If you only have month to month, lots of people will come in and try it for a month or two and then leave.. when in those first couple months they require the most attention from instructors. Why should instructors invest that attention in students who could decide not to show up for the next class, when they could focus on those who are determined to progress?

    Obviously, I think you should evaluate a school thoroughly before signing a contract. Avoid places that don’t allow you to take a few lessons for FREE. Make sure you are compatible with the instructors and the philosophy of the school. If you are really uncomfortable with the idea of signing a contract, I would take that as a sign that you’re not really comfortable with the school.. Keep looking.

  3. If the school is good it should have no need of this kind of contract.
    I would recommend potential student avoid them.

  4. Definately not! The schools financial viability should rest on the quality of it’s instruction. An individual student should be held accountable for what the instructors are responsible for maintaining. I’ve never heard of schools doing this (here in the UK) and hope I never do.

  5. I’d have to say I’ve never heard of contracts (here in Australia), they may well exist, but if it takes a contract to encourage students to persevere with their martial arts training, I would have to question their ongoing commitment to the Martial arts.
    and from the school’s side, I’ve been involved with my school for nearly 20 years and we have had our ups and downs with membership and training numbers, but we have never been at a point where we required a contract to help with financial stability.
    On the otherside we do have an annual membership fee (very cheap as it is only to pay our insurance costs and up keep of the dojo) but if students want to continue to try us out for any length of time they can just pay the ‘casual’ fee for each training

  6. Unfortunately, that’s all I found around Boston. You can’t get into a school without signing a contract. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one that does 3 monhs, but most of them are 12 to 18 months.

    I understand why they are needed from a school’s perspective, but they suck from a consumer point pf view. They favor the schools and benefit the school only.

    The idea that it is motivation for the student is a load of crap. It’s an excuse for the school to not keep the quality of the instruction or the school up to par.

    Want to know how good a school really is? Find out how long the students have bene there. If there ae only a couple who have contacts for more than a couple years, that says a lot about the school.

    Bottom line.. contracts suck for students.

  7. I own a self defence school in Fresno California and the only time we require contracts is on long term payment agreements. We dont have enrollments fees we dont have hidden charges. We have a monthly rate and that is it. However we are also private instruction only.

    I defend contracts for 1 reason – reduced payment plans. We offer drasticly reduced monthly rates to students who sign a contract to continue training for 12 weeks, AND it offers opt out clauses for death, injury, relocation, change of life. It isnt air tight at all. It is just a monthly payment plan basically.

    However our monthly rates are very reasonable as it is and we offer 4 free lessons (private) to test out the system. We wouldnt dream of a contract applied there.

    We also only cater to adult self defence. Kicks are never above the waist. Typically they are knee shots to immobilize an attacker.

    A McDojo forcing a contract on first meeting is absurd. Even on second or third. Only when someone is well aware of what they want should it even be an option.

  8. As a school owner for 26 years, I offer 2 membership options. One is a strictly month to month membership where the student can stop anytime they wish ($150 a month 3X a week), and the second is a 12 month term membership ($1400 a year) which is non-cancellable except for injury, job loss, military deployment or moving more than 10 miles away. Quality alone does not keep a member active. Quite a few seems to stop whenever they have a lazy week. A contract helps keep them active during those down times.

    Also as a professional school, I made a commitment to pay my rent and utilities as well as my families mortgage and kids healthcare insurance. I demand a level of commitment from my members so I may have a strong business for years to come.

    A contract could be a sign of a strong business and strong commitment to the members. I would actually say beware of some schools that do not use contracts since they may not be around long, and they have very poor business sense. Most of them are part time hobbies and not full time professions.

    Side note. If a member talks to me about their membership and really wants out due to a good reason, I will always let them out of their contract. I do this on a case by case basis.

  9. My no-contract school suffers occasionally, not by lack of quality. It’s time I consider contracts as a second, motivating option.

    Damn, I’ve resisted it for a long time too, but the overall gravity of consumerism demands it. Cell phone bills, for example, get priority over me! My work is much more useful for lifelong development.

    Next month I’ll offer contracts; this month I derail casual, no-binding agreements.

  10. If you can find a way to teach martial arts via text message, you’ll make a killing! 😉

  11. I have been teaching for over 20 years, charge at least half of what contract school charge. I only have students sign a agreement that has a hold harmless, we could use pictures video’s ect. , not responsable if you loose something, and the price of the lessons on a month to month basis. We have no long term agreements. For some reasons unknow to me we have better retention then any schools in the area. We have been in our current location for three years and never missed a rent payment yet. In the years I’v been teaching I have seen a lot of schools pop up make a big noise then go out of business. I don’t know why. I don’t make it my business knowing what their problems are. I do like it that we glean students out of every one of them.

  12. I wish I NEVER signed my contact! My son is 7 years old and just started karate a few months ago. They have several instructors. I like all of them except for one boy. I am not sure if he is related to any of the other instuctors. I have complained one previous time about this particular instructor constantly hitting my son on the head with his hands all throughout the practice session. The Head Instructor said the other instructors use to hit them with the pads too much so he took them away and now they must be doing it with their hands. He was nice about it and I THOUGHT this would be a one time thing. He is more like a bully to my son rather than an instructor. Today, the “Head instructor” was not there and again my son got this boy. This time they were doing practicing their blocks. So, during the ENTIRE practice session this boy repeatedly hit my son with the foam pads. He held a pad in both hands and just hit my son and the other little boy over and over and over throughout the whole session. I can’t describe it. He would go real fast saying High, Middle, Low block really fast. Much too fast for a yellow belt! I understand the proper use of these pads but this CAN NOT be it! My 7 year old son just clammed up after practice and wouldn’t talk. I saw tears in his eyes and he tried to hide them. He said he doesn’t know why they had to practice blocks the whole time. I must say my son didn’t get hit as much as the other little boy. CONTRACT….NEVER AGAIN!

  13. The closest to a contract I’ve ever had to sign was a waiver for injuries…and that’s it. I’ve never heard of these obligations before.

  14. Contracts are unethical. One should not teach those who require a contractual obligation to study, attend and perform. To require such a thing shows poor character both for teacher and student. It also serves as a strong indication that an instructor or school does not have any devotion to the martial art, but rather has a devotion to commercial exploitation of the martial art. One cannot serve two masters, true devotion is priceless.

  15. A contract is a TWO WAY STREET and school owners need to realize this. I can understand the need for financial stability, but if an owner/instructor is doing his job this shouldn’t be an issue.
    3 years ago my child started karate. There was no contract. Then the owner/instructor started bringing in his friends to teach. He showed up less and less. Even the competition team didn’t get any attention from him. Belt testings were cancelled and never rescheduled ect..
    He then announced that starting January 2011 he would be going on contracts. Our monthly fee would be based on the contract/committment we chose. This is a 50-100% increase in fees. As a prudent person, I requested a copy of the contract and told the owner to discontinue debiting my checking account until I chose which plan. ( this was in December and I had already paid for that month ). I never got the contract. I called numerous times and played phone tag. In the meantime, my child did not go to class because we had not paid. When I finally spoke with owner and explained my concerns, and asked what the contact required of HIM, he got irate. He said that he would not sign anything that required him to be “anyplace on any given day or time”. He kept referring to his “staff”, HOWEVER his website lists all of his great accomplishments as the instructor.
    To make matters worse. This man sent out an email Dec 5th saying if we wanted to purchase our kid’s competition uniforms as christmas gifts see him and the cost would be $120. I ordered my child’s uniform on Dec 6–paid in full. A few days before Christmas he told me it “hadn’t arrived yet”. I told him it was ok that it would be a birthday gift 2 weeks later. When it still didn’t arrive I started calling (part of the above mentioned phone tag) and left a message that I wanted the name and number of the company where it was ordered.
    Jan 10, 2011 when I spoke with this irate boy, he told me he CANCELLED my order on Dec 30th after I had asked to see the contact and told him to quit debiting my account. He may have cancelled the order ( in reality he never ordered it), but he had never bothered to refund my card.
    That is FRAUD and I would NEVER sign a contract with anyone who cannot commit to the students and parents.
    A REPUTABLE person will not demand a contract like this. We took our child and RAN from this dojo. there are alot more programs in town that are professionally owned and operated.

  16. Contracts are great and a must have business tool.

    Not only do contracts help a school owner measure and track revenue more accurately, but if used properly, prospective student will understand what they’re REALLY making a commitment to.

    They’re not making a commitment to a casual gym workout, but rather to a lifestyle and life-changing goals. They’re committing to the spiritual and moral path of bushido. Not a bootcamp workout, a Pilates course or some other commercial fad.

    Institutions of Higher Learning and professionals in every trade use contracts!
    As a certified black belt offering expert training and rank certification…why should you perceive your contributions to society or the customer as anything of less value?

  17. I understand why there are contracts, but I do wish there were other options.

    I have a specific problem with deceptive practices. In my case, when I was reading the contract, I read 12-month obligation with automatic 12-month renewal, but when I asked the head instructor/owner, who is a super sweet guy I would never suspect of being deceitful, if it didn’t work out, he said I’d just have to give 30 days notice. He was deliberately misleading. When I went to end my contract at 10 months (thus would pay for 11), I was referred to a billing company. They insisted that indeed I had a 30-day cancelation option but for the ANNUAL contract. For me, I just had to pay an extra month I didn’t need, but imagine the poor sucker who wants to quit at the 12 month mark? He has to pay for another year’s worth of payments because he didn’t hit the 30-day prior to expiration mark – not cool. The instructor did not return subsequent emails nor did I pursue it because it was just $100.

    Another bad scenario: a child signs up for a class, doesn’t like it three months in or the schedule interferes with some other activity or school sport. The parents have to pay for 9 months for no reason.

    My son’s martial arts gym was great. Month-to-month, even let me skip a month while we were on vacation. He trained there for 5 years. Loyalty, not obligation.

    Solution options: 1) Make members commit for only 6 months, 2) charge an early termination fee, 3) charge higher rates for month-to-month accounts

  18. My son was six when I signed him up. At the start of first grade he showed signs of exhaustion and a need to try out different activities. My plan was to briefly cancel payments, give him some time to adjust to first grade, play fall soccer, then re-enroll him back into karate. The kid was six – and had a very good attendance record. Just needed a break.

    When I told the karate instructor to cancel for now, he agreed to what he called a “freeze” on payments and payments would just resume in November (which was when we planned to start back). OK, cancel or freeze, i didn’t mind – we planned to start back.

    Apparently there was a technical issue and the freeze didn’t happen. That’s when I called the billing company, ASF Solutions, to correct the problem. They were rude to say the least, and didn’t believe me and were resistant to call the instructor.

    But, what I found out (in addition to rudeness), made me very angry. They told me I was bound to these payments on a two year contract. I do not recall signing a contract. I signed a document authorizing automated payments through my debit card – but NO two year contract agreement.

    First, I believe Karate contracts with young children should be illegal. If you agree, please write your congressman. I plan to write mine. My reasoning: small children are not like adults. A two year agreement (for that matter, a six year agreement), is a lifetime to these kids. They are still in a state of rapid development and growth in comparison to adults. NO one can foresee if a child will later demonstrate social-emotional-physical needs that require him or her to withdraw from the program.

    In the case of my child, my 6 year old boy (Six!), after months of consistent participation he was showing signs of wear. He was also showing signs of exhaustion in relation to the beginning of school. Further, he showed evidence of needs to participate in a variety of activities. Fall soccer made sense. He’d have a break and then do soccer, then a very small break then back to karate. This is a kid – I’m watching out for his social-emotional-academic-physical health.

    I have yet to see evidence of the contract I have signed. I have asked for a copy. That was glossed over and instead granted the “freeze” I was supposed to have. I recently risked for the contract. We’ll see.

    I don’t think I signed the contract – but obviously I want to see the paper work to confirm what I already am convinced of. Who knows – maybe it was slipped into the fine wording.

    But here’s the thing: I don’t honor the contract anyway. My son is six. I see such contracts with small children as UNETHICAL and should be completely illegal. My child is not bound by a contract of indenturement. If one was signed, it was slipped in. I do not believe it was signed though – the fact that my request for a copy was glossed over the first time demonstrates ASF Solutions does not believe they can dig one up either.

    If an 18 year old adult wants a gym/karate contract, fine. Don’t sneak one in on little kids (and he was in kindergarten when this indenturement was supposedly slipped in on him).

    What do you think…unethical? Should it be illegal?

    Contact ASF Solutions and demand the indeturement and entrapment of small kids end now. ASF is the billing company for many karate/gym organizations. Contact your congressmen as well.

  19. At Bill – of course a 6 year old didn’t sign the contract – you did. If you can’t make better decisions or commitments – I suggest you don’t buy a house, car, phone, or have a credit card – all of which are contracts requiring a monthly payment.

  20. People neglect to look at it from the school’s perspective.

    Here it is I’m a instructor who has to faithfully pay a monthly lease of between $1,800 to $2,000 and even in come cases $3,000 a month to my landlord the 1st of each month.

    I have a skill I wish to provide to individuals which is beneficial to them both mentally and physically, yet this A-hole thinks he’s gonna become Bruce Lee in 6 month’s.

    Further more, he gets into it and after just 3 months finally realizes it takes (WORK) to get in shape!

    So what does Mr. Lazy Bones do? He wants to quit and wimp out after having told you how committed he plans to be to this.

    Martial Arts school’s don’t just teach you how to fight, the also provide job opportunities for those who are enthusiastic entrepreneur’s. Instructor’s are always looking for that one individual they can “pass the torch onto” and actually teach them the business of how to run their own martial arts school.

    Trouble is though, too many people wimp out way to early to get to that point.

    Like attending college, on average it takes at least 3 to 4 years to acquire your black belt.

    This should be understood by the client when they walk in the door.

    Yet if that’s explained to you upfront and you still express interest, unfortunately you “HAVE TO” get most of these pussies to fully commit to a contract; otherwise they’ll wimp out leaving you holding the bag an stuck paying the rent out of your own pocket.

  21. Rick, you’re an idiot. Your school is obviously one of those that needs a contract to stay in business. Just by how you write about the “A-hole” student of yours, It speaks volumes of you as an instructor. That is the nature of any business. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s slow.

    I myself am a victim of the karate contract that I’m currently trying to get out of (for 3 children), but for a much different reason than most.

    We actually became friends with the instructor/owner (fifth degree black who has been doing karate for over 25 years) and her husband. BAD IDEA! Long story short and I’m not going to sugar coat it, we all kind of got involved intimately and obviously things like that never work out so our children no longer attend the school. We were in the “guaranteed black belt” program and now have to try to get out of the contract. Is there a spot in the fine print that says you can get out of the contract if the instructor tries to sleep with one of the parents? Nope, probably not, but I’m still obligated to pay? That’s the problem with the third party contracts, they don’t give a crap what happened, they just want to get paid.

    Contracts are a horrible thing. Especially when signing children up for a program. They are children, they change their minds daily. you cant expect to hold a child responsible for a 4-5 year commitment when they are younger than 10 years old. It’s absurd!

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