Practicing Martial Arts on a Budget | A No-Nonsense Guide

Regardless of which martial art you choose you will need to allocate some of your budget towards it alongside a healthy dose of commitment and discipline. However, since training can be expensive you might wonder – is it really possible to train if you’re on a tight budget? 

Practicing martial arts on a budget can be difficult, but seeking out a more affordable martial art, a martial art sponsored by your community, or exchanging services in lieu of payment at a martial arts school is usually an option. Training at home can only supplement in-person training long-term.

While the cost of martial arts training can be expensive, in this article, we’ll look at alternative ways you can train without breaking the bank or in some cases, not paying at all. So, let’s look at some of the ways to make your training affordable.

What Is the Best Way To Practice Martial Arts if I Can’t Afford It? 

Costs can vary greatly from school to school, as well as from martial arts discipline to martial arts discipline. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will usually be more expensive than Judo or school-sponsored wrestling programs. Gyms owned by famous fighters will cost more than one run by a normal black belt etc.

Selecting a martial art that is affordable or making room in your monthly budget is the best option, but if your budget is too tight, you can offer services in exchange for access to training at your school. This includes tasks like accounting, cleaning, admin work, and helping with kids’ classes.

However, the school will have to either take you up on your offer or deny it, so you may need to look for the right school before you find the right fit. 

If volunteering doesn’t work out for you, here are more ways to train martial arts while saving time and money:

Adjust Your Budget To Accommodate Martial Arts

In almost all cases, budgets can be adjusted to allow for martial arts training. If you adapt your budget to make room for martial arts, everybody will win including your martial arts school of choice.

Please keep in mind that while I do have a background in accounting I am not your accountant or financial advisor.

Most people have discretionary income in which they can make adjustments. For instance, brewing coffee instead of buying it at a coffee shop can easily cover your monthly tuition at a martial arts school.

For a rundown on basic budgeting, take a look at these five rules of thumb to follow in budgeting when you’re trying to find some discretionary funds: 

  • Set goals – This includes immediate and long-term and deciding on luxuries and necessities. 
  • Calculate your income and expenses – People tend to budget every month because bills follow a monthly cycle. 
  • Analyze your spending – Ensure expenses do not exceed the income. Follow the 50/30/20 rule – 50% for needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings/debt. 
  • Revisit the initial budget – Do away with wants you do not need in your previous budget to fit your new wants, for instance, Martial arts training. 
  • Commitment – Ensure you adhere to your set budget, and it takes a lot of discipline. 

If you implement these principles, you might just be able to find space in the budget for martial arts classes and eliminate that factor when deciding if you should learn martial arts.

In fact, a lot of the time when you cut other discretionary spending sources you end up eating healthier and skipping drinking at the bar, which can feed into success in martial arts training.

Offer Your Professional Service in Exchange for Free Training

If you are trained as a professional in some capacity, you can often find an understanding with the school owner, especially if they are small and local. Training in accounting, law, plumbing, electrical, and other categories can be leveraged into an exchange of services for training at the school.

At the most basic level, teenagers and people with strong budgetary limits can sometimes exchange cleaning the dojo, mats, training area, bathrooms, and fitness areas for training. This will be up to the school owner, and if they already have somebody doing this it might not work out.

Another possibility is that school owners sometimes give free training to public servants or civil servants. So if you are a police officer, firefighter, teacher, or a part of the military, you should have a conversation to see if you can get free or discounted tuition at the school.

Just remember that you are asking a small business owner for a favor and that they have their own financial constraints and you have to be comfortable with them saying no for any reason.

Helping With Kids Classes

Another possibility is to help with kids’ training classes. Whether or not you are particularly skilled in the martial art, if you are good with kids your school owner might be willing to have you assist with kids classes for comped training. Bonus points if you are at least intermediate skill level.

I help with teaching martial arts to kids, and teaching children can be difficult. Having a good mentality when helping with these classes is essential and it really is not something that everybody will enjoy doing.

If you are able to gamify some skill-based warmups and workouts to keep the kids interested, it can go a long way to making your school owner want to keep you in that role, since they are most likely going to trial you as an assistant before agreeing to exchange your help for free training.

Find an Inexpensive Martial Art To Learn

Picking a martial art with a reasonable cost is probably the most important part of the equation. Judo can easily be found inexpensively at local YMCAs or local Judo clubs. Boxing can also be a relatively inexpensive martial art to get into depending on your locale.

By far the most important factor in the cost of training a martial art is how much tuition is on a monthly basis. Keeping that in mind, it makes a lot of sense to check out your community for free or cheap martial arts options and stick to lower-cost choices.

Other factors like equipment are certainly important enough to consider though. If your martial art only requires a uniform or requires no special equipment at all, that plays a role in decision making. If you need a lot of practice weaponry and equipment, you might want to look at a different martial art if cost is a primary concern.

Community Sponsored Programs

From fully paid scholarships exchange programs to partial scholarships, you can find something that can help you study martial arts for free. If you attend a college or university, some student clubs offer martial arts training for free or at a subsidized fee. 

You could also check for meetups in your area. 

You might be able to find training groups in your area by doing some internet searching. They aren’t led by an instructor but rather by a group of seasoned specialists who collaborate. It’s an excellent approach to keep your talents sharp and become part of a martial arts community.

DIY & Used Home Practice Equipment

Uniforms, sparring gear, punching bags, and other training equipment, are all significantly more expensive when acquired new. If you can find it used and clean it up, you can get a lot more value for your money.

The other option is to build some of your own equipment DIY style from resources you can find on YouTube and other content. Allow other martial artists with a tight budget to demonstrate inventive and imaginative ways to augment your training without breaking the bank. 

Offer To Be a Uke (Sparring Partner)

Volunteering to be a Uke for private lessons and small group lessons is actually a very efficient way to get free or reduced-cost training. Martial arts instructors often like to do private lessons with a Uke for the student who paid for the lesson. This allows the instructor to better instruct their student and you get a side benefit of being able to soak up the lesson while providing a valuable service for them.

I have spent a lot of time as a Uke for my training partners and benefited from other people’s private lessons and soaked up knowledge and experience for free in this manner.

Talk to your instructor about this and if you are available during that time slot, maybe you can get some extra training and knowledge for free. Just keep in mind that the learning is going to be focused around the person who paid for the lesson, so be respectful and be a good Uke for your training partner and instructor.

Do You Have To Pay To Learn Martial Arts?

To reach mastery in martial arts, you will most likely need to pay tuition to your martial arts school. There are some methods to reduce or eliminate these costs, like the exchange of services such as cleaning, professional services, and helping with kids’ classes.

There are ways that you can polish fundamental skills in martial arts that do not involve additional monetary costs. These include practicing simple skills like punching combinations and other techniques that do not require a partner or special equipment to execute at home.

If you have a like-minded training partner and enough experience between the two of you, you can even more easily build martial arts skills at home, provided that you have enough equipment.

All of that being said, training with a master of the discipline is the only way to reach mastery of the discipline as a whole.

Is It Worth Paying for Martial Arts?

If you really want to integrate martial arts into your life for self-defense, fitness, community, or general enjoyment it can definitely be worth paying for it. In order to reach mastery, you will likely need to pay tuition to have access to a quality instructor and a like-minded community.

Martial arts practice boosts physical fitness, self-esteem, discipline, and health.

Martial arts are taught in communities and group classes for a reason. Having the support and help of peers and a knowledgeable instructor can make a huge difference in what you gain for both your technique and life skills. 

Martial arts dues vary widely based on locale as well as which specific martial arts discipline is being trained. Judo clubs can be as little as $25 a month and high-end BJJ gyms can cost as much as $250 a month. This money supports instructors, rent for the facility, and any equipment needs.

For private or semi-private lessons, students pay $40 per hour, but this rate varies from $25 to $50 depending on your state or region.

So, if you can raise the cash from your budget and find a good school, it can be worth it if you want to gain the benefits associated with training martial arts.

If you have a limited budget, you can always try one of the cost-reducing or cost-eliminating options outlined in some of the other sections of the article.

Can You Learn Martial Arts at Home?

You can learn basic martial arts from home by using YouTube or paid online content or DVDs. However, keep in mind that qualified in-person instruction is required to reach mastery and that at-home training should ideally be a supplement to in-person training.

Learning the principles of martial arts and the philosophy and origins of the discipline is more than possible through reading or online content. For example, checking out a book like the Tao of Jeet Kune Do can be an excellent primer if you want to learn Jeet Kune Do.

However, it can be hard to understand some advanced techniques without an in-person coach. Most skilled martial artists will tell you that online and video training are of minimal benefit and can even be counterproductive without in-person guidance, especially for beginners. 

Furthermore, once you begin training with a professional, the undesirable habits and erroneous stances developed while training from home is challenging to break. Perfection does not come from imperfect practice, and it is a good idea to train techniques correctly from the outset.

Check out this post that I wrote that covers the 3 Easiest Martial Arts To Learn at Home that goes into the details of 3 of the easiest martial arts that can be effectively learned at home by yourself that covers the cost of equipment, training resources, and what to expect with at-home training.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to train martial arts within budgetary constraints. Usually, it is possible to find room in the budget to pay for proper martial arts training if you take a good look at your budget holistically. But if this is still an issue, choosing a cheaper martial art to practice and exchanging services in exchange for access to training is pretty achievable.

Supplementing free or reduced-cost training by training at home with other resources is only effective to a point, allowing you to establish some basics and drill skills that you already have supervised technical experience with. It is not likely that you can achieve mastery without being taught by a master, so finding a way to get in-person training is pretty important.

For more check out Do You Need to Be Fit to Start Martial Arts?


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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