Is Certification Required to Teach Self Defense?

By on February 2, 2013

Well here is a great question I got today. The question from a former student of mine was “is certification required to teach self defense?”. He wanted to know this specifically for teaching his family and close friends. He has no interest in teaching the public.

If you go to almost any traditional martial art, self defense, MMA, RBSD, or any other type of “combat” school and ask this question the answer to it will inevitably be a resounding YES.

But WHY?

So many people do not stop and ask the question WHY. Who is the “authority” that says you can or can not teach MA / SD? Is there a SD police that will arrest you if you do not have a certification in teaching?

I personally think most instructors or anyone really say this is out of two reasons.

  1. They want to be the one that has the authority over the person that says that they can or can not teach. Its an Ego thing.
  2. Fear

Yes fear!

They are afraid that if a person teaches “self defense” without a piece of paper saying that it is alright to teach that they would somehow teach some crap that is not self defense and get their students hurt or even killed.

I can kind of see this side of things. I really can. But does a piece of paper from a SD or martial art school mean that a person can defend themselves and show others how to defend themselves properly?

I think not.

Lets take into consideration all the BS (Bullsh*t) martial arts and crappy self defense teachers and systems out there. They are giving away certificates left and right. Some of them you do not even need to know more than a handful of crappy useless forms for you to get your “Black Belt” and teaching degree.

Listen to this true story.

I once had a friend of mine join a local Tae Kwon Do school and partake in it literally 3 times. He then found a clause in the agreement which stated that if he was a member of this school for 2 years that he would be awarded his 1st degree black belt.

Well that instantly became a challenge to him. Because from that point on and for two whole years he……..never went back for classes.

Thats right. He paid his dues on time every single month online but never set foot in the school until his contract was 2 years through. 2 years and 1 day later he walked into the TKD school and demanded his “Black Belt” and certification from the head instructor.

The head instructor (who was also the owner) laughed his head off and told him to take a hike. After my friend showed him a copy of the agreement and explained to him what was in the agreement, he continued with demanding his certification and belt. Well the owner was not having any of it and threw him out.

The owner did not know that my friend was an attorney at the time. But 5 days later he did. After a quick breeze through court, the head instructor and owner of the Tae Kwon Do school had absolutely no choice but to award him his 1st Degree Black Belt and Legitimate Teaching Certification in TKD to him as was specified in the agreement. The way it was written, there was no way out for him.

On the certification it clearly says Marial Arts & Self Defense Instructor. I know, I have seen it.

Now, know this, my friend has NEVER taken another martial art class in his life. Not before that and not after that. BUT he has a piece of paper that SAYS he is an instructor. And of a World Wide Recognized TKD Organization to boot.

Does that mean that he can teach self defense to others.


I would kill him if he even tried.

And what about all of those instructors out there that market to people that if they train with them for 1 weekend that all of a sudden they will be n instructor under them? Can they teach now that they have a cert too?

Let’s look at another story real quick.

Ever heard the name Bruce Lee?

bruce lee

For those of you that don’t know this, Bruce Lee was not just another martial art guy you see in some old movies on your tv now and then. Bruce Lee was THE Martial Artist! Bruce was training in martial arts when he was very very young. And as he got older, he trained martial arts night and day. Some would say that he trained more in a year than most martial artists train in their entire lifetime.

He was and continues to be my idol.

He was so great at martial arts that he even created his own personal style of martial arts which he called Jeet Kune Do (JKD). It means the way of the intercepting fist. I was a student and am an instructor in Bruce’s JKD.

But, did you know that Bruce himself had absolutely no martial arts or self defense “certifications”. No piece of paper from others saying that he was an instructor of anything.

And yet there are thousands of dedicated martial art enthusiasts that follow his system, including myself.

Could Bruce teach martial arts / self defense without a certificate?


Bruce had something else instead of certificates. He had experience.

Just because he didn’t carry a piece of paper saying from someone else that he could teach, That didn’t stop him. Bruce put his heart and soul into martial arts. He trained night and day and had many real confrontations. Everyone around him could see through watching him or just talking with him that he actually knew his stuff.

He knew about combat first hand. And he knew how to deal with it. He knew how to train for it. He also knew how to teach others how to deal with it. He was incredibly knowledgable and skilled. And THAT is why he could teach.

Unfortunately most people do not have this level of knowledge or dedication. It is sad to say that a lot of instructors out there just put in the minimum in order to get or keep their certs so they can make money from the public. It is all about the money.

So in my opinion yes you can teach self defense to anyone, your family, your friends, or the public (for profit or not) without a certification. BUT you need to have the skill and knowledge to teach safely and properly. You need to have the knowledge of what people really need to protect themselves in a real world violent attack. I would also go as far as to say that it is helpful if you have experienced real violence first hand. This gives you real world experience.

Well, those are my brief thoughts on the subject. What are your thoughts?

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STAY PRIMAL, my friends

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About Coach Karma

Coach Karma L Senge has been in Personal Protection / Self Defense as well as the Fitness & Nutrition world for over 31 years now and continually teaches around the world. He has held seminars for many government agencies around the world as well as seminars for civilians. He currently teaches seminars in the United States, Europe, India, and throughout Central America. As well has oversees many training groups around the world.
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