Martial Arts Industry in the USA: Statistics, Trends & Analysis

Martial arts has exploded in popularity in the United States. This article examines the sport's history as well as current market trends and statistics.
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verywhere we go we are surrounded by martial arts, now this is not at all an overstatement. The popularity of martial arts in America is not new but generations old. From Bruce Lee to Muhammad Ali, the Americans idealize their action heroes. The universal fascination of characters like Jedi in the 'Star Wars' or the popularity of action-thriller movies like ‘The Million Dollar Arm’ or ‘The Fight Club’ or ‘The Karate Kid’ speaks for the unmistakable popularity of the sport.

Even to this date, audiences of all ages watch martial arts en masse every time Hollywood releases a new Batman, X-Men, or Star Wars film. With a rising audience of followers and millions of people paying to see martial artists compete at the greatest level, the sport of UFC has become one of the most thrilling sports of our day. On the playground, it’s not tough to find small children who can imitate the heroes from Kung Fu Panda and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hence, everywhere we go, we're surrounded by martial arts.

There are many reasons to join martial arts: fitness and self-defense. Parents, especially in recent years have known to acknowledge the physical, spiritual, and mental benefits of the martial arts for their children. The centuries-old techniques can help provide a high degree of physical stamina and endurance along with mental agility, discipline, self-confidence, and perseverance. And for people who love thrilling and aggressive sports or for those who love to test their patience and endurance, martial arts top the choices. In this article, we will trace the history of the game, its advent in the United States, some most popular martial arts sports in America, and stats related to market, popularity, and investment.

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What are martial arts?

Martial arts are a form of fighting system practiced for self-defense, sport, discipline, fitness, and meditation. Commonly, the word martial arts apply to the systems of combat developed around the world. An individual who practices martial arts is known as a martial artist. The teaching of martial arts follows the cultural traditions of teacher-disciple apprenticeship and students are trained in a strictly hierarchical system by a master tracing back to its root in India. However, it's vital to understand that martial arts are not about violence and aggression. It is rather a codified system and tradition that focuses on physical, mental, and spiritual development, as well as a vehicle to preserve one of the world's most powerful cultural heritages of the East. It is what connects us to ancient and bridges cultures of East and West.

Origin of martial arts

According to history, a Chinese emperor named Wu Di invited an Indian monk named Bodhidharma to visit China in 527 A.D. to assist monks in improving their health and physical abilities. After traveling across China, he came across a Buddhist temple in the region of Henan, where the monks were too weak and incapable to defend themselves against marauding robbers. After learning of the monks' grave predicament, Bodhidharma is reported to have meditated for nine years on how to assist his fellow Buddhist clergy.

After coming out of meditation, Bodhidharma authored two books: Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing. The first focused on exercises to improve outward strength, while the second focused on meditation and breathing. Teachings of Bodhidharma laid the foundation of Zen Buddhism. The martial virtues of discipline, humility, restraint, and respect are attributed to this philosophy.

After finishing the two books, he wrote a third book entitled ‘The Eighteen Hands of Lohan’, which was about his experiences as a member of the Kshatriya, an Indian caste of warriors and rulers. This became the first textbook on offensive and defensive combat actions later on. Martial arts were born as a result.

The European ‘name’

Though Asia is widely considered to be a place where martial arts were born but martial arts is also not new to Europe. In Europe, the earliest sources of martial arts traditions date to Ancient Greece. Boxing, wrestling, and pankration were represented in the Ancient Olympic Games. The Romans produced gladiatorial combat as a public spectacle. But over time these traditions were discontinued. The word ‘Historical European martial arts (HEMA) is often used for martial arts of European origin. It includes sports like swordsmanship, Bartitsu, fencing, etc. The term is derived from Latin and means "arts of Mars", the Roman god of war.

Advent to America

It is known that martial arts reached the shores of America through Japan and Korea. After World War II, Japanese instructors were the first to introduce martial arts to the American mainstream. Many important US figures, like Theodore Roosevelt, who was an early student and adopter of martial arts, assisted in its introduction. Judo became obligatory training for anyone serving in the Strategic Air Command Division of the Air Force in the 1950s, with servicemen spreading martial arts after returning home.

Robert Trias, a U.S. Navy veteran, began giving private sessions in Arizona, and Ed Parter, a Coast Guard veteran, and George Mattson, who studied the arts in Okinawa in the mid-1950s, were among the first karate instructors in the United States. Robert Trais is widely considered the father of martial arts in America. Soon many more Americans learned the art and spread it to every corner of the USA.

The ‘extraordinary popularity’

Today martial arts or related sports are considered to be one of the most popular sports in America. Boxing, Karate, Judo, Fencing, and Taekwondo are immensely popular among young and adult Americans. The rising popularity can also be attributed to pop culture and media. America’s introduction to Bruce Lee in 1959 was one of the major factors that galvanized the popularity of the sport. He is considered by commentators, media critics, and other martial artists, as one of the most influential martial artists in American history. The popularity of his films encourages Hollywood directors to further experiment with the genre. His slew of Hollywood films propped martial arts to the spotlight, encouraging a surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the United States by the 1970s. Today martial arts is extraordinarily popular in America. Everyone is familiar with words like Judo, Black Belt, Kung Fu, etc.

The commercialization and rise of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Trias is often credited with founding the first martial arts school in the United States. Trias founded the United States Karate Association (USKA) in 1948. It was the first martial arts organization on the American mainland. USKA hosted the first national karate tournament in the United States at the University of Chicago in 1963. Many of the regulations he used for later tournament competitions are still in use today, with minor changes. And today there are more than 3.9 million martial arts participants in the United States, with about 15,900 martial arts schools helping to perfect their craft.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship, founded in 1993 in the United States, marked the start of a new era in competitive martial arts. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world's largest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion corporation. It has been instrumental in bringing martial arts to the public's attention. As the name implies, mixed martial arts (MMA) is a mix of martial arts such as Karate, Kempo, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai. MMA methods developed from kickboxing, boxing, and wrestling are frequently used in MMA, depending on the discipline.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) first entered the fitness sector about ten years ago, when it began to appear in health clubs and gyms. At the time, Kara Thompson, the IHRSA's PR Coordinator, attributed this to consumers' desire to find new methods to exercise, noting that "the UFC phenomenon has increased interest in mixed martial arts." The UFC and MMA brought new recognition to martial arts. And it spiked its popularity, which could enable the successful penetration of art into the American way of life.

Should you open a martial art school?

One of the reasons why martial arts is so popular is because its practice can benefit a person on many levels. The virtues of discipline, self-mastery, and fighting through physical – and mental – hardship are often taught through martial arts. Martial arts have been ingrained in American culture for decades now. The widespread popularity of martial arts has turned the ancient discipline into a $4 billion industry.  With the development of mixed martial arts (MA) competitions, the martial arts industry is poised to see continued interest in the traditions established so long ago. If you are planning to open a martial art school or MMA studio, here are a few things and market stats you should familiarize yourself with.

  1. According to Statista, every year, over 3.9 million people in the United States actively participate in the martial arts industry.
  2. The Martial Arts Studios industry grew strongly for the majority of the five years leading up to 2020, at a rate of 5%, but the good trend was abruptly reversed when the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic struck in 2020. Small businesses that cater to local customers and provide martial arts education make up the majority of the sector. Mixed martial arts (MMA), karate, taekwondo, judo, jiu-jitsu, and other martial arts are examples. The industry has benefited from higher demand due to a robust economy and rising consumer expenditure over the majority of the time.
  3. According to IBIS World, it looks like a single instructor owns and operates many martial arts studios. Today, 75,000 companies are functioning in the United States, employing slightly over 80,000 individuals.
  4. According to Simmone Market, 28% of adults in the United States say that they participate in martial arts every chance they get to do so.
  5. According to Martial Info, there are more schools in the United States for martial arts than anywhere in the world. The United States has 16 times more schools than Australia, which comes in second for the global industry. Tiger-Rock Martial Arts are the largest martial arts studio franchise in the United States. The company had 158 franchisees operating across the United States in 2015. Despite their dominance as the top franchise, their total market share in the United States is only 1.8 percent.
  6. More than 18 million people in the United States have tried karate at least once in the past 12 months. Adults are three times more likely to try karate classes compared to children.
  7. Another stat by Simmons Market Research says that two out of three teens who participate in martial arts say that sports are an important part of their social life. 77% of teens say that their participation in martial arts helps to keep them healthy. Those figures are 10% higher compared to teens who participate in sports other than martial art.

Most popular forms of martial arts in America

Yelp is a social networking site that lets users post reviews and rate businesses. Through Yelps we could count the number of gyms, studios, dojos, etc. for each sport in America to get a better understanding of what type of demand there is for different combat sports in America and to analyze fitness trends and most popular martial arts sport in America.

  1. Boxing (26% of gyms, 37% of reviews)
  2. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (20% of gyms, 19% of reviews)
  3. Karate (14% of gyms, 6% of reviews) & Taekwondo (13% of gyms, 6% of reviews)
  4. MMA (5% of gyms, 8% of reviews), Kickboxing (4% of gyms, 10% of reviews)
  5. Krav Maga (2% of gyms, 4% of reviews), Muay Thai (2% of gyms, 3% of reviews), Kung Fu (4% of gyms, 2% of reviews), Aikido (3% of gyms, 1% of reviews)

Most popular Martial art school chains in America

01. Tiger-Rock Martial Arts

Tiger-Rock Martial Arts offers world-class taekwondo training for students ages 4 and up. It is one of the oldest and most popular martial arts schools in America. The academy is open to people of all ages and from all walks of life grow their character, strength, and discipline.

02. United Studios of Self Defense

United Studios of Self Defense is the largest martial arts school in North America. They offer instructions in a unique system of Kempo-style martial arts from the finest instructors in the United States.

03. PRO Martial Arts

It is another very popular school of martial arts in America that offers a diverse curriculum of martial arts techniques drawn from the Korean arts of Tang Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, and Hapkido. They even offer ‘Kick-In-Birthday parties’ hosted by trained martial arts instructors to teach children and their special guests fun, safe and enjoyable karate techniques.

04. Tiger Schulmann's Martial Arts

TSMA is one of the largest martial arts schools in the United States and has helped over three hundred thousand people learn the martial arts. Started by former American Full Contact Champion, Tiger Schulmann, the school provides high-quality education to students.

05. Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios

The Ultimate offers personalized Karate Lessons for Self Defense for Adults and Kids. Martial Arts Training for Adults, Teens & Kids. According to their very own mission statement, their mission is to inspire the men, women, and children of Our Communities to realize their personal best through the timeless traditions of the martial arts.

One cannot deny the immense popularity of martial arts among Americans. Numerous advantages of the sport have made it quite popular among people.  Martial arts has numerous advantages. It allows participants to move around more freely. It strengthens and energizes the core. Many participants say their flexibility, stability, and coordination have improved. It helps to relieve tension and even reduces blood pressure.

It is speculated that there will also be higher demand levels for martial arts in the future. The percentage of people who say they're interested in this industry is nowhere near the actual attendance rates. Only one out of every five people who indicate an interest in martial arts will go to a studio and take at least one lesson. Hence, there are a lot of opportunities to tap into the field. Overall, the industry looks to be on a healthy pace of growth that shows no signs of stopping.

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