The Necessity of Martial Arts Insurance

Today, lawyers are advertising on television stating “If you are injured, someone must pay.” Everyone seems to want to take you to court and separate you from your hard earned money. Heed the warning, liability insurance is a martial arts business necessity. Everyone who operates a business that deals with the public must protect himself. So must all who teach. Here is how it works. Liability insurance is designed to protect you if someone sues, claiming that you are responsible for his/her bodily injury, or property damage.

The insurance company will defend you, pay defense costs, and also pay the costs of any damages awarded by the court, up to the policy limit. Bodily injury lawsuits or property damage state that you or your employees (instructors also) are negligent. Anyone who is on your property is a liability risk. The most common type of injuries, slip and fall accidents, could also happen to visitors to your school. Students who suffer martial arts injuries can have their attorneys build a negligence case against you if you fail to warn students of the risks involved, inadequate supervision, faulty equipment, building hazards, or faulty instruction given by the instructor or teacher.

The following information is designed to help protect the school owner and instructor from negligent thinking, to provide a safe environment and to keep lawsuits away from your front door.


    1. Evaluate the safety of your training area:

a. Torn mats.
b. Uneven floors.
c. Protruding objects (nails, splinters, etc.)
d. Improperly stored equipment.
e. Faulty training equipment.
f. Dangerous or sharp weapons.
g. Sticky or slippery areas on floor.
h. Poorly lit areas.

    2. Look for dangers in your training procedures.

a. Do not allow students to practice weapons close to other students or near traffic areas.
b. Do not permit students to wander through an area where another student is practicing.
c. Weaker students holding kicking bags for stronger students is a risk.
d. Students training with sharp weapons.
e. Excessive contact among sparing students.
f. Rolling on hard floors. Only after being trained how to roll on floor mats should this be attempted.
g. Wrist locks and falls. All safety valves should be employed. Students of equal skills and strengths should be teamed together.

    3. Sparring.
                The use of protective gear is a must.

a. Headgear.
b. Mouth piece.
c. Groin protection for males.
d. Foam hand protection.
e. Foam feet protection.
f. Shin pads.
g. Chest protectors for females.
h. Rib guards if deemed necessary.


    1. The head instructor is responsible for what happens at his/her school if he was called away and was not present.

    2. It is imperative that all assisting instructors, as well as substitutes, follow the rules and regulations set down by the head instructor.

    3. Whether you are training personally, a paid employee, a sub-contractor, or any person you authorize to teach and be in charge, the head instructor is legally responsible for anything that happens in class. In law, this is called “Agency Relationship”. If someone is acting as your agent, it means that they are acting on your behalf. If an instructor makes a mistake in class, then you are responsible. Also, volunteers are considered agents if they derive their authority in any way from the owner or chief instructor.

a. The owner or chief instructor should make certain the people in charge are capable and responsible.
b. The people left in charge should know how to conduct a safe class.
c. Watch out for “old school” black belts who may push students beyond their limits.
d. Any students who desire to withdraw from any exercise or activity must be allowed to do so.
e. No instructor should be allowed to badger or belittle any student who cannot keep up or who does not understand, or who has difficulty in learning.

    4. Do not leave minors in charge of class. They lack the skills and wisdom to assume high levels of responsibility that most adults have.

    5. Protect the students.
Since martial arts is a physical contact program and involves combat skills, people will get hurt. We cannot totally eliminate the risk of injury. However, all owners and head instructors must take all reasonable measures to keep their students safe. This is a must.

    6. Using student instructors.
It is easy for young student instructors to play around with their friends. There is no room for horseplay in the Dojo. Student instructors can be a great asset to the martial arts school. Student instructors should be supervised at all times, and only the most mature students should be given any responsibility.


These forms generally do not hold up in court because no one can sign their rights away not to sue in case of serious injury. To address this problem use an “assumption of the risk” forms. The rule of law follows this pattern: “If you knew the danger and you did it anyway and you got hurt because of the danger you knew about, then you cannot sue. Physicians have patients sign documents after the doctor informs them of the danger of surgery. It’s called “informed consent”, an assumption of the risk and it seems to stand up in court. An assumption of risk should:

    A. Advise a student and parents of the danger of martial arts training.
    B. Include clauses that indicate that the student assumes the risk of injury and assumes responsibility for his/her own safety.
    C. Include an arbitration clause. If the student files a law suit, then there is a contractual provision for binding arbitration.
    D. For minors, have both the parent and the child sign. While parents cannot sign away their child’s right to sue, the arbitration clause can give those being sued the right to request that the suing party pay for any money the defendant has to pay as a result of litigation.
    E. There should be information in these forms covering sexual harassment, sexual assault and child molestation.

It must be remembered that men, women, and children often train together, and bodies often touch. Everyone must be advised about the nature of this problem. Examples of assumption of risk forms are in this chapter.

    F. Tournament risk forms - The parent must sign this form. Instructors cannot sign in lieu of parents being absent. If done, these forms will be null and void.


This principal involves making certain that you take steps to reduce the level of harm. This is also the plaintiff’s responsibility. A student must take the responsibility to limit the severity of his own harm.

    A. He should stop training when injured.
    B. He should not expose himself to greater risk of harm.
    C. He should not execute kicks full speed if he has a bad knee.
    D. He should not throw or be thrown if he has a bad back.
    E. Instructors should not push injured students and cause even more harm.
    F. Instructors should be able to treat minor injuries.
    G. Instructors should be certified in C.P.R.
    H. A first aid kit should be available at all times.
    I. At tournaments there should be EMTs or other professional medical personnel available.


    A. A good insurance policy will allow the insurance company to take care of your legal defense.
    B. Consider yourself your own private investigator.
    C. Collect only “objective” facts.
    D. Take note of what happens.
    E. Who witnessed event.
    F. What occurred exactly.
    G. What was done about it.
    H. The possible contributing causes.
    I. Who did it happen to.

Prepare your evidence well. It may be months before your testimony is needed and years before the actual trail occurs. Your memory will fail under the expert cross examination of a skilled attorney.


Some martial arts instructors/owners have been teaching for years and never encountered a legal problem. Most students and parents realize that martial arts are combat and people get hurt. Training students and conducting business as usual without proper control of risks is gambling. Risk management is changing the odds in your favor.

    A. Protect your students from undue risks.
    B. Get the danger level in your school under control.
    C. Deal with legal trends and all necessary paperwork.
    D. The best solution to litigation is to avoid it.


You are a martial arts black belt who knows how to defend yourself against physical violence. Become a black belt in risk management in the safety of your students, your school, what and how you teach, your insurance policy, and your complete, overall program. Make certain that everyone who teaches for you, those who participate in outside martial arts programs that are connected with your organization, and those that assist and referee in tournaments, have the exact risk management concerns as you do.

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This page was last updated on 07/05/07    

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