Most martial arts school owners are reactive when it comes to marketing. They wait until just before a season starts to design and execute a marketing campaign – or often, they can’t move fast enough, or can’t tweak it enough, and they miss the momentum they could have had during seasons of heightened interest in martial arts services.

The antidote to this is two simple steps:

  1. Use a core set of battle-tested promotion types
  2. Put together a marketing calendar that clearly shows what promotions to run during the year, and when

Following this drastically streamlines your marketing campaign, and makes you less stressed about what you’re going to do next to grow your martial arts school

Below you’ll find 9 seasoned types of promotions and how to design them for maximum effectiveness:

Kids Programs

Back-to-School Specials

This is the bread and butter of children’s program promotions. Back-to-school specials are fairly well-established, but still require some know-how to pull off well. Pair one or more of these items with membership signup:

  • Free uniform and/or gear
  • Reduced or waived signup fee
  • Free or reduced-cost month of lessons
  • School supplies raffle

Advertising your back-to-school special is always a good idea, but working with the local school system to spread flyers and blast emails to students and parents is the highest impact way to promote this special.

Pizza Parties & Birthdays

Many instructors don’t like hosting pizza parties and birthdays, but the fact is that these events are popular and cost-effective to pull in significant amounts of potential new students. Pizza parties are useful to give away as raffle prizes at events, but birthday parties will mostly be purchased by the parents of current students. Sometimes, non-members will buy birthdays, too.

Occasionally, you’ll get parents who want to sign up straight from the party. But the trick is to gather contact info through your liability waivers and have branded or on-theme take-home items for the kids and parents. That way, you can follow up with attendees right after the party, when they’re still excited about what they experienced. Don’t let these leads grow cold.

Bring-a-Friend & Parent Referrals

Bring-a-friend promotions come in many forms: day, week, and even month long bring-a-friend events. You provide free lessons in exchange for kids and their parents to invite friends to come and take advantage of that deal. 

Once there, parents who are impressed with what they see are much more likely to sign up for a regular membership. All you need to do is offer.

Parents will talk to other parents about you – if your product is excellent. Run classes that make the kids laugh and walk away with smiles on their faces, and parents will notice. Add an extra win-win incentive – cool uniforms for both kids if a friend signs up, or nunchucks, or some other perk – and you have a powerful referral system on your hands.

Evergreen Promos

An evergreen promo is a standard promotion that you always have running in between seasonal promotions. It looks more appealing than “just sign up,” but will often cost you less than the big seasonal promotions in terms of free items or services offered.

In one of the schools I worked for, our evergreen promo was 2 free lessons and a free uniform. It seemed to work pretty well, since our signup rate from through-the-door trials was above 80%. We advertised this at events, on social media, and through traditional marketing collateral around town.

Adult Programs

Introduction to Self-Defense Course

Self-defense and personal safety are consistently hot topics. Scary events close to home, or that make it to national news, renew local interest in personal protection skills throughout the year. For this reason, a basic self-defense course is an excellent way to get people through the door and promote your regular martial arts training programs.

The finite length of these courses help encourage people to sign up, but your instruction and culture are what convince them to stay and sign up to regular lessons. Self-Defense courses can be as short as one 2 hour workshop and as long as 6 weeks or more. You can even sequence these events like a funnel that moves prospects from a low-investment course (seminar), to a higher investment course (multiple weeks), to an ongoing membership.

Fitness Bootcamp (Boxing, Kickboxing, MMA, or Self-Defense)

Following a similar logic to self-defense courses, fitness bootcamps are an established and popular way to funnel people into a short term experience with your martial arts school. Unlike self-defense, however, bootcamps are focused on challenging and improving the overall cardiovascular fitness and strength of the participants. 

Fitness-based bootcamps can have several kinds of flavors without becoming full-fledged martial arts classes. You can run fitness circuits with boxing moves, kickboxing, MMA, or even self-defense related movements, interspersed with calisthenics and bag and pad work. 

To learn more about how to design, promote, and profit from bootcamps in your martial arts business, check out our Gym Heroes episode with FitBody CEO Bryce Henson.

New Years’ Specials

New Years is one of the most popular growth periods for fitness-based businesses that capitalize on that season, and martial arts is no exception. New Years’ specials should be similar to evergreen promos, but with a little more panache or razzle. Maybe the membership discount is cheaper, or it lasts longer, or you get limited edition training equipment that isn’t available the rest of the year. You have a lot of options.

A smart move is to also advertise New Years’ specials as gifts that can be purchased for family members or friends during the Christmas holiday season. This widens your potential market and might draw in more prospective new members than a “bottom of funnel” (people who are actively looking to try martial arts) marketing campaign.

Adult Student Referrals

People trust their people. Deliver an awesome service to your members, then encourage them to make referrals by rewarding both them and their friends who sign up with cool perks.

Gymdesk’s software has built in features to allow you to automatically apply temporary tuition discounts when a referral signup is confirmed. Or, you can offer pro shop discounts or free swag. The skies are the limits here – just choose perks that don’t hurt you financially if several people are able to refer new members around the same time.

For more information on how to develop an effective system, check out our article on building referral programs.

Evergreen Adult Promos

Like with the children’s program, adult evergreen promotions should be your standard, cost-effective, all-year signup offering. Evergreen adult promos mostly just need to include the basic necessary equipment and/or uniform for training. They don’t typically need anything “shiny” or especially exciting.

If you run a kickboxing program, for example, a strong evergreen promo would be a free set of 16oz boxing gloves, wraps, and a school t-shirt on signup. This provides everything a budding new kickboxer needs to start training at your gym, and at no additional cost. It’s enticing without breaking the bank, and is sustainable all year long since the cost of these goods is presumably absorbed by the first month’s tuition.


Putting together promotions for your martial arts school doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With these tried-and-true promotion types, you’ll never have to think up new ones again (unless you want to, because it’s fun):

  • Kids Programs
    • Back-to-School Specials
    • Pizza Parties & Birthdays
    • Bring-a-Friend & Parent Referrals
    • Evergreen Promos
  • Adult Programs
    • Intro to Self-Defense
    • Fitness Bootcamps
    • New Years’ Specials
    • Adult Student Referral Programs
    • Evergreen Adult Promos

Put together a yearly calendar to follow and change your messaging and advertising a few weeks before a new season begins. Following this method, marketing will get much easier for your school.

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