Can I Write Off Karate On My Taxes?

April 14, 2023 by Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Karate teacher teaching a small class of children

The answer to this question relies heavily on your personal circumstances. In a perfect world, under perfect circumstances, you could write off the costs of your karate classes under the heading of either medical expenses, employee expenses, or business expenses. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world – otherwise, the long-suffering New York Mets would win the World Series every year, and cheeseburgers would still cost 5 cents!

However, despite the challenges we face in everyday life – especially at tax time – there is hope out there for those who wish to write off the costs of their karate classes. Let us review the conditions that would allow you to deduct your karate costs under the headings we mentioned earlier.

Medical Expenses

For some time, the tax code has allowed taxpayers to deduct the costs of expenses related to diagnosing, treating, or preventing a physical or mental disability or illness. For example, this includes expenses such as hearing aids, eye exams, and medications such as insulin. An argument could easily be made that regularly engaging in a strenuous physical activity, such as karate, is good for your health and helps protect you from illnesses such as heart disease. However, the tax laws specifically exclude deductions for expenses that are simply beneficial for your general health and do not treat a specific medical condition. Membership in a gym is thus generally not deductible unless it has been ordered by a physician as part of a program to treat a specific disease, such as obesity or high blood pressure.

Your karate classes could possibly benefit from the same exception that applies to a gym membership if the activity was prescribed by a physician to treat a particular disease. You would need appropriate supporting information from your physician if you were to claim this expense on your tax return.

Employee Expenses

Depending on the nature of your occupation (for example, a police officer in some cities), it may be a job requirement for you to develop and maintain a good level of skill in karate. The expenses for your karate classes are not deductible if they are paid by your employer, or if you pay the expenses yourself and your employer reimburses you after the fact. But up until 2018, you may have been able to claim a deduction if your employer did not pay any of your karate costs, or if you were not reimbursed fully for the amount you paid. Unfortunately, deductions such as this for unreimbursed employee expenses have been suspended since 2018 and will remain so until at least 2025 (and may possibly be extended even further by Congress).

So far, the first two deduction categories have not offered us a great deal of hope in our less-than-perfect world, but the third category may bear more fruit – once again, depending on your circumstances.

Business Expenses

Although we have just seen that an employed police officer cannot claim any of his unreimbursed expenses for karate classes until possibly after 2025, if you are a self-employed security guard, you may well have a good case. If the nature of your work in the security field requires you to be proficient in karate as part of your job duties, then the costs related to karate classes are, in fact, an ordinary and necessary expense related to your business. According to the tax code, all ordinary and necessary expenses related to the operation of your business are fully deductible – including, in this case, your karate expenses. You would need to keep receipts and good records of your expenses to support your claim in case it was ever questioned by the IRS, and your expenses must not be seen as unreasonable or extravagant.

For example, deducting the costs of a 6-month sabbatical at a 5-star mountaintop martial arts retreat in Japan may be seen as out of proportion to your daily work as a contract security guard at a retirement home. (Then again, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to have security guards!)

To summarize our answer to the original question, depending on your personal circumstances and supported by appropriate records, you may indeed be able to write off the costs of your karate.



Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Tax Content Developer


Steve Banner began his career in the field of income tax in 1977 and has since gathered business experience in a variety of countries and cultures. In addition to the United States, he has lived and worked for extended periods in Australia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Sweden. Along the way he studied Adult Education and earned a Bachelor of Education, Master of Educational Administration, and MBA. He joined TaxAudit in 2016, where he is a Tax Content Developer.


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