The much hated and well camouflaged “McDojo” is more common in the world of martial arts today than ever and yet they are still difficult for beginners to identify. Moreover, at this point, these schools can exist in complete ignorance, having developed generations of black belts that have never realized that their own instructor, International Elite Great Grand Master Hanshi Supreme of the World and 9th degree black belt, whom they have devoutly followed, and whom they work so hard to make proud, has in-fact not only hustled them, but has employed them unknowingly into hustling others.
Wow......this is a hard pill to swallow! You mean, I’ve been scammed into following and promoting this “McDojo” instructor for 5 years......
“please slap me” 10 years........
“don’t slap me, kick me in the face” 15 years........
“forget this, where is the cyanide” 20+ years!?!?!?
I genuinely hope not, but I would give you 50 / 50 odds at best.
Now....don’t feel bad about yourself. You are not to blame. As a new comer to martial arts (even if it was 20+ years ago) it is very difficult to identify these “Martial Con-Artists”. For the general public, If I put on a white suit and a black belt and jump around waiving my hands and making sounds like I am wrestling a death match of epic proportions with my irritable bowel syndrome, I can likely fool enough people into thinking I am doing karate to have a fairly successful dojo. Multiply this with marketing (which I spend my time doing mostly, instead of real training) and then the layers of support from students that become “high ranks” under me, and poof - “Instant McFederation of dojos!”
So why doesn’t someone do anything about this. Is there no “governing body” to hold these schools and instructors accountable, and protect the public as a whole from their “bullshido”?
Sadly...No. There is not.
Karate is the martial art I teach, and unfortunately, it is also the largest victim, although large gaggles of Tae Kwon Do, BJJ, and MMA schools are quickly closing the gap having the cancer of the McDojo spread throughout the world at an alarming rate. Even more unfortunate is that today, actual McDojo’s use the term, and the internet to attempt to tarnish the names of other dojo’s in their area, or even more general to discount specific kinds of dojo’s – (ie. Sport vs traditional) and in extreme cases even styles or entire arts.
The simple fact is that these instructors and their schools are very practiced at manipulating public perception. Often they won’t compete, because “sport has ruined karate”, or “their techniques are too deadly for competition”. Although most reputable martial artists recognize this immediately, the general public, with only a Hollywood knowledge base to pull from does not. If beginners don’t see a black gi with no arms and a cobra on the back, you should be ok.....right
Well, now this is getting really confusing.....McDojo’s are bad...... and they are hard to find...... and if someone tells me that a school is a McDojo, they might in fact not be, but the guy telling me they are could be???
Ok, well.....I was thinking about trying Hot Yoga, maybe I’ll do that instead!
Now you can see why it is so easy for them to hide. The truth is that “McDojo” is not really a label. And even if it was, it wouldn’t be an accurate one...... unless McDonalds starts marketing their fries and shakes as “protein sticks and green tea”.
But what if we look at a McDojo differently, not as a place, but a measurement.
There is a scale, and at one end is the ultimate martial arts school. One with the highest moral code, fantastic training, amazing instructors with absolute and unwavering moral and martial standards that are bent for no-one. Every student is of the highest calibre, and has a training ethic and drive that would frighten even Rocky Balboa. This is the “unicorn dojo”. We are not completely sure that a school at this end of the spectrum can really exist. Most certainly, if I ever found such a school, I would not be worthy of training there, and neither would you.
On the other end.... the barren wasteland grave marked with the death of the arts........ McDOJO.
If you think in terms of this scale, there is no “one” thing that makes a school a McDojo, just as there is not “one” thing that makes it reputable. It is a measurement on a scale, and like all measurements, most will place closer to one side or the other, and where they sit will certainly change over time.
Students should constantly assess, and re-asses their learning, and instructors should constantly revisit their methods and take ownership of where they fall on this scale. Remember “The art doesn’t make the individual, the individual makes the art.” So as individuals change, and or new people advance in any school, their level of McDojo may increase and decrease.
So how do you start at a reputable place, there is only one way. Experience. You cannot as a new consumer looking for a martial arts school recognize and measure with much accuracy where a school will fall. Even experienced and seasoned martial artists will usually need to actually train at a school to be able to know for sure....BUT.....there are strong indicators that point to the side of the unicorn, or the side of the McDojo.
Again, remember, that these indicators would perhaps move a club one way or the other a small amount, but it would take many of them to label a school a McDojo, so don’t pass judgement too quickly. The fact is, that in order to become the “unicorn dojo” we all wish to be, we would need to be so strictly bound to our standards, and training would be so tough that we would have very few students stay and we would not be able to afford to keep the doors open, and hence, would cease to exist. The question is, how much do we compromise, and where that will place us on the scale. It certainly doesn’t mean that “for profit” schools or instructors that make their living would fall closer to one side or the other. It also doesn’t mean that just because one school might measure better than another, that they are the right school for you. At the end of the day, the right school for you must align with your reasons for training, but one this is certain. The McDojo is the wrong club for EVERYONE!
Strong “McDojo” indicators:
- Children with black belts. (Younger than 16 years old)
- There is no contact during training at the dojo.....EVER!
- There is no sparring with the Sensei.
- There is an “accelerated” program to get a black belt.
- How much students pay is proportional to how fast they advance.
- Students have to pay upfront, or sign a long term contract before they can try or view the classes.
- The school has a name like “Samurai School”
- Your instructor has a top knot. (Why not..... it's samurai school).
- The instructor can only grade in Japan or Okinawa.
- The longest part of a grading is the time it takes to write the check to pay for it.
- Grading requirements are ridiculous, and were similar to what you saw in a 1985 “B” martial arts movie.
- Students are not allowed to compete.
- Students are not allowed to train in other dojo’s / styles.
- Techniques are numbered (ie. Deadly front kick #5)
- Questioning your instructor, his lineage, or the dojo or style history is not accepted.
- Students feel fear or awkwardness asking questions of your instructor.
- The techniques only work when done on other club members.
- The instructor can strike people without touching them..... Even knock them out!
- The instructor claims to be a 9th degree black belt and doesn’t qualify for a seniors discount.
- The instructor is so good he got his black belt in 2 years.
- The heritage / lineage of your school is a closely guarded secret.
- No students or instructors have explosive or precise movement.
- The name of the style is ridiculously long.
- Any previous rank / style is regarded as irrelevant and would never be recognized at this superior dojo.
- The instructor doesn’t train with the students, they only teach from the sideline, or through assistant instructors.
- The instructor was the “Founder” of the style or art.
- You do Kata to music.
- The instructor has registered his fists and feet with the police department as “deadly weapons”
- The instructor insists that traditional martial arts are antiquated an ineffective.
- The instructor insists that modern schools are sport, and ineffective “on the street”
- The instructor commonly dates students.
- Students must pay for and attend multiple “pre gradings” between ranks....sometimes indicated with several stripes of electrical tape added to their belt.
In simple terms, McDojo’s exist and once one takes hold in an area, it multiplies at an alarming rate. Like any virus, it takes concerted effort to combat, and it is ultimately the responsibility of you as an individual to be honest with yourself, and ensure you are part of the solution, and not part of the problem. If you are a beginner interested in martial arts, be a smart consumer. Do you homework and research any school you attend. Also remember that “McDojo” is a fluid measurement, and no one thing will prove a school reputable or not. If you have been training at a school for more than a year, and you are unsure where it would fall on this scale, there is a good chance you are at a McDojo. If your instructor claims to be the “unicorn dojo”, you are ABSOLUTELY at a McDojo.
If you can’t decide, there is no harm in training at multiple dojos’ to compare what meets your needs....there is no perfect dojo for everyone.