Signs That You’re Attending a “McDojo”

There is a joke, that one in every group of four friends is an idiot. So, if you have three friends, and none of them are idiots… you’re it.

The sad thing about people who belong to fast-food martial arts schools is that they are always the last to know that their school is a McDojo. Well, never fear! Thekuntawman is about to help you figure out if you’re one of them. Without wasting time, let’s get started.

Your school is awarding the Black Belt to people who can’t fight.  That’s right. The only martial artists who say that martial arts is not all about fighting are martial artists who can’t fight. The Black Belt means that one is an expert, and “expert” means you know what you’re doing. Not what you know–what you’re doing. If they are producing people who can’t do what they are supposedly experts in, and lowering the standard of what an expert is–that school is a McDojo. At a bare minimum, a Black Belter should be able to defend himself on demand. Not speak in theories. Not give demonstrations. Defend himself.

Children are getting the Black Belt. This is such a given, no explanation is necessary. If a child can attain Black Belt in your school, (in my Cobra-kai karateka voice) “Your teacher’s karate is SHIT, Russo!”

Required uniforms change as you move up in rank. The uniform has nothing to do with the school or the skills. I will spare you the speech of my opinion about whether or not uniforms are even necessary; but this practice is nothing more than a way to make more money. A close second reason is to motivate students to work harder to wear the  esteemed uniform (which I think is silly, especially if we’re talking about adults). Distinguishing students from instructors, however, is understandable.

Musical forms and XMA.  Okay, you’re  probably confused. Here, let me help you out:

Pretty hilarious, huh? Actually this guy was a lot better than many others I’ve seen. Well, we don’t need much of an explanation for this one either.

Your teacher barely mentions his own teacher, and his teacher’s teacher.  Commercial schools usually employ instructors, so often there is no lineage to discuss. The owner of the school is not necessarily the teacher, and the teacher has no familial tie to another master. Whenever there is an absence of a family tree in a martial arts school, respect and loyalty become very selfish, self-absorbed and egotistical. When a teacher credits his teachers, and makes references to the lessons he learned from them–he is not taking credit for his knowledge, but giving credit to the ones who taught him. In the absence of it, you become like the only child whose parents do not deserve respect (in his mind, of course).

Testing is given almost as quickly as you learn the material. My school does not issue tests in the way most schools do. When students are ready for promotion, I simply begin teaching them the next level’s material. In the commercial school, they believe that students will quit from boredom if they are not promoted and rewarded fast enough. As a result, those schools promote as soon as possible–often, before the student has even had a chance to master the new techniques. There is a mutual reward too:  Those exams cost money $$$.

A whole lot of “yes sir/no sir”. They call this “respect”. But respect in the martial arts is so much more than acting like you’re in the military. To these martial arts teachers who have very shallow knowledge of the philosophy of the art (and their equally misinformed students and students’ parents), they don’t have much more to teach outside of that. The easiest thing you can do to have the appearance of a “disciplined” school is to have people bowing and blurting out “Yes sir!” But come on, some of these guys are grown ups. Are you serious?

Using teenagers as instructors. To them, the martial arts is not much more than a physical skill. As long as they can demonstrate and teach a punch, kick or kata, in the commercial dojo’s mind, a KID can teach a class. If I have to explain this to you any deeper–you should consider a different business.

High on technique and drills, low on strategy. Now, it’s not put here to get you to judge your school’s curriculum. I am simply saying that teachers of McDojos usually have very little experience and can only teach from a curriculum standpoint and not from experience. So the student wants to know about how to deal with a boxer. The experienced teacher tells you how to beat the boxer with the same techniques he’d been showing you all along. The inexperienced teacher will drop his main art and show you something he learned in a boxing seminar. The worst fighters try to learn everything under the sun because they never learned to adapt, and they never learned their art at the deeper levels (aka, “never bring a knife to a gunfight”). The experienced fighters will have you winning gun fights with a knife.

Titles, titles and more titles! I’m referring to your teacher. If he is big on titles:  Guro, Punong Guro, Dakilang Guro, Tuhon, Datu, Supreme Grand Master, Great Grandmaster, Great Great Grandma Grandmaster…. then he’s usually low on skills. McDojos, even those who aren’t very good at making money (no one said that all McDojos were lucrative), love to make themselves sound big. Why “sound” big? Because their skills speak softly.

Associations and long resumes and certifications out the yin yang. When you’re weak, you find strength in numbers. Numbers of Black Belts and degrees. Numbers of associations that validate you. Numbers of people who pat you on the back and tell others that you’re good. Bottom line, the best fighters you will ever meet only represent a few arts, they have only a few teachers and peers, and they don’t need validation because their knowledge and skill speaks for itself. A Filipino saying is that a martial artist’s reputation is best when spread by his opponents, not his friends. Perhaps you should reflect on that one, because apparently your teacher has not. In the 30 plus years I have studied the art, the best fighters I have met came from little-known schools and styles, while the worst fighters came from the most well-known schools and styles.

You have been studying for more than two years and you don’t feel like you can lick any man in the room. The martial arts shouldn’t take ten years to make a fighter out of you. But many schools simply do not have the recipe to making strong, dominant fighters. MOST schools do not have this recipe for success. After two years of training two or three hours a week, you should be stronger, more fit, hit harder, and more agile than the average drunk or weed-smoking thug on the street. So if you don’t feel like you can fight, why are you paying this guy?

It took you longer to get your high school diploma than it took to get your Black Belt. They like to say “Black Belt is the beginning”. It is… but only if your Black Belt is awarded to beginners. There is so much to learn in the martial arts, and if a teacher is bestowing the expert status on people who are not experts–or he thinks they are experts, but they have a high school diploma’s level of knowledge–he or his own knowledge is lacking. Sounds like you need to stop fooling with the kiddie karate school and find yourself a real master.

Hope this article didn’t shame you. I am only shaming the ones who know better and are trying to fool the student. It is never too late to find a good teacher, but you must first admit to yourself that you don’t already have one–if you don’t. Hope this article was eye-opening (or at least made you smile). Thanks for visiting my blog.