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What Title Should I Use...If There Is One?

by Steven Franz, Editor

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The term McDojo came about in the mid 1980's after the Karate Kid craze that lead to the influx of thousands of children into karate schools across the USA. A McDojo is actually not even a word but is used to reference schools that have sacrificed their integrity of their art in order to make a profit. The real question is if the McDojo actually does exist and why most traditional martial arts dojo hate them.

Do McDojo really exist?

In a short answer, yes. McDojo are all over the US and some have even began appearing overseas but who is to blame for this trend and is there anything that can actually be done about them? Perhaps the largest and most common McDojo out there are the American Tae Kwon Do Academy, or the ATA as they are mostly know by, schools. The ATA is many systems in place from perfected sales pitches like a car dealer all the way to how they will promote anyone to any rank if you have the correct amount of funds. In many ways the ATA is the McDonalds of the martial arts world. They have a few good black belts but mostly are all about show and no real self defense ability. In recent years they have added Mike Chat's Xtreme Martial Arts curriculum as well as several other specialty programs to their schools to increase their overall profit margin. There is no set answer to why the ATA is hated so much by traditionalist other than the fact that most traditional schools see what they do as a manner of lying to their students.

It is important to note that in traditional martial arts training one is setting out to perfect their technical, mental and spiritual aptitude and during this process they will be put through some of the toughest things in their lives. Those who stay become a new person through their training, those that do not often end up either at a McDojo or quitting all together. McDojo will do anything they can to satisfy their "customers". Note we did not use the term students here. If a student wants to test for their next rank and threatens to quit, they will promote them...even if they are no good at that level's requirements. Most commonly McDojo students never experience real bumps and bruises when training and often have little or no contact at all in their sparring. The ATA does not permit sparring until a student reaches a certain level or signs up for an extended contract for hundreds of dollars a month in which they can spar. This is often called Black Belt or Master's Club, but in reality is just a fancy name to milk people out of their money.

Another way that McDojo exist is due to no set guidelines for needing to be "good" at your martial art in order to be "qualified" to run a school or teach for that matter. This is everyone's fault...including traditional or fighting schools. In the United States we do not like to think or believe we are wrong. If we do not agree with a Sensei we simply do it our own way or leave without ever understanding that it could have been a test to see how sincere we were about our training. There is no doubt that there are thousands of black belts out there who are terrible at the arts. They have no real skill, no in depth understanding of the arts and their technical abilities are lack luster. It is also important to understand that even the Asian teachers would promote American people to black belt in one year or a little over. Perhaps they saw and easy way to make money or maybe it was because they knew we did not have the discipline to withstand real training as their culture does.

McDojo are everywhere, and traditional schools find it harder to get students today than ever before. Although there are many reasons for this, none are more dangerous than lying to people through false advertising claims, inflated rank and competitive titles and even worse promising them the world when you know it is all about the money. These are things traditional martial art schools would never do and since they believe that learning the martial arts is a privilege and not a commodity, they lose interested students to schools that have perfected the "sales" pitch. To be honest it is shame but those who do not sacrifice their integrity of their art will outlast the McDojo anyways.

Do I train in a McDojo and how can I tell?

If you type in McDojo in any search engine the results are astounding. Everything from forums to newsfeeds will pop up with what they "believe" a McDojo is. There are many reasons to believe you are in a McDojo but none of them apply only to the McDojo.

First...the amount of tuition must be adequate for the dojo and Sensei to make a decent living...but they should not be getting rich off it. It is not common to pay anywhere from $60 to $300 per month for training today. If you are hit with sales pitch after sales pitch, upgrade requirements that cost more for you to learn something you want to, or paying for a test every month then chances are you are in a McDojo.

Next...the students at McDojo are recreational hobbyist. They are not there because they love the martial arts but rather because they want to just do "something" other than normal activities. Their uniforms are not tied correctly. They throw or drag their belt around behind them. The even refer to their Sensei by first name. The class lengths is usually 45 minutes or less depending on your age. The main focus of training is to memorize, not master, the required techniques for your next belt. Once you have it memorized you are promoted...often for a major fee. If you find this to be happening and your Sensei is afraid, or fails to discipline you for violating traditions as well as not pushing you to master your requirements the chances are you in a McDojo.

McDojo are not about teaching the martial arts. Sure many of the black belts that run a McDojo may want to help others through teaching them the arts but they in all reality can not since they themselves did not learn correctly. This is the problem with McDojo. Once you make it easy and a money machine you are hooked into never being able to go back. The McDojo that I know who tried to return to their roots destroyed their schools and ended up closed in the end. This is called integrity. Once your integrity is compromised you will fail. If you find it being easy to earn, especially the higher ranks, then you are definitely in a McDojo environment.

What do I do and does it matter if I train at a McDojo?

If you are happy knowing that you probably are learning a martial art that will get you killed in a street fight then keep on learning it. I am not saying that you need to train full contact in order to learn how to protect yourself, but I am saying that if you train at a real martial arts school you will learn skills that McDojo only wish they had. These skills will be the difference between safety and a hospital visit. If your intentions are to learn a true and authentic martial art as it was meant to be you need to leave the McDojo because in real martial arts it is about perfection and not money. I agree that a Sensei must earn a decent living for their years of dedication and hard work, not mention the sacrifices they make to teach you the arts, but driving around in a BMW or Mercedes is not part of being a Sensei. If you are paying money all the time and each week you find yourself being hit up with some new program or upgrade I would get out while you can. Once you sign that five year agreement you will pay for it whether you train or not.

The outcome of the McDojo will harm martial arts.

McDojo have been around for many years and it all began with us allowing low rank black belts to teach or own dojo. If it took a person five to six years to earn their black belt and they were honestly dedicated to the dojo and their Sensei then it would have been different. The problem is that the average person only takes a couple of years to get a black belt and quite often they have not understood that you should never disrespect your Sensei or your art unless they are of unmoral character. Once people began to see they could make a lot of money teaching martial arts they began to sell out because that was their motivation. I teach full time. I own a house, car and pay taxes. Would I like to make more money, yes of course I would but I will not sacrifice the quality of my Ryu, my Sensei's honor or my own in order to make a buck...ever. That is the reason we are not a McDojo and why our students are very good at their belt levels they wear.

McDojo will ruin the reputation and quality of martial arts in the world because people will learn they do not have to sweat, struggle and grow to become a black belt or even a master at the arts. They will learn they can "purchase" the right to something others have bled in order to get. They will "believe" they can do it better than their Sensei and change their system with only a few years of training in order to dupe people into believing they are masters or founders. McDojo will substitute real training for money and they will destroy integrity within the world of the arts. Is there anything we can do to stop them? Yes...educate people on true martial arts. Don't lie to your students and do not promote them unless they are the quality of equality in other belt students from authentic dojo. Go to tournaments and get better outside of your own little system...win there and become respected instead of claiming to be the champion of the world when in reality you are not. Simply stated go out, experience true martial arts and then make a positive change to bring back what they are for.