FAQ - What is a McDojo and How Do I Spot One?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by aikiwolfie, Dec 27, 2010.

  1. aikiwolfie

    aikiwolfie ... Supporter

    What is a McDojo and How Do I Spot One?

    This isn't as straightforward a question to answer as it might seem. One person's definition of what is acceptable in martial arts will always be different from the next ten people. Fortunately there is something of a general consensus forming amongst martial arts practitioners.

    In general terms a McDojo is a club or organisation that unfairly takes advantage of its students or otherwise acts in a dishonest and disreputable manner.

    The McDojo can take many forms which makes spotting them difficult for the novice martial arts practitioner. After all how would you know a biscuit from a tea cake if you'd never seen either and nobody told you? Fortunately there are tell tail signs we can use to spot McDojos which we'll cover in a moment. But first lets dispel one particular myth about McDojos.

    All Clubs Run As A Business For Profit Are McDojos!
    The above statement is absolute nonsense. Martial arts practitioners have been earning a crust from teaching martial arts since the year dot the world over. The fact the teacher is making a profit from a successful business does not mean he or she is ripping off their students. What people need to be looking for in these cases is value for money. Are you getting what you paid for?

    Fees And Payment Arrangements
    Fees and payment arrangements are also a topic which see clubs automatically branded as a McDojo. The most important thing to look for in any arrangement where money will be changing hands on a regular basis is that you have a way out. That is you can leave the club at any time and stop your payments to the club.

    Complicated payment arrangements and binding contracts are a sure fire warning sign a club may not be entirely on the level. The worst clubs will try to suck you in to a multi-year deal with very difficult exit requirements if you decide it's not for you. Often this will include an accelerated black belt or instructor programme that supposedly makes it worth committing to. Invariably, it's not.

    The exception to the rule might be insurance. Different clubs handle insurance fees in different ways. However normally this will be included in your practice fee or it will be a standalone annual fee. The important thing here is to make sure the price seems reasonable. If you're not sure, ask to see the club's insurance policy. An honest teacher will have no problem producing it and letting you read through it. If the teacher cannot produce their insurance policy then think twice before committing.

    Beware The Cult
    Discipline is essential in any form of martial arts. Being good at anything takes practice and dedication, even for the gifted. However if the discipline in the club is approaching worshipping the ground the teacher walks on and an obligation to feel blessed just to be in his or her presence then run for the hills screaming. You are in something even worse than a McDojo!

    Watch The Students
    When watching or trying out a martial arts class it is more important to watch the students rather than the teacher. When potential new students walk through the door the teacher may show you only his kinder side to draw you in. The students are a reflection of the true nature of the club and the quality of teaching you can expect.

    When you attend a good martial arts school the students will be open and welcoming. The atmosphere will be relaxed but not laid back and the students will be warming up at the beginning of the class.

    There should also be a clear difference between the lower ranking students and the higher ranking students in terms of their ability. The higher ranking students should also be helpful and never dismissive. They should be making their lesser experienced class mates work hard for a technique but never so arrogant they're making it impossible.

    Mistakes. You should see lots of them during training. Especially amongst the lesser experienced students. They won't all be show stoppers. The students may still pull off their techniques and kata. However what you should not see are techniques executed so perfectly by all grades of student it's as though they're skating on ice. This is a sign of over compliance. If the students are training hard and pushing each other beyond their comfort zones, expect to see some knocks, bumps bruises and the occasional technique that at least one student just can't seem to pull off.

    It's normal in martial arts to see mistakes in a general practice.

    If on the other hand students are nervous, anxious, arrogant, dismissive or fearful. There is something very wrong at that club. Go somewhere else to train.

    Ranks and Gradings
    This is one of the most obvious signs of a potential McDojo. When you enter the dojo is your vision immediately assaulted and abused by a rainbow of badly matched coloured belts, stripes, tags, badges, bands and sashes? You could be in a McDojo.

    Gradings in general are money spinners for clubs. The McDojo takes grading students to the extreme. Especially with young children. On average the normal grading cycle for a decent club will be something along the lines of 3 to 6 months with the interval between gradings getting longer as the student progresses through the ranks. And some clubs don't even have a grading system at all.

    The more gradings there are, the more money you have to shell out, the greater the profit for the club.

    For clubs that operate with the black belt (kyu/dan grade) system it normally takes 3 to 5 years to achieve black belt (1st dan / shodan) with many students taking much longer. For a student to achieve black belt faster than this takes several hours of training every day. Most clubs cannot offer this level of intensive training and therefore by definition cannot be producing quality black belt students on accelerated time scales. It's simply not possible.

    So when you're checking out a club, remember to ask how the grading system works and how often the club grades its students?

    Also ask yourself how much emphasis is being placed on grading? Being pressured into grading is a very bad sign. It means you're potentially being pushed into a grading before you're ready. And clearly your chances of passing such a grading should be slim to none. These clubs are sometimes called “belt factories”.

    So feel free to ask the teacher what the pass rate in the club is. He or she may not be able to give an exact figure. But they should know if it's good or bad. And keep in mind a genuine 0% failure rate is extremely rare. Such a club should immediately strike you as being exceptionally good.

    The Best Thing Since Creation and Everything Else Is Crap!
    If the teacher has the above attitude, run a mile!

    Especially avoid teachers who forbid you to cross train at any other club or in any other system of martial arts. The teachers and students of such clubs will be able to rhyme off a whole host of reasons as to why it would be bad for you to cross-train or even visit a fitness/weight training gym.

    The McSensei at the head of a McDojo is a very selfish creature. He or she does not want you to venture out in to the wider world for fear that you might learn the truth. They fear you finding something else that's more effective or more interesting. Avoid these people at all costs.

    The general consensus on cross-training seems to be that it's highly beneficial. However beginners should consider attaining a solid grounding in one art first before branching out.

    Exaggerated Claims
    This is really part of the aforementioned ego trip above. But worth its own heading for the sake of clarity. As a general rule of thumb anybody selling anything that is too good to be true is normally a con artist. It's all a scam!

    A lot of commercial martial arts outlets will try to sell you a package deal that absolutely promises on your grannies life you'll be a black belt in some ridiculously short span of time. They'll tell you their system is the “ultimate martial art”, it's been used by all manner of special forces. Favourites tend to be Navy Seals, Rangers, Green Berets and the Marines.

    Alternatively they may embellish the history of their system. Such claims commonly site something like the: “System was created 10,000 years ago by Budaha Lamaba monks living in seclusion up Shaite-al mountain that's impossible for mere mortals to scale and has been passed secretly from father to son for generations in the secretive warrior samuraininja clans of Fukju prefecture. And now for a limited time only they'll bring to you the secrete deadly combat unstoppable techniques of the ancients! Classes $500 each with a further $600 surcharge for mulletless students. Distance learning DVDs are only $99.99!”

    Similarly some clubs will try to convince you that you'll easily be able to take on someone 3 times your size. A child can easily beat up a 300lbd hulk. Only their system will work in a given set of circumstances that you WILL find yourself in daily.

    Take exaggerated claims with a tub of salt. Or just avoid those clubs all together. Studying martial arts does not make you superman and breaking boards is easy. Anybody can do it.

    The Hard Sell
    A lot of clubs today supplement their income with merchandise. Which is fair enough. People need to eat and pay bills. Dojos are expensive to run. This however becomes a problem purchasing the merchandise becomes compulsory. When purchasing equipment from the club and only the club becomes compulsory. Where you buy your training equipment is your choice. It is not unreasonable that you should seek to take advantage of a cheaper deal somewhere else.

    Avoid clubs that seem over eager to sell you stuff.
  2. Moi

    Moi Warriors live forever x

    I'd disagree that tied in contracts are all bad. Tried both and if the club has high running costs and/or doesn't want the hassle of chasing customers that think it's OK to train after cancelling their standing order.
    If your training in a leisure centre or some community hall then I agree they're not needed but if you're in a well equipped gym with everything required on hand then it has to be paid for. The trust thing can work both ways
  3. Aegis

    Aegis River Guardian Admin Supporter

    Valid point, but I'd argue that any contract with longer than a 1-month notice period to get out is unnecessarily restrictive, especially for a beginner to martial arts who isn't even sure what they're looking for yet. You can leave most jobs with that little notice, surely a gym/training contract should be easier!
  4. holyheadjch

    holyheadjch Valued Member

    I have mixed views on this.

    I know clubs with tonnes of equipment that haven't needed to tie their students into long term contracts, but I also know that it has taken these clubs years to get to that level of success and that in the beginning they were only just able to afford second hand matting.

    I do not believe that clubs should require students to pay in for an extended period of time (> 3 months). I think asking beginners, in particular, to commit to a club for 6 months to a year after only a couple of classes is crappy, ethics wise. It may be the standard business model for commercial gyms (the fitness kind), but I hold martial arts instructors to a higher level of behaviour than those charlatans.

    I think a sensible alternative would be to offer long term passes that offer a reduced rate for the period of the pass, which would benefit the committed students as well as provide the club with a more stable flow of income.

    Put simply, I would never train at a club that required me to pay for a year up front (or tie me to a monthly direct debit for a year) after only a couple of classes to assess the level of instruction.
  5. aikiwolfie

    aikiwolfie ... Supporter

    Not all contracts are bad. Which is why I said "The most important thing to look for in any arrangement where money will be changing hands on a regular basis is that you have a way out. That is you can leave the club at any time and stop your payments to the club.".

    I apologise if I didn't make it clear enough.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2010
  6. SenseiMattKlein

    SenseiMattKlein Engage, Maverick

    As Aikiwolfie states, it is "buyer beware", just like anything else. Our business model, which has been successful for over 16 years, does not involve contracts. People can pay by the quarter, which they get a discount for doing. It is also more convenient. Or they can just pay casually. The vast majority pay casually. By not having contracts, the burden is on us to provide value for money, and make the classes interesting. Having a big overhead is not your customer's concern. By offering both, this puts us at a competitive advantage, IMHO.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2010
  7. JaxMMA

    JaxMMA Feeling lucky, punk?

    Good read. Most of the stuff is spot on. Ofcourse there are always exceptions here and there.
  8. Power_plant

    Power_plant Valued Member

    Basic spelling errors are usually a good indicator and something to look out for as well.

    Also the casual usage of martial arts words in the name of the art without any resemblance of it in the art.

    For example, if the name contains the word aiki (a Japanese martial arts principle or tactic in which the defender blends (without clashing) with the attacker). But contains no such principle.

    You being able to take upon a franchise opportunity on a national and international scale.

    Made up or fantastic sounding techniques that sound like they have come straight out of a comic book or tv show.
  9. OwlMAtt

    OwlMAtt Armed and Scrupulous

    I'd say there are some very quality places that will make you sign a contract. While you ought to watch out for this, it's not necessarily a cause to instantly run for the hills.
  10. PDog

    PDog New Member

    I was sucked into a McDojo myself, when I lived in Tennessee. I wanted to learn Judo. The problem was, I had no friends or family who studied Martial Arts.

    There was a club that offered a 3 year Black Belt program in three arts. If you did not have the money up front, the club was more than happy to deduct the monthly dues by allotment.

    The teaching was terrible, and there was no way to get out of the contact. Even if unforeseen circumstances came up.

    A student was transferred to California by his company. The owner would not let him out of his contract. Another student, was laid off by his company. His wife was the families soul source of income, with two children.

    Looking back, I cannot believe I let myself be sucked into that mess.

    Research the school. Talk to students. Avoid Black Belt programs. Avoid so-called Grandmasters with high dan rankings in multiple arts. Avoid any and all contracts.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2011
  11. Robert Journey

    Robert Journey Valued Member

    Totally agree with the advice on watching the students, especially those who have been there for a while, by speaking to them you should be able to gain insight on how they've improved and how long it has taken them etc.

    And really, if they're reticent and not very welcoming - of the alright-once-you-get-to-know-them-type, alright-once-you've-proved-yourself-to-them-type - then leave them to their own self-importance - you don't want to waste years sweating to join a dubious elite.
  12. Giovanni

    Giovanni Well-Known Member Supporter

    i think the first/best way to spot whether it's a mcdojo or not is in the contract. there is no reason, in 2011, for any martial arts gym to require it's practitioners to sign a contract that they can't cancel. in my experience, any dojo/dojang that requires a signature for a financial obligation that you cannot get out of....run away and quickly.

    there might be other factors that make a dojo a mcdojo, but the first one, for me, is always the contract requirement. note that i never said that making money is bad. not giving students a way out is a very, very bad sign.
  13. Gigeran

    Gigeran Valued Member

    Aye own dojo and quite some others I know of in different MA we pay by the month, if we leave we need to give notice in time for a month (say for a break, then stuff gets suspended for that time), but that's it. There is a safety deposit and a administrative fee, no notice means the safety deposit gets lost and if too long the the administration fee is needed again, that's it.
    Please note some dojo's also ask a separate fee for insurance or membership for a larger organisation (or might be included, best to ask) , but that as well as I've seen is per month cancellable with 1 month notice normally.

    Mc Dojo will try and sell a (multi)year contract with say 3 months in advance warning for cancellation which is sound business, but not fair to students of it hence to watch out for them. (Chances are there is another dojo that uses the 1 or 2 month principle and most of the time will be better as they need to deliver quality, not quantity to keep students bound to them)

    Another one to watch for is quite some good dojo's will ask for a paper stating you've not been a criminal, mc dojo's might omit this step just to get extra income, but the main indicator is the long ranged contract.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2011
  14. aikiwolfie

    aikiwolfie ... Supporter

    Administrative fee? Personally I wouldn't pay any teacher to process my mat fees. The mat fee is supposed to cover the costs. Adding additional fees here and there just rings alarm bells for me.
  15. Blade96

    Blade96 shotokan karateka

    i read on a website that you should avoid schools where it says its taught by Bushwooley Bob Sensei. However when you get there, the classes are taught by the student while Bushwooley Bob is in his little coner office signing contracts and flirting with the next MILF that wants to sign little Sarah up for classes.
  16. Quincyma80

    Quincyma80 Valued Member


    Bushwooley Bob Sensei has authorized me to act as his second and to convey that YOU have insulted his honor and he demands satisfaction!!!

    PISTOLS AT DAWN or whenever Bushwooley Sensei can shake off the Meister Brau/Wild Turkey hangover & wake up to get his sh!t together.:eek:

    Seriously my contribution comes to this thread is one word: HYBRID

    Now not to be confused with cross-training - but whenever a style/school crosses more and more cultural borders and MA traditions then your McDojo Spidey Sense should start to tingle more and more...

    ...and perhaps less to deal with contracts then more to deal with PREPAYMENTS - yeah why would you prepay three years tuition with any endeavor?

    Finally in closing - let me say little Sarah has a Yummy Mummy that is is definately a Grade A MILF eye candy material.
  17. kenpokev

    kenpokev Valued Member

    Good read on that article, it may not be a sure fire way to tell but it does give people information to look for when joining said dojo/club.
  18. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    Only if it is one person teaching all the classes, and even then not necessarily so...

    I hold senior grades in Japanese (Ju Jitsu & Karate) , Chinese/American (JKD) and Russian (ROSS) in addition to RBSD style training I have picked up. As long as the classes are not running over into each other I do not see teh issue
  19. aikiwolfie

    aikiwolfie ... Supporter

    Keep it clean people.
  20. izumizu

    izumizu Banned Banned

    Hilarious! I'm still cracking up. Great thread, aikiwolfie. Great benifit to all who train, or might wish to take up MA in thier future.

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