What is a McDojo?

What is a McDojo?

Once you have been training in martial arts for a while you will inevitably come across the term McDojo. A McDojo is a martial arts school that has lowered its standards in favour of business practices to make as much money as possible out of teaching martial arts. They will often offer 3 month instructor training courses or black belt programs where you can fast track your progression to black belt provided that you pay an excessive premium for it.

I think it’s important to mention that there is nothing wrong with making money from teaching martial arts if you are teaching to an exceptional standard and grading your students based on the knowledge and skills they have obtained from training in your dojo. There is no substitute for experience and no matter how much money you pay no 3 month instructor training course is going to prepare you for the reality of running a martial arts school. Three months is the same amount of time that most students would undertake their first grading so its ridiculous to expect somebody with no prior experience to complete ten times that and be trained to an acceptable standard within that time. It just suggests a very aggressive marketing strategy where the focus isn’t on the standards of the art being taught but on generating revenue as quickly as possible by branching out and franchising.

Something i regularly hear in the martial arts industry from some successful instructors is that it doesn’t matter what you teach as long as its marketed in the right way and also that nobody cares about what style you practice or the lineage of your art as long as they are receiving what they perceive to be martial arts lessons. I think this totally goes against the ethos of martial arts which is all about preserving traditions and upholding exceptional standards.

It seems that many successful instructors are more like business men than martial artists and seek to simplify everything down as much as possible and repackage it in a way that can be marketed easily. I recently heard an instructor saying that everything in your syllabus should be so simple that a baby could learn it and that you should filter everything out of the art you teach and teach the simplified version as your own syllabus. If your not challenging your students and keep everything as simple as possible then how are the students supposed to progress?

If you try to talk to these instructors about the actual arts they teach it 9 times out of 10 circles back around to business with very little emphasis being on actually teaching martial arts. Either that or they throw out buzz words and mystical phrases.

Over the years i have watched many of these McDojos operate and the key things seems to be that they charge excessive sign up fees like a £149 membership fee plus the first month of lessons. Either that or they push for the students to be fast tracked on a black belt or instructor training program in which they guarantee the student will obtain their black belt in 2 years, which in itself is ridiculous nobody can be guaranteed a black belt without the system being fixed. They often throw money at everything, Need reviews then do a competition with a cash prize, need students then offer a referral scheme with a cash prize, Want to engage the community then offer a free lifetime membership to one junior student and get 20 kids on a course, then pick one winner and the rest will sign up as the don’t want to miss out. It’s the shady tactics and playing on peoples emotions that i don’t like when it comes to McDojos.

One of the key things we have noticed from students that have trained in a McDojo before starting training with us is the lack of progression over such extended periods of time. I think this is largely down to them not engaging or challenging the student and just getting them to do line drills or basic punches and kicks on freestanding punchbags. It’s not fair on the students though as they have been paying for martial arts lessons at a McDojo and receiving substandard training over a period of say 18 months and then they realise they have been mislead when they start training with us and see the standard of the other students!

A few key things to look out for to see if your training at a McDojo are as follows:

  • Expensive membership fees and monthly lesson fees (Anything above £80 is extortionate)
  • Are they constantly pushing the sales of their products?
  • Are you being barraged by emails, phone calls, texts and social media until you sign up?
  • Did they push the sale of an instructor training program or black belt program?
  • Do they offer extravagant prizes for reviews and referrals?
  • Is their syllabus only a couple of pages long?
  • Do they offer certificates for everything? Like a level 1 Nunchaku or Level 1 Bo Staff certificate?
  • After training with them for a while can you honestly say you have progressed/learnt anything substantial?
  • Are gradings mandatory every couple of months?
  • Is the head instructor actively teaching in the dojo? Or is it all trainee instructors teaching?
  • What style are you studying? If the answer is just Karate then your in the wrong dojo!
  • Whats the turnover rate for new students? If it’s high thats usually a sign.
  • How much are gradings? Anything over £30 is expensive unless its a Dan grade.
  • Do students only practice basic techniques? A few kicks and a few punches? Maybe a few combos?
  • Is there a martial arts organisation above the school? Is it a standalone organisation?

In conclusion McDojos are bad for a wide variety of reasons but the key thing is that you don’t get what you are paying for! If your looking to study martial arts for self defence and get offered boxercise then it’s not the same thing! It’s a matter of substance over style and often these large commercial dojos are excellent at the business side of things but they can’t offer anything with any particular depth as they have over simplified it for the masses. This is why they claim that people don’t care what you teach or about the lineage of your art as its something that they simply can’t offer so they discount it in favour of their over simplified system.

One thing in particular that i don’t like that McDojos tend to do is that they look to tap into the customers pain, by this i mean that if they know that your son is getting bullied in school they will focus on that point in order to sell you lessons. Another example would be that if you disclosed that you had been attacked in the past then they would tailor everything towards selling you their self defence package. Whilst in theory their is nothing wrong with this some people can be ruthless about it and look to exploit the slightest weakness in order to sell their programs.

Developing a passion for martial arts is very fulfilling but it’s important to ensure that your studying with a legitimate instructor who’s focus is on guiding you on you journey and not on how much revenue you bring into the dojo annually. You don’t want to waste your time training with a McDojo when you could be spending your time productively studying a legitimate art. When you are searching for a martial arts school do your research, if it seems too expensive then that is a pretty major red flag that your probably looking at a McDojo.