Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Is your martial arts school a McDojo?

The traditional definition of a McDojo is a martial arts school that allows students to buy their rank instead of earning it. More modern definitions have included instruction methods that simply don't work or are reminiscent of shady business practices found in late night infomercials.

So whether you train in McDojo-oriented styles such as Shaolin Kempo Karate and have been blissfully ignorant to date or simply want to avoid other forms of McDojo, I have created a checklist of characteristics of martial arts schools to avoid...

1. Lock students into long-term contracts that must be paid whether the student attends class or not. Schools that are confident in their instruction and business model will allow students to pay a small rate on a month by month basis without a contract.

2. Create numerous ranks and charge testing fees (large or small) for each one or even worse also charge for stripes within the ranks. It is important to ask how many ranks and stripes do you have before reaching black Belt? If you come across a school with say four belts and six stripes spread across equaling ten progressions then you know you aren't suffering from belt inflation. I have seen schools do ten different belt colors along with seven different stripes for each.

3. Require school sponsored uniforms and equipment to prevent students form buying from cheaper sources. There is something to be said for consistency. With that being said, many schools will require a simple patch that costs no more than $5 and allow you to purchase your uniforms off the internet. A typical uniform off the Internet for Taekwondo or Karate goes for around $20. Some schools make this a non-issue by simply giving away freely the uniforms required as part of tuition. Beware of schools that charge more than $40 for the uniforms.

4. Require that students attend tournaments, seminars, camps, etc. from which the school gets a cut of the profits. While there are numerous expenses associated with running a tournament from rent to insurance, a reasonably priced tournament should not exceed $40 for both kata and kumite.

5. Require students to learn extra stuff that is not included in the classes but which is offered in books or videos or on DVDs. If the books or material aren't available on be especially careful.

6. Offer all types of expensive items for sale that advertise the school on them. Why do you want to become a walking billboard? Maybe you should consider paying me for walking around with my Twitter handle on your underwear.

7. Have adult classes overrun with teenagers where adults will be expected to help control and train them. There should be some separation of adults and kids as this robs both participants of opportunities to have real practice together.

8. Many schools attempt to hide the lineage of the instructors for a variety of reasons. Would you be impressed if you knew I was going to teach your children and was promoted to Black Belt yesterday by my mom? You should always question why an instructor would want to hide their lineage especially if they have pride in it.

9. Avoid making contact when sparring and justify it under the guise of student readiness. Are lower-ranks required to wear expensive sparring gear for safety purposes when they aren't going to ever make contact? Many McDojo's will justify this behavior under the guise that newer/younger students need to develop self-control first but of course they won't miss out on the opportunity to sell the soccer mom's training gear at an additional profit. The next time your son or daughter gets bullied in school, think about the value of them being unprepared for real contact!

10. Before allowing a prospective student to try out a class, they must first "test" with an instructor. This is a misdirection technique. If you are there to evaluate a class by participating (distinct from observing), but aren't permitted to on your first visit, then you should run in the opposite direction. Part of your evaluation should not just be the instructor but interaction with others taking the class as well.

11. Does the school award stripes for things that have absolutely nothing to do with martial arts? Stripes for things such as being able to run fast, sitting quiet or even knowing the Klingon national anthem aren't things that a martial arts school should spend class time on.

12. Pay attention to the length of class especially for younger children. You will find that some schools cheat parents out of instruction time by selling the notion that young children don't have the same attention span as adults. Are they really saying that they are incapable of keeping the attention of children for extended periods of time? You will find that there are schools that offer classes to children as young as six years old that train for 1 1/2 hours successfully.

13. Does the instructor accept challenges from newcomers? While I am not an advocate of Karate Kid Cobra Kai style challenges, there is some merit in having an instructor that isn't afraid of actual confrontation. Instructors at McDojos many have questionable, exaggerated or fake qualifications. Some McDojo instructors may have only a rudimentary understanding of marshal arts and rely largely on self improvised techniques.

14. Be cautious of martial arts chains such as Villari's or Tiger Shulman's. The odds are increased that you will find an instructor that teaches martial arts solely for reasons of passion at an independent school over one who is more interested in simply focusing on the revenue side of martial arts. It goes without saying that you should however not enroll in a school that isn't profitable as you want to choose a school that will be around for a very long time...

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