3 Guaranteed Signs Your Dojo is NOT a McDojo™

I tried to educate the masses.

I really did.

But still, many Karate-ka are unsure if their dojo is a McDojo™ or not.

And I feel bad for them.

Like we say in Japanese:

“I no naka no kawazu, taikai wo shirazu.”

(“A frog in the well does not know the great sea.”)

You see…

It’s hard to know if your dojo is 110% legit or not – unless you’ve travelled around half the world, visited different masters and tried various dojos for comparison.

(Like I’ve had the fortune to do.)

So, today I decided to set the record straight – by spotlighting 3 particular traits that I think every great dojo features.

There are obviously more things that separate great dojos from McDojos™, but these should give you a starting point for evaluating your own dojo.

Sounds good? All right.

Let’s go!

#1: Knowledge Over Money

First up:

In a legit dojo, sharing of knowledge always comes first.


Money comes second.

Smart practice, super hard training and steady progress are the fundamental cornerstones in the teaching philosophy of a great dojo.

Not how fat your wallet is.

Don’t get me wrong though: I’m not saying a good dojo can’t operate as a business. It sure can.

However, if you need to pay hefty fees to learn things you’re already supposed to be learning, chances are big you’re in a McDojo™.

How come?

Because a good sensei genuinely cares about his craft. That care will undoubtedly be manifested in the very atmosphere of the dojo. The main concern of a great sensei will always be your physical, mental and spiritual development.

Not how many digits your bank account has.

That being said, let me reiterate: A great sensei should be paid accordingly. There’s nothing honorable in selling oneself short, and everyone needs food on the table.

Yet, when opportunity arises, a good dojo goes for knowledge first, profit second.

McDojos™ are fundamentally the opposite.

#2: Reality-Based Training


Many Karate-ka are often slow to appreciate how their beliefs about human violence can be distorted by a slavelike adherence to their dojo’s training methods (often disguised as “following tradition”), as well as by a natural desire to avoid injury during the course of training.

Nowhere is this as obvious as in a McDojo™.

In fact, it’s possible to become a “grandmaster” in Karate, and to attract students who will spend years trying to emulate your skills, without ever discovering that you have no ability to defend yourself in the real world.

Sadly, this is the case in McDojos™ – where training is often based on a single person’s distorted perception of reality, rather than actual reality.

Training in a real dojo should always be based on truth.

  • No filter.
  • No bullsh*t.
  • No impractical interpretation of reality for the sake of “following tradition”.

Just hard, cold, facts.

See, the meaning of tradition was never to blindly follow the footsteps of masters.

But to seek what they sought.

A great sensei knows this.

And teaches this.

#3: Quality Over Quantity


Anybody can shout: “50 crunches!”

But few people can explain why, and how, those 50 crunches will actually make your Karate better.

See, in a McDojo™ you often do useless stuff for the sake of doing them.

In a real dojo, on the other hand, you do stuff for a specific purpose:


Because, a real sensei understands that you don’t have time to stagnate. Your time is precious. Life’s too short to suck. And Karate is more than a hobby, social activity, “exotic sport” or physical exercise for you.

Karate is a vehicle for self-discovery, where you’re relentlessly reaching for the edge of your potential in the quest of understanding yourself.

(Read that again.)

It’s about finding your true self.

Your true character.

And, faced with the prospect of guiding you on that arduous journey, a McDojo™ sensei panics. Because, frankly, he can’t lead you to a place he’s never been himself.

That’s why a McDojo™ can only challenge you up to a certain point.

After that, it’s only quantity – never quality.

  • 10 more techniques.
  • 20 more techniques.
  • 30 more techniques.

Instead of, say, 3 effective ways to improve your previous techniques!

More is not always more. More is often just a distraction.

Less is more.

Especially in a great dojo.


And that, my friend, concludes this list of three signs your dojo is NOT a McDojo™. I sincerely hope you recognized these features from your own dojo.

If not – it’s probably time to make a ruckus.

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”

– Rosa Luxemburg


SHARE this article if your dojo is NOT a McDojo™.

You should be proud!


  • Thank God my dojo is a real dojo! My master always encourages quality over quantity, for example he says in our dojo we learn only 5 or 6 techniques in 3 weeks but we learn those techniques well.
    • I guess humility, or the acknowledgement that there are things about Karate your sensei does not know, is important. I've been lucky in that our sensei (multiple) very honestly say "I don't know the answer to that question, but let me research it a bit and see if we can find something." when there are questions they cannot answer. That leads me to trust them when they share techniques and principles they feel they DO know. I don't know if this counts as a way to spot if your sensei are running a legit dojo, but whenever they demonstrate techniques or principles at our dojo they physically go from "standing around explaining things, looking like a regular human being" to, when assuming a stance for instance, turning into something like a "coiled spring". I dunno if that's the right set of words for it, but you know it when you see it. That athlete that has found the right level of compression and relaxation, such that they seem charged with energy.
  • I'd add some: -Show it don't preach it -Other MA's knowledge and practice for example I'd say Judo is great along side Karate or Jujitsu -The ability to show that no MA can save ur ass in all situations and the best defense is most times flight not fight (An expansion to ur second point)
  • Chris
    Home dojo hits 2.5/3. Uni dojo... 1/3? Close enough. :)
  • Brad Weston
    I also think that the school that teaches you to run or hand over your wallet...NOT kick the knife from their hand...is a pretty good sign as well!!
    • ralf
      then what do you learn Karate for if not for learning how to disarm or cripple your opponent?
      • Juan Alfred Rodriguez
        As already mentioned in the article... ".... where training is often based on a single person’s distorted perception of reality, rather than actual reality. ..." Or, as Karate Kid philosophy would put it, we train in Karate as NOT to fight.
  • Keith
    I like this list. If I was explaining it to a friend who was looking for a first time school, there are a few things I would add. Knowledge over Money. There are some things a martial art student can reasonably be expected to pay for: Karate Lessons: More and more schools are using contracts to maintain a revenue stream. I wouldn’t condemn a school out of hand for a asking you to sign a contract. If the contract is for a rank (pay this every month and at the end you’ll have your belt as opposed to a set period of time (6 months, a year.. whatever) you might have your first warning sign. Equipment: You are going to need to get some stuff. It might just be a uniform, but it could include sparring gear and weapons or any other tool that you might use in your training. When I was first starting out we all shared sparring gear from the communal pool. For health reasons you don’t see a lot of schools sharing personal gear. (Perhaps it is just to reduce the ick factor - and if you have ever put on a sweaty pair of gloves where the sweat is cold and not your own, then you understand the ick factor). Now, if you can only buy gear from the school and if it all has the school’s logo plastered on it, then you might have your second warning sign. Testing Fees: A reasonable testing fee isn’t suspect, but trying to decide what is reasonable can sometimes be difficult if you haven’t been around. An instructor who tests all of his students himself, during normal class times might charge nothing or the cost of the belt, while an instructor who invites other instructors to a special location might distribute that cost to the students. There might be organizational fees involved. What is reasonable can vary from region to region, but if the testing fees are kept secret or change with each belt rank, then you probably have your third warning sign. I have a tough time explaining reality-based to non martial arts (and even to some martial artists). The first thing they often think of is MMA style fighting, not will it work when you need it. I actually think number two is a characteristic of number three (Quality over Quantity). Are you doing things in your class that moves you toward your goal, or is it just filling time until the next class. Everything we do in Karate has a purpose, but it may not be the same purpose in each school. Your instructor should be able to explain why you do a technique and if he doesn’t know (and it happens, sometimes we don’t question things ourselves until someone questions us) he is willing to figure it out. “We’ve always done it that way” or “Because I said so” are never good answers. It is OK to do techniques that don’t have a practical application in self defense as long as the instructor is clear about its purpose. Sometimes we do things just because they are fun or because they push us to try something different. A good instructor will help you to understand the context for the movements that you practice.
  • Chris Collins
    I solved this problem over the last 65 years in martial arts by never charging a penny for teaching. Not from friends, students like Lee Jun Fan when he was broke, law enforcement, government agencies, NO ONE. And as the founding associate editor and photographer of Black Belt magazine who regularly studied and worked out with the world's top martial artists - as well as so many phonies - I was certainly approached MANY times to open a chain of schools or teach certain celebrities in private. (In truth I have accepted travel and housing from governmental agencies worldwide when teaching law enforcement and elite governmental fighting groups around the world, but that was only because I didn't have enough money to cover my travel to their bases and non-public locations). It's just always been my belief that the more people who know martial arts the less violence there will be in the world and the more peaceful society would be. I know for many running a dojo is their single source of income, but I always had other work to fall back on so I was totally unfettered to tell the truth about the state of martial arts.
  • Stellenbosch South Africa...here you will find Higaonna,s Sensei,s , most senior student, Bakkies Sensei...now celebrating 50 years of pure goju Ryu karate... In May next year we will be hosting an international event to celebrate this milestone ,and 48 countries are expected to attend No trophies...no certicates, no diplomas ....if you want to experience awesome karate, simply come see for yourself . Greeting and much respect to you all Warmest Sandy
  • awesome everything I been saying and telling my students. Check out my Youtube video on this topic. Achieving Your Black Belt In Martial Arts (McDojo, Kiddies, Children, Fake, Manipulation) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMS6c_w-ZgU
  • Ian
    Knowledge over money? If a mugger comes up to you in a dark alley, waves a gun in your face and demands your wallet, what's the most sensible self-defence move? That's right. Take out your wallet and give him as much money as he wants. No questions asked. McDojo's prepare their students for this situation very well indeed. I don't see the problem. ;)
  • Stefan
    May I suggest a 4th (or perhaps included in the 1st). Whatever you call the man leading the dojo, master, sensei, intructor, Bob, Sir, McGuyver etc, the main thing is that he genuinely cares about his students, that he engages with his students and encourages personal development. A couple of things happened to me lately, 1st one, I started getting ill and our instructor spoke to me about it, and suggested even if I can't participate, just to come along anyway, take part if I can but at the very least just watch - without needing to pay the subscription. The other thing, I was worried that I might have had to cut back on the lessons as I was struggling with money, spoke to my instructor and he said to me "Stefan, you've come a very long way since you first entered the dojo and I'd be very sad to see you go, if you're having money problems, that doesn't matter, just pay what you can, if you can and if you can't well, just come anyway, don't worry about paying". In our dojo, we have a very strong sense of kinship or perhaps as a result of the spirit we put into the dojo and our training (I bet McDojos don't understand that concept very well, unless spirit means money), we all look after each other and get on really well, even go upto the pub after a night of training.
  • Doug Aoki
    I understand your point about quality over quantity, but I also think that sometimes quantity does reveal the non-McDojo. The McDojo is much more likely to call for 10 push-ups instead of 100, or 30 punches instead of 1000. Repetition is integral to karate, including tanren. Ohshima Sensei once said that you need to do a kata 10,000 times to begin to understand it. If you do a kata once a day, every day without fail, that will take more than 27 years. Trevor Leggett wrote that there is a specific difference between the Western and Japanese dojo. He says that in the West, if you a student a technique, s/he will practice it 10 times, then come back and say s/he's ready for something else. In Japan, the student will practice it 100 times, then return apologetically and say that s/he doesn't quite get it, so can s/he be shown again.
    • Garin
      Yup, I 100% agree. Plus, with this, it builds strong mind and character.... The "mind over matter" feeling. Should it be part of every training, we'll... That depends. But, I do believe that a long kihon "warm up" should be done every so often. When the mind and body is fatigued, your real basics come out when doing kata or other applications. Just my two cents.
    • Brad Lee
      I'd rather have the student practice it an indeterminate number of times, then come back and show that they're able to apply that punch with a moving attacker, or during a match. Whether it's a few times or innumerable, repetition is only there to serve our deeper understanding.
    • Yes Sir Doug Aoki, for many years I've sadly witnessed as you have said here, "... s/he will practice it 10 times, then come back and say s/he's ready for something else." When visiting, whether in a dojo, in a private session with an individual, and/or in public demo's or seminars; typically we will begin with something that I learned decades ago, still practice, and always continue to learn something new from, each and every time that I practice it...Love YAH, Calm Fury
  • Gary la Grange
    I haven"t paid the rent in my dojo yet for the month,hope hopefully its because the students were so busy training that the have not had a chance to pay their fees yet:)
  • Steve
    Great post - my Sensei's Sensei took our training session last night - all we focused on was the basic strike. Breaking it down and then building it up again. Two hours on just one technique - quality over quantity. You don't often get sessions that perfoundly change the way you train this was one. I wrote some much down in my karate journal.
  • Brad Lee
    This article is giving me stress knots in my stomach. I think my partner's on the fast track to breaking the hell out of the second and third guidelines.
  • Loriane
    Well, my dojo is definitely not a McDojo. My Shihan shares so many techniques with us and explains us why we should do them. Sure we do loads of techniques, but they're always filled with purpose and quality to them. They're always there to improve our skills and character. Plus, my Shihan just wants us to be healthy. If we're injured, he doesn't want us to injure ourselves more. If we can't do something, we can't, and he understands that. That's why I just adore him. :)
  • In the study, training, and application of martial arts there are both Specifics and Principles: The specifics are vehicles that are used to present (and to find reference points for applications of) the principles. Unfortunately many learn, and/or teach, only the specifics; and never learn, and/or teach, the principles (much less how the principles are actually, and effectively, applied). Many people try to copy Bruce Lee thinking that if they can learn to move like he did, they will become a great fighter like him. However Bruce Lee told all of his students not to mimic his movements, but rather first learn the principles that are involved in the movements. Then learn how the principles (involved) apply to their own individual lives. A good example of this (that is frequently witnessed in many arenas of life) is with people who walk with canes. Very often people who could potentially benefit from the proper usage of a cane begin carrying one with little or no training in (and/or with) the correct specifics and principles that are actually involved. One of many misconceptions about canes is that they are used for supporting the cane users weight; supposing this will (somehow) help them to walk, and keep them from falling. Again (since canes can be used in various ways and for numerous purposes) let's remember this example is specifically speaking about people who walk with canes. If a cane is supporting it's user's weight; the cane user will be about as ambulatory as a stick stuck in the mud. And it will not serve to effectively keep the user from falling for an extended duration of time. When a cane is used as an assistive device for walking, it is used for the purpose of helping the user to locate reference points for balance. It is the applied principle of balance that keeps the cane user from falling on an ongoing basis, and enables the person to walk much more effectively. Likewise the often ridiculed "crane technique" of the 1984 movie, "The Karate Kid," along with the now famously known expression, "wax on- wax off" (in the context of the movie), were given by the instructor to the student, as specific trainings tools to work as assistive devices; for aiding the student by helping him to establish reference points for the various principles he needed to learn how to apply. Throughout the movie's presentation of the training relationship between the instructor and student; the instructor repeatedly engaged in presenting the principles of focus and balance. Toward the end of the movie it was not the specific (of the crane technique) that won the tournament. It was the principles of focus and balance. When the instructor and student were on the beach; Mr. Miyagi did not say that the crane technique could not be defeated. He said that if it was "done right" it could not be defeated (not using the specific of a direct quote here, rather focusing on the principles presented by the quote...). Another of my all time favorite martial arts movies is based on true events, and titled, "Peaceful Warrior." It is based on one of Author and Martial Artist, Dan Millman's inspiring books titled: "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior." In this book Mr. Millman states that it is not really hard to read someones mind when they are wearing it on their face. And in the moment that Daniel is beginning to posture (into crane technique) that is not (by itself) what the camera is zooming in on, but rather back and forth between the faces of the instructor and his student. We see Mr. Miyagi pop-to, and start shaking his head, "YES-YES...!!!" However it was not because he was thinking crane technique was Daniel's ace up his sleeve. The reason is explained when the camera zooms back to Daniel's face showing us what Mr. Miyagi saw. That precious moment when an instructor looks at a student, and knows, that all the instructor has invested in the life of the student has been worth it all (and then some). One of the great ah-hah moments that instructors live for; to witness a student doing something that can only be seen being done, by the student, if and when the student finally "gets it." At last there they were, focus and balance (the principles that won the victory). The biggest, most joyful ah-hah moment that I personally experience when watching this movie, is when I vicariously rejoice with Mr. Miyagi, as with bright eyes and big wide smile, he peacefully nods his head at the end...Love YAH, Calm Fury
  • Taekwondo Nerd
    Alas, I agree with these. I used to do karate and it was an afterschool, it costed so much money apparently and everyone passed all belt examinations, and the after school only went up to yellow belt so you had to pay much more to sign up to go to the dojo. Most of your articles are very helpful, funnily enough, I'm not a Karate nerd, yet I am TKD one. Luckily a lot of the things in TKD are in Karate so I can learn how to better those through these articles. Right now I was remembering my old dojo and I could recall all of these things. Looking back at this moment, I realize (from my old sensei's level of skill) I could probably sock my sensei in the face and he could probably do nothing because he too was stuck in the cycle of McDojos from probably being taught by a McDojo sensei. Honestly, I really sucked at Karate because of this. At this point, I am glad my family couldn't pay for that dojo when I was younger or I too would have been stuck in that cycle, all my mistakes ingrained into me as correct because they were never corrected because a happy customer is a good customer. I could have reached a third degree black belt in my former Karate Dojang and then get socked in the face by a white belt of a good school XD. Yeah, so I do TKD now because I fear that Karate has become 'mainstream' so I have seen many sensei who run McDojos, but since TKD is not becoming popular I fear it may been spread to it too. Ugh, McDojos are annoying.
  • Soren
    I just tried my first Karate class (Goju-Ryu) and I did tons of research beforehand. The Sensei and Dojo looked great on the website so I gave it a go. Thankfully I am as sure as you can be from one class that this place is, definitely not a Mc Dojo! Thank you Jesse for making this list so I knew what to watch for.
  • Thanks for the list. I agree with most of it and I certainly know McDojo's in our area, where games are taught instead of technique. As a martial artist for 58 years and a police officer for 32 years, I emphasize functionality over theory. I teach walking away from a fight whenever possible but being able to adequately defend when you can't walk away. There are very few martial art instructors who have actually tested their own teachings in a life & death situation, mainly because they are not the type of people to get into a fight. This doesn't automatically make them a McDojo. I opened my first school in 1972 and I've had hundreds of fights working in the gang units, uniform patrol and undercover positions. Each of these posted comments has something to consider. I was encouraging my students to cross train in programs offered at other schools, long before cross training became popular. An instructor who forbids their students from training somewhere else has no confidence in themselves or their student. I have students who have been with me for 20+ years who can't wait to come and show me what they've learned elsewhere. As for the money my students pay, they know it's to keep our amazing facility open and provide a phenomenal training environment. During the Covid shut down, many of our students continued to pay their monthly fee even though the school was closed down. That, to us, was their way of thanking us for the way they have been treated and affirming their dedication to our school. Thank you for your videos.

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