59 Signs Your Dojo is Awesome

Is your dojo awesome?

I hope so!karate-schecklist

Because your dojo, which literally translates to “place of the Way”, holds such a central role in Karate that it’s critical for your development.

But sadly…

Not all dojos are awesome.

(Warning: 93 Signs Your Dojo is a McDojo)

So, I decided to ask my Facebook fans for help to make a list of clear signs that a dojo is amazing.

Ready to see if YOUR dojo is awesome too?

Check it out:

1. Your sensei actively trains – every day.

2. You always leave class feeling a sense of joy, exhaustion and accomplishment.

3. Students don’t compete with each other – they empower each other.

4. Black belt is not “just” a belt. It’s a sign of maturity, skill and dedication.

5. Your sensei puts your health before his wealth.

6. Traditional concepts/ideas are blended with modern training methods.

7. The students are humble and willing to learn.

8. The sensei is humble and willing to teach.

9. Sport Karate and traditional Karate are taught with separate approaches, understanding what the differences and similarities are.

10. Your are not just “another student”. You have a name, and you are seen.

11. Passion.

12. You are judged not only on your technique or physique, but also on your spirit, grit, attitude and character.

13. Male, female and all other genders allowed. No machismo exists.

14. Training builds confidence in your abilities to defend yourself in a real life self-defense situation, not just inside the dojo.

15. Kids classes exist, but it’s not a kindergarten. The kids are well-disciplined and hard working in a way that’s beyond their years.

16. The dojo is clean. The mirrors are polished.

17. The purpose of each exercise is clearly understood by everyone. Nothing is done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

18. You regularly use training gear like kicking shields, focus pads, boxing bags or makiwara for impact training. Not only punching and kicking in the air.

19. Strength training is included, in some form.

18. Mobility training is included, in some form.

19. Flexibility training is included, in some form.

20. It doesn’t matter if you practice Karate for health, self-defense or sport. Everyone’s reason for practicing is equally valid.

21. Bunkai.

22. Your sensei teaches you what you need. Not what you want.

23. Your sensei never screams to instill discipline. Students are self-disciplined.

24. Training is hard, but everyone smiles – because they enjoy it.

25. Your sensei inspires students through being a living example and embodying his teachings 110% – not only in the dojo, but also in his everyday life.

26. Students are friends outside of the dojo too.

27. Your belt level isn’t as important as your effort level.

28. Questioning is highly encouraged…

29. …but everyone knows when to shut up and train.

30. Training is technical, physical and spiritual – the concept of “Shin-Gi-Tai”.

31. What you do is not as important as how you do it.

32. Training is adjusted to your abilities and nature.

33. Respect is shown to sensei and other students – and it’s always mutual.

34. Trophies are nice to look at. But they’re not super important.

35. Wooden floor is a good thing, not a bad thing.

36. Mistakes are proof that you’re trying.

37. Paraphrasing legendary Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), the goal of training is never to “blindly follow the footsteps of old masters, but rather to seek what they sought”.

38. Your sensei is a certified Karate Nerd™.

39. Quality over quantity. Depth over breadth.

40. Team spirit. Nobody is left alone.

41. Creativity and open-mindedness is encouraged.

42. You always sweat, cry or bleed. Sometimes all three.

43. Failing is OK. Giving up is NOT.

44. Age is just a number. 20-year-olds are as welcome as 50-year-olds.

45. Your sensei wants you to become better than him.

46. Explanations of techniques are always based on universal principles (i.e. biomechanical or combative principles), not random opinions.

47. If the dojo needs renovation, all students help.

48. You are allowed to participate in open tournaments and seminars.

49. You can wear any gi brand you want.

50. You are taught the complete history, culture and philosophy of Karate – not just its technical aspects.

51. If you’re sick or injured, your sensei tells you to recover – not “go harder”.

52. The atmosphere is welcoming.

53. You’re not in the dojo to prove something, but to improve something.

54. Mental training and visualization is practiced.

55. A black belt is not an instructor license. You need to attend courses for that.

56. You don’t only learn lessons for the dojo, but lessons for life.

57. You can quit whenever you want. No contracts or pre-payments.

58. Your sensei gives everyone equal attention, not just the talents.

And last but not least…

59. Your sensei reads KARATEbyJesse.com – and isn’t afraid to admit it! ;- )


Did I forget any?

Leave a comment & let me know!

PS. How did your dojo score?


  • Sven
    My dojo actually scored particularly well, Jesse-san. We not only include number 60 in our minds but we have started to integrate a little bit of you in every kick, every punch, even every sneeze
    • Makes me glad to hear Sven-san! Keep keepin' it real! ;-)
      • Sven
        Number 51 is a dead giveaway for how you know you are in a real dojo, practising martial arts...and not in a mojojojo dojo practising partial arts.
      • Ryan Di Reda
        My dojo lacks structure it's frustrating and here's why Kids and adult classes are all together. I pay out of pocket to be there but I'm told that I'm an assistant instructor. I don't train at the level I need to because there's to many kids I feel left out as a brown belt there's no plan on what we are learning for the night it's just made up as we go and it sucks because there's no repetition with Kata or one steps or sparring for that matter please message me back I could go on and on I love my teacher but there's no structure and put requirement are all different according to student I would like to discuss this more once u get back to me thanks, Ryan
  • Great write up. This is something every modern and traditional dojo head should read; you covered many great points.
  • Cheering and smiling here for the dojo where I train, my Senseis, and the larger organization we belong to :-)
  • Felician
    Well, my dojo scored quite some of it. We are not the best, but my sensei is. ^_^
  • Like that very much. It shows where we have to work on for our dojo. Thanks! The only thing I see a little bit different is number 15. Number 15 is the adult point of view. Such a dojo almost caused the complete drop out of my older daughter out of martial arts. We found another one, where kids classes are not a kindergarden, but the kids are as disciplined and hard working like it is normal for her age...
  • Gabriel-San
    My dojo fits in many of these points (signs). I'm glad to know this and to participate it. A special detail of my dojo: It's free to everyone!
    • Cool, Gabriel-san! Feel free to elaborate on the free part ;-)
      • Gabriel-San
        Well, when my sensei was working as baker in my city, he decided to start up a dojo with no monthly fee, in other words, my sensei does not take out money from his students. Nowadays, because his popularity, he is an alderman of my city and is still teaching us as he was in beginning of 00's. He really loves karate as you, me and all karate nerds in your blog. I feel lucky to have him as my sensei.
    • Hiten Dusseja
      My dojo doesn't covers many points but my sensei does! I think he is the best Sensei in the world..he is an orphan but so mannered person and helping even outside the dojo
  • pitoy ampil
    Items 49 and 57 are key indicators...... a good dojo would not impose lump sum /long term commitment and should not be afraid that it can not keep its students..... buying a new gi as a requirement looks like a no no...... definitely, both articles complement each other in identifying the real thing from a McDojo.......
  • martin villarreal
    49. You can wear any gi brand you want. Really, is there dojos that actually care about the gi's brand and ask students to buy an specific brand? weird.
    • Yup - sad but true, Martin-san!
      • N
        The first dojo I ever went to (I was about 10 years old at the time), the gi was 25 bucks.
    • Jeff
      The only experience I have had with that per se was at the gym my wife used to work out in, they started offering Karate classes for kids for free. The catch was that the Sensei required you to buy his gi for $75 a piece and the tests all cost $100. Considering there was no tuition it wasn't really as bad a deal as it sounded up front ($100 tests every 3 months breaks down to $33.33 a month for tuition), and that was the only way the guy got paid. Only reason we left was because they didn't have adult classes and my kids wanted to train at the same dojo as me.
    • pitoy ampil
      Saludos Martin, over here where I come from, there is even a dojo that requires students to buy a gi from them with a unique colored stripe(instead of or as in the black color in the center sleeve of the gi as is used in some Tae Kwon Do associations).... Effectively,such unique stripes in gi' s prevent/make things difficult for students in transferring to another dojo or join tournaments of some other associations..... Otherwise,the remedy is for one to buy a standard gi or have his gi repaired, if still possible... the scheme makes things expensive in moving to another dojo or join another association.....OSS
    • Ashe
      I remember going to the place I practice at now and they said we didn't have to buy the gi there but they did have them available to purchase there - I was blown away since the first place I went to made it mandatory to buy everything even though half the stuff we got wasn't used-
  • Frank Daniel
    Only 21 out of 60 is the reason, why I'm close to quit Karate and start something new. But for the moment I'm looking forward to KNX14
    • That sucks to hear Frank-san! Try to see if there's something better in your area. See you at KNX14 - I'm sure it will help! :)
    • AlexN
      You don't quit karate. You quit dojos. If you quit karate because of shitty people then you must be not interested in it.
      • Frank Daniel
        If you are working 55 to 60 hours a week and the next dojo, you feel good at, is more than 1 hour away, if there are jiujitsu or muaythai dojos in the neighborhood, which do more than solely punch holes in the air, you feel very tempted to change from Karate to Muayhtai. Don`t get me wrong, I love Karate, love Kata, Bunkai, Kihon and Kumite, but when a Martial Art stops fighting, its about time to think of changes. I'll always be a Karateka, even when fighting BJJ, Kickboxing, MuayThai or others, but ithurts to see, what Shotokan has developed into.
    • Donnatello
      Quit karate? I don't understand that concept. How about a different dojo? I moved three and a half hours north of my former city to keep training when my former dojo experience went south (so to speak). I would move further if necessary. Don't quit...find another teacher.
  • Patrick
    I think another thing that can make a dojo awesome is by doing what my senses does. He not only wants us to end up better than him, he goes all over the country to seminars to make himself better so he can pass along the newly acquired knowledge.
  • Love my dojo, it ticks most of those boxes too!
  • Matt
    Training under Nenad and Dan Djerdjevic has ruined me, if I ever move and cannot attend my Dojo, my new sensei would have some serious living up to do! Keep up the good work Jesse
  • Op
    Hi Jesse: Our Dojo reach the 60, so we are Happy & Proud to be part of it, Thanks for all your articles and tips
  • Jake
    This is great - I'm printing this out for our dojo corkboard so everyone can remember how special our dojo is. We have it all but the wood floor (and not that we don't like them, but we have concrete and that needs a pad!) and we don't have formal instructor training program, but you are taught how to teach and don't lead the class until you can. Still remember my first time with chills....would rather face anyone in the sparring ring than the 5 year olds! We say only the bravest black belts teach the kids...lol.
  • Aaron
    Another fantastic post!! 62 signs your dojo is awesome! :-) Numbers 17-19, (yes, all five of them!!) are probably the only things where our dojo is lacking. 17 because some things are just tradition, and lets be honest, there are probably no living people who know the real purpose of some of the things we do. 18,19, 18, and 19, we do use pads, bags etc for technique improvement, but not regularly. As for strength, mobility, and flexibility, isn't that really part of your outside-the-dojo training? Use the time in class to improve techniques, timing etc, stretch and strength train at home in front of the TV.
  • Ian
    #61 ... Jesse-san uses a photo of the founder of your style of karate, with his students, in his dojo, to represent what an "awesome dojo" is. ... fantastic!
    • Mik
      What is the source of the photo for the article?
  • Senpai V
    My dojo did great on this! thanks for the test! On a side note, i had the honor of meeting Shihan Yamaki, the wolrds grandmaster and best karate martial artist s of right now. He passed the one hundred man challenge(where you fight one hundred meone after the other) twice and was even granted his own style Yamaki-Ru. What an amazing man to meet!
  • Ian
    51. If you’re sick or injured, the sensei tells you to recover – not “go harder”. Well ... This one ... ... a lot of senseis who otherwise score highly ... and a lot of students (from beginners to very senior) of dojos which otherwise score highly ... tend to fail on this one. There's a certain "be tough ... work through it ... no pain, no gain" ethos that is all too common in karate. Far too karateka seem able or willing to differentiate between "the pain of training" which is to be endured and "the pain of injury" which is to be heeded as a call to stop, rest, and receive treatment.
  • Dear Jesse, I am very happy to find that my dojo is doing pretty well on this test. But please explain No 57 to me. You cannot mean that there shouldn't be any contracts, do you?
  • Anna
    This list was amazing. Basically every concept here has a lot of depth and could be a full and interesting article on it's own. Thank you:)
  • Hello Jess, your blog is very interesting... and funny! I like it and Karate but now I practice Aikido and Iaido. I have a question for you: is it possible translate this post (or another)for my blog??? Thank you
    • Ciao Stefano-san! Of course, just include source & link back. Good luck! :)
      • That's perfect Jesse. Thank you so much! I translate this post (and maybe another...) and I will publish at the beginning of December on www.BudoBlog.it Regards
  • vic
    # 61 your dojo practices break falls to some extent each class.It is impossible to teach proper bunkai unless you can do at least rudimentary break falls.
  • David Satya
    Actually, I'm not a karate practitioner, and currently learning Aikido. My sensei operated a small dojo but used to operate a big one. Turns out that after some people spread lies about him and also telling peoples that Aikido is nothing more than a dance, his dojo collapsed. One of his student encouraged him to continue, and he helped my sensei to renovate his house so he can set up a dojo in his house. He did ask for tuition fee, but after that, he never ask us to pay after that, but he welcome if the students paid him. It's just 30 thousands rupiah a month or less than 3 US$ per month. One thing that he keep reminding us is that Aikido could be lethal if the practitioner wants to, but that wouldn't be a proper Aikido. He used to practice numerous form of Silat (Both of us are Indonesian). I don't get home right after practicing Aikido, but instead, choosing to stay late at his home, having a chat and once he told me that some Indonesian Marines came to his dojo to train. But he didn't like their attitude since they didn't actually want to learn Aikido but rather trying to prove that their martial art is better. And my sensei told me, that he doesn't mind that students not paying him since he didn't actually make a living out of teaching Aikido since his children already cover up his expenses. But he told me, that as long as his students work hard and learn it seriously, he considered it as something more than few printed papers. In fact, he hates when somebody paid to learn but don't actually learn something. And he told me that it's okay for me to learn other arts as long as I didn't start a fight. He did actually prohibit me to fight except when I have to do that in order to protect myself. I did ask him to show few techniques of silat that he know. He did that masterfully since I've seen that kind of silat elsewhere. When we train, he did show Aikido techniques. But out of my curiosity, I asked him if silat could be integrated to Aikido. Well, I felt it the first hand. But I understand that kind of technique is could result in death and he understand that too. And he just show where to strike and how to strike. And further adding his awesomeness, he did practice it outside and used to receive some challenges but he quickly defeat them while keeping them safe from injuries. I think he is an awesome sensei.
  • My Dojo is awesome in most of the points of the list. Sorry not in all of them, but is cool.
  • KJ
    Check!!! My dojo Rules!
  • Adrien
    if I may add one. Your sensei is not afraid to suggest some students should train elsewhere.
  • Paul
    Our Dojo is awesome indeed! :)
  • aaryan
    1 point. no 57 that to because we are in india!
  • Loriane
    My dojo scored pretty good. No 2 is there every single time I attend so I guess there's something right. :)
  • Ok so I missed a few things. Like when I read the comment about not having to choose uniforms, in my opinion I think students should be proud to wear their school uniform not just a blank GI. We sensei work very hard to have a facility for you, it also shows your team. But if they don't see it that way then something is wrong. -Lorenzo Ageless Karate Las Vegas
  • James
  • Graziela
    My Dojo surely is awesome. If you want to call it a dojo. I live in a pretty small village in Germany and we don't have space nor money for a "real" dojo. And it's not Karate, but Judo, but a dojo is a dojo. Do you think, that the place you are doing whatever martial art you do has to be a specialized dojo or not?
  • BlackBerry 0
    I think my dojo is the only karate dojo in my town and other martial arts are expensive I can't afford it... Although my dojo always sends its students to open tournament (there are a lot of them and some of us managed to get our hands on a medal ) I don't know if our place(dojo) is good enough. The gi's price is less than 20 bucks the brand is senkaido if you have a gi already it's okay to not buy it.
  • Francis
    Our Dojo scored very well, We are proud practitioners of Goju Ryu but with all the factors you mentioned Jesse - san. we welcome not only different ages but also help those feel at home and that they have a place where they belong even if they have a deficiency they are just as important. We take in consideration the full spectrum of Karate and what it teaches, from life skills and lessons to physical self development. A Dojo is a sacred place to any karateka and we strive to learn from all!
  • RugbyNinja
    51. If you’re sick or injured, your sensei tells you to recover – not “go harder”. Very true, my Sensei sometimes knows before I do that it's time to stop and rest. I had an ankle injury a while back and Sensei let me come back slowly.
  • anonymous
    my dojo is quite small but could be so much nicer The thing is there is a bully she is brown belt who s got something to prove. She will always try to hurt me in anyway she can. And Sensei swears by her. He is loyal to her she has not let him down even though many other students have i think from what i gathered. She is not humble, she is aggressive, she is not nice and friendly, she smells one she literally covered my face with her armpit i thought i was going to be sick, she sneaks an elbow to my face when grappling pretending it s an accident etc... it s sad i feel frustrated i don t want to quit i am not a quitter. Osu
  • an
    my dojo is quite small but could be so much nicer The thing is there is a bully she is brown belt who s got something to prove. She will always try to hurt me in anyway she can. And Sensei swears by her. He is loyal to her she has not let him down even though many other students have i think from what i am gathering. She is not humble, she is aggressive, she is not nice and friendly, she smells one she literally covered my face with her armpit i thought i was going to be sick, she would sneak an elbow to my face while grappling pretending it s an accident etc...i was bleeding it s sad i feel frustrated i don t want to change dojo it s the only dojo cheap as well plus i am not a quitter. Osu
    • coco
      seems like you are in one of them dojos ... bullies maybe they don t want you there for whatever reasons and they are pushing you away by hurting you..
  • an
    thanks for your reply .. She does still hurts me not because it is required in the training while learning a new technique as i don t see the other students doing it while learning a new tech but now she does it in a different sneaky way by smiling and laughing with me pretending to be friendly and helpful making sure she s justifying out loud her hitting ridiculously hard by saying out loud i am the one who s hitting her hard first even though she just asked me to go harder on her she s just playing mind games. She is so not worthy of her belt. There is a Yellow belt who is so much better in many ways than her. But anyway i have to just get on with it because even though her the bully.... i really like it there The other Senpai is absolutely brilliant Definitely worthy of belt and apart from 2 other much younger students that have given me intimidating looks which i have ignored as they are quite young who have since dropped the attitude .. i think i do not take notice of them at all Sensei is brilliant too and the majority of the other students are nice so not all is bad shame there is her she is HORRIBLE.
  • coco
    i can t believe you still there omg that s good you feel that not all is bad positif thinking ? but be careful though Keep your guards up at all time and if gets too much and no one to talk to just leave it s not worth it
  • an
    thanks for your reply? i am a tough cookie ?
  • an
    thanks for your reply i am a tough cookie
  • Jim
    Good Day Jesse-San I really enjoyed reading this list. I had recently read the your mc-dojo list and I was wondering about my dojo. But After reading this list I was put at ease. My Dojo hits almost every point on this list so I would have to say that it is a pretty awesome place. The only point we need to work on is 15. I feel that we could instil a little more discipline in our young kids class. ( Age 4-6). My Sensei wants all his students to do well and always keep training/ improving so much that when my family fell on hard times and I told that we could no longer afford to come to class he just looked at me and said "Just keep coming, see you next class ok"? I did not know what to say except "Yes Sir" Our School is a big family that is always encouraging one another.
  • Bill
    Kioshi has not raised prices in 15 years. Both my kids have recieved there black belts and moved on. He is holding free outside classes, kata only with social distancing. He does this because he loves karate and his students. Not only that he is a great guy and mentor. Karate is a way of life, for all of us.
  • Daniel Handler
    I laughed at No.16... SO TRUE!! My teacher is very protective of his mirrors... He has an entire huge wall which is a mirror... You touch it you clean it -- the whole thing!! About the discipline -- YES!! Children, even the youngest, are respectful, very well disciplined, and know their place. He is sometimes unable to teach class because in order to support his business, he works like 3 other jobs... Back to discipline, their was a certain boy in the teenage class who had been there for about two months. The teacher knew he existed (of course) and had talked to him, but because of his work schedule had never had the... ah, PLEASURE of teaching this child. The boy had no understanding of respect. Everyone else is training, he is sitting. He would also stand directly behind/in front of others so they could not train. My teenager is in that class and often complained about this boy (who was a low rank, so it wouldnt be "proper ettiquite" to beat him up). The instructors who has led the teen class for the past few months had tried to talk to the boy... but didnt do much... kid was sneaky. So the teacher gets an opportunity to teach the teen class and takes it!! Comes into the academy he worked so hard to start, and everyone trains and this boy sits there, then stands behind the teachers son (also in teen class) not letting him train, then the boy walks off the mat!! Oh boy did the teacher let him have it... Crazy thing is, boy said the teachers son (he did not know it was teachers son) bullied him and buys mother wrote the teacher an email!! This day was yesterday... wonder what happens today in class... sending my son!! Also, teacher is not in any way biased towards his black belt son, goes harder on him in fact.!! Oh boy I do love my karate academy:)))))))))))
  • Mike
    I'm late to the party, but my dojo is a 28/59. Should I be running?
    • Nathan
      lol mine got 41/59, better than I expected ;)

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