The Complete History of McDojos (pt. 2)

This is part 2 of ‘The Complete History of McDojos’. Here’s part 1.

Long Distance Courses

People have long engaged in correspondence courses and it can be a very respectable way for an individual to gain a qualification if their time constraints, commitments and general circumstances make it difficult for them to attend classes and lectures.

However, these courses have mainly centred on non-physical education, as it has been very difficult to assess a person’s physical performance without having them there in person. There was a time when comic-books offered martial arts correspondence courses in their notorious classified ads.

Advertised alongside “X-Ray Specs”, these courses promised training in a variety of different martial arts with “guaranteed results”. These adverts became a nostalgic memory as they acquired the reputation they deserved and it would appear that long distance correspondence courses for martial arts were finished. That was before the advent of multimedia. Now students have access to a wide range of tools that allow them to record their performances and watch lessons. The arrival of webinars allows lessons to be directly streamed into the student’s home.

Many martial arts correspondence courses have been criticized for doing the bare minimum. Quite simply they have set courses the instructors send out and the students complete the requirements and send their evidence back in some form. There is little actual correspondence, just worksheets and DVDs. Finally, at the end of the correspondence the certificate is sent.

Many would argue that this is little different from Ashida Kim’s black belt book or online membership registration. There is also no guarantee that the person responding to the student’s mail or emails is the instructor or even someone qualified to deliver judgment or advice. This might just be the next stage of the conveyor belt system that is associated with the McDojo and is obviously ripe for corruption in the unregulated world of martial arts.

Devil’s Advocate

1.      Scrutinizing the Black Belt

The issue of awarding a black belt was always going to be a highly subjective and controversial topic.

The closest the UK ever came to setting up a governing trade association for all registered martial arts was the ill-fated aforementioned Martial Arts Commission. Since then many other groups have been set up, but politics from individual arts and styles makes it very hard to set basic standards. Trying to establish standards of ranking across the board is a very tricky issue indeed. In the early days a smaller number of graded students meant that standards could be easily monitored. However, over time, the classes got larger and the standards adjusted to accommodate the scale and diversity these numbers present.

After all, a 65 year old black belt student surely shouldn’t be expected to have the same level of physical ability as a brown belt half his age. What about disabled students? Furthermore, as the numbers increase it is going to become evident that standards have to vary. You are going to have club level black belts and national and international level black belts. The equivalent can be said in every other activity or profession.

Next we have the issue of the value of the belt. In the east the black belt does not carry the same level of importance as it does in the west and the time it takes to achieve it varies from art to art. The average kendoka achieves his black belt in a year. Not only do we we have the aforementioend famous American karateka Joe Lewis achieving his first dan in seven months when he was stationed in Okinawa, the birthplace of his chosen art, but the author Robert Twigger achieved his first dan in Yoshikan aikido in Japan after one year’s intensive training along with many of his fellow students. It throws into question why associations set up in countries outside of their art’s origin have strict minimum timeframes – often three and a half years to black belt – for a student to achieve the black rank.

Now we move onto the controversial junior black belt. If you have a junior syllabus and the high grade is designated as a being a junior black belt, I do not see there being a problem. However, it needs to be thought of as a children’s martial art and removed from its senior equivalent. The grade should not be automatically transferrable when the child enters adulthood and said individual should be made to take examinations to prove their competence at adult level. The argument could be made that we don’t typically award accredited qualifications, like degrees, to children so the same should stand for martial arts if they wish to retain credibility.

It should be remembered that there have been several child prodigies who have achieved accredited academic and vocational qualifications to university level many years ahead of the average expected age. Examination boards in democratic countries do recognize varying abilities in individuals and so should martial arts. This is why I don’t see any particular value in having a strict time adherence to a time restriction between grades. I put it that is has less to do with having a firm and transparent structure for testing and more to do with having a regular source of revenue and as an incentive to keep students training.

I can see why some systems, such as judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu, have opted to have different belts to distinguish junior and senior rankings, and to retain their black belt’s credibility, but in the same breath why should age be such a deciding factor. I once saw a 14 year white belt mow his way through a Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament, submitting adults as he went through the featherweight division with ease. He would not be eligible to get a blue belt until he was 16 and yet his technical and athletic ability was clearly of an adult blue belt. Surely ability and knowledge need to be weighed more carefully against age.

Many are holding onto an outmoded grading system. Since the days when judo first introduced their belt system the art now accepts a series of other coloured belts as standard, as does karate. Currently Brazilian jiu jitsu have two different ranking systems for children and adults designated by different coloured belts. This is comparable to the way Kodokan judo first handled their ranks. Brazilian jiu jitsu did well to keep a strong level of credibility with the way they graded, so much so that their blue belts were often regarded as the equivalent of most other martial arts black belts. Grades were traditionally awarded when there was a transparent ability demonstrated by a student to hold their own against other students of the next rank.

As time has moved on and Brazilian jiu jitsu has fast expanded and inevitably suffered fractions, more rules and regulations have been introduced to clubs. Official gradings are now taking place and stripes on belts have been added to keep a student motivated between grades. The Helio Gracie lineage of Gracie jiu jitsu no longer permits competitive sparring up to blue belt level, arguing that they are preparing their students for self-defence fighting during this period rather than sport. This prompts more debate, but I think such arguments do not decide whether or not a school has good martial arts practices.

It is interesting to see the veneration, fixation and mystique that many still hold over the black belt. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on what a black belt should be, but neither time nor international practices provide us with much of an accepted standard. At this point I hear the cry, “A black belt must have the ability to teach his chosen art proficiently!” However, although that is certainly a laudable aim and one I would like to endorse it does not define a black belt.

Firstly, many martial arts systems have a separate instructor qualification that students have the option of taking after they achieve their first level black belt. Secondly, many martial arts have lower grades teaching classes. Now this isn’t just the somewhat dubious practice of putting a black and white belt on a student that has received three months training in order to rapidly build classes, but there are many genuinely good instructors who take classes wearing the belts of lower grades.

Many UK karateka who trained in the ‘70s will tell you that black belt instructors were quite scarce and many clubs, which have gone onto produce world class athletes, had brown belts and below teaching classes. The scene was comparable to the late ‘90s and early 2000s, where Brazilian jiu jitsu blue belts (the second adult belt in the system) regularly ran clubs under a respected association brand. My first judo course was very competently run by a brown belt.

In fact, some clubs actively teach students how to teach early on, believing that teaching material is an important skill for retaining information. This is sometimes counter to a more classical practice, where students are not actively taught to share information. One very sound argument against pre-black belt teachers is that it prevents irresponsible and unregulated teaching. A more cynical view is that instructors wish to keep a tight rein on their business interests and wish to ensure that any money made from teaching they pass on makes it back to them.

I think it is time that we accept there is no universal standard for the quaint custom of the martial arts belt ranking system. This system, despite the acclaim it receives in some trade associations like the UK Stunt Register, will probably remain an internal level of achievement respected by certain areas of the martial arts community, but not by the world at large. I am not diminishing it, just stating the facts as I see them.

Movements to seek more generic accreditation, especially through national government recognized bodies outside martial arts associations, should be applauded for the most part. I find arguments made by those who cry such bodies might have little knowledge of their particular art somewhat tedious. Experienced professionals across the martial arts spectrum acquire verifier, assessor and equivalent government recognized vocational and academic qualifications to better ensure there is sound peer review of students.

We can see this sort of thing at work today to some degree. Good associations demand certain transparent credentials that one would expect from a teacher of any discipline. This includes adequate insurance, Criminal Records Bureau clearance, first aid certification and an internal qualification verifying the teacher’s ability to teach

2.      Paying for Art & Service

Hold a meeting of martial artists with a view to create any sort of project and ask them what they expect, and the most common answer will be “professionalism”.

The spectre of disorganized classes and the various frauds that have haunted the teaching of martial arts since they first became a burgeoning industry in the 19th century is always present at such gatherings. Everyone has their horror story and all want to see martial arts to be respected by the general public. The consensus at most pivotal historical meetings is that better organization and acceptance of standards need to be achieved and maintained.

However, such is the almost religious reverence given to the martial arts that certain fundamental issues regarding business – money in essence – are rarely discussed. My concern here is that certain unpredicted consequences occur. This includes an unspoken culture of exploitation on the one hand and a soulless corporate imitation of budo on the other.

I once asked my grandfather what the difference was between a professional and an amateur. This side of my family was the one my father ran away from to join my mother’s side in the circus. My grandfather on this side was a no-nonsense businessman who had taken the successful sand and gravel company my great-grandfather had grown from a single wheelbarrow, and expanded it into a thriving enterprise. His answer to me was that a professional was paid for the work an amateur did for free. This surprised me. I was so used to hearing the word professional to define an expert and an amateur to mean someone that lacks experience that I pushed him for better clarification. My father, a highly experienced and respected wild animal trainer, would frequently use the term “amateur’s night out” when his trainees were not performing up to a certain standard. My grandfather would not be moved. The definition was simple to him and he has a point. It took me years to allow that point to sink into my view of the world.

Therefore, my inevitable response to the assertion that martial arts need more professionalism is that individuals need to be paid and paid fairly. We are in the business of selling an art or a service. At the risk of sounding trite, a professional tends to earn the reputation for being an expert – rightly or wrongly – because a core motivation to improve comes from the fact that his work provides for his most basic needs.

Somewhere behind every work of sold art is someone who, at least at one time in their life, chose a discipline they loved so much that they developed it to a higher level than the average person. They did it so well that people were willing to pay them for their skill. Different artists have different motivations and levels of ability, which led them to branch off in different directions. A successful artist might be a critically acclaimed individual who can command huge sums of money for his work. However, a successful artist might work at the other end of the scale, where he is employed to create very cheap mass-produced work. Both these extremes have their place in society the world over and, of course, there is a vast range of variables between them.

The service industry is the same. We have to come to expect to pay high end rates for exclusive and highly specialized services, and low end rates for basic and non-specific services. In a perfect world, those who have the passion and skill to provide the best would simply earn a great reputation and be able to command appropriately high prices. However, life rarely works out that way. A highly talented person can die in near poverty before his genius is realized. This is so common it has virtually become a parable.

I have met many brilliant martial arts teachers who are bad at business, especially marketing. The romantic story of the struggling luminary being discovered is a very rare one. Few of us have people that will look after our best interests and allow us to just do what we want, at least not at the early stages. There aren’t teams of talent scouts scouring our fractured industry looking for talented martial artists that they can sponsor. It is very naïve to think one can just work narrowly at one’s passion and expect the world to take notice. So many other factors are involved and a big one is to understand how to sell one’s talent and how to manage one’s financial affairs.

One non-martial arts businessman I knew was shocked at the culture of the industry. He summed it up as a system of exploitation. To him, everyone seemed to be swapping favours, but inevitably many individuals were profiting through false promises. It resembles the seedier side of show business in this respect and therefore it is unsurprising that many martial artists have been used in films for free under the promise of increased fame. This is a common theme that runs through martial arts industry. It is not unknown for martial arts instructors to teach for free, considering it an honour to work for their profiting superior instructor. In the desire to build their profiles martial artists will write and perform for free in hope that these loss leaders will eventually generate them business.

Then there is a corporate side of martial arts, as we have seen, where teachers can make a very good profit from martial arts. Here teachers organize their affairs in ways that are comparable to other leisure services. They meet at networking events, where motivational business workshops are given and tips on marketing and student retention are swapped. Methods that are working in other leisure services are filtered down and applied to martial arts schools. On the positive side, going down this route can ensure that ways are open to instructors so they don’t get exploited and they can be considered true professionals at delivering their art. However, inevitably, these approaches are designed to cultivate the masses, turning individual students into commodities.

Children make up the largest percentage of martial arts attendees by far now and clubs are fast to display bullet point lists of multiple benefits a child student can enjoy. Age levels for admittance to classes have been lowered to two years old in some instances. This seems absurd given the complexity and coordination needed to master even the most basic of skills in a martial art let alone the principles behind them. However, a closer look at how many children’s classes are run reveals a larger proportion of the lesson time being absorbed by unrelated games as instructors desperately try to retain student interest. Many clubs accept their humble role as being just one of the many activities millennial “helicopter parents” use to keep their children occupied during a typical week and, in many instances, resemble little more than a crèche. In efforts to promote and increase numbers, there are regular “karate parties” and similar events plus a whole host of recruitment incentive schemes.

One school instructor happily told us how he had reduced children’s lesson times in his school. Was this in line with some new development in line some new study regarding information retention you might naively ask? No, it meant the school could accommodate more classes. I have been in some martial arts schools that did just the same thing for their adult classes. As often happens, there is no question of altering the prices. In fact, it is not long before a price review will lead the pupils to be paying more or find themselves being moved onto new contract systems that the school or association have deemed is a more efficient way to run the classes. I see the shortening of lessons to accommodate more classes to be comparable to the addition of more belts in order to increase revenue from gradings or retain interest. It is has a monetary objective and this objective has had a direct impact on the training.

Some schools try to have the best of both worlds. They run large classes based on the corporate structure so they can afford to book high quality martial arts teaching services in the form of courses and seminars. Many other good quality teachers run corporate style regular classes and then reserve their high quality teaching for select serious students who can attend their in-house training schemes. Whether or not this is a fair compromise is another argument. Again, we can see the comparisons in the art and service industries. Some artists in some disciplines support their serious work by applying their skills to lower end mass market work. They are often called sell-outs, but shouting such criticism is easy when you are not caught in the limbo of trying to get established and having to eat.

Interestingly we are less critical of the service industry, where high end brands can and sometimes do offer descending grades of service.

Conclusion & Verdict

There needs to be more consumer awareness in martial arts.

A prospective student should be made aware of what is available and what he will get out of the experience. He also needs to understand what is required of him when training at a school or under a certain instructor. This means more honesty in martial arts circles. Everyone’s objective in professional teaching is to make money. If that isn’t your objective then you are an amateur or hobbyist. This is not a slight on your abilities, but a straightforward definition of your role in business terms. If you are a teacher, what needs to be decided is whether you are a specialist teacher that provides a high quality service and uncompromising art for high sums of money or whether you are a general teacher to the masses that provides an affordable martial art past-time. By all means, you can offer both so long as you are honest about the difference.

I know a good number of students and experienced black belts who make the simple confession that they just enjoy engaging in martial arts as a hobby. They made me feel guilty when I discuss practical applications or the depth their art provides. These discussions I had with them visibly made them feel uncomfortable. Such people have made peace with their limitations and have decided pretty much what they want out of their art. I know of two unconnected high ranked black belts in taekwon-do and tang soo do who told me, in their own way, “I just like kicking and performing patterns”.

They have little interest in whether or not their art resembles what it did at origin and have even less interest in learning about the real applications of technique taught in their patterns. The uniforms and ritualization holds a natural human appeal for many and martial arts can be something that people do as an alternative to other activities in their week. Most people enjoy an art or activity at face value and get fulfilment from this surface level, whether or not it is true to their art’s original intentions or not.  Therefore, time has allowed me to look less harshly on the vast majority of instructors who wish to provide this service.

I admit to sometimes eating in fast food restaurants. It is not a regular occurrence, but not a particularly unusual one either. What’s more I know plenty of top level athletes who do the same. I also enjoy reading some trashy fiction and some pulp non-fiction, I watch many cynically produced superficial films and the odd guilty pleasure TV show and my shopping list will contain a fair number of lower grade products.

This is not shameful and it really doesn’t need to be justified. The important thing is honesty. Both the vendor needs be honest in what he providing and the consumer should be honest with what they are buying. A martial arts club that follows a mass-market approach shouldn’t advertise benefits it does not directly provide. There needs to be more transparent peer review in the martial arts industry and subculture to avoid confusion as well as false claims.

The methods used by McDojos are another argument. I feel that there is an unfair demand on many teachers to provide a good service for ridiculously low prices. If a student is serious about his training and his requirements he should be prepared to pay the price being offered, and willing to make reasonable sacrifices in order to meet these costs. If a student is serious and still cannot meet these costs then it is down to the judgment of the instructor whether to lower his price. I know many good teachers who follow this rule. Above all, the serious student needs to appreciate that if he wants professional and high quality teaching he needs a teacher that can afford to dedicate a large amount of his time to updating and improving his teaching, a teacher who one would expect to have invested a large amount of money and an invaluable amount of his time learning the skills he now teaches.

I am not a fan of aggressive sales techniques. Like any other business, martial arts should be criticized for pushing people into buying items they do not necessarily need or be persuaded into memberships on their own doorsteps. I don’t like class times being reduced with no reduction in price either. That is just my view though. Everyone needs to make a living and it is up to writers like me to give the “Consumer Beware” notice. What the consumer needs to be wary of is whether or not he is getting the service he wants. One drive by a McDonald’s and expects to be met with Kobe beef via silver service.

The term “McDojo” has barely made it out of the martial arts subculture despite its strong growth. However, we live in a time where the martial arts have arrived. Films like “The Foot Fist Way” as well as the popular internet show, “Enter the Dojo” send up commercialized schools. The term has almost become meaningless in the martial arts world as many just seem to apply it as a broad term for bad martial arts schools. The term’s original and only meaningful interpretation is for a school that delivers a generic and convenient service. This might involve charlatanism and even outright fraud, but my experience has shown that the higher end of the industry is just as susceptible to these vices and it is not a defining feature of the McDojo.

So although it was first applied as a derogatory noun by those who saw themselves at the higher end of the service industry it really just means mass produced convenient martial arts for the casual practitioner, which makes up the majority of people who train in martial arts.

This is supply and demand, and it all started the day martial artists started teaching civilians en masse.

The End.


  • szilard
    It sounds a lot like IT was in the 80s. Of course it is about people, not technology so the waters will calm down much slower, because the traditional dojos resist hard the commercial pressure coming from mcdojos. You can still start a dojo and do good work. Universities still have free traditional training for their students. But eventually they will fall in line too in various ways. It is partially about numbers. If you have the traditional training you can start a traditional dojo, but you can not make people sign up for your training. We have seen this 30 years ago in IT. You can have the best product, but people will buy the product that has better marketing and the one that is available. If it is not in the store, they can't buy it. Same thing here: mcdojos organise themselves better and they are more available, more visible. Unfortunately trying to organise non-mcdojos is like herding cats. Anyways evolution never picks the best, it always picks the worst that still works. I think the winner will be the first 100 dan mcgrandmaster who will figure out a way to start Departments of Martial Arts on most big universities, after all majoring in MA is at least as useful on the job market as majoring in english or philosophy. When they will start manufacturing PhDs just by the sheer numbers they will transform the mental landscape to take the entire market. And the market are the people, the future students. The people who will uphold a tradition. Will it be anything worth upholding? Well financially speaking yes, otherwise it will probably not be the traditional or even the useful martial art we love. But still it will be more effective martial art than lets say aerobic or handball is. Well, scratch handball, I take it back, that is actually rather brutal in every way.
  • Daniel
    Dear Jesse San. I am confused. Maybe I misunderstood, but if what you mean is that those who teach / practice karate as a hobby rather than as professionals, are not interested in deepening beyond patterns and technical standards , I think that is not right and an unfair generalization at least for myself :) . I really love experimenting and learning about the real applications of techniques and kata and their possible practical application, and i am not a profesional
    • Hello Daniel, This is what happens when you try to write a detailed and balanced article on a subject that is far less straightforward than most think ;) Some readers think I am implying if you make a living out of teaching you are diluting the art and removing integrity, others feel that I am saying if you are not a professional you will have lower standards of training. Neither is accurate. The issue is like any other pursuit. The enthusiastic hobbyist is perfectly capable of having more skill, knowledge and experience in an art than a professional at least, in a certain area. I have been hired as a semi-professional to teach full-time school operators and their instructors. My point was, and this should address the other criticism, that a professional interested in raising the standard of his service and art should have more incentive. This is why top artists seek funding, top sportspeople need sponsorship and so on.
  • Chris Collins
    Well reasoned conclusion. The facts presented in this important two-piece article are testament why I have NEVER paid attention to claimed rank, status or title(s) in the martial arts since covering Ed Parker's famous tournament (where my student Lee Jun Fan gave his first open demo) in 1964 for Black Belt magazine then refused to review it because I saw no one with any solid training, knowledge or experience there...and also why I have never charged a penny for teaching law enforcement, military and simple "Joes" who couldn't afford lessons (like Lee Jun Fan before he landed any acting roles), although I have no quarrel with accomplished instructors who make their living by teaching.
    • Thank you for the kind words, Chris. Likewise, I have made various judgement calls over teaching people.
  • Good article but disagree with some statements. For one, I train under people in Okinawa and as anyone who does can verify there are many instructors there that would laugh at the quote, “…a 65 year old black belt student surely shouldn’t be expected to have the same level of physical ability as a brown belt half his age…” I train under 70 year olds who are more than able to perform Karate better than someone of 20 years. People need to stop making excuses for age. “In the east the black belt does not carry the same level of importance as it does in the west and the time it takes to achieve it varies from art to art…” the black belt, Dani system, comes from Go. A Dani rank is the first Professional level and competes against many other danis. It is not unknown that a 15 year old dani might beat a 4th dan in Go. Joe Lewis, I think even if it took him 9 months, he proved himself at a professional level. The “…an unfair demand on many teachers to provide a good service for ridiculously low prices…” McDojos (chains) where I live tend to charge about $150 a month for 2 lessons a week. That is more than the people and schools that I respect, as if a Big Mac cost more as a high quality steak. I wrote a blog on the Dani system a while back if anyone is interested
  • Andrew
    Well done Jesse. The only comment I have on the article itself is that you concentrated on how long it took to get a BB, what age and not the instructors abilities. With the students you can have 2 in the same style from different teachers and notice that the students from one club is way ahead of the other in the same ranks, let along different styles. In South Australia, being rather insular in most things, especially Martial Arts, we always had inter-club training, not just in the same style but all different forms of martial Arts. I really believe it is the individual who teaches that dictates how the students achieve progress and some less successful teachers promote their students whether they are ready or not just to show they have lots of students of high grades. As I have always said it is the man not the art that is important as you often see a student in another club who is brilliant but the rest of the students are mediocre and as you have pointed out in another area that can happen in any teaching situation. Having taught for 25 years in a mixed martial arts organisation for orphaned clubs and in my own karate club in a not for profit system. Most clubs were in Australia until Tae Kwon do came here and started paying karate teachers to convert and join there federation. Therefore as volunteers we did not have to worry about shortening classes or dumming them down to make them easy (mentally or physicvally). All in all a great article for those who have been in martial arts for a short period or thinking of signing up.
  • Peter G.N. GRIFFIN
    Dear Andrew-san, Osu ! A well thought out and good response. You are right !, on your statement, " it is the individual who teaches that dictates how the students achieve progress and some less successful teachers promote their students whether they are ready or not just to show they have lots of students of high grades." Just look at DEMURA Fumio Kancho(Shito-Ryu), whom instilled the TRUE Philosophy of the soul purpose for the Dojo (The Way). The Dojo, as explained by KANAZAWA Kancho, DEMURA Kancho, and, MATSUSHIMA Kancho, is that the DOJO, is supposed to be a Spiritual Washing Machine. Hence cleansing one's soul of any impurities; thus upon exiting the DOJO, one is closer to becoming not only that person they are meant to be, but becoming more like a True Samurai. In that they become a contributing citizen within their own society, which IS the whole point of training when looking at any Martial Art holistically. Again, I enjoyed reading your reply. I too am from AUSTRALIA, and remember when TKD dropped in. Osu !
    • Mike
      I have to call BS on the dojo being designated by those guys as a "spiritual washing machine," Peter. How do those guys even define "spiritual". Do they all have the same definition? That's just another attempt at trying to portray karate in a mystical light. It's just ridiculous. Ever seen some traditional dojo in Okinawa? Some sensei have been known to have a hard drink'n and smoke'n lifestyle, which could entail those activities in the dojo after class with tables set up just for them and other sensei and students to have fun (not my kind of fun, though). Just how the hell do you cleanse a so-called soul of impurities with karate within the dojo? Becoming like a true samurai? LMAO! Samurai were not protectors of the common people. Japan was basically a caste system. Most people were born into their stations in life. There is nothing noble about a social system where the life of a farmer or merchant could be taken because a warrior in that society felt insulted. Why do you think so? A true samurai's calling was to serve and die for his lord, or kill for him, or even commit suicide for him. Why romanticise that crap? Samurai did not contribute much to their society, other than hardship, war, and petty fights over perceived slights. They were not humble. Their pride caused many problems for Japan. Sure, one may try to do some back flips in reason to paint them as some kind of haiku poets sitting under cherry trees to write a death poem, but I don't see how anyone would admire them, other than a fourteen year old who has some delusional view of them, not understanding the brutality they practiced. For the most part they contributed warlord rulorship and death to their societies. Join us in the modern world, Peter. No, you are not a samurai. You're just a guy who does karate or some other martial arts (I assume). Let's all be done with this "we do karate, and, therefore, we are samurai upholding the samurai tradition" crap. The dojo is not sacred. It's just a place where one trains. Nothing mystical or spiritual about it.
      • Andrew
        I completely agree with you about the Samurai. You left out the sodomy usually performed on young boys who wanted to become a Samurai, one of those delusional romantic 14 year olds. The only thing they did was turn killing with the sword into an art form.
        • Mike
          Perhaps the samurai were Catholic priests on the side! Who knew?
      • alexn
        You just described the military. Same brutality, longer range. Although glamoured to look heroic it's the same tired, old shit.
  • szilard
    What is really the problem with mcdojos? Is there any problem at all? It is not my business what consenting adults do in their free time. They can also call it whatever they want to. It is not like karate was trademarked. I understand why and how people doing bad science, bad statistics, bad economics are dangerous. But people doing bad karate, I just don't see how that could possibly hurt me.
    • Greg
      Wow, I just had to respond to this. The problem with Mcdojos is that kids and adults go in thinking that they will be learning real martial arts and self defense. They end up getting a false sense of security and think that they can actually fight, when the techniques they learned are likely useless. If they ever get confronted by somebody like a bully or mugger they will try the techniques they learned in class and get beat up pretty badly. Mcdojos are popping up every where. Here in my town we have about 15 karate dojos, I would say all but one are Mcdojos.
      • szilard
        Beating off a mugger is not really about martial arts skills. Or maybe you just think shotokan and kyokushinkay are not real martial arts. If this gives the rank to a system: how well can their blackbelts stand up to muggers, then the traditional schools failed miserably. And so did kick box and other martial sports and martial arts. Chances are you can list about a dozen events where someone with serious martial arts skills successfully resisted robbery even armed robbery. And then you can list twice as many where someone with serious martial arts skills died trying. Even professionals like Ladislav Tóth... And then where do you count the American Karate, bojuka, and such? They have their list of successfully resisting armed robbery. But then again there are even more news reports like "86 yr. old grandma beats mugger".
        • Greg
          Well I'll agree with the first statement, you don't need martial arts to fend someone off. Most people however start karate or some other MA because they feel that they wouldn't be able to fight someone off. They join to learn self defense and get more fit. In a good dojo they would get just that. In a Mcdojo they would be taught flashy techniques and half baked moves that would never work. They will get bad habits that will make them even worse than before they joined. Now if you're just doing martial arts for the workout a mcdojo is still bad, because you can just go to the gym for a third of the price. Martial arts doesn't make you invincible, but good training can certainly improve your chances. As for Kyokushin, why would I think it isn't a real martial art? Kyokushin is one of the few styles left that hasn't been overrun with mcdojos. It's still one of the few styles that trains hard. I respect it a lot.
          • Szilard
            Well, that stile has a bad history with reacting to ambush situations. (mugging)
          • Peter G.N. GRIFFIN
            Dear Greg, Just read you posting on this McDojo article. Jesse-san has and is doing a remarkable thing by exposing this topic globally via his website. Being a long-time student of Kyokushin and previously in Shotokan (Yudansha), and Judo (Yudansha), one must seek out any and all art forms that still fight FULL CONTACT in their Dojo and in the ring. The following arenas in MMA (which also includes skilled and tough Judoka's, Ju-Jitsu, and Wrestlers), K-1, and MUAY THAI (Ring fights in Phuket, Bangkok), are one's best opportunity to finding out if they KNOW what on earth they are doing. Furthermore, these arena's will assist one's journey to get a much needed reality check to see where they fair within the REAL world of fighting; regardless of their primary discipline (Karate, Judo, Aikido etc). Do not misunderstand my post; however be aware, that I too dread the two sparring sessions each week in the ring. I'd have to say that every two to three weeks, someone is requiring medical attention on a lower level (i.e. blood nose, bruised thighs, bruised ribs). However almost every month or so, someone is injured and out for a few weeks (KO, broken ribs, ruptured knees, ankle injury). Either way REAL fighting IS a NECESSARY EVIL - it IS a process. Eventually one's experience in getting past this as everyone, and anyone whose competed in Shotokan and Kyokushin in particular, in the 1970s, 1980S, EARLY 1990s will remember Kumite as nothing short of a blood bath. GSP upon being interviewed two years ago admitted to never being 100% and that everyone is carrying an injury of some sort into their fights. Rugby players also play with injuries; as do any athletes in a sport. The difference is, that WARRIORS Put Up and Shut Up ! Don't get me wrong, however one has a choice to make when entering a DOJO that is not a McDojo. 1. Do I "Put Up and Shut Up", and do as the Roman's do,..thus suffer the onslaught of REAL Kumite, REAL Body Conditioning (eg Goju Ryu; Kyokushin, Muay Thai) to one day have the significant increase of surviving a REAL assault in and out of the Dojo, or 2. Enter a McDojo and play Russian Roulette whereby running the risk of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time - thus being faced with dancing with the Devil on the street, to see if one ends up on a cold slab (Morgue); or in ER having reconstructive surgery. Extreme, yes, but the TRUTH ! One of my old Dojo peers five months ago suffered an assault - and is now being released from hospital, however he is lucky to be alive. He does Shotokan Karate, however; is now leaving to take up Muay Thai which I suggested to him 15 years ago. The guy that he got into an altercation with that went south on him was a Muay Thai fighter and simply on an ego trip to impress his mates. And YES, this individual is a member of one of Sydney (AUSTRALIAs) notorious Crime Gangs. The result was my fiend suffered a broken femur, several broken ribs, a punctured lung, and broken jaw. I'll say no more on that ! I'm just glad he is alive ! However I warned him 15 years ago, to trade in his Shotokan belt, and go find a REAL Dojo. Or run the risk of exactly what he ended up facing anyway. Unfortunately there ARE Martial Artists out there who live to fight on the street - to think anything short of this is naïve and downright foolish ! Again, Greg, your article is bang on ! Osu !
          • Szilard
  • Glad to read this article. My sensei in the 70's forecasted these kind of things were going to happen. Most that read the full article twice need not worry or guess if your training was subpar to a world standard of the martial art way, due to the fact that you cared enough to learn about how to help others learn.
  • Great article. Always interesting to read the comments. I've been running a professional martial arts school for 6+ years now and have a business degree, so my perspective is a bit different. In academia, a person that has been studying for roughly 8-10 yrs and have passed the minimum requirement more then likely have achieved a PHD in their respected field of study. At that point, if they continue to stay in their field and get a job, they are making a respectable income that allows them to live a comfortable lifestyle. Why should us instructors that have well over 15 years experience, credentials and expertise in our field of study not be able to monetize from it. I was never mad that my professors made 6 figure incomes while I attended college. They earned it. The price of a service is simply based on the value that is demonstrated to the buyer and the perceived value acknowledged by the prospect. Thats it. Whatever the price is, is what it is. No different from a plumber, electrician, or doctor. So the knock on McDojos is a bit off in my opinion. By all means, everyone practices some sort of entrepreneurship to a degree, along with the growth of the martial arts. The theory "don't charge because you should be honored" is bogus. In that case, employees at a restaurant should not charge me because they should be honored to serve me food. Anyways, I commend the individuals that are able to make a living doing what they've always wanted to do. And those that run "schemes" or offer horrible and unprofessional services, it will soon catch up to them. Thus, do your research before buying. No different from any other service or product. Now the standardization of martial arts will never happen. It doesn't happen in academics much either. When you transfer from a Ju. Co. College to a university many, if not all, credits won't transfer. Even if you've put in the time, work, and grades. Every institutions minimum criteria is different. The degrees are all respected and acknowledged, but some hold more weight then others. Anyways, enough of my opinion. I'm sure I'll get a lot of criticism for this. Oh well.
  • Ian
    Profit does not a McDojo make. Allowing the love of profit to dilute and impede good martial arts training is the start of the problem, and pretending that nothing is amiss rounds it out nicely. It's easy for us to spot the difference between a Big Mac and a fantastic steak, because we all have a few decades' (or more) experience of daily training at this "eating" thing. But when the uninitiated first walks into a dojo, he has absolutely no idea if he's sitting in his car in a McDrivethrough, or waiting to be seated at Gordon Ramsay's new steakhouse. Oh, he *thinks* he's in Ramsay Steak ... he *wants* to be in Ramsay Steak ... the sign on the front and the trappings inside *say* "Ramsay Steak" ... but here comes his waiter/sensei with two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun ... "here's your filet mignon!" "Oss!!"
    • Mike
      There is nothing wrong with loving profit. The wrong is simply unskilled or unscrupulous instructors. Other than that, Ian, well said.
    • You're, right, there is nothing wrong with profit, but I see this in non-mcdojos too. Local rec centers, YMCA's, big box gyms, etc. and it doesn't matter the style and the price. I see and hear of crap instruction from "hobby" type sensei's too. Poor instruction and service is everywhere in the martial arts... Along with any other industry. Personal training, piano lessons, hair salons, etc. it exists in every industry. Does a hair stylist become a mchair person because she /he wants more profits, and raises her prices and starts doing a poor job? No. It makes them the same as the others. Nothing sets them apart from the good ones. Plus, their business will eventually suffer. With today's information of reviews, research, and the internet, anyone should be able to sniff out a poor MA school. On top of the fact that nearly all MA schools offer a low barrier offer to try the lessons and make sure it's a fit for the student before continuing, thus giving the prospect an opportunity to "test" the service. So if you find out that the fillet migon is a big mc, then don't sign up. It's simple, common sense. If people start to categorize mcdojo's then do the same for all the trades and speciality services that follow this so called mcdojo concept of business and martial arts. The real disconnect, in my opinion isn't the mc concept, rather the perception that martial arts is "holly-er" and sacred, and traditional, and different, and shouldn't follow other trends. If you hold MA schools to that standard, then you need to hold the same standard to all other services that claim they are the best and don't live up to it. Yes, MA is different, to a degree, but at the end of the day it's a service that some charge for and others don't. The best way to weed out mcdojo's is to rave about hour dojo. Write reviews, refer friends, help grow your dojo that you are so proud about. But at the end of the day, it's a business. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the people commenting here don't own a dojo/business, so comments are biased. I've been the student and the teacher/owner. And I try to operate an honest business by educating myself with seminars, training sessions, cross training and continuing education and being fair to my clients. But, if the numbers don't add up, and I can't feed my family, a decision will be made to make it happen and allow me to still teach MA. I'm not a mcdojo, I a business man that has a passion for Karate, and want to make a great living to support my family.
      • Mike
        Lots of good points in your last two posts, Javier. I think a lot of people are just resistant to the surface rebranding of karate. In the minds of many karateka their is just a visceral reaction to so many colored belts, colored uniforms, quick promotions, promotions based on time etc...the many things Jesse pointed out. Certainly, increasing the number of belt promotions and lengthening classes so more classes can be fit into a training day can increase revenue, but since so many have been branded with an image of karate, those are all things which are hard to accept, more so when a person signs up for a 2 hr class but then months later it becomes a 90 minute class. That is just bait and switch, no matter how great the instructor is.
  • Mike
    Ahg! I wish there were an edit button for our posts. Embarrassing mistakes: Their --> there Lengthening --> shortening There, that makes more sense. Sorry guys. What about it, Jesse? Any possibility an edit button to change posts within an hour of posting could be added? Or any reasonable time of your choice?
    • Looking into it! ;-) In any case, I can always manually edit comments from the back end.
  • Good read, gets one thinking. As a Kukkiwon taekwondo practitioner, I enjoy a relatively constantly nagging conscience stemming largely from our enduring identity crises. I especially agree with your call for transparency - there's nothing wrong with thinking WTF-style sparring is the greatest thing since milkshakes, but saying it is a self defense practise is an outright lie and a dangerous, harmful practise. Keep it coming, I know many in our dojang regularly read your blog. :) Jon Arild Karlsen Moss Taekwondo Klubb, Norway
  • Donald Miskel
    Hi Jesse: I've been involved in the martial arts since 1957. I started in judo and eventually progressed to Karate/kempo and aikijitsu. I teach an eclectic blend of the arts that I have studied. I am the head of a pretty good sized martial art organization. The requirements for black belt varies from school to school within the organization. This past week I attended a promotional board at one of our schools in Mississippi (I live in Chicago). We promoted three students to shodan. Each of them have been studying for five years or more. The school is strict and the classes are hard. Consequently it doesn't keep a huge membership but the students that stay are of top quality. When I started in karate it took about six years to receive a black belt. That's if a student was able to reach that level. Each organization or school has its own criteria. I can see no problem with that as long as the level of skill matches the rank.
    • Dennis Engard
      absolutely! But there is more information out there. You continue to present great content.
  • I don't think it's a question of Offline Vs Online or Distance Learning Vs In-person Learning. I think it's a matter of quality and the very best way to do what you want and need to do in a different way. Surgeons are currently operating on patients and they aren't even in the same room any more. It's not about where you do the physical training, it's how you do it. The belt system as seemed to have lost it's way a bit. Do you want a life experience under your belt or a coloured belt around your waist.
  • Don
    As one who started learning Old style Tang Soo Do in the early '70s, my definition of McDojo is watered down sport styles and any dojo that claims to be teaching real karate to kids under 10 years old. I applaud the current trends of serious martial artists to regain the original self-defense applications of the kata including holds, locks and throws.
  • Jurgen
    As always, a very good reading. I don't know how it works in other countries, but here in Belgium, a sensei can't even award his students a black belt. Once you achieve 1st kyu you have to sign up for shodan exam a year later. This exam is before a national commission of judges, and is the same for everyone, regardless of style of karate. Pryor to the exam you also have to attend at least 5 national trainings for shodan. And dare I say: not everyone passes the first time. Then, if you achieve shodan or higher, that doesn't mean you can teach or start a club. For this you also have to follow classes and do an exam. I guess this is why we don't have any karate mcdojo's in Belgium that I know of.

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