What is a McDojo and How Do I Spot One? This isn't as straightforward a question to answer as it might seem. One person's definition of what is acceptable in martial arts will always be different from the next ten people. Fortunately there is something of a general consensus forming amongst martial arts practitioners. In general terms a McDojo is a club or organisation that unfairly takes advantage of its students or otherwise acts in a dishonest and disreputable manner. The McDojo can take many forms which makes spotting them difficult for the novice martial arts practitioner. After all how would you know a biscuit from a tea cake if you'd never seen either and nobody told you? Fortunately there are tell tail signs we can use to spot McDojos which we'll cover in a moment. But first lets dispel one particular myth about McDojos. All Clubs Run As A Business For Profit Are McDojos! The above statement is absolute nonsense. Martial arts practitioners have been earning a crust from teaching martial arts since the year dot the world over. The fact the teacher is making a profit from a successful business does not mean he or she is ripping off their students. What people need to be looking for in these cases is value for money. Are you getting what you paid for? Fees And Payment Arrangements Fees and payment arrangements are also a topic which see clubs automatically branded as a McDojo. The most important thing to look for in any arrangement where money will be changing hands on a regular basis is that you have a way out. That is you can leave the club at any time and stop your payments to the club. Complicated payment arrangements and binding contracts are a sure fire warning sign a club may not be entirely on the level. The worst clubs will try to suck you in to a multi-year deal with very difficult exit requirements if you decide it's not for you. Often this will include an accelerated black belt or instructor programme that supposedly makes it worth committing to. Invariably, it's not. The exception to the rule might be insurance. Different clubs handle insurance fees in different ways. However normally this will be included in your practice fee or it will be a standalone annual fee. The important thing here is to make sure the price seems reasonable. If you're not sure, ask to see the club's insurance policy. An honest teacher will have no problem producing it and letting you read through it. If the teacher cannot produce their insurance policy then think twice before committing. Beware The Cult Discipline is essential in any form of martial arts. Being good at anything takes practice and dedication, even for the gifted. However if the discipline in the club is approaching worshipping the ground the teacher walks on and an obligation to feel blessed just to be in his or her presence then run for the hills screaming. You are in something even worse than a McDojo! Watch The Students When watching or trying out a martial arts class it is more important to watch the students rather than the teacher. When potential new students walk through the door the teacher may show you only his kinder side to draw you in. The students are a reflection of the true nature of the club and the quality of teaching you can expect. When you attend a good martial arts school the students will be open and welcoming. The atmosphere will be relaxed but not laid back and the students will be warming up at the beginning of the class. There should also be a clear difference between the lower ranking students and the higher ranking students in terms of their ability. The higher ranking students should also be helpful and never dismissive. They should be making their lesser experienced class mates work hard for a technique but never so arrogant they're making it impossible. Mistakes. You should see lots of them during training. Especially amongst the lesser experienced students. They won't all be show stoppers. The students may still pull off their techniques and kata. However what you should not see are techniques executed so perfectly by all grades of student it's as though they're skating on ice. This is a sign of over compliance. If the students are training hard and pushing each other beyond their comfort zones, expect to see some knocks, bumps bruises and the occasional technique that at least one student just can't seem to pull off. It's normal in martial arts to see mistakes in a general practice. If on the other hand students are nervous, anxious, arrogant, dismissive or fearful. There is something very wrong at that club. Go somewhere else to train. Ranks and Gradings This is one of the most obvious signs of a potential McDojo. When you enter the dojo is your vision immediately assaulted and abused by a rainbow of badly matched coloured belts, stripes, tags, badges, bands and sashes? You could be in a McDojo. Gradings in general are money spinners for clubs. The McDojo takes grading students to the extreme. Especially with young children. On average the normal grading cycle for a decent club will be something along the lines of 3 to 6 months with the interval between gradings getting longer as the student progresses through the ranks. And some clubs don't even have a grading system at all. The more gradings there are, the more money you have to shell out, the greater the profit for the club. For clubs that operate with the black belt (kyu/dan grade) system it normally takes 3 to 5 years to achieve black belt (1st dan / shodan) with many students taking much longer. For a student to achieve black belt faster than this takes several hours of training every day. Most clubs cannot offer this level of intensive training and therefore by definition cannot be producing quality black belt students on accelerated time scales. It's simply not possible. So when you're checking out a club, remember to ask how the grading system works and how often the club grades its students? Also ask yourself how much emphasis is being placed on grading? Being pressured into grading is a very bad sign. It means you're potentially being pushed into a grading before you're ready. And clearly your chances of passing such a grading should be slim to none. These clubs are sometimes called “belt factories”. So feel free to ask the teacher what the pass rate in the club is. He or she may not be able to give an exact figure. But they should know if it's good or bad. And keep in mind a genuine 0% failure rate is extremely rare. Such a club should immediately strike you as being exceptionally good. The Best Thing Since Creation and Everything Else Is Crap! If the teacher has the above attitude, run a mile! Especially avoid teachers who forbid you to cross train at any other club or in any other system of martial arts. The teachers and students of such clubs will be able to rhyme off a whole host of reasons as to why it would be bad for you to cross-train or even visit a fitness/weight training gym. The McSensei at the head of a McDojo is a very selfish creature. He or she does not want you to venture out in to the wider world for fear that you might learn the truth. They fear you finding something else that's more effective or more interesting. Avoid these people at all costs. The general consensus on cross-training seems to be that it's highly beneficial. However beginners should consider attaining a solid grounding in one art first before branching out. Exaggerated Claims This is really part of the aforementioned ego trip above. But worth its own heading for the sake of clarity. As a general rule of thumb anybody selling anything that is too good to be true is normally a con artist. It's all a scam! A lot of commercial martial arts outlets will try to sell you a package deal that absolutely promises on your grannies life you'll be a black belt in some ridiculously short span of time. They'll tell you their system is the “ultimate martial art”, it's been used by all manner of special forces. Favourites tend to be Navy Seals, Rangers, Green Berets and the Marines. Alternatively they may embellish the history of their system. Such claims commonly site something like the: “System was created 10,000 years ago by Budaha Lamaba monks living in seclusion up Shaite-al mountain that's impossible for mere mortals to scale and has been passed secretly from father to son for generations in the secretive warrior samuraininja clans of Fukju prefecture. And now for a limited time only they'll bring to you the secrete deadly combat unstoppable techniques of the ancients! Classes $500 each with a further $600 surcharge for mulletless students. Distance learning DVDs are only $99.99!” Similarly some clubs will try to convince you that you'll easily be able to take on someone 3 times your size. A child can easily beat up a 300lbd hulk. Only their system will work in a given set of circumstances that you WILL find yourself in daily. Take exaggerated claims with a tub of salt. Or just avoid those clubs all together. Studying martial arts does not make you superman and breaking boards is easy. Anybody can do it. The Hard Sell A lot of clubs today supplement their income with merchandise. Which is fair enough. People need to eat and pay bills. Dojos are expensive to run. This however becomes a problem purchasing the merchandise becomes compulsory. When purchasing equipment from the club and only the club becomes compulsory. Where you buy your training equipment is your choice. It is not unreasonable that you should seek to take advantage of a cheaper deal somewhere else. Avoid clubs that seem over eager to sell you stuff.