Beware the McDojo

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“A martial arts school focused on acquiring money for the instructor rather than encouraging growth of the students.”


In just about every character I profile, I’ll encourage you to find a martial arts school to study at, and recommend a martial art that would fit that character well.  Even if you can’t find a school in your area that offers that particular art, I still recommend you find SOME reputable school, somewhere, to study at.  The reason for this is that I believe studying a martial art is one of the single most effective things you can do to improve yourself.  It encourages fitness, camaraderie, self-confidence, self-awareness, discipline, and, on top of everything else, can help you defend yourself if you ever get in a tight spot.

There’s an important word in that paragraph, however, that I don’t always focus on like I should:  reputable.  While good martial arts schools/dojo/gyms are great to study at, bad ones are just a good way to part with your money while learning useless stuff (or nothing at all).  Now, don’t get me wrong, I run a dojo, and the dojo makes money.  It’s a business, it exists because it makes money…but it does not, necessarily, exist exclusively for the purpose of making money.  There has to be a love of the art, there, and a desire to teach it.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the biggest warning signs that a school may be a McDojo!  Please note that these are not FOOLPROOF, and if the school fulfills one of these things they maaaay still be decent, but if you find yourself running into two or three, I’d recommend going somewhere else.

Wacky Uniforms (and Uniform Requirements)

This is one of the most OBVIOUS and common signs you can see at a McDojo.  If the school features super-ridiculous color schemes, ridiculous numbers of patches, or fifteen different belt colors between white and black, it’s probably a McDojo.  Similarly, if you’re required to buy a new uniform every time you rank up (yes, this is a thing that some places do), it’s also, most likely, a McDojo.  Throughout  my time in the martial arts, the only time I’ve bought a new uniform is when I’ve outgrown or destroyed the old one (well, that and when I wanted to get some really nice heavyweight duds after I made black belt).

No Sparring/Live Combat

Now, of course, I’m not saying every school needs to be super-hardcore full contact MMA.  However, any reputable combat art should encourage live freeform practice/sparring AT LEAST once a week.  Seriously.  Pre-set forms and partner drills are good for teaching technique, but actual free combat is the only real test for that technique.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, make sure the school takes proper safety precautions when sparring (wearing pads, supervised by an instructor, in a safe area, etc.)

The Art Doesn’t Exist Anywhere Else

This happens sometimes.  You’ll happen along a dojo, it teaches some style you’ve never heard of, and when you search for it on the internet, they’re the only ones that come up.  This is, typically, a HUGE red flag.  Yes, there’s a one in ten-thousand chance that the instructor really knows their stuff, and have developed a real martial art.  But, if that is the case, then ask for the lineage. (see below)

Non-Existent Lineage

Okay, so it’s a style you’ve heard of, and it seems to be a relatively reputable school.  However, the owner seems kind of young for an eight degree “grand master.”  If something seems off, ask about the instructor’s lineage, who they studied under, how long they studied, etc.  Reach out to that person if you can (especially if you’re really suspicious).   If owner of the school is reluctant to provide their lineage, or outright denies your request, stay far away.  They either made up their qualifications, or embellished upon them to the point where it’s basically the same thing.

Black Belts in <5 years

A black belt (or equivalent rank) should be an incredibly difficult, hard-won prize.  Ask the owner how long it takes to get a black belt.  If it’s under five years, it’s generally a McDojo.  I have a local tae kwon do place (the same one that requires a new uniform purchase every time you rank up) that grants black belts after one to two years of study.  Is something you can get that quickly really worth getting?  That’s what you call a belt factory.

Ridiculous Contracts

Now, don’t get me wrong, paying your tuition on time is good.  The existence of a tuition contract is common legal protection for a school, particularly for people who run a school as their sole form of income.  But watch out for any place that forces high termination fees on you, requires you to pay the first six months/year in advance, or generally makes you feel uncomfortable with the terms in the agreement.  ESPECIALLY if they require to to sign a contract before spending any time in the school (any place worth their salt is going to let you take a free trial class, or at least observe a class, if you ask).  If you feel uncomfortable signing something, DON’T.

And, finally…

Belligerent, Pushy Instructors

This is not necessarily a sign of a McDojo (unless they’re being pushy about “the sale”) but if you’re uncomfortable with the instructor’s teaching methods, if they’re overly aggressive, or if their just plain jerks…then walk.  There’s no reason for you to put up with that nonsense, legitimate school or not.  Similarly, watch out for guys/gals that take themselves too seriously.  Everyone’s human.  If they refuse to spar with students because they’re “afraid they’ll hurt you,” that’s just a way of saying they don’t have enough control.  BEGONE WITH YOU, FAKER!


So!  That’s it for now.  I’m going to work on getting this post linked to from all the old guides, as well as including it in all new character breakdowns.

Do YOU have a McDojo story?  Come share it on the official forum thread (or check out some other crazy tales!)  Otherwise, we’ll see you again on Wednesday, with a new character spotlight!  Until then, remember to live boldly, change the world, and continue to be awesome!

Dan “DaRatmastah” Wallace

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