These are my thoughts about how standards are lowering in martial arts, especially in relation to Karate as this art is closest to my heart. Low quality dojos, money making machines and black belt factories are often called McDojos.
So what is a McDojo? I will use this definition of McDojo by Bullshido as I think the description is accurate.
“A McDojo is a school that teaches a watered-down and impractical form of martial arts in the name of making money. They place the importance of profit well ahead of teaching anything realistic or credible in terms of self-defense, and are dangerous is the aspect that they send unprepared & often over confident students into a world thinking they can fight when in actuality they have no real fighting skills. Often McDojos teach a lot of bullshido, which is a term used to define deception, fraud, and lies in terms of martial arts.
There used to be a time where a black belt meant something, back in days where it took years upon years of intense training, pain, and sacrifice. Those who wore a black belt around their waist had earned it, and they knew how to fight. Those days are gone though, and honestly, having a black belt anymore is useless. Who doesn’t have one? With McDojos cranking out thousands of black belts to students who’ve trained maybe one or two years, there is no standard anymore. We have hundreds of thousands of black belts under 12, many even under 6, and a society that believes they earned them. We have 12 year old 3rd degree black belt instructors, wheelchair bound people with black belts, morbidly obese people with black belts, and we have 30 year old 9th degree grand masters. We have people who have never been hit or actually hit another person wearing a black belt, and people who think forms and one-steps are crucial to learning how to fight. All of these people are essentially ballet dancers with gi’s on: they’ve taken the martial arts and turned it into a dance. To accommodate everyone and anyone willing to pay for their black belt, they’ve lowered the standards so that even a 6 year old could pass the test. They’ve ruined any honor of earning a black belt forever, yet these students who unknowingly wear the rank they have not truly earned yet don’t know that they don’t have any real fighting skills. They don’t know that all they’ve done essentially is memorize forms, punch the air, and then pay for their belts month after month, and they won’t know until either it’s too late or until they seek out the truth. ”
In my opinion it is not always money that drives a decent club to become a McDojo, there are a few factors:
a) The amount of students is overwhelming the amount of instructors at the classes, which results in the lowering of standards as students do not get enough attention.
b) The head instructor has lost his/her interest and passion for martial arts, resulting in less attention and guidance for instructors and students.
c) An obsession with making black belts as a result of a keen drive to show that the club is strong, e.g. “look how many black belts we have produced”.
d) The creation of a money spinning machine through frequent gradings where students are encouraged to grade when they are not ready and so have not learnt techniques properly.. This results in students who have low technical standards and who cannot remember what was required for each grading, which eventually leads to black belts/instructors not knowing basics.
All of those factors contribute to a club becoming a McDojo, so why are these kinds of places doing so well? To know the answer to this question we have to look at human behaviour. We are evolved to conserve energy like any other animal, when our brain is satisfied then it loses drive to do anymore. That is why so many of us have bought a gym membership and never gone, or maybe go once a month just so that we can say “I have been training, I have done something”, therefore we get rid of the feeling of guilt. The same is with martial arts with a McDojo ticking all the boxes:
a) I have done something – I went to the martial arts class so I am actually training.
b) I am not exhausted – training was not so hard that I need time to recover, I can get on with my busy life uninterrupted…
c) Training is simple – I do not have to think, I just follow commands.
d) Socialising – I have friends at the club, it is nice to meet them at training and have a chat.
So why do people end up staying at McDojos? Well, partly for the reasons listed above, but also because of not doing market research – members join a club and take for granted that they are being taught by experts. This is an odd behaviour as most people would never do this in other situations. For example, when buying a car we do not tend to just go to one car dealer, look at one car and just buy it, we tend to look at multiple cars, test drive them, weigh up the benefits etc. So why in martial arts do so many people just come through the doors of the dojo and never check other clubs? I am still looking for an answer to this one…
At my club I always recommend new students go and explore other clubs/arts around. Sometimes new people never come back to my classes and I am happy that they must have found something that suits them. So many teachers say to their students that they should not go to other classes as ”we are the best“, however in many cases this may be paraphrased as “don’t go looking elsewhere as they might be cooler than us!”.
I have been training with my two teachers for over 17 years now because they have always been open minded and encourage me to explore all roads in martial arts.
I hope these few words will make people recognise and consider the consequences of training at McDojos.