What is a McDojo?
I’ve seen a lot of martial arts in my time and I trained in a stinkload of dojos and one term that always pops up is “McDojo”. To make matters worse, the term is almost universally used by uneducated Philistines with only a rudimentary understanding of the English language and only basic knowledge of martial arts in general. That’s why I’m here once again to fix things. To make right what went wrong, and to one day find my way home.
If you have no idea who the devil this Dysfunctional Parrot guy is and what gives him the right to define terms then you should read a few martial arts articles here and call it a day. Like anyone else who has been in this goofy business I’ve seen enough to have some pretty strong opinions. That means I’ve seen some spectacular dojos and I’ve seen dojos that were straight up, unmitigated turds. So let me take you on a journey to learn the main misconceptions about what defines a McDojo.
A McDojo is everyone else: FALSE
If you are the one on the soapbox pointing fingers that everyone attends a McDojo ( you Kyoshin-Ryu folks can get down now ) except the faithful that attend your dojo then I want you to do two things. First, shut your ignorant pie-hole. And second, try and stop repeating what you hear around you like some Kyu-level dojo fanboy.
Even in the most McDojiest of McDojo’s I attended, they were convinced everyone else was a McDojo. Yes, even ones with Little Ninja programs and after-school “TaeKwonDo” care felt they had a better handle on traditional martial arts than the other guy. So if someone says you attend a McDojo you can do 2 things: Kick them in the nuts and ask why they didn’t learn to block in their club. Drop the mike and walk away. Peace out.
Only McDojo’s make money: FALSE
Yes, McDojo’s make money, but not all dojos that make money are McDojo’s. I would hope that all dojos make at least a few shekels because unless everyone trains in the woods I think we can all agree that some dough is needed to keep the lights on. But if you do train in the great outdoors at least be a decent fellow and float Sensei a few bucks for bear spray.
I’ll be up front, I don’t mind a dojo making money if it keeps a good Sensei employed. Even better if the facilities are nice and the pads are occasional hosed down to kill off the hepatitis. I went to one sweet ISKF dojo in Calgary that was straight up awesome to behold and entirely traditional in its training. It was one of those rare instances where business and tradition intersected with perfection.
That having been said, you’ll know it your gut when things are not right. Insane amounts of children under ten with black belts should be your primary sign. But for me I’ve noticed a big thing nobody mentions: special Brazilian Ju-Jitsu classes. Look, if you want to take BJJ then by all means take dedicated BJJ training. But when someone brings BJJ into a TaeKwonDo club it feels like an admission of failure and a cash grab. Then again, I’m a bit of a purist.
A McDojo is a waste of time: TRUE
Well, yes. But I’ve got more sad news for you junior. All martial arts are a waste of time. You will all grow old and die not having enriched the lives of others in the least by having a better punch or kick. You will never be an ancient Chinese warrior and nobody, save maybe your Mom, cares about that stupid cloth around your waist. Your wife wishes you would find a normal hobby like carpentry like the handsome single guy across the street who she’s going to wind up banging anyway because you’re still pledging allegiance to a dead Oriental dude. None, save the genetically elite human specimens among you will ever become capable MMA fighters and the best you can do is bask in their fleeting shadow.
Everybody got that?
That having been said I love training in karate from time to time. Martial arts training is one of those things that if you like it then I guess it beats playing Nintendo. But don’t for one second think that time spent doing hardcore Goju-Ryu with an ex-Japanese military instructor is a better use of your time than the guy who attends a WTF TaeKwonDo dojang. In the grand scheme of things, neither is a better use of anyones time. To be honest, when it came to personal fitness I found all martial arts to be tragically inferior to just about anything else anyway.
McDojo’s give away easy Black Belts: TRUE
While I cannot deny this is true ( seems to be more prevalent in the US but that’s just my perspective ), I would argue this would be an exception to the general rule. I attended a lot of dojo’s and only one of them was truly a McDojo but that might be because I gravitate towards traditional training and have a low tolerance for flashy BS. I will use Exhibit A to make my point, the quintessential example of a McDojo, ATA TaeKwondo.
ATA TaeKwonDo gets a lot of flack and most all of it is completely deserved. ATA makes WTF TaeKwondo look like magic as it is a tragic union of watered down karate and corrupt American capitalist business practices. Gawdy uniforms, easy ranks and contracts are just a small portion of the ugliness the ATA has injected into martial arts. This is the very image of a McDojo. So should you decide to leave ATA and take up another fighting art, be sure to mention you have no prior martial arts experience. You’d be telling the honest truth.
Second runner up is WTF TaeKwondo. Their form is admittedly weaker than karate. Watching a floppy TKD Poomse and then watching a powerhouse karate Kata shows the dramatic difference both have on attention to form. However, to say WTF is a McDojo because the participants get a black belt in a shorter period of time is a bit unfair. I’ve seen black belt WTF TKD fighters whoop traditional karate Sandan’s and vice versa so whose to say which one is “better”? It’s kind of a subjective argument based on the other persons biased criteria. Truth is real fighters are born and not necessarily created in a dojo anyway.
To Shotokan, TKD will suck because it is not Shotokan ( BTW, Shotokan feels that about everyone. We’re kind of dorks like that ). TKD will feel traditional karate is stiff and too rigid and focuses on kata far too much instead of practical skills like sparring ( and in many ways they are right ). Others like Kyoshin Ryu just bitch about everything because some MMA fighter took their style once and they’re gonna ride that train till it derails. And to everyone ATA is going to suck because that’s just common damn sense.
I guess the important thing to remember is that a black belt has no value in itself outside the dojo walls. Yes, TV implies that it means something akin to being Batman but in reality it is just a sign of rank within a club. Try not to make it too big a deal because in the grand cosmic scheme of things all black belts have the same value.
If you don’t like your dojo, it’s a McDojo: FALSE
I simply cannot put into words the ignorance of so many that if one is dis-satisfied with their training then clearly they are guilty of training in a McDojo. I reserve that kind of idiocy for cults and Kyu ranks.
The bulk of my traditional karate training was under Yutaka Yaguchi Sensei so take whatever you think you know about McDojo’s and swing to the extreme polar opposite. There you will find Yaguchi. I don’t care who your Sensei is or how many levels of black belts he has. Compared to Yaguchi he is a decorated poseur.
BUT, if he was so awesome then why did I leave? Plenty of reasons. It is here so karate-ka mentally short circuit because leaving a dojo in many ways is an attack on their pastime. It is personal. When I state that time with my family was more important, many will take that as an accusation that they are ignoring THEIR family ( hint: you probably are ). Maybe I got bored and wanted to try something else. Maybe “seeking perfection of character” meant I had to leave the oppressiveness of dojo politics. Maybe I looked at the belt around my waist and said, “Yup. Good enough” and moved on to water polo. Joe Karate then gets insulted because his brain thinks I said water polo is better.
Got news for you all: The day is coming when you will all quit your dojo. All of you, save the fraction of a percentage that become professional instructors will one day put the belt on for the last time. So if you decide to pat yourself on the back and point fingers at the guy who moved on with life just remember that your day is coming. Make no mistake, it will be sooner than you think.
And on that day, poetic justice will be served and you will be accused of having attended a McDojo the whole time. Then listen. That laughter you hear behind you will be me.
January 23, 2016 at
I would only partially agree with it. I’m doing WTF Taekwondo. I really really love it. However, I can bet that almost anyone will kick my ass in 1-2-1 combat. (Oh no, what will I do? probably try to outrun them xD) But I’m doing it to get stretch and speed and not getting too many muscles on arms( yep-yep girlish stuff), I see it more as an aggressive ballet (it can be very beautiful and fast). Also, I have doubts that I will ever use it outside the gym/class. So anyone saying that some kind of MMA is stupid and won’t work in real life…well how likely that you will get into a professional fight ever except from tournaments? If it is unprofessional, than speed and few precise kicks/punches will save you (and as a last resort – run run run), but in that case does school really matters? Just love what you do :) Cheers
April 5, 2015 at
I disagree a with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu part. I have a long history of martial arts especially taekwondo. I recently started going to a different taekwondo school and taking the BJJ class, which is also taken by most of the school’s black belts. I’ll tell you from personal experience taekwondo students don’t know how to fight or defend themselves when the fight gets taken to the ground. Having a school that teaches basic BJJ is a great thing not something to laugh at. I have great respect for the master offering ground fighting knowledge to his students.
March 22, 2015 at
It should make a boxingring-like ringing sound every time one finishes your article and scrolls to the commentsection xD
Whilst this comment might not come to your attention, dear Parrot, i still feel the urge to announce an freaking enlightment that i got thanks to your articles about Karate but not regarding the later.
Well i don’t plan on quittung my dojo now, as i already rejoined several years ago – At that time because i was missing this sense of meaning that i experienced in elementary school, exactly what you mentioned in “…NOT useless” – but your articles made me think about my own reasons for doing karate. To sum it up: i see your points, but don’t agree. And i won’t go into that matter. I really emphazised with your explanations though. Mainly because i guessed a honest sincerity about your lifestyle.
And while i was thinking “Yeah, this guy made compromises and was sure to make the right ones.”, it just came to me that i should quit university, as i chose my field of studies for the wrong reasons. Your articles really humoured me and i really liked the blunt honesty, which to conclude inspired me to be more honest with myself about certain points. Thank you for that :)
Ps.: pls, excuse the randomness and to all byreaders, these are not the droids you are lookin’ for … Move along!
January 28, 2015 at
awesome article! Helped me clear up why so many people were attacking TKD as a martial art… I appreciate all arts & I don’t think of myself as superior, so it wasn’t really adding up. I’m pretty new to actually taking martial arts, but I’ve always had an interest in reading about it. My school is traditional Chung Do Kwan & when I say traditional, I mean TRADITIONAL. But I love it nonetheless, & I’m not ashamed to say it has it’s faults. I’ve watched all kinds of fights & yeah I’ve seen TKD guys beat all sorts of guys, but I’ve also seen them get their butts kicked. I’m of the belief that a good fighter’s a good fighter, no matter what style & I wish other martial artists would take a deep breath & chill out a little. Respect eachother!
August 8, 2014 at
The dojo I’m trying out has a Sensei that has SCORES of trophies, however I do see some kids with green belts and some patches here and there. Is this a mcdojo? (This is a Hapkido dojo BTW)
August 8, 2014 at
Check to see if they’re bowling trophies.
August 8, 2014 at
They’re not. They look like they’re tournament trophies
August 8, 2014 at
Uh yeah. I was kind of being sarcastic.
Don’t worry too much about what someone else thinks about your dojo because just about everyone in martial arts thinks the other guy attends a McDojo. It’s a way of feeling their art is superior when it is just another flavor of ice cream.
However…if your dojo wants contracts, has special “accelerator classes” and advances you every month then yes…it is absolutely a McDojo. Trophies are just pieces of plastic on a wooden base. I have a bunch put away in a box in my storage room but if someone want to display them I see no reason why not. It’s personal taste.
August 8, 2014 at
I’m sorry but just one more question. Don’t all dojos have contracts?
August 8, 2014 at
Most assuredly they do not. Not one of my karate dojos I ever attended had contracts.
If you mean paying for a monthly fee, that is not a contract. Paying for a year in advance with no option for refund should you leave, is a contract. If the dojo goes under you’re out your money in such a case.
August 13, 2014 at
My local judo club has yearly payments but none of that other stuff. Its also run by a forner bronze medalist in judo. Is it a mcdojo?
August 13, 2014 at
That’s really not enough information to go on, but generally Olympic Judo is not one of the styles associated with McDojoism.
October 10, 2014 at
That’s probably just the association fee. It also covers the club’s insurance so if you get hurt your covered. it shouldn’t be much more than $50. Your monthly is probably super low too.
July 31, 2014 at
This I do agree.. it depends on the person… a true fighter..kudos
May 31, 2014 at
Just wondering but even though you trained at with one of the most legit karate masters you still got flak for quitting? Was he personally mad at you? Or was it just some of the other people who attended. What were his feelings when you quit?
May 31, 2014 at
Also there is a Taekwondo place here in my town and they have whats called junior black belts for kids under a certain age. What is your take on that?
May 31, 2014 at
Well, if the kids like it I suppose that’s important too. I just would hesitate on calling it a real martial art!
TKD is an odd mix that wavers into McDojo territory very easily. I went to one WTF dojang that was full on McDojo. My sons club in the same style has a more traditional teacher and no stupid “little ninja” BS.
Being the traditionalist that I am, I consider any black belt under the age of 15 to hold minimal weight. 10 year old black belts are a laughable joke that insult the rank.
April 15, 2015 at
I received my black belt at 13; I started training at 8. My WTF TKD dojang has “little ninja” classes, but it also has a 9th dan Korean grandmaster who coached the world championships many times. Some of the instructors seem like they might be “McDojo-ish” and I’m wondering if is should find a different dojang. I have trained at a different place and they were much more intense and I liked it a lot, but it is run by the same people, so I’m not sure if it is a McDojo too.
May 2, 2015 at
people join dojos and dojangs for many reasons ! I have a 4th dan in kempo karate and a 4th dan in WTF taekwondo and I also do hapkido my instructor is a 7th dan in WTF He treats everyone their with respect and is not boastful ! I think that’s all that matters ! and a little ground work is necessary for any style. I personally would not join a dojo that spent the whole class time grappling on the ground, that to me is a waist. you need to learn to fight standing up by all means !
June 28, 2015 at
There is a dojang (itf tkd version of dojo) local to me but I attend a different one and you grade alot when you are really young but lose it after you turn 10. I think it’s bs but my friend thinks this is normal
May 31, 2014 at
It’s a very complicated story! Suffice to say I got no “slack” from Sensei Yaguchi and still hold high respect for the man. He is a true devotee to traditional karate.
In short, there were politics involved during a split ( happens all the time in karate! ) and I wound up outside the ISKF against my will. Rather than continue with another local ISKF dojo run my a crazy Samurai wannabe, I hung my uniform up. 15 years of politics can wear anyone down and I was done.
Plus, fatherhood seemed more important than pledging allegiance to a dead Okinawan. Maybe when the kids are older I’ll return. Anything is possible!
October 19, 2014 at
Which split are you referring to? To stay with the JKA or IKD?
October 20, 2014 at
Well first the ISKF split from the JKA, but that didn’t affect my life much as that was in 2007 and I had been training since the early nineties. Then many of my home clubs jumped ship to the ITKF ( might have the name slightly wrong…it has been a long time ) but I hung in there with the ISKF when I moved across the country. Then our region left to join some Canadian organization and I more or less had enough at that point to care anymore.
Had a stretch in TKD but couldn’t find it in me to like it. So I walked away from the goofy, cult-ridden world of martial arts altogether. In hindsight, it was a decision that I should have made years earlier.