Wednesday, August 5, 2015

In Defense of the McDojo

"McDojo," a word that makes that skin of Martial Artists crawl. It is synonymous with poor training, bad quality classes and instructors that are teaching unrealistic methods that transcend the boundaries of reality and into fantasy. These institutions are the bane of the true Martial Artist as they dilute the standards, cheapen the accomplishments of those putting in real time and churn out black belts just for showing up. While many people characterise McDojos as anchors dragging down the arts very few will acknowledge that they actually help all of us float. 

What is a McDojo: Since the "McDojo" is such a dreaded force in the community they should be easy to define and clearly visible. However, in practice the "McDojo" tends to be any other school than the one you are currently standing in. This reasoning is simple. Most Martial Arts Instructors believe themselves to be teaching quality lessons and distributing the "correct knowledge." Ignoring the subjectiveness of "correct knowledge," teachers are genuinely good people that want to help their students. However, explaining the differences between their programs and other programs can be challenging. The easiest way is to label your competitors a "McDojo."
Mmmmmm.... McDojo.......
Photo Courtesy of "Karate by Jesse." You can read his "93 signs your Dojo is a McDojo"

Martial Arts can generally be divided into three broad pillars. The first, Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) that can trace their lineage back through time. These might include Karate, Wing Chun, etc... The second, Reality-Based Martial Arts (RBMA) focus on self-defense and the modern world. Krav Maga and Systema are good examples of RBMA. The third, Sport Martial Arts (SMA), focus on the competitive aspects of an art and testing your ability to apply it in a controlled circumstance. Mixed Martial Arts, Judo and Taekwondo all have strong sportive elements. 

Example of how the three pillars argue. 

Each of the three pillars has arguments against the other pillars in order to turn them into "McDojos." Peeling back the layers and diving deeper you will find many schools even consider other schools in their pillar "McDojos." People will argue that "School X" is what gives their Martial Art a bad name. Of course their own school is redeeming it but there is only so much good they can do. 

Why is the McDojo good? Follow The Money: Money in Martial Arts is already a contentious subject filled with a differing views. Ergo, it becomes necessary to split the the term "Money" into two parts. The "Martial Arts Industry" and "School Financing." Since School Financing is so varied and doesn't affect all Martial Artists as a whole we will look past it to the Industry. 

If we define the "McDojo" as a place where there would be Martial Artists, those with little to no skill or knowledge of the arts, gather in great numbers and boast arrogantly of their knowledge then there is a place that has dominated the scene since 1993. It is, of course, the bar on UFC Fight Night. Here is a place where all the three pillars come together to discuss their love or anger towards sport fighting. Now, it has to be said that MMA fighters are amazing Martial Artists and this isn't a dig at them. Rather, go to any bar on fight night and listen to the fans. You will hear "Table Ninjas" who have never trained beyond watching videos and fights offer advice on how they would hit harder or escape a submission. The bar is the truest "McDojo" there is. 
22 years later the bar is the biggest "McDojo" there is and it's a good thing.
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search. 

Pause for second and consider what MMA has done for the industry. UFC 1: The Beginning had 7,800 in attendance and an 86,000 person buyrate. UFC 189: Mendes Vs. McGregor had 16,000 in attendance and 1,000,000 person buyrate. UFC 189 generated $7.2 million in sales from the gate alone. 

This explosion of growth has benefited all the Martial Arts Pillars. In my travels I have seen that almost every school has taken gear from other schools. For example, you will find MMA gloves in TMA Schools across the globe. The cost of training equipment has plummeted to a point BJJ Gis are being given out for free upon joining a school. Furthermore, companies like Cold Steel now produce a huge selection of affordable training weapons thanks to volume. Overall our equipment is better and cheaper than ever which drives schools to be better and safer on all levels. 

I remember training with the cheap cotton mitts that stank and rubber knives that broke if twisted.
Today for the same price I can acquire superior hand protection at Walmart and unbreakable knives.
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search. 

The "McDojos" have not only driven the cost of equipment down they have made earning a living in Martial Arts much more possible. At UFC Ultimate Fight Night 3 in 2006 the event had $183,000 in disclosed pay. By the 2015 at UFC 182 over $1.5 Million was given out in disclosed pay. Calculated out that is close to 720% increase in disclosed pay with 17 events held in 2006 against 26 events as of August 5, 2015. 

This surge in demand has inspired video games, cinema and television to feature Martial Arts. Not only are pro-athletes jumping from the ring to film like Ronda Rousey and Randy Couture to shoot action sequences but actors are learning Martial Arts and representing them on screen. Lucy Liu practices Kali which she brought to "Kill Bill" and Robert Downey Jr. took Wing Chun to Sherlock Holmes. Even Presidents are getting involved with Obama practicing Taekwondo and Putin practicing Judo. 
Top Line: Robert Downey Jr., Ronda Rousey, Barack Obama
Bottom Line: Lucy Liu, Randy Couture, Vladimir Putin
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search. 

When Obama was given a Black Belt by South Korean President Lee Myung-Back or Putin was awarded his 8th degree black belt by the Kyokushin-kan International Honbu it helps drive people to schools. Both promotions were political in nature but those "McDojo" moments get people talking about training. Whether you agree or with his politics how cool is it that you can watch President Obama's Blue Belt Test at Gracie Barra  (Sorry. The last one is a hoax. I guess you can't trust the internet.)? 

Conclusion: You get the privilege of deciding where you fit into the pantheon of Martial Arts. Are you Traditional or Sportive? Maybe you like the self-defense of militaries and police officers? Perhaps you fit somewhere in between. "McDojos" are subjective to individual expectation and desire making them a personal definition instead of a fixed term.

Next time when you see that school that has a hundred students in their rainbow assortment of belts throwing the sloppiest techniques you have ever seen don't belittle them. Stop thinking, "What a belt factory. I am glad I don't train at that McDojo." Instead say, "Thanks McDojo. You aren't for me but you sure make my journey easier."

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

Martial Science Magazine on the web:!english-magazine-/c3uy

Find me on Facebook for more updates and daily videos:


  1. ""McDojos" are subjective to individual expectation and desire making them a personal definition instead of a fixed term."

    Absolutely incorrect. The term "McDojo" has been a fixed term for over a decade, and has nothing to do with whether an art is reality based, traditional, or sporting.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read the article JB. However, I would challenge that the term "McDojo" is a fixed one. In this "RationalWiki" Article almost all Martial Arts get some mention.

      A McDojo is whatever you want a McDojo to be.

  2. I cannot agree with this sorry, they not only take tons of money from people with false promises they will be Black Belts in two years if you just PAY ex amount of dollars.... there is NO gaurantee of a BB it is earned period. MMA existed long before UFC though I do enjoy UFC, I know Ron Van Clief who fought in #4 in the older days MMA was simply cross training and earning rank in other arts and systems as I did. I have a 4th in Shotokan and a 5th in Kenpo with other training in many other arts some weapons etc... that is MMA the old way, but I do enjoy modern MMA to a degree..... but not McDojos they are a BANE on real schools trying to help others... Parent signs up son to learn to defend themselves and get a BB in two or so years learning very little but THINK they do only to get beat up by the local Football player or Wrestler in HS.... what a waste of money....Rank is earned and never bought or promised.
    I will never see any good in them other than they open a door to others that open their eyes and see what a real school is teaching vs. what they are spending for nothing. I will never support an under 18 BB or someone who claims to be a Master or GM at age 25-30.... never.
    All should be able to trace their lineage to a founder of their art and if not that is a HUGE red flag... lets take a system I heard of called Koro Ken Karate.... ever hear of it?? Doubt so, Google it, it is a McDojo in VT that is a belt mill money making business not a Dojo to learn M.A. The only GOOD they have done is open others peoples eyes just how bad it is and why schools like my own and others have grown once they realize that there IS real good schools out there that make you earn your rank with no promise ever of a BB. Just my two cents... good article but I cannot agree with most of it sorry. Also most of them have tournaments that are so ridiculous you have to laugh as if jumping in the air and tapping someone on the top of the head or forehead will hurt someone, or bunny jumping on one foot HOPING one lands knowing that its not allowed to leg sweep.... I took one of these people that loved them so much to a USAKF tournament and they saw the difference and left that McDojo immediately. I will never see much good in them other than their students leaving to join a real school that cares about teaching and not about Money.
    Just my opinion.
    Interesting post but I do not agree.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read the article Fenris. I appreciate that.

      There are certainly individuals that engage in predatory business practices and I will not make defense of those individuals. It is one of the reasons I chose to focus on the industry trends in general.

      Let's set aside the money for a second. I been to schools that teach out of community centers and church basements. Some of these schools have been amazing and some of them have had blackbelts with less skills then I would deem proper. However, does it hurt? Are these 50 year old soccer moms and accountants really going to fight? Or are they just going to have some social fun?

      I know a school that if you look in the door will seem awful. On closer inspection they are all kids with mental challenges. They will never be able to fight their way free from a wet paper bag but that it really doesn't matter does it? they are learning life lessons that are far more important.

      That community center dojo, the school for the kids, the church basement filled with choir ladies all help us out by consuming media and buying gear.