What is a McDojo (or McDochang)?
It is a perjorative term to describe martial arts programs that are focussed on profits or control over quality of techniques, honest instruction, etc.
How do I know if my school is a McDojo?
The presence of several of the following traits indicates that you may be in a McDojo. However, every program (including our own) has limitations and weaknesses; we're all human and have various imperfections. And every program has to at least break even, somehow, to keep the doors open. So recognize that just one or two of the traits are going to be present in almost any program. It is when you see multiple ones popping up that you know you have a problem.
Financial/Structural Red Flags
- Pressure to sign long term contracts.
- Highly-discounted introductory rates, accompanied by increasing rates as you stay, especially belt fees.
- Failure to fully-disclose all costs up front.
- Charging for belt tests, especially if the test is required for you to continue to progress. Rank indicates demonstrated ability. There are serious problems with paying for belt tests.
- Pressure to purchase clothing, gear and accessories that aren't necessary for your training, especially overpriced items. You should buy your own uniform and sparring gear, but there is something wrong if you are being pressured to buy stuff you don't need or at uncompetitive prices.
- Has more than about 4-5 color belt ranks/tests, especially if there is a charge for testing.
- Offers black belts to kids, especially very young ones.
- Possessive of participants; doesn't allow them to cross-train with other programs. This indicates that the program isn't interested in what is best for you, and is only concerned with keeping you tied up with them.
Psychological Red Flags
- Highly controlling behavior, especially of your private life. Beware organizations that want to know much about your private life and offer suggestions on how to deal with such issues. Most of the time, the same people offering the advice have major problems of their own. Psychologically-healthy people will rarely pry into your private affairs unless they believe you are in danger or seriously hurting, and then focus more on listening. In serious cases they should refer you to a therapist or psychologist.
- "My way or the highway" mentality.
Technical Red Flags
- Claims to be something it is not. For example, most traditional martial arts are not effective self defense.
- Lack of conditioning expectations/requirements: Their black belts and "masters" are in horrible condition and don't spar or grapple with the participants. Obviously, as we get older we lose some abilities, but this shouldn't preclude actually participating in the class. If you see a lot of fat black belts around who can't spar for 5-10 minutes straight, or can't do 50+ push-ups, sit-ups, etc., then there may be a problem.
- Emphasizes no- or light-contact sparring, and/or limits the techniques and targets, yet claims to be effective for practical application. Granted, self control needs to be exercised to avoid injuring each other, but this should not mean excluding techniques that would or should be used in real life.
- Emphasizes acrobatic or otherwise complex movements for self defense. These can be lots of fun (if you are in the necessary shape to do them), but generally fail catastrophically when applied to an aggressive person... except in the movies or in pre-scripted demonstrations.
- Lack of technical skill: Beginners are generally horrible no matter the program, but intermediate, advanced and black belt-level participants should have pretty good techniques. If they look sloppy, then the program probably focusses on advancement over actual demonstrated ability (usually to make money on belt fees).
- Lack of understanding of physiology: If your program does deep static stretches or muscle-fatiguing calisthenics at the beginning of your class (for warm-up), then you are dealing with a program or instructor who doesn't understand basic athletic training and injury prevention.
- Overly-cooperative drills. Cooperation is fine when first learning techniques, but once they are learned, they should be practiced with increasing resistance and fighting -- up to 100%.
- "Wrist control." Wrist control techniques almost never work against a strong aggressive opponent (unless you've already knocked him out).
- Show-off moves. Fancy techniques are fun and fine to pursue for personal development or demonstration. However, they are useless for practical application and dangerous to out-of-shape beginners. Kicks should generally be below the navel, and no jumping or spinning techniques for at least the first year of training.
Philosophical Red Flags
- Cultic behavior: They treat you like the Chosen Few and treat people who leave as if they are weak or traitors. Be careful if there is a lot of talk about loyalty. There are many legitimate reasons to leave any program, and people shouldn't be thought less of because they chose to do so.
- Religious overtones: Every martial program should have an ethical core of some kind, but it gets weird if they start to promote particular theistic views.
- An emphasis on metaphysical principles that have little relevance in reality or can't be empirically verifified.
- Government-worship: There is nothing wrong with loving your country, but the country and the government are two different things. Many martial arts place an emphasis on obedience and subserviance to leaders; in the program, in your city, and in your country. Blind obedience to any human is a very dangerous thing, as is power without accountability; both have led to the wrongful death of millions of people.
We welcome comments, questions and suggestions for improvement.
Via Potentia, 805 NW Alder St., McMinnville OR 97128
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