There has been much talk about “McDojos” on the internet and its corrosive effect on the image of martial arts. I think that it’s safe to say there is a loose consensus on what constitutes a “McDojo.” Yet, I’ve never come across a precise definition of a “McDojo.” Obviously, it has its origins in the fast food chain known so well as McDonald’s. I think that it’s generally agreed that a McDojo school is one that reeks of crass commercialism, low standards, and can be regarded as a “belt factory.” Fast food martial arts in other words. Such schools often advertise that a black belt is “guaranteed” in set amount of time and at an astronomically high fee. Very often belts and rank are awarded regardless of the skill of the student, which leads to the prevalent image of a “black belt” from these schools not having the basic functional skill to defend themselves. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are quite a few McDojos on the market.
While I dislike McDojos in general, we can’t blame the McDojos for the problems of the martial arts market. While their advertising and marketing may be slick and questionable, they are just reflecting society itself. Let’s face it, there is a sizeable segment of today’s society that is conditioned to expect instant gratification. Think about it, instant gratification is everywhere from fast food to receiving e-mails on blackberries. You can order a product online and expect to have it delivered on your doorstep in a matter of days. Instant gratification is everywhere. McDojos is a reflection of today’s society. So I believe that there is a synergy between those who expect instant results and a McDojo that promises to deliver those results.
However, this has led some to overgeneralize and condemn every commercial martial arts school as a McDojo. I think that we would agree that every McDojo is more than likely to be a commercial school. However, I do not believe that every commercial school is necessarily a McDojo. I have seen a number of commercial schools that have high standards and turn out high quality martial artists. It starts with the owner/head instructor of the school and the kind of standards he/she brings to bear on the business. A good example of this is Ken Smith, one of the Masters of Tapi Tapi in the IMAF. He has a 7,000 sq foot facility in a suburb of Chicago and hosts the annual IMAF ArnisFest camp. To anyone not familiar with Ken, his school would seem to fit the definition of a McDojo due to its size. I assure you that it’s not. The extremely high quality of his students have always impressed me. The students at Ken’s school (Islander’s Karate) are getting their money’s worth. The folks coming out of that school are truly kick ass martial artists/Arnis players. Ditto for the Hilliard Martial Arts Center in Columbus, Ohio run by Dan McConnell. I also see the same thing developing under Master Chuck Gauss in Detroit as he grows his school. His students are going to be scary. In short, a commercial school can turn out high quality martial arts students.
Let’s examine this further. Some folks would argue that those schools that are not overly commercial and charge only “humble” fees are superior to the McDojos. Is that true ? I don’t think that it’s necessarily true. Sometimes, you get what you pay for. I remember trying out one of these kinds of schools in Columbus. I was not impressed by the quality that was offered.
Then there is the “underground/basement/garage” training groups. To me personally, there is a lot of appeal to these private training groups and there is no doubt that the quality can be quite high. Some have elevated these kinds of groups as being the only legit and real type of training. More power to them. A great reason to do this is if you are in a remote area where there are not many training opportunities. However, it is offset, in my opinion, by the lack of variety of training partners. If you train only with 4 or 6 people, that is not a lot of variety in terms body size, temperament, skill sets, and quality. There is something to be said for meeting and training with as many people as possible. A prime example is Professor Remy Presas. He met and trained with many many prominent martial artists such as Anciong Bacon and his Balintawak players, Guillermo Lengson, Leo Fong, Wally Jay, George Dillman and scores of others. I seriously doubt that Professor Presas’ skill level would have gotten to the level it did without encountering those martial artists. All else being equal, I do believe that the “underground/basement/garage” training group generally does offer high quality training. But it is not the only environment in which one can get high quality training, as evidenced by the above examples of well run commercial schools.
In closing, while the McDojos deserve the reputation that they have gotten, it is not necessarily true that every commercial school is a McDojo and there are many out there that offer high quality training, despite being “commercial.”