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The urban dictionary defines McDojo as "schools that are run and owned for the purpose of making money. Typically you are able to get a black belt in less than 2-3 years, and you are usually guaranteed success on the black belt test. These schools charge outrageous amounts of money, have extensive contracts, and are sometimes cult like." But there´s more to it than just money.
McDojos are global. Probably every style of Martial Art has a McDojo located somewhere. I have seen websites that list what they believe are McDojos, and the tell tale signs that you could be training at one. For me, a McDojo represents a distinct lack of quality and knowledge that somehow is portrayed as a high standard designed to rob the practitioner of money. They teach poorly and end up putting a bad name on the style they buy into.
1. Your instructor is certified as an instructor, but only has a low rank: This means that the parent organisation is pushing through lowly qualified/certified practitioners to carpet bomb the area with what that call "quality instructors". Mostly likely they paid expensive fees and had to travel to the homeland of the style to get "the best" training. Also they probably only have a year or two of training in the style. You know a good instructor must be able to prove themselves with technique and knowledge, and this takes years of study and training, far more than a beach holiday or trip to the mountain temple.
2. Expensive fees and long contracts: True instructors of the styles teach because of the love they have for the style and they want to promote it to as many people as possible. For them it´s not about money, it´s about the belief in the style and what it represents. A McDojo will tie you into a long and expensive contract, they may offer you a short free trial, but very quickly they´ll lead you to the reception desk under a big logo and have you sign a contract. Be sure to read it carefully, it probably has a minimum commitment of a year with an automatic renewal and a written notice period of 1-3 months. Even the instructor will have to pay a fee up to the parent organisation regularly (like a pyramid scheme), and attend regular updates, of course if they do not pay they get removed from the organisation. Updates are a great idea, but usually in a McDojo the instructor is of low rank and still has a lot to learn anyway.
3. Frequent gradings: You´ll probably have a natural desire to progress in the style, and a McDojo will add more and more levels. You´ll likely be told that to grade you "must" have a club t-shirt too. In passing you be sold a new belt or patch. And when you go for the next grading, and the one after, you´ll find that a McDojo makes you repeat all the beginner techniques too. You´ll be told this is because you need strong basics, but the truth is simply because there are not enough techniques to fill the number of levels they made in the grading system. Your instructor will be reluctant to show you advanced techniques before you have graded to the next levels, not because you have poor basics but because he wants your grading fee and more time to learn the techniques them self (possibly through YouTube).
4.Exaggerated claims: Your McDojo instructor is a "certified" Law Enforcement/Military/Close Protection/advanced ninja trainer. Yet has absolutely no credible background in teaching this to anyone other than those you see in the dojo. Real instructors in these fields will have actual experience, and did not just a attend an in house branded certification course that is likely only a few days long. Certification by a organisation is not a qualification and does not make up for experience. Of course, they will claim is quality instruction and they met the standard, but the standard is designed to pass as many people as possible in a marketing ploy. I´d be willing to bet those courses have an extremely high pass rate. And ask yourself, really, now much can they learn in a week? Does it really make up for years in the field?
5. All the same: Standardisation is another aim of a McDojo organisation. Instructors in McDojos often don't last long. Mostly due to the lack of knowledge and training they have, they are unable to sustain the position for long and will groom a replacement. With standardisation, instructors can be replaced easily by completing the same fast track 2 day / 2 week certification process. The syllabus of a style should be almost identical everywhere anyway, but the teaching style shouldn't be. Different instructors have different personalities and different delivery styles, but in a McDojo the instructors are given set formats and methods of delivery, like a script. No flare or individuality. It was all designed to sound impressive and get members to sign long contracts quickly.
To any McDojo instructor reading this: You are what is wrong with the Martial Arts industry. You know that you have little skill, you´re in this for financial gain and the stature of being an instructor. It does not matter what organisation sold you your certification we both know you are shit, and clients know it too (maybe they take time to realise it, maybe up to the length of your contracted period, but the attrition rate in your schools are sky high). They see the difference. Although, I am glad you exist. With you around there will always be competition that is easily beaten by those with real qualifications and experience. And true quality, knowledge and value trumps your marketing logo, slogans and adverts.