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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

In Defense of the McDojo

Yep, I'm going to defend that scourge of the martial arts world, the McDojo.

Would you like a 1st Degree Black Belt with that?

But first, let's define our terms.

What's a McDojo?

When I use the term, I'm talking about a martial arts school that waters down what it teaches in order to draw in and retain students. 

It does NOT mean:

✔ A successful martial arts school

✔ A martial arts school that uses effective marketing to draw in students and keep its doors open

✔ A school that teaches performance martial arts weapons exclusively

✔ A martial arts school that caters to children

✔ A martial arts school with a kids after-school program and summer break day camps

It is possible to have all those things I listed above in a martial arts school and NOT be a McDojo.

Nope, let's talk about those who actually are teaching down "watered down" versions of their arts.  What that actually is could be a long discussion in its own right, so let's pretend we can agree on what that means.

For the purposes of today's post, let's say, generally speaking, a McDojo's "watered down" version of their martial arts style means that they aren't teaching practical self defense nor are they teaching the realities of violence. Their students learn forms with no applications, they probably get a good calisthenic workout, but they rarely if ever spar with any kind of resistance (if they do, it's "no contact" sparring or very light contact sparring in heavily padded gear). It's a martial art style being taught with the scary and uncomfortable and realistic stuff removed.

Agreed? Ok, so, hey, the McDojo. It's a good thing they exist, and here's why:

McDojos are the sponge that sucks in the audience of people who are not, and may never be, interested in the "real" martial arts.

Most McDojos cater to parents who want their kids to study for physical fitness, self esteem, and discipline.  Their competition isn't Sensei Hardcore's Karate School - it's the soccer league, the basketball league, and the local dance or gymnastics studio.

So they deliver what their audience is looking for:  physical fitness, self esteem, and personal discipline.

Learning how to defend against and use violence against other people is just not on their list.

And that's what "real" martial arts are, isn't it?  The study of violence? How to defend against it, and how to use it as a tool to defend ones' self and others?

The truth is, most people these days are not interested in violence.  They're afraid of getting hurt in training, or they don't want to contemplate that violence can happen to them (and in reality, it's pretty rare for most people, at least in the US and Canada, to experience violence, and it's getting better overall every year).

Most people DON'T think this is fun. I don't get it, either.

We weirdos who enjoy acquiring bruises for funsies are a small minority of people, and we always have been, even when violence was a much bigger problem for the majority of people. When we live in a society where you don't have to be good at violence, most people avoid it if they can.

McDojos capturing that audience means you don't have them in YOUR classes, Sensei Hardcore. So you should be grateful there's a place for them to go and you don't have to waste your time and resources on them. They aren't interested - not really - in what you teach. They want the semi-fantasy of learning to be a badass without actually doing what it takes to BE a badass.

So let Sensei McDojo indulge their fantasy and you spend your time with we happy few who do want to learn the real deal.

One more thing - some of those kids put in a McDojo grow up and then seek out "real" martial arts training. It's not a huge number, but it's not a nontrivial amount. My advice is to be a place where they can come to train for real and not feel bad about their McDojo days.

It's not necessary to shame people who earned rank in a McDojo. They did what was asked of them to achieve the rank in the system they were in (and often, they were kids with not a lot of choices). When they do get serious, they won't come to the ones making fun of them. They'll go to the place that doesn't make them feel like bad or dumb people for their McDojo past.

Be the one they can come to, ok?

McDojos have a place in our martial arts world. It's not where you and I want to study, but be grateful they're around, because ultimately, it's to our own benefit.

Did you ever train in a McDojo? What were some of the things you learned there, both good and bad? Let us know in the comments!

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