Let me start with explaining exactly what is meant by the term "mcdojo". This is a martial arts school of any kind (Karate/BJJ/Taekwondo) that is more like a belt factory than a school of any kind. These "mcdojo's" just pump kids through the system without giving them any real martial arts skills.
You definitely want to do your research before signing up for classes at any dojo, but how do you know what to look for? What are the red flags? Below are the red flags that I have noticed tend to accompany a "mcdojo". DISCLAIMER : just because you can check some of the boxes on this list, does not mean the school is automatically a "mcdojo". Some of these items come with very good reason. Take a look
The first and most common flag is a lengthy contract in regards to your membership. Now, a lot of schools offer contacts and in return you pay less monthly, and that totally makes sense. But if a schools only method of payment/membership is a lengthy/yearly contract...red flag. These schools are all about making sure the money comes in. Their focus is not on the students like it should be. Along with this, are their fees higher than other dojos in the area? Now, if the dojo is state of the art, with equipment and facility...than a higher fee makes more sense, but if the school is about the same as others in the area....fees should be about the same too.
The biggest question in regards to teachers is "where are they from?" Can you track their lineage? Are they open to where they train, who teaches them, who taught their teacher? If an instructor is closed off or vague about their own training and their past in regards to martial arts...consider this. It probably means they flew through martial arts themselves and don't remember much of it or they "taught themselves" and/or bought their rank.
There is also the "grandmaster". Grandmaster, or any equivalent title depending on the art, is valid. However, those titles take a lifetime to achieve. So if you're walking into a dojo or gym and their "grandmaster" barley looks like they could be a parent....it might be time to find another gym.
It is also important to consider how the teacher/sensei teaches. Do they seem to get annoyed when you ask questions? Are the answers they give vague or cop-outs like "because thats tradition." These are usually signs that the instructor has no idea what they hare talking about. A true teacher would be more than happy to share the answer and if they don't know...they will admit it and find out for you! And do they correct students? Or do they give everyone a pat on the back and a job well done?
Finally, can the teacher perform what they are expecting of the students? Now, this doesn't account to teachers who are injured, or up in age, or have valid reasons for not being able to perform, but for the most part, if they expect it of their students, they should be able to do it too. If an instructor cannot do what they are asking of their students, it probably means they don't properly know how to. And to go along with that, does the instructor engage in class? Do they demonstrate? Do they spar with the students? Roll with the students? A good instructor will know how to participate with the students because they know how to do what they are asking of their students.
THE DOJO ITSELF
How does the dojo run? There are a lot of red flags to look for in this general category. For example, one of the big ones is the timing of the classes. Do they feel rushed? Does it feel like you're barely done the first task before the instructor moves on to the next and why is this a bad thing? Well because, in order to get good at something, you need repetition. You can't get that if you're moving from drill to drill without time to really understand and practice.
Does the school discourage cross training? This is a huge red flag because as a student in the martial arts, it is all about bettering yourself. Cross training can be some of the best ways to train. If a school is forbidding that you train in another style of martial art...it is probably because they are afraid you will find somewhere better. A "mcdojo" is in it for the profit...potentially loosing a student means less profit.
Does the school teach "no touch knock-outs"? If it does....leave. You CANNOT defeat someone with your chi.
Is the dojo all about completion? Constant tournaments and matches. Always practicing these big fancy moves and routines...while there is a sport side to martial arts, there still should be some form of tradition and useful self-defence in a dojo. A lot of schools compete. That is not a bad thing. It can even be healthy for the students. But if competing is all it is ever about...you might want to look elsewhere.
Lastly, belt tests. What happens at a belt test? Do all the students pass every time? Even the ones that barley know what they are doing? Yes, students should only be compared to their best selves, never each other, however if every student is always passing and getting promoted...red flag. No one is going to have a perfect belt test every time. Never failing a belt promotion/test/grading is a big sign. That is not to say that every student will fail, some never will...but signs of failure, those are good things in this situation.
THE STUDENTS (especially the black belts)
Does it seem that there is a large quantity of students but the quality isn't so great? Red. Flag. This typically means that the teachers aren't teaching the way they should be. They are either not correcting students or they simply do not know what it is they are teaching. Now, keep in mind as a beginner, your quality is not going to be great, however you should see the difference between beginner, intermediate, and advanced students.
Speaking of advanced, the black belts. This is the easiest "mcdojo" gimmick to spot in my opinion. Lets start with "child black belts". If you are seeing 10 year olds with 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree black belts...no. Just no. They wouldn't have even been alive long enough to properly attain that belt. Now, this isn't to disqualify JR. black belts. Some schools use JR. black belts as an in-between level for advanced students. Often this belt is black with a white stripe down the centre and requires re-testing for your adult 1st degree when the time comes.
You also have to look at the quality of the black belt students. At that level, they should all be almost uniform in their techniques. Every individual has to adjust based on their own bodies, but basic movements should be sharp, clean, and almost scary to watch and should look pretty much the same from black belt to black belt. If you look and a handful of students and cannot tell that they all just did the same movement...bad quality students. Do you really trust that teacher to teach you the skill that will keep you safe in the real world?
The final category. What does the school push onto you? Or promise you? A black belt in 2 years or less? Not possible. Do they require you to have all this special gear every time you are ready to advance? New uniforms for different belt levels or new patches for your uniform? Don't get me wrong, sparring gear and even school shirts are a pretty standard thing. But if the dojo is insisting you always need these new things or to pay these new monthly fees just so you can advance in your training...find the door. These are the dojo's that care more about your money than about you.
I will end this chapter of the blog with this...a good dojo doesn't teach karate to make money. A good dojo makes money to teach karate.