Home News Classical Martial Arts 4 Signs That You’ve Joined a McDojo

4 Signs That You’ve Joined a McDojo


Martial arts is a beautiful part of life. It will challenge you to become a stronger and more disciplined person in your pursuit of physical mastery. However, martial arts schools are susceptible to scammers and crooks just like every other practice out there. Martial arts scam schools and easy belt-mills known as “McDojos” are and unfortunate reality of the practice. McDojos will offer you a unique, fast track way in which you will quickly advance through a series of belts to earn your way to black belt mastery. If you or somebody you know is experiencing these qualities in their martial arts academy, there is a high chance that they are part of a martial arts scam school.


4. Constant, expensive testing fees


Constant, expensive testing fees to graduate to a new belt is a very bad sign for a martial arts school. People learn skills and techniques at different paces. Determining a student’s abilities solely on how long they’ve been at a school or whether or not they paid for the next test is an unjust way to award rank. Advancing in a belt rank should be a merit-proven honor in a martial arts academy.

3. Strong conformist mentality


Is there a giant picture of your school’s master on the wall? That isn’t a great sign for your academy. If your instructor commands an extraordinary amount of respect, constant admiration, and invites a strong sense of fear, you are likely in a McDojo. Great martial arts schools are built from the hard work of dedicated and innovative martial arts masters. The attitude of students towards their instructors should certainly be respectful, not fearful. If there is a strong feeling that you are a part of a small cult of personality, it’s not a very good sign. Martial arts practice and mastery works to destroy the ego. If your instructor exudes a strong  ego-centrism and need for worship, you are not in the best school.

2. No application of technique


The techniques you learn in class should be proven in practice when you get see the application in sparring. When you put your skills against another martial artist in sparring, you can observe why or why not the techniques you’ve learned in class are effective. McDojos focus heavily on memory and repetition with little to no sparring in class. Tests for constant new belts that are based solely on a memory recall of all the techniques learned is a sign of McDojo schooling. Another red flag in McDojo doctrine is rigorous instruction that the instructor’s moves are the only and best way. McDojo instructors will not be able to explain the application, mechanics, and meaning of their techniques beyond mindless repetition testing.

1. You are awarded a black belt in 1-2 years


A black belt represents the highest achievement in a martial arts discipline. If you can 100% master your martial arts discipline in 1-2 years, you are either a gifted prodigy from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, or you are in a McDojo. One of the easiest signs to detect this in is if you see a lot of children with black belts in the martial arts academy. If a parent walks into a studio without much martial arts knowledge and sees a lot of  kids with black belts running around, it makes your product proven to sell on the spot. Most importantly, shop around for the best martial arts academy. Not every karate studio out there is looking to charge you an arm and a leg just to have you wave you arms around and earn a belt every week. If you are interested in a school, be sure to research the instructor online and seek reviews of the school to make sure you don’t end up in a McDojo.

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Kurt Tellez
Kurt Tellez is a Southern California-based writer and musician. He first developed a passion for writing and literature in high school that carried through to the completion of a B.A. in English from Cal State Fullerton in 2013. Inspired by Joseph Conrad, Emily Dickinson, Alan Moore and Hunter S. Thompson, he has pursued a career in writing through contributions to online magazine publications, blogging, and social media management. His musical studies began at thirteen, and has since played in garage bands, concert bands and jazz bands everywhere from Honolulu to The Matthew Street Beatles Festival in Liverpool. Kurt has followed MMA since becoming an avid listener of the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Inspired by Eddie Bravo's appearances on the show, he became a member of Tenth Planet Jiu-Jitsu in 2014.
  • Daniel Duplantis

    I’ve seen No.1 way too often. Tested for my 1st Dan after almost 9 years of training and a guy from another school had tested for his about the same time as me after training for only 2 and a half years. He’s now a 3rd Dan after only 6 years of training and I’m a Kukkiwon-certified 2nd Dan after training for 13 years.

    • Stuff like that just throws the entire ranking system off, and it also completely undermines the concept of discipline and dedication. I am sure it must have been pretty frustrating to experience. :/

      • Daniel Duplantis

        Definitely. I think to even have a Poom you need to be at least 12years old. 1st Dan in Kukkiwon is minimum 15 years old. Should take at least 4 and a half to 5 years to get 1st Dan. Even after 1st Dan Kukkiwon requires 2 years in between Dan degrees for 1st-4th Dan.

  • Robert H. Mason

    Aspiring students also need to look out for supposed “MMA” gyms where the instructor has been training for 2 years and is a badass thug. There is a lot of ‘mixed up martial arts” out there. Another way to check out for McDojo tendencies is to google the name of the school with the word “complaints”. Any gym with a lot of complaints is probably a McDojo or worse.

    • I like this. “Mixed Up Martial Arts” Brilliant! If I may, I’d love to use that term in a story. Going you credit for the idea of course. 😉

      • Robert H. Mason

        Hi Luca. That would be fine.

    • JohnEngelman

      Doing an internet search for an organization you are thinking about paying money to is always a good idea, whether it is a martial arts studio, a trade school, or an apartment complex.

  • Kevin

    Just a note. Black belt is not meant to say master. The black belt is supposed to mean you have the basics down well enough, your foundation is now strong, and you are ready for deeper instruction. It should take 3 to 5 years to get a black belt if someone studies several hours a day 5 to 6 days a week. The three year mark is for those with previous experience. And no one should be younger than 16-18 to hold a black belt.

  • Kevin

    Some martial arts traditions are very militaristic. They thus have a very conformist mentality. And it is tradition in many Asian martial arts to have the schools lineage listed with pictures hanging on the wall. None of these would qualify as a McDojo.

    The real and only measure of a McDojo is the selling of rank with no true skill test. That the only requirement for rank is that your check cleared the bank and that rank can be held by anybody such as 8 year old black belts which should never happen regardless of the skill level of the 8 year old.

  • JohnEngelman

    A black belt would only really matter if there was a national or international certifying agency with objective standards, and if getting a black belt would give one privileges denied those without the belts. Anyone can open a martial arts studio. Anyone who does can give color belts and black belts.

    If a studio trains those who win tournaments that is a good sign, but it too can be misleading. What it really means is that the instructor has the charisma to attract talented young people who could otherwise be distinguishing themselves in high school, college, and perhaps even professional athletics.

    The ultimate test of a martial arts instructor is the ability to take boys who are not athletically talented, who are picked on by bullies, and to teach them how to defeat those bullies.

    Before choosing a studio, and certainly before signing a contract that will require you to pay a lot of money regardless of benefits, talk to the students. See if any have actually used the techniques in actual self defense situations.

  • Tim Steele

    I agree with most of your assertions. But having a picture of the founder or style head on the wall or a shrine is par for any traditional school. This includes almost all well-known styles (bjj, karate, aikido, etc). It’s really more a sign that the school is LEGIT because at least they claim a founder or head of style (shihan). McDojos would be LESS Likely to have a picture on the wall IMO.