Things to Look Out for When Signing up for Any Martial Arts School

The McDojo phenomenon has been plaguing the world of Martial Arts for quite some time now. Be warned. The phenomenon is very true.


Let us first define what makes a school a McDojo. It is one that puts in sub-par instruction for the sole purpose of revenue. Atn its core, it is just a business. Let’s be realistic for a second. Running is school is a good source of income. Money is good. Let’s be clear about that. But as a journeying BJJ guy such as myself, the idealist in me cringes in horror whenever I hear students complain about how inadequate the training is, and how quickly belts are being given out. There was a time when a black belt really meant something.

_MG_1229I am always inspired whenever I get to meet someone who has earned his black belt after 7- 8 years in training or so. But would you believe that some schools churn out a black belt within just 2 years of training? Somehow, when some schools  focus more on profits, a martial arts school loses its value proposition of teaching an art that was supposed to be passed down through generations, to a mill of diplomas and a stock room of ready-made black belts ready to be distributed to anyone willing to stay for the next 2 years. Two years = black belt. Sounds tempting to some.

Here is one experience that I would like to share:

I was a kid. I was around 9 years old when I first saw the movie American Ninja. And right there and then, I fell in love with the idea of wearing a nice Kimono (I didn’t know it is supposed to call a gi) and intimidate my bullies (bullying story will be told in detail in another post).

So I asked my uncle if he would give me money to sign up for the elementary school’s Karate program. I was psyched that he obliged. During my very first training session, my wide-eyed curiousity soon became a nightmarish, gut-wrenching experience… I didn’t enjoy it. What I paid was $20 back then, and soon turned out to be more of a hard-core, almost Spartan-like training Black Beltsession. We were training on paved ground. There was no equipament to protect the students while sparring.No mats. Just hardcore paved cement… with a bit of sand coming from the nearby construction site. I had bruises when I get home from training. It wasn’t a fun experience. But there were a lot of us taking the class. We are told to spar with higher ranked students. These students got their blue belts after 2 months. (LOL). And it’s contact Karate. I didn’t know the term McDojo back then, but it was an eye opener. I almost swore off of martial arts. I was also asked to tell my mom to  advance for the next two months for the class.

I quit after 1 month.

So there. I wish not to dwell on the negative aspects of a McDojo.  But rather, focus on talking about what makes a Martial Arts school LEGIT, TRUST WORTHY, AND WORTH THE INVESTMENT.

Signs that You SIGNED up With a Legit School

  1. MODEL_10_ICP-01There are not many black belts out there. Simply because the school believes that a black belt is a well-earned badge that signifies skills, hard work.
  2. Your school is comprised of people who follow policies for promotion. And if it’s a network of schools, the same rules apply.
  3. A solid belt system to make sure that everyone possesses the right skills before earning right of the degree.
  4. Your school promotes personal growth in line with training.
  5. There is a system of training that is strictly being followed. There are schedules for training that are being followed.
  6. World-class competitors are derived from the school. It’s not the competitor, but where the competitor’s lineage lies as well.
  7. If a school gives in free trial classes, it’s a sign that it’s a legit school. A school who has no qualms in giving 1-3 lessons for free is school confident in their craft.
  8. The instructor assures that the development of his students comes before his own welfare.
  9. If the instructor joins in the training program.

It’s difficult for those who are new to the world of BJJ to tell the bad from the good. But a little research will do good on where to go, and who to learn from.

DSC_2227The McDojo will continue to exist. I believe that there is no way to stop them. But come to think of it, those who know better, do better. And if you are reading this article, I bet you are one of those who knows and will do better. If you have found yourself stuck in a McDojo, better start thinking. If you feel that what you are getting is only 90 minutes worth of aerobics, and a bunch of formless, instruction-less training, then better get out of there. If you feel that your progress is way too fast by being given a brown belt in just 1 year of training, then that is a red flag!

The journey in BJJ doesn’t end with the black belt. And I sure hope that it doesn’t end in just 3 years of training. If the values presented to you by instructors focus on self-growth, respect, and awareness, then you are in the right school.