McDojo is a portmanteau of the words

  1. McDonald's, a famous American fast food chain
  2. dojo

This conveys a emphasis on commercialism and an assembly line approach to the detriment of martial arts. McDojo definitions vary but they share a common core: McDojo are to be avoided. This community wiki aims to collect warning signs such that readers might avoid said McDojo.


Meta discussion about this wiki… Note that this is not a format for questions that you should seek to emulate. It is a very special case, as discussed in the meta post.

Here is a list of warning signs

Note that there exists valid reasons for all of those, this is why they are only warning signs.

  1. Monthly or yearly fee that one cannot get out of paying if one quits.
  2. Buying all supplies from the Dojo/Gym.
  3. No possibility to try out a lesson before signing up.
  4. People with little or no experience are promised to achieve black belt in 1-2 years.
  5. The teacher has a very high rank and younger than 35 years old.
  6. The teacher has many high ranks in many martial arts.
  7. The style that is taught was invented by the local teacher.
  8. The teacher's lineage is unclear.
  9. The teacher does not allow any questions.
  10. Training with other teams or schools, or training other martial arts, is not allowed.
  11. Rank advancement is on a time schedule (say every three months) instead of solely on demonstrated and/or achieved competency.

Note that you could replace teacher(s) with instructor(s) and not lose any meaning. There is no prejudice in using one term over the other.

  • @Sardathrion what would be a valid reason for point 10? I had trained at my school for 5 years and it didn't seem like a McDojo, but I do not understand why no one was allowed to practice other martial arts. I was too afraid to ask my instructor, and it's one of the main reasons I left the school. – as4s4hetic Sep 29 '17 at 9:19
  • I would say there is a certain validity to point 10 in the case of very low level students, as there are detriments to studying under different masters and styles simultaneously before developing some low level of competency. For example, a student who is learning 3 or 4 different ways to perform a specific technique before acquiring a basic familiarity with that technique will doubtless find it very confusing while his instructors will find it quite frustrating. – Michael Yamnato Oct 4 '17 at 20:34
  • Please re-read the first sentence of the post before adding yet another comment to justify any of the points! Yes, any of those points can easily be justifiable. This is why this is a list of warnings not canonical signs. – Sardathrion Oct 5 '17 at 7:16
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Here is a list of canonical signs

  1. Large and opaque fee structure.
  2. Unqualified instructors.
  3. There is a cult mentality in the Dojo.
  4. Secret techniques that are "too dangerous for the untrained to know or see" that require special training, usually costing more money.
  5. Obtaining a higher rank costs lots of money

This is the accepted answer because the canonical signs should always come first. The warning signs are potential indicators only as there are valid reasons for a dojo to do those things.

I found that you only can spot a proper dojo by seeing the amount of effort student exert. If a dojo is full of sweaty nearly exhausted students that is a good sign. Fancy prancers walking around in fancy uniforms - McDojo..

A lot of good and bad info here. Mostly anecdotal, like "if the teacher is young yet holds a high rank in more than one martial art". That's just absurd as it requires people to make snap judgments based solely on appearance. I'm 44 years old and I still get proofed for cigarettes, people don't assume I'm older than 20 years. I hold a black belt in judo, I've participated in the AM-CAN eight years in a row. I hold a black belt in Tae Kwon do and for the past two years I've practiced boxing and Brazilian Jujitsu. I don't own a school and I am not a paid instructor. But my knowledge and experience pales in comparison to my Tae Kwon Do instructor who is 4 years younger than I am. Age, or the lack of does not predicate a failing as an instructor.

Signs that you're at an awful money hungry McDojo:

  • More than half the class holds high level belts with less than 3 years of formal training.

  • The school is less than 5 years old with more than 12 black belts. (12 being an average class size and 5 years being an extremely short -albeit possible- time to earn a black belt.

  • Contract payment method. If your school requires a contract of payment to learn, get out. An annual membership is not the same as a contract.

  • The school lead instructor (not always the owner) claims to have multiple belts in multiple disciplines but does not have proof of graduation or hasn't learned from a reputed master.

  • Belts are awarded and not earned. Belts should never be given without a very specific test for said belt. There is a tradition where a master can bestow a belt unto a student who shows exceptional understanding of the art without tradotional belt testing,but this isn't done in a class sething, ever.

  • If belts are given based on time spent or classes attended and/or lessons are individually charged. Belt testing is a must and if an entire class can receive a belt simply for attendance and not have to demonstrate an actual understanding of the art, you're in the wrong place.

  • Not everyone learns at the same pace, individual testing for belt/rank advancement is a must and taking the test is usually left up to the students discretion. There are exceptions and it's the masters job to push the students.

  • If you walk into a school and there are "kids" belts. This is a hallmark of an awful school and has unfortunately (or fortunately for those looking to spot bullshit schools) has become something of a trend. Kids classes will advance students faster through belt rank with a simplified class syllabus in order for kids to feel good and parents to feel like they are getting their monies worth. This usually means your school has no understanding of ANY martial art and it's students are going to fail at life. Often.

protected by Sardathrion Oct 16 '16 at 14:42

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