Friday, April 11, 2014

The Arizona McDojo

Walk into a McDojo: brightly colored uniforms covered with patches that will make any NASCAR driver jealous, obi (rank belts) that look like Tibetan Prayer Flags with many color tabs, martial arts weapons that glow in the dark and are as light as balsa wood but with no strength, colorful certificates with cartoons and no kanji (Chinese calligraphy) revealing a lack of lineage, hundreds of trophies professing the owner to be a world champion, or a 20-year old, pimple-faced self-proclaimed arrogant grandmaster. When you see these tell tale signs, hang on to your wallet!

Next, a former used car salesman walks up in a colorful uniform with a contract and clipboard that guarantees if you sign his contract, you will be a black belt in a year. Yes, they've found their way into Arizona from California - McDojos with 'John Wayne' instructors that are as legitimate and honest as any politician kissing babies.

So, what does this sketch have to do with martial arts?
Nothing, but McDojos also have nothing to do with
martial arts. They are all about your money.
I ran into a father at the 24-Hour Fitness in Phoenix last week. He told me his 8-year old son received a second degree black belt after nearly two years of training in taekwondo. Wow! I was impressed.

"Your son must be very talented. How can he find the time to work so hard, does he have a family, or a job that gives him enough free time to train many hours each day?" I asked.

"No, he trains at the school sometimes twice a week and just turned 8!"

"Oooooh" I said. "You must be proud."

"Yes, we just sat down to talk about his career in taekwondo and I signed him up for his 3rd degree black belt. He'll have it when he turns 9".

"Wow, how much did that cost?" I asked.

He responded, "We got a deal, it was under $5,000".

Personally, I don't know how the McDojo owner and instructor could keep a straight face putting out that kind of contract, or offering rank for a fee. But this happens all the time and gives all martial arts a 'black eye'. Arizona and California are two of the more popular places for McDojos, but they are popping up all over the country and in Europe.

One of my instructors has a grandchild who attends a McDojo in Queen Creek. I asked how that happened? He indicated he didn't any say, it was his daughter's choice.

One afternoon, he went to pick up his grandchild. The Owner walked into the McDojo and disrupted the class being taught by a teenage black belt. The Owner walked in wearing tennis shoes, gi pants with racing stripes down the pant legs, an incorrectly tied black belt, and a street jacket and sunglasses. He popped open a can of coke, leaned against the wall as he talked to the kids. That must have made a very nice impression on the kids and parents.

Last year, we had the opportunity to see a Gilbert McDojo in action. The Gilbert instructor was an old Korean who had more than a dozen teenage and preteen black belts who were part of an elite drill team. The drill team did forms, kicks, and then broke boards. I didn't realize boards could be cut that thin. It was terrible - the kind no one should ever have to witness with breaking wood that would snap in a gust of wind over 10 mph, a nunchaku demonstration that looked more like a group of cheerleaders twirling  batons, etc. But it was impressive to the kids who watched. Anyway, you have a general idea of what a McDojo is. And they are everywhere in the Phoenix valley.

Its been suggested by some legitimate Okinawan/Japanese/US martial arts associations that as many as 85% of instructors have no evidence of legitimacy - and this is from a very good authority who receives applications for membership from schools and instructors from around the world.. So, be careful when you decide to sign up for classes in Arizona or California.

Before you join a martial arts school, ask questions. And be assured there are good martial arts instructors, as well as bad ones. The parent must decide if the school will be good for their kids. And if they are having a good time and not getting hurt, I guess there is no harm done, other than when the instructors mislead the parents about their legitimacy, rank and background.