Martial arts is a study of discipline.  While the main premise behind martial arts is self-defense the main benefit is self-discipline.  Self-discipline is very difficult to come by, which is why so few people have it.  Whether it is abstaining from hard drugs, not eating those donuts while on a diet, or saying no to a psycho ex who is promising you sex if you will get back together, people have a hard time resisting temptations that lead to bad places.

This is why martial arts has been so popular for thousands of years in Asian countries.  It gives men a path to physical, mental, and spiritual self-improvement.  If a student has progressed far enough he can even make a living teaching others his art.

A Bit of Background on Martial Arts

The origin of the “black belt” is a mostly American tradition.  In Japan, a student was given a belt to tie around his waist in order to hold his pants up.  This belt was seldom if ever washed.  Over time it would turn green with grass stains, then brown from dirt stains.  If he went to battle it might turn red from blood stains.  If the soldier survived long enough this unimportant clothing accessory would start to rot and turn black.  That is where the “black belt” comes from.

With globalization, the art was brought to the West in the mid-twentieth century.  (The changes Communism brought to China also chased many kung fu masters out.)  Things went well at first.  Many men who lacked something in their lives pursued it with passion.  At the time, many became so good that, in some states, anyone who acquired a black belt had to register with the police.

How Things Started To Go Wrong

Teaching true self-discipline required teachers to maintain high-level standards that many students could not meet.  A teacher, facing financial problems when starting out or simply to make more money, would lower his standards in order to keep more students.  These students would receive black belts they didn’t deserve it and, in turn, would go on to teach others — lowering the standards further.  These schools might become good money-makers for their owners, but the students they produced were sub-standard.

Since these schools took on the most students, and produced the most black belts, the faster they spread what’s known as the McDojo.

Today, I’d estimate 80-90 percent of all martial arts schools can be classified as McDojos at some level.  Of course, some will be more than others.  Perhaps you don’t want a Navy Seal-level training commitment at this point in your life (I don’t), but make sure what you are spending your time and money at is not a waste of both.

But Why Does It Matter

The problem with McDojos being so numerous is students who are passionate about martial arts and have what it takes to make it in one of the real schools will often simply find the martial arts school that is most convenient for them to get to.  They are beginners and don’t know how to identify a real school from a fake one.  This is bad for the student and bad for the real instructor because if he sets standards that are too high for the average person and he only gets a few prospective students a year come into his school then he will be forced to close or lower his standards just enough to stay open and become a pseudo-Mcdojo out of necessity.

I am not opposed to people having entrepreneurial spirit and making money, but people go to McDojos to learn self-defense and people who think they know something but don’t get into trouble as this story demonstrates.

“when a school opens and you go to see the instructor, and he looks like what he does is a lot like the things you see on TV, you tend to believe that they really do know what they are doing”

You can buy a uniform and black belt online for less than $50.

“In 2 years I did get my black belt. I went through the test with a dozen other people…and amazingly enough we all passed”

“Most of us stayed and went for our 2nd degree black belts. And then third.”

Then later one of these guys got into a real fight.

“one of the guys who blazed his way through to black belt in 2 years and stuck with it along with me was beaten up in a way I didn’t think anyone could survive. He was a mass of ripped flesh and broken bones and blood”

“He says now that he was confident until he was hit with the first punch. All that kata practice hadn’t taught him how to block effectively…We’re not black belts. We’re a bunch of well conditioned dancers.”

Martial arts does build confidence.  However, confidence that lasts until the first punch is as useful as game that lasts until your first approach.

“We didn’t spar. We weren’t allowed to compete. The reason given that sport held no place in his teaching…We were conned. This joker left his own instructor as a blue belt with only 2 years instruction”

How To Prevent This From Happening To You

This is why, if you ever decide to start studying martial arts, learn some of the red flags of a McDojo.  Here are a few common ones.

1. Are there black belts who are children

2. Are students going through different belt levels very quickly and getting a black belt after only a few years

3. Lack of sparring or no contact sparring

4. A teacher whose credentials are unbelievable for someone his age

These are pretty common.  Here are two more I would like to add.

Your teacher rarely corrects your technique.  Practice does not make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.  When you come into a school on day one I guarantee there are many things wrong with your kicks, punches, posture, stances, and everything else.  If your teacher does not correct them he either doesn’t care or doesn’t know any better himself.  Practicing imperfect technique makes it harder to unlearn later and increases your chance of sport injuries.  Only by knowing the corrections that you need to make and making them can you get the discipline to make your martial arts…better, not perfect.

Are you afraid of the higher level students?  You should be.  They are supposed to be better than you.  You probably won’t be practicing with your teacher very much so the best way to qualify the effectiveness of a school’s curriculum is by the upper level students.  Do you want what they have?  If not, the school is not for you.

Read More: 5 Things I Learned About Life From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu