Do you like the BJJ gym you’re currently training at? Have you ever trained at a different place, in your city or while traveling? If so, did you notice obvious differences between the philosophies of other academies and yours? In the modern world of BJJ, where the art has reached the furthest corners of the Earth, it is not uncommon to witness people with dishonest intentions. While the BJJ world revolves around respect, some people are just in it for the business. Just like with big corporations, when business is the aim, the road to success is paved with exploited people. Just like in the corporate world, the BJJ community has not been spared from the McDojo Gym influence.
The McDojo name is actually a very fitting one for such establishments within BJJ. These gyms operate in a different manner than your regular Jiu-Jitsu academy. Some of them are so well versed, that they might appear completely legitimate if you do not know what to look for. So, make sure you look for the warning signs in order to stay away from the McDojo gym net.
What Is A McDojo Gym
Let’s clear up the term “McDojo Gym” before we continue. A school is marked as a McDojo when there’s no apparent quality to the services they offer. Despite the lack of quality, the prices of such an establishment are ridiculously high. In a McDojo gym, the instructors are geared towards business, rather than actual teaching. The most common appearance, in a BJJ context, are belts flying around without any consideration to the real level of knowledge.
The mentality of McDojo gym owners is one of business and exploitation. They use the interest people have in BJJ along with their lack of in-depth knowledge to lure them into a world of false promises. Do not get me wrong, they do have regular classes and even curriculums. However, what they teach and how they teach it has nothing to do with BJJ. In many instances, these gyms are run by people who are fake black belts, which is another big issue in the community.
McDojo gym owners are taking the well-established way of Karate and Taekwondo gyms from the ’90s. As soon as these martial arts got popular, McDojo gyms started popping out left and right, They watered down the quality of practitioners, as well as lowering the value of the real schools. By doing so, they diminish the value of the art itself and turn it into a profit based industry rather than keeping the spirit of the art alive. They prey on the popularity of the sport to sell as much merchandise and enroll the largest number of students possible at any cost.
The Warning Signs
So, how do you know if you’re a part of a McDojo gym? Don’t worry, despite the best efforts of McDojo gym owners, there are certain signs they can’t escape from. They might be very skilled at hiding them, but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to recognize them. So, check this top ten list of warning signs, and make sure you’re out of the door if your current gym has any of them.
1. Suspicious Lineage
Do you know the exact lineage of the instructor in the gym? Lineages are a big thing in BJJ and most people are very proud of them. Schools that are associated with bigger organizations usually have them clearly displayed in the gym. Even schools that have no larger association need to have a legit instructor. It is very easy to check the lineage in BJJ, so make sure you know who awarded your instructor their rank.
If your instructor is evasive in his answers and does not offer clear information in regard to their lineage, you might be in a McDojo gym.
2. The Instructor Doesn’t Roll
If your instructor does not roll with students, while not being injured, you might be a victim of a McDojo gym owner. Now, BJJ is very hard on the body so instructors might be nursing an injury or two. Instructors do get to be picky about who they roll with, but they do not have the luxury of not rolling. Not in BJJ, anyway.
3. A Cult-like Atmosphere
Does the gym, you’re training at, have a cult vibe to it? If the instructor/owner requires a cult-like mentality in terms of loyalty from his student than run away. Run away fast. There’s a big difference between loyal students and blindly loyal followers. Make sure you’re part of the former unless intentionally you’re looking to be a part of a McDojo.
4. Price Range And Contracts
Are you required to sign a long-term contract full of binding points that do not make much sense? If so be wary of the McDojo effect. That said, some legit schools do require students to sign contracts, but they’re very simple and not at all restrictive.
Another big indicator is the price range. Are the prices crazy inflated and changing all the time? Does everything associated with you being part of a certain gym have a price? Unreasonable pricing is a monumental sign of a McDojo gym.
5. Promotion Philosophy
How many students have received belt promotions in years time? Are there people that get multiple belts in a year? If this is the case, then there’s probably no real quality to the pool of people associated with a gym. If belts can be bought without regard to the time required for attaining the sufficient degree of knowledge, then you’re not in a legitimate academy. Furthermore, if getting a stripe has a price, make sure you switch schools ASAP.
6. Q&A Inconsistencies
When students ask the instructor questions, the answers should be knowledgeable and precise. Moreover, they should be similar in context every time someone else asks the same thing. Answers that make no sense should raise suspicion instantly. In the same manner, answers that differ drastically on the same subject are an even better indicator. Still not sure? If the instructor avoids Q&A and provides vague answers, you can be sure. It’s a McDojo.
7. Mandatory Merchandise
Does your gym require you to acquire branded merchandise only? I’m not only talking about a certain GI brand here or academy patches. If you have to wear certain shorts, rashguards, and/or t-shirts every time you train, you’re being exploited. Having to use the instructor’s brand of a mouthpiece, buy belts from their shop only etc. is irrefutable evidence of a McDojo.
8. False Claims
This one is always entertaining. It ties closely to the point we made under #2. An instructor that doesn’t roll, yet boast of an impressive win record is not to be trusted. Even more, if this impressive record cannot be corroborated, stay away.
9. Extra-Curricular Favors
An instructor shouldn’t enforce students to do favors for free outside of the gym. Being friends with an instructor is different, and is a common situation in legitimate BJJ schools. However, if you have to help your instructor move or work on their house during weekends, you’re, again, being exploited. Especially if you’re being blackmailed with gym-related restrictions in order to comply.
10. Self-Defense “Expertise”
Finally, does your instructor claim to be a self-defense expert? Are they an expert in multiple martial arts in addition to being a fearsome grappler? Legit people with these abilities are extremely rare and quite old. If a young guy who even avoids rolling starts preaching about self-defense experience, leave immediately. Having false confidence and moves that don’t work might get you grievously injured, or worse. Find a legit school if you’re looking to stay safe. A McDojo is proficient at only one thing – taking your money.