The McDojo

4 Signs of a Fake Instructor

You signed up to take martial arts from a local school.  The dojo is well designed and your instructor is a nice guy and a total master – you think.  After some time though you begin to realize something is wrong.  You watch other martial artists on social media, YouTube, and on TV and you think, “this isn’t what our school looks like?” Then the bombshell drops when you ask your instructor where he got his blackbelt… To your shock and horror you realize he got it from Grandmaster Woo at the Online Martial Arts University!  How do you know if your instructor is legit or if you’re in a McDojo?

I’ve been training martial arts since I was 6 years old when my dad took me down to a Tae Kwon Do studio.  I remember my instructor having amazing technique.  I also remember his instructor who was some master from Korea coming in and couldn’t speak English.  Watching the two work together was just awesome and gave me a lasting impression about the student and instructor relationship.

Ip Man’s son Ip Chun about the revival of Wing Chun in Hong Kong. Pix of Ip and his students during the class.

I have traveled all over the world and trained martial arts in various countries at local schools.  One school I visited in Hong Kong the instructor came in wearing old pants and a polo shirt! But his technique and legacy was impressive.  He had a strong reputation with the community and his lineage was displayed on the wall where everyone could see it.  There was no doubt that he wasn’t fake, even if he didn’t look like a real martial artist.

It saddens me to see what martial arts has become today, especially in America.  Our association does a lot of vetting for our members when they are looking at a new martial arts school.  Sometimes what we discover is appalling.  Most schools are riddled in politics, rank, and position.  Other schools are run by a self-proclaimed Grandmaster “Woo” and money factories fooling just about all involved in the school.

Here are 4 signs that your school might have a fake instructor:

1. No Style Defined 

If your school is an “MMA” school and doesn’t have any specific martial arts attached to it, chances are you are being duped.  I have discovered many schools where the instructor has some boxing background.  He then goes to a local dojo and learns a bit of ground grappling like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Submission Wrestling.  With this knowledge he opens a new school as a Master “Woo” senior instructor at MMA Gym.  Don’t be fooled!  Ask who his instructor is and do your own investigating before you give this person your money, time, and sweat!

2. Mystery Instructor – No Lineage – No Accountability 

For the many years I trained in martial arts there has been a rise in fake instructors.  It’s easy to go to an online school and get a mail order blackbelt so you really have to be careful.  Ask your instructor who their instructor is and who his instructor’s instructor was.  You don’t need to go back to the beginning of time but you should be able to at least go back 3 or 4 generations.  Did your instructor get his belt from a “University” or an online program?  If so, chances are it’s fake.

Sometimes instructors quit martial arts leaving their students abandon with no where to go.  This has been a problem for years in martial arts and is an unfortunate part of the business.  When this happens it’s important the instructor move to a reputable association to have representation. Usually by moving to a new association the person will also gain a new instructor.   Without representation you have NO accountability and an instructor can do what he or she wants.  This is a dangerous thing.

3. I’m a Grandmaster 

First, if anyone uses the term “Grandmaster” I would proceed with extreme caution and prejudice.  Grandmaster would indicate they are the head of that style.  Usually this happens in two ways – first, the instructor is awarded this rank from the founder or previous Grandmaster before he or she died.  Or, if the Grandmaster of an art has died, the senior instructor will usually inherit this title to keep the style alive.  Second, the instructor creates his own style thereby becoming a Grandmaster.  This has been one of the biggest problems in today’s martial arts world and has given those of us in the business a bad name.  Creating your own style is not a new thing as arts like Ju-Jitsu, Silat, or Kung Fu have evolved a lot over the years through self-expression and knowledge.  It’s part of the growth in martial arts.  However, those who create their own style usually either have several blackbelts 4th Degree or higher, or have a 10th Degree and branch off on their own.  In addition, when an instructor creates his own style there should always be someone who sponsors the move and helps to legitimize it.  You can’t just create it without a testing, vetting, and investigating process.

With this being said, if you are at a school where your instructor goes by “Grandmaster” ask them what their lineage in martial arts is to see if they fit the formula I’ve just given you.  If not, run away!

4. Lot’s of Blackbelts 

I’ve seen many schools that have hundreds of blackbelts.  It’s like a factory.  A word of caution to you if the school you’re training in has this, chances are it’s a McDojo and they are in it for the money. Although there are some rare circumstances where blackbelts can be earned in 1 or 2 years, it is nearly impossible in today’s world.  In fact, it usually takes on average about 7 to 10 years for someone to legitimately earn a blackbelt.  Statistics have shown that only 10% of martial artists will make it to blackbelt.  Of that percentage, only 3% will keep going.  It’s a lifelong process and the coveted belt should not just be handed out like a cheeseburger at a fast-food joint.

In conclusion, be smart when you are shopping for martial arts training.  Train for personal growth instead of the belt.  You can easily vet your instructor with a little investigating.  Be sure you can see his credentials and lineage.  Once this has been accomplished it’s just a matter of getting settled into your training routine and growth in bushido or way of the warrior.  Chuck Norris said he was “never a natural athlete, but [he] paid [his] dues in sweat and concentration and took the time necessary to learn karate and become a world champion.”  Don’t cheat the system – earn it!

Written by A.J. Weimer 

A.J. is the founder and Executive Director of the Martial Arts Unlimited Association.  He has been training in martial arts for over 30 years and holds blackbelt rankings in 6 different martial arts.  Today A.J. provides security consulting, close-quarter combat training, and corporate executive self-defense training for businessmen and women traveling abroad.