Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys – Garry Smith

I took a call the other night from someone interested in joining our Ju Jitsu training. He had clearly spent some time on our website and was just checking out when he could come along and try us out. I asked him a few questions about previous experience, general health and fitness etc. He told me he had another place to check out and I asked him who that was out of interest and he named the local McDojo. He explained he was impressed with the experience of the instructors based on how long we had been training and our dan grades and this was likewise for the McDojo. Again no problem as when anyone compares us and them, they come to us.

I agreed that he should check us both out but also told him to check out threads on the Sheffield Forum and look at some of their Youtube videos. I did tell him that we have taken on some of their ex students, 2 x 14 year old second dan black belts, who could not punch their way out of a paper bag and who we evaluated as around our green belt standard. That is a big difference.

Last night I saw a post on Facebook by a friend, in real life, who I respect and he posted about a particularly well known person in the martial arts scene who is franchising his McDojo brand left right and centre. He posted one of their videos that they have made publically available and it got the usual slating. Nothing nasty, but if you post videos of unrealistic defences against unrealistic attacks then people who do know what they are talking about will criticise.

The thing is people flock to this guys clubs and the McDojo near us has plenty of students. Before I proceed do I think they should be closed down? No, and there are a number of reasons I will set out to support their right to exist.

Firstly before I sat down with my laptop last night I had been out for a meal with my wife. It was a sunny spring evening so I picked her up from work in my VW convertible with the top down and my new Five Finger Death Punch CD playing. We drove through beautiful countryside to Upper Bradfield with our little dog Bertie, to have a drink and a meal at the Old Horns Inn, mine is a pint of Lancaster Bomber Ale please…..

My wife had the Salmon and Chorizo with salad and I had Elvis’s Last Burger, don’t ask. Why do I tell you this, because everything in the last paragraph and this happened because we, I, made choices. I chose that car, I could have bought many other cars. At one point I was deciding between a new motorcycle or a convertible, sod that, I got both. I chose the CD, we chose our drinks and food, we chose where to eat and nobody else. Choices.

Nobody told us what to do, we made our choices of our own free will from the many options available. We are not wealthy or poor, we are selective, we would like to think we have good taste, we like nice things. There has been lots of making do in our lives but now we can enjoy a reasonably good standard without having to keep up with the Jones’s.

The person making the enquiry re training, remember them, has every right to shop around and make their choice, for now that person is going on information gleaned from websites, well we know how that can be, a website can say anything.  We offer a simple deal, come along and try a session for free, ask anyone any questions, we do not want your contact details, if you do not want to join us we will never contact you, payment is PAYG or bank transfer that a student can cancel immediately if they cease training, there are no contracts, no tie ins, no leadership training, no guaranteed black belt. We now have waiting lists for some sessions, the others are filling up and we will have new classes starting later this year. As instructors we work really hard and are continually seeking to improve ourselves and our training. We take training seriously and we make it a fun thing to do. We do not advertise that much and we welcome comparison. If people need to make choices let them, we do not do hard sell, we offer training not double glazing.

Everything we charge for is on our website, there are no hidden costs and no huge monthly payments that cannot be cancelled if you leave. Often this is the opposite of the McDojo which is exactly why they attract such a level of derision from those in the business. But think on this, the public does not know what it does not know.

As my co-editor, senior instructor and erstwhile training partner Jayne pointed out: the biggest problem we have heard about from our local McDojo is people finding out that they have been sold poor quality training, especially when it’s children who can’t make an informed choice to later find out what they’ve learnt is worthless at any other club, or worse still during a conflict in the street. I have had more than one conversation, once they find out I teach Ju  Jitsu, with parents of 8/9 year old black belts who are suspicious of their supposed ‘child prodigy’, the ‘I have been had look on their faces’. I have had a 17 year old meltdown, literally, in one of my self defence classes when they realise their black belt in Karate MMA, yes you read that right, is actually not going to work in reality.

If you are told that somebody’s training is the best you will ever receive and you have no benchmark how do you choose? If you are told that their training is like a Rolls Royce as opposed to somebody else second hand Lada, which would you prefer, if you have no other comparison.

We all operate in a market economy and an unregulated industry; some people sell crap, they may not know its crap themselves, just like dead people do not know they are dead, they can’t because they are dead, doh. They are Hoffer’s ‘true believers’ who have found their holy cause, plus it’s a cash cow too.

Some McDojos attract extra criticism because we think they know they are selling crap and that that is immoral; well how do we know that, unless they say that is what they are doing we cannot know it, it is just our opinion. And that is the rub, a dojo becomes a McDojo because it is perceived as such. The thing is we all perceive things differently, if the student of a McDojo is having a great time it is of no concern of mine, if they feel ripped off and leave that too is of no concern of mine. Here is why, they are not a competitor, we are not on the same playing field. To those with no benchmark we may look alike at first but anyone doing due diligence will soon see the differences.

Now as many reading this will be practitioners in the martial arts or a related field I will ask you a few questions.

Do you get angry because some outlets sell bad food, poor quality clothing, rubbish cars, fizzy beer (not real ale like I drink)? How do you define bad, or good for that matter? Is there an agreed measure or standard we can use?

The answer to those questions was, I hope, no. McDojo’s exist like shops full of tat on any high street and some will be attracted to them and other repulsed. Another friend of mine said that they actually serve a purpose as they provide a home for the kind of student he does not want at his club.

I know people see them as bad for our industry, but in an unregulated market there will always be a range of products on offer. Do I dislike the McDojo, yes, but that is because I have an informed opinion based on experience, study and empirical evidence. Do I laugh at the ridiculous techniques they film to attract the gullible? Yes. Do I wince at the eye watering cost of their ‘guaranteed’ black belts? You bet. Do I think their students are being conned? Definitely, absolutely 100%. Do I think they have as much right as us to exist? Yes I do.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.


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