My Own McDojo Disaster
In case you haven’t checked, there’s a great piece on CagePotato.com today about Brian D’Souza’s experience with a McDojo in Canada. A McDojo is, simply put, a school that either values earning money/protecting their egos/declaring their style “the best”/etc. over the content that they’re actually teaching. This isn’t to say that making money isn’t important for a martial arts school to stay open, but rather, the instructor values making a hefty profit/being the best fighter in the gym/etc. to the point where the quality of the school’s curriculum suffers.
McDojo is not to be confused with Bullshido – a term used for fraudulent/exaggerated claims and/or lineage in martial arts (ie. a blue belt opens his own school claiming to be a black belt, or that friend we all have who claims to be an “undefeated MMA fighter,” yet no one can find any proof that he’s ever trained before) – although the two are often connected. I’m willing to bet that if your instructor is guilty of Bullshido, he or she is running a McDojo. I’m strictly basing this off of the logic that if you’re lying about your rank or experience in order to open a martial arts school, odds are you’re either doing it to make money, or some psychologist/comedian could have a field day picking apart your massive ego.
What I really enjoyed about this piece was the fact that I could relate to Brian’s story. Yes, I too once trained at a McDojo. In fact, the first MMA gym I ever trained at was a pretty blatant McDojo in retrospect.
The identity of the school is not important, but I’ll try to describe it so that anyone who knew the local MMA scene at the time or had the misfortune of training here themselves would know exactly where I’m talking about. Also, for what it’s worth the school’s website is still up and running, and much of the awful McDojoness I’m about to write about can easily be verified. Simply put, I won’t mention them by name, but yes, the school that gives out crazy McDojo vibes is a fucking gigantic McDojo.
Anyways, I found said school in the heart of the major Mid-Atlantic city I had been living in at the time (If you know me, you know which one). I was fresh out of high school, and looking to actually learn the ins-and-outs of MMA. I had some combat sports experience, but I knew next to nothing about jiu-jitsu, except for the fact that if I wanted to trane PRIDE (I didn’t want to “trane UFC, bro,” I wanted to do this to people), I needed to know it. So I did a basic Google search, and found my McDojo. Sure, the website looked more like an infomercial than any gym website I’ve seen, but the instructor was a well-known black belt with a verifiable lineage and numerous NAGA and Grappler’s Quest medals. Surely, this man was not Bullshido, so sure, enroll me into a two year contract with no way out except for injury or moving more than fifty miles away. And I’ll gladly sign this covenant not to compete (Yes, as in business-wise, not fighting) in order to actually fight for your gym. WHAT CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!
Now, the owner’s instruction was pretty good when he was actually teaching. He was usually more like a marketer and accountant than teacher, but for the one class a week he actually taught, I learned a lot. The problem was that his “assistant instructor” taught most of the classes – despite being blatantly unqualified to do so – and the owner never really spoke up unless the assistant forgot to demonstrate something to us or didn’t know how to answer a question. When I write that his assistant was unqualified, this isn’t just sour grapes from a guy who feels he spent a lot of money on a relatively worthless gym membership. The guy was a blue belt who was pretty much honorarily promoted to purple belt; he was promoted during a “private session” that was closed off to the rest of the gym (and possibly never happened). He was a decent enough guy, but he was convinced he knew how to be an MMA fighter because he took home a few medals in the intermediate divisions of local grappling tournaments. After my fifth month of training at this place, he took over designing the curriculum and teaching classes by himself. The owner? We rarely saw him in gym clothes – let alone training – after this.
If there was any doubt that the instruction would suffer once the owner was no longer responsible for it, it was immediately squashed during my first class under the assistant. He began with shadowboxing, where he stopped the clock to correct everyone for not assuming a Western Boxing stance during MMA shadowboxing. During kick drills, he taught axe kicks; not as a stretch, but as a practical kick to use in an actual fight. Also, the first punch we went over under him? A spinning backfist, the bread-and-butter of every successful fighter, apparently. At least you’d assume that if your only knowledge of fighting came from his class and cheesy kung-fu movies. In terms that those of you who don’t follow combat sports will understand: Going into a fight with nothing but an axe kick and a spinning backfist in your arsenal is pretty much admitting to the world that you get off to being beaten and humiliated.
Unfortunately, this story gets even better – for whatever reason, Wingus had an assistant, Dingus, who somehow knew even less about MMA than he did (although Dingus had some bitchin’ face tattoos, I’ll admit that). The first class he takes part in (I think third class under the assistant’s instruction), he yells at me for not throwing a jab correctly. So I throw another. No instruction, other than “You’re doing this wrong!” And another. Still no advice of any kind. Once Mr. People Skills realizes that confusing the hell out of me isn’t a good way to coach, he stands next to me and throws a jab with his elbows sticking out, and rotating his fist so his pinky knuckle (that’s a body part, right?) is on top. Anyone who has ever boxed knows why this is incredibly wrong, so I ask him what he wants me to correct, and he simply yells “JAB!” We repeated the entire sequence from the beginning four times before FINALLY he said – I shit you not – “Oh…you’re right-handed.”
At that point, I seriously considered taking a dive next time we sparred, and then immediately going to an ER to plead with them to give me a fake X-Ray so I could get out of my contract.
What finally made me go through with my scandal was an incident that took place the next month, just after Christmas. Before the holiday, my mom none-too-subtly asked me if I needed to buy a new “karate uniform.” I laughed, and explained to her that there I don’t need a Gi for MMA or Muay Thai. Considering that my mom reacted to “Muay Thai” the way that I puppy would react to hearing a Charles Mingus song, I figured I’d explain to her what Muay Thai shorts were. Only an idiot would be surprised to open up Muay Thai shorts on Christmas morning after this encounter – which explains how well my mother knows her son, because I royally geeked out.
So now I’m ready to walk into the gym with my all-black Everlast trunks on – JUST LIKE MIKE TYSON USED TO WEAR!!!1!one!1!!eleven!! – when I get stopped by a concerned student. “Bro, you better get changed before Wingus and Dingus see you. You didn’t earn that rank!” Now, had I walked into the gym with a black belt wrapped around my Gi, I’d fully expect an ass beating. But I was wearing Under Armour and my shorts. What “rank” could he possibly be talking about?
I assumed most people wore MMA trunks to our Muay Thai practice because it was right before jiu-jitsu. Sure, one or two people wore Muay Thai shorts, but they also sucked at grappling, so I thought nothing of it. Turns out, this was actually because in order to wear Muay Thai shorts to our fucking Muay Thai practice, you had to drop one hundred bucks on a “Shorts test,” which was a three mile run, five rounds of pad work and five rounds of sparring. In other words, it was essentially what anyone serious about their training was already doing.
If you happen to know nothing about fighting, this is as ludicrous as making a boxer pay for the right to wear boxing trunks. There is absolutely no “rank” in either sport, other than championship belts won from combat. But don’t worry, there wasn’t just one “Shorts test,” either. Beginner students earned the right to wear solid color trunks (except for black), Intermediate students ran an extra two miles for the right to wear shorts with a black waistband, and Advanced students added a few rounds of jump rope and shadowboxing in order to wear black shorts. Naturally, each test was $50 more expensive than the last one, because if you’re going to milk people out of money, then milk those fuckers dry.
I had my MMA shorts in my gym bag, so I went to my car and got changed. I then confirmed everything I heard with Wingus and Dingus, and skipped class to lift weights. I then called the owner and told him that I was moving out of state and therefore needed to cancel my contract. I cooked up a fake lease with the help of a college buddy whose parents lived in Vermont (we used his home address on the lease and told his family to play along if the owner called), and spent the next few months avoiding that part of the city at all costs, training with some guys in my dorm who trained out of a rival gym (that was equally McDojo, judging by all the patches they had on their Gis).
It’d make for a good ending if I wrote that the gym has gone out of business, but I’m pretty sure it’s thriving. All of the “real” fighters who trained while I was there either left of quit MMA shortly after I did. A big part of this is because – surprise, surprise – our guys started getting their asses kicked once the owner stopped giving a shit. Maybe the gym wised up and hired someone competent to train everyone, who knows? But I’m willing to bet that Purple Belt Wingus is still teaching classes. And that his classes are just as worthless as they were the last time I trained with him.