I AM THE PRODUCT OF A McDOJO -by M.J. Harday
I went into a training program in good faith. I didn't know much about karate, or even that there were different types of martial arts, but I did know that I wanted to learn how to defend myself.
To someone like me, whose only exposure was through TV and movies, 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. When the price seems reasonable and he says "you look like you're in pretty good shape, good enough I can promise you'll be a black belt in 2 years" you get excited, and you sign on the dotted line. When he offers you a 10% discount for paying cash up front, you jump at it. And then you start your classes, knowing that in just 2 years you'll be a black belt and you'll be able to defend yourself.
He was right. In 2 years I did get my black belt. I went through the test with a dozen other people, and we all paid $500 to test, and amazingly enough we all passed. We were downright proud of ourselves and each other for getting through 2 years of sweat with each other, helping each other to learn along the way.
Our classes just seemed like what a karate class should be. We bowed in, we called each other 'sir" and "ma'am"; we exercised and pushed ourselves hard to get into shape; we learned countless katas and spent hours working on special kicks.
We learned a lot.
What we didn't learn though, and didn't even realize we weren't learning, was how to use the techniques that were in the katas. We never learned to combine techniques. We never realized just because we could do these katas well, and just because we had nice looking, fast and powerful kicks, that we didn't know how and when to use them. We never sparred. None of us had ever taken any real contact.
Most of us, so damned pleased with ourselves for sticking with it for two whole years, stayed and went for our 2nd degree black belts. And then third. The only thing that changed in the class patterns was the katas we learned. But we were doing so well!
I could have stayed on that happy little path for the rest of my life if not for what happened to someone else. I wasn't even there, but it opened my eyes. It scared me so badly that I had to start reading notes posted on the Internet, and comparing what other people were saying about their schools to what was going on in mine. I even started checking out the things other schools in the area were doing.
One of the men I started class with, 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, and that was after a few days of healing. He lost the hearing in one ear and for a while they weren't sure he was going to walk again. All because he was attacked, and he thought he knew how to defend himself.
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 were never taught that a kata is a fight from one side and that the things we were doing represented someone else fighting us. It was just patterns we had to learn. Block-punch-kick... well how in the hell was that supposed to teach us anything when we never really knew what it was in the first place, what the movements represented, and how to counter attack?
We're not black belts. We're a bunch of well conditioned dancers.
This guy could have died. As it is he will have lasting effects of being beaten for the rest of his life. It was an eye opener for all of us, when we realized none of us had ever even taken a serious punch. Things just kind of fell into place then. We didn't spar. We weren't allowed to compete. The reason given that sport held no place in his teaching, but the truth is that he couldn't afford for us to be exposed to people in the martial arts who knew what they were doing.
A few months later, we know. We were conned. This joker left his own instructor as a blue belt with only 2 years instruction because he thought he was good enough. It wasn't good enough. His ego could have gotten any of us killed.
If you own a belt factory, please think twice about what you are doing. Your students trust you, and the rely on you to teach them well. I spent a lot of years of my life thinking I was being taught by a high ranking black belt when he was just a smooth talking jerk who couldn't stick with his own training. I thought I was about to test for my 3rd degree black belt. Now I know, after talking to people and then going to see other schools, that I am probably no better skilled than the average 1-2 year student with a orange or green belt. I might be faster and have more endurance, but they know more than I do.
I have started training now with a Chung Do Kwan teacher who is 100% different. Nothing is a given with him. He didn't promise me anything and hearing my version of How-I-Got-My-Black-Belt insisted I begin as a white belt, and he would give me ample opportunity to progress if I learned things quickly.
You know, that first black belt just isn't as attractive anymore.
I just want to be able to defend myself.
If you own a McDojo, think twice. It's not your life that might end in a bloody heap on the side of the road. Can you live with that? I hope not.