McDojos:  Over 40 Million Served

Greetings, all!

On occasion, I like to deviate from my regular posts on Steampunk, Steamfunk and / or the craft of writing and talk about some aspect of the martial arts.

I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you what little knowledge I have acquired in my forty years of training in – and twenty-five years of teaching – traditional African martial arts and I welcome your questions and comments.

A martial artist, like any other artist, has the responsibility to render the truth as they see it, so I will do just that.  If this blog wounds anyone, so be it.  Band-Aids only cost $2.99 a box.  Now, here goes:

In this blog, we will discuss the bane and shame of the martial arts world:  The “McDojo”.

McDojos are martial arts schools that – like the restaurant chain with a similar name – fill their patrons with garbage disguised as something good and, in the end, help to create soft, martial arts pooh-bears, or overly aggressive brutes.

The McDojo’s motive is profit.

McDojos teach impractical, ineffective martial arts and send unprepared, over confident students from the pristine, safe and controlled environment of the McDojo into the real world, armed with the false belief that they can defend themselves and teach others to do the same.

In actuality, these bamboozled students have no real combat or self-defense skills.  They have wasted valuable time and money and are the victims of fraud and deception.

McDojos crank out thousands of “Black Belts” each year, who open schools after one or two years of training.  Over half of these “Instructors” are twelve (12) years old and younger.

We have people who have never been hit, or who have never actually hit anyone, teaching self-defense to ourselves and our children.  I have even been told of McDojos that convince unwitting students that they can learn to fight through the practice of dance steps.  These instructors are basically ballet – or belly – dancers in a “karate suit”.
Learning to dance prepares the nervous system, mind and muscles for dancing, not combat.  Next time you see someone disarm a knife wielding attacker with the “Stanky-Leg”, let me know.

With McDojos now outnumbering credible martial arts schools, it is essential that you learn to distinguish between the two, if you are serious about defending yourself and your loved ones

While visiting a martial arts school, listen for these McDojo warning signs:

  1. “You don’t have to experience pain in order to learn to fight effectively.”
  2. “We have techniques that can stop any grappler from taking us to the ground.”
  3. “If you have enough control to punch or kick inches from someone’s face without actually hitting them, you can easily hit them on the street.”
  4. “If you can break a board, you can break a bone.”
  5. “We train slowly and softly in class, but on the street, when adrenaline’s pumping, we hit hard and fast.”
  6. “We can make you a Black Belt (or Red Sash, or Instructor, etc.) in one to two years.”
  7. “If a child can perform the same techniques as an adult, then they are capable of teaching as an adult.”
  8. “I am Grandmaster of this style and the only person alive qualified to teach it.”
  9. “I teach Kemetic Kung Fu.” (Since when is anything Chinese “Kemetic”?)

The Making of a Mythster

Another sure way to tell if you are in a McDojo is if the instruction is rooted in myth.

We really do not realize how influenced by martial arts movies we really are.

We believe in – and actively seek out – Mr. Miyagi (or Mr. Han, in the remake), from The Karate Kid; Stick, from Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and Elektra books; or Pai Mei, from Kill Bill, Vol. 2.

The more mystical and mysterious the better. Damn practical self-defense technique when you can just snatch out your opponent’s entire ribcage and show it to him before he hits the ground.

While teaching my students in the park a couple of years ago, an onlooker, who claimed to be a lifelong student of the martial arts, observed me “take a student’s strength” and then “give it back to him” and then watched as the entire class tried – futilely – to push me backward, even while I was standing on one leg.

I explained to the students that this had nothing to do with magic, but had everything to do with my knowledge of physics and biomechanics – something that is extensively studied in indigenous African martial arts.

The onlooker approached us and exclaimed “You’re foolin’ ‘em! You’re foolin’ ‘em!”

“Fooling them?” I inquired. “How so?”

“You’re a chi master, pretending that your power is just physics and biology and whatnot,” he replied.

That poor man would rather believe I was a sorcerer than a scientist. Sad, but the truth is: most people are just like him.

This is why so many myths abound in the martial arts and why McDojos around the world are raking in big bucks…from you.

Let’s kill a few myths right now:

Registered Hands

This is one of the oldest American martial arts legends, and has absolutely no basis in truth.

First, the U.S. government doesn’t regulate the martial arts, which means there is no process to identify people practicing the fighting arts and there is no governmental method by which practitioners can be evaluated…at least no process of identification they have revealed to the public.

Actually, there is not a country on earth in which martial artists are required to register themselves as weapons, deadly or otherwise.

This myth has its roots in three different events that occurred within the mid-20th Century:

In post-World War II Japan, the traditional martial arts were banned and records were kept of experienced practitioners.  The ban and keeping of records only lasted a few years and never spread beyond the borders of Japan.

Another event is the regulation of the activities of U.S. servicemen overseas.

Following World War II and even into the 1960s, military personnel who enrolled in martial arts programs were asked to register their participation, though not themselves.

When a person joins the military, he’s essentially the property of the U.S. government and engaging in activities that needlessly result in injury is like damaging military equipment. If a school was causing a lot of injuries, the military wanted to know about it.  They would forbid military personnel from training at such schools and in some cases, the U.S. government would shut a school down.

The third event is rooted in the soil of the rich and often outrageous history of professional pugilism. In the era of boxer Joe Louis, it was common to have police on hand during a press conference to “register” the boxer as a deadly weapon.

This was merely a publicity stunt and carried no legal weight.

In court cases involving violent confrontations, lawyers and judges may advise the jury to bear in mind a person’s martial arts, boxing or military training when evaluating the facts of the case, as in the Matter of the Welfare of DSF, 416 N.W.2d 772 (Minn. App. 1988), where the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant, who had “substantial experience in karate,” was aware enough of the potential of his blows to deliberately break the plaintiff’s jaw.

That is a lot different, however, from legally stating that the person in question is a registered and/or licensed deadly weapon.

What is disturbing, however, is that some martial artists carry “registration cards” which they have received from their McDojo, who charged them a hefty fee to be registered. These unwitting students believed that they were registered as deadly weapons.  Sad.

Nose in Brain

Inevitably, at every workshop I teach, I am asked to demonstrate a quick “death move” that anyone can do to take out any opponent.  Someone will invariably shout: “Push his nose into his brain!”

Now, tell me: Can a person really strike someone in a way that will drive the nose bone into the brain?  The answer is an emphatic “No!”   I repeat:  No!  You cannot drive any part of the nose into the brain!

This cannot be done and never has been. Anyone who argues to the contrary is misinformed or outright lying and stands in opposition to overwhelming medical and anatomical fact.

Firstly, the nose is primarily composed of malleable cartilage which does not possess the tensile strength necessary to penetrate the thick bone of which the skull is composed. Secondly, even if the nose was entirely made of bone  – and it is NOT – it would not be long enough to reach the brain.

This is one of the most popular myths in American culture and has grown to urban legend status from its appearances in books and movies.

In Stephen King’s novel Firestarter the assassin John Rainbird contemplates killing someone in this fashion and in the movie, he actually does it; the author Shirley Conran used the nose-in-brain technique as a plot device in her novel Savages. For the use of this mighty mythological technique, you can also see the Bruce Willis action flick, The Last Boy Scout, the Nicholas Cage film, Con Air and A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris.

The structure of the nose makes the nose-in-brain death-blow impossible. The nose bone, or crista galli, is a thick, smooth, triangular piece of bone that projects from the bone that forms the roof of the nasal cavity (cribriform plate).

Though there are small openings in the cribriform plate, which allow nerves to pass through it, these openings are not large enough to allow a piece of splintered crista galli to enter the brain case, nor are these openings direct conduits to the brain.

So the nose-in-brain death-blow, as dynamic and spectacular as it is in fiction, is just that…fiction.

A Black Belt Is a Master

Nope. Not even close.

First of all, most martial arts do not even use belts (or sashes, for those that wanna be cute).

For those that do, a first-degree black belt is merely an advanced beginner. The belt signifies his or her passage from the ranks of those who are still learning to the ranks of those who’ve learned how to learn.

The transition from white belt to black belt has less to do with techniques than with learning the methodologies necessary to think like a martial artist.

A black belt should be able to grasp the principles upon which the arts are based, which is far more important than his ability to perform any technique. The black belt has learned how to learn and therefore becomes more proactive in his own education.

Most of my colleagues in the traditional Asian martial arts maintain that a person becomes a true expert by the time he reaches fourth degree, which is, for many arts, the point at which a person can begin teaching.

These days, first- and second-degree black belts are often assigned to teach, and many are even called sensei. This is a marketing tactic; one that, in fact, confuses people, especially when we learn to equate anyone with a black belt with instructor-level expertise.

Breaking Away

If you’re already enrolled in a McDojo, I suggest you break that lengthy and expensive contract you signed, on the grounds that you were defrauded, throw that belly-dancing six-year old master instructor over your knee and whoop his little ass.

Nah, just sue that McDojo for every dime you ever paid them, plus pain and suffering, then e-mail me and I’ll direct you to a reputable school in your area.

Until next time:  Stay strong and keep it (Steam)funky!

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at

8 responses »

  1. mwalimu baruti says:

    Ase to too many points here Baba.

    • Balogun says:

      Meda ase, Baba!

      • Shakim says:

        I remember the time when we tried to push you while you were on one leg. I was amazed.

        My son goes to a karate school in Conyers called AKJ karate. He is learning Jiujitsu and Karate. My son Nasir is became a yellow belt in Jiujitsu after a year and a junior black belt in karate after 4 years. I want to know is 4 years too soon to get a junior black belt in karate? please advise.

        P.S I miss your school. I have been talking about going back to your school for training but I am a huge procrastinator.


      • Balogun says:

        Good to hear from you, Shakim!
        I would ask just what is a “junior black belt”? Does that mean Nasir learned a different curriculum from a regular Black Belt? I would suspect “junior” black belt is merely a marketing tool to get more money out of you. If he has spent four years training, then he should just have a “Black Belt, just like the adults. Will he have to pay for an Adult Black Belt one day?

        P.S. We miss you too and look forward to your return, which I am sure will be soon, as I know you desire to overcome your “huge” procrastination. 🙂

  2. Shakim says:

    I just spoke to my son and he said that he received his junior black belt because he finished the children’s curriculum. He is now doing an advanced curriculum in which he is learning the white belt curriculum in a teen/adult class. My son said that he has to go through the white to brown curriculum and then test for the probationary black belt.

    Now I am confused.

    The same instructor teaches my son Gracie jiujitsu. AKJ karate school is a certified Gracie school, however, his instructor is a blue belt in jiujitsu. I don’t know if he ranks high to teach my son . I am not knocking the man because my son came in 2nd place twice and third once. I don’t know if my son did well because his former instructor is a black belt in jiujitsu or my son turns to warrior when he competes. IDK

    • Balogun says:

      So, he is starting over, basically. Shame. You should NEVER be confused when it comes to spending your money.
      Furthermore, a blue belt is the rank after WHITE BELT in BJJ! Why in the hell is he teaching?!
      That same man tried to coach a BJJ Black Belt against my beginning fighter at the tournament we saw you at. My fighter broke that Black Belt’s ribs. So much for your son’s instructor’s teaching / coaching skills.
      our son won because he is a warrior…and needs to be trained by warriors. Get that boy out of that McDojo. He’ll thank you later.

  3. Ronald T. Jones says:

    Dang it! Dagnabbit! And all this time I thought I was the baddest cat on the planet having learned the Galactic Disco Cosmic style of Kung Fu Jitsu!!

    • Balogun says:

      You misread the flyer, Ronald. You WOULD have been the baddest cat on the planet had you learned the INTERgalactic Disco Cosmic style of Kung Fu Jitsu!!

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