Being an Auditor by trade part of my responsibilities are to design tests to detect if any fraud or illegal acts have occurred at a client’s business. Although it is a difficult task, businesses have to adhere to federal, state, and/or regulatory provisions and laws. Therefore I can design tests to validate if the entity adhered to those specific laws or regulations.
Unfortunately to apply such procedures towards martial arts schools is an extremely difficult task. Besides having to adhere to State and Federal taxation laws and Generally Accepting Accounting Principles for bookkeeping there is no organization that regulates how a martial arts school operates. There are small and large organizations that attempt to govern and standardize specific martial arts styles however enrollment in these organizations is not mandatory.
Because of this glaring loop hole the martial arts market has been flooded with fraudulent activities such as: Forging of rank or status, buying rank from an incredulous organization, creation of a new system of martial arts with little or no actual formalized training, creating fake masters or teachers to support the newly created system, and claiming to have and teach “mysterious” martial applications. All of which has been easily perpetuated due to the general public’s ignorance regarding martial arts and the general perception of oriental customs, mysticism and folklore.
Martial art schools that may contain a higher risk of such activities are commonly referred to as “McDojos”. A McDojo as defined by www.wikipedia.com
is, “a martial arts school where image or profit is of a higher importance than technical standards. While using the term McDojo primarily indicates judgment of a school’s financial or marketing practices, it also implies that the teaching standards of such school are much lower than that of other martial arts schools, or that the school presents non-martial arts training as martial arts. Sometimes, a McDojo's practices may border on fraud.”
Based on this it would appear that the only litmus paper to validate if the martial arts school is credible is to see if the practitioners/instructors can apply their chosen discipline in a combative environment (incorporating all ranges of combat) aka an actual street fight. In an effort to save yourself from unwanted medical bills and lawsuits from issuing challenge matches there are other ways to gain reasonable assurances regarding the credibility of a school.
Have a conversation with the head of the school. Gain information regarding his former teachers, a description of his style, the origins of the style, how long has he/she been training, the current rank of the head instructor, is it tournament oriented or is it self defense oriented, do they spar and what rules are associated with the sparring, does he/she have documented proof of his lineage and certifications, which organization (if any) is the school affiliated with, what is the payment plan to enroll, how long have the other instructors been involved in the system, and who primarily instructs the classes (both children and adults).
Be aware that there is a significant issue of concern regarding 10th degree black belts (aka Sokes or Masters). Especially if the instructor is associated with or awarded rank from the “World Sokeship Council” or a similar organization. There have been no cases against the organization, of which I am aware of, but many cases of “suspected” schools with founders of martial arts systems have been affiliated with such organizations.
A system that does not engage in some sort of full contact environment is also suspect of being a “McDojo”. Any system of martial worth engages in some sort of resistant training or sparring. Schools that often lack credibility do not engage in such activities. There are many reasons why they do not. The usual answer is that their techniques are too “deadly” for sparring. The reality is that if full resisting partners were introduced most of the techniques these schools taught would be ineffective in subduing, injuring or even killing the assailant. Therefore to protect themselves from this reality the full resisting training is eliminated.
Payment plans used have also raised some issues of concern. Although it is not a universal litmus test, many schools that require students to sign contracts are often suspected of being a “McDojo”. The reason being is that once you have committed to a contract and you wish to discontinue your enrollment you are obligated by law to continue payments to the school until the contract has reached maturity. Non-payment would result in negative effects on your credit rating and/or impending law suits. Therefore the school has achieved a locked commitment from the student and ensured a steady revenue stream. More credible schools adhere to a monthly, class pass, or pay per class system whereby no contract is signed and discontinuing your enrollment would be of a less financial burden.
Once the inquiry has competed and you are satisfied with the outcome of the discussion you should observe the class in which you or your family members are going to participate. You should also observe the advanced classes or black belt classes.
During the observation of the class you or your family members are going to attend you should note some of the following: does the instructor properly control the class at all times, does the instructor stress proper body mechanics, are some students treated as “favorites”, how does the instructor deal with non-attentive or disrespectful students, and are the techniques targeted at a low level (waist level or lower) or are the techniques targeted at a high level (above waist level).
During the observation of the advanced level class you should note some of the following: do the advanced level students performing crisp technical forms, is there a snappy aspect to their technique, is their technique somewhat lazy or sloppy and do they have proper body mechanics (i.e. hips square when punching). The advanced ranks are your barometer for the teaching ability of the instructing staff.
Again, although this is not the universal truth most schools labeled as “McDojos” offer more flashy and acrobatic techniques. This is associated with high level kicks, flying and spinning kicks as well as back flips and radically spinning weapons techniques.
Also, most but not all “McDojos” offer point sparring. This is which the participants engage in a sparring match where scoring is based on contact from the waist up. When contact is made there is a break in the match and a point is awarded. A common trait of “McDojos” is that point sparring is based on light or “fake” contact. “Fake” contact constitutes a technique coming close to the scoring area but not actually making contact but a point is awarded regardless of contact being made. To be clear there is nothing wrong with this type of training if that is what you are looking for. However, if you are looking for a more realistic or self defense oriented school a continuous full contact sparring that allows contact to most of the body (lower and upper extremities) is more suited toward your needs.
After you are satisfied with the inquiry and observation of the potential school you should participate in the class. Most schools offer a free trial class to see if you like the training. During the participation you should feel welcomed in the class, the instructor should spend some time with you acclimating you to the techniques of the system or designate a proper upper rank to do so, and you should be involved in a sufficient amount of physical exercise whereby you are “breaking a sweat.
There has been a significant trend in some systems in which “no touch knock outs” have been employed as part of the training regimen. During such training a heavy amount of emphasis is based on energy projection of “chi” or “ki” and pressure point methodology based on “Traditional Chinese Medicine” or TCM for short. This type of training is regarded within the martial arts community as highly radical and the actual combative application of such methods are suspect to a high degree of criticism.
The techniques in such training usually involve passive resistance and static opponents to achieve a “knock out”. Also, the degrees by which each participant varies as to how they react towards energy projection and pressure point attacks. Some people are very “sensitive” toward such attacks while others are basically not affected. Often those of an athletic back ground are not as susceptible towards such attacks. Based on this high degree of variability the sole reliability on such techniques does not seem logical if your goal is self defense oriented. To date there seems to be no substitute for hard training based on blood , sweat and tears.
Finally, information obtained during the inquiry, observation, and participation phase should be confirmed through an external party. Such external parties include discussions or correspondence with the school owner’s former instructors, association to which the school is governed by, and internet research regarding the system, system lineage, and the school owner.
During your internet research you may obtain information which would bring to your attention areas of concern regarding the system or the particular school you are about to enroll in. There are currently internet organizations that dedicate their time to researching and exposing schools in which conduct themselves in a less than ethical manner. Most of these organizations conduct themselves in what is called “forums” whereby martial artists from various styles and ranks discuss elements that are commonly found in more legitimate organizations and systems. During these online discussions many schools suspected of being fraudulent or adhering to a “McDojo” practice are uncovered and/or exposed. These forums are usually discovered during your internet research if the school has had a turbulent history in the views of different organizations.
Although none of these techniques are absolute standing alone a combination of these procedures will give you more insight and empower you with the proper amount of knowledge to make a more informed decision. I wish you a happy journey on your quest for the right school and above all else train hard.