McDOJO 'A GO-GO
There was a time when to become a Black Belt in a specified Martial Arts system really meant something more. It signified a sense of true achievement within oneself, a display of hard-earned accomplishment!
Within the last decade or two, the attitude towards earning a Black Belt or training within a classical Martial Arts "Belt" system, has slowly begun to change. Up until perhaps the mid-1980's, even into the 1990's, it may have taken a typical novice student as long as ten years to finally earn his coveted Black Belt. In most cases, it wasn't easy either; it took many long hours of sweating in a Dojo (School) and a lot of sacrifice to finally reach the appropriate level to be awarded one. School owners and instructors (Sensei) still had much pride and would make sure each student really knew the curriculum well enough before they felt a student had truly reached his highest peak. Only then would they be considered ready to receive a Black Belt.
But, the tides have changed. Mainly due to the rise in popularity of the American public's growing interest in wanting to learn more about Martial Arts. They are now fueled by the many hugely popular televised Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) events, as seen on various Pay-Per-View programs, which seem to be aired almost nightly nowadays. These programs (UFC, IFL, WEC, etc.) have gained a solid foothold and are also continuing to expand into basic Cable-TV. The MMA industry itself has become major programming and is sought after by more television stations than ever before, causing a retro-active spike in commercial advertising rates.
This widespread and continually evolving popularity in itself may be considered good for the entire Martial Arts industry? However, the potential for increased revenues and a revived public awareness may also have caused some unforeseen negative effects on the way that many Martial Arts schools are operated.
As an increased number of Martial Arts gyms, schools, Dojos, Kwoons, or Dojangs began sprouting up all over throughout the late 1980's & 1990's, competition for prime street-corner real estate and advertising space became somewhat ruthless between existing schools. Franchised schools, especially organized Korean Tae Kwon Do (Once it officially became an Olympic Sport in the 1980's) Dojangs, began to open up in many areas all across the USA, allowing potential new students more available training options.
Severe financial cutbacks quickly ensued in order for school operators to afford the ever-inflating location leases, plus the many additional operating fees. Many competing school owners felt the need to throw these burdens back upon their own existing or new students in an attempt to either 'cash in' or simply to allow their business to survive. As a result, schools increased their annual membership fees, added extra costs to the required training gear and more, all to raise their dividends.
Things did change...most schools, instead of formally catering mainly to teens or perhaps matured clients, began to focus on more on teaching its youth. Thinking that if they could fill their gym with kids (Starting at 5 years old), they could possibly retain an individual long enough to keep his payments coming in until he or she is around maybe 15 years old, thus maximizing their revenues.
The negative effect is that if a student, now knowing that their many new training options had become more locally available, would no longer want to patiently wait a decade to receive their Black Belts and may decide to attend another place where they knew the students would readily receive one in only four or five years, much like someone graduating from a high school or college would then be awarded his diploma or degree after a tenure.
Because of this, some 'classical' schools may now give out a Black Belt much sooner even if the student is clearly not ready. Most of them have become highly criticized, by the now more popular progressive MMA (Mixed-Martial Arts) gyms around these days, scoffing at the thought of awarding them to mere children! They are often comically referred to as a "McDOJO" by the modern MMA community.
"May I have one Black Belt to go without the cheese, please?"
A typical "McDOJO" is run like a well oiled machine; churning out paying members like an assembly line. The worst of them seem to manufacture their Black Belt students into nothing more than robots who've not really had time enough to develop any solid foundation, lacking any tangible individuality or creative abilities. The sad thing is that when or if these automatons ever come face to face with a serious adversary outside their Dojo, they quite often tend to get beaten badly, then may realize that what they'd been taught somehow doesn't work well in a worst case scenario ("Street-fight"), and that they had been wasting their time all along! You see, an overly-formulated or "watered-down" training system does not always provide an outlet for individual functionality or creativity, which is preferable in order for a person to know how to adapt to the myriad of logistical variables occurring amidst a 'real' fight!
A true "McDOJO" may discard such concerns and only become interested in paying the high lease and keeping more cash coming into their establishments. The days when most Martial Arts schools undoubtedly cared about their personal reputations, having a qualified teaching staff, or making completely sure that each student vying for a Black Belt really knows his stuff, may now be a thing of the past? However, this writer tends to think that the public is not completely ignorant.
As the general populace gains more interest, its knowledge base becomes greater the more they watch MMA, live or on television. Informed parents know what their kids want, kids definitely think they know what they want...more often now, and it isn't Karate lessons!
The question now is...will these "McDOJO" continue to exist in this new era?