In Defense of the McDojo

Joab

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I have to say Bill I totally disagree with you. I've been to at least two very outstanding schools which were nothing like McDojo's who were doing quite well financially without resorting to McDojo methods. Both offered very high quality instruction, only awarded belts if you were near perfection in your technique (They said it had to be perfect, but nothing humans do is perfect, close to perfection yes...) were not overly commercial in their way of doing business yet thrived through word of mouth that they were very outstanding schools. I think McDojo's are a disgraceful and unnecessary way of doing business.
 

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Okay. It seems to me that this thread has actually led to some consensus on a few fronts.


First, a definition of financial success in business has been largely agreed to. Simply put, if a business is making enough of a profit to pay all expenses as well as recoup (or at least begin to recoup) the initial investment, it is financially successful. Expenses includes salaries, overhead and the rest.


Second, once a business has reached the point where it is financially successful, other considerations come into play that are critical to the overall success of the business: sustainability and legality are two that were specifically mentioned. Suggesting that the company that turns the higher profit is more successful is a specious and potentially misleading. A company that meets the definition of financial success as defined above could actually fail to meet the legality test or the sustainability test and therefore be an unsuccessful company overall.


Third, there seems to be little disagreement regarding the quality of the McDojo product. At best, the product is watered down. At worst, the product is fraudulent. Most McDojos fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two points. To be fair, the same could be said of any Martial Arts school, whether it turns a profit or not. This isn’t really part of the discussion, but keeps being muddled in, so I think it’s useful to get it out of the way.

So, once again, to this point, I’m really not trying to further any agenda. I’m genuinely trying to pull together what I’ve heard everyone say. Me, Bill, CC, JWLuiza, everyone… these seem to be things that we all agree on. If I’m wrong, let me know, please.


Now, presuming that we agree on these things, it seems to me that there’s room to discuss the specific business practices not just from the perspective of whether they generate profit. Once again, most of them do, but do they improve the company? Now, Bill, I know that this is subjective. Is there room in this thread for this? I don’t know. I hope so.


Ultimately, what I’m hoping to do is salvage this thread by turning it in the direction JWLuiza suggested, which is to talk about the business practices not strictly from the perspective of whether they generate income, but also whether they ultimately contribute to the overall health of the business. I’ve said several times that I believe that McDojo business practices are largely unscrupulous, and I’d be inclined to find more honorable alternatives to each. I believe that for each of the business practices inherent in the “McDojo” business model, there are alternative ways to drive the business that are less seedy, can maintain a consistent standard of quality and still provide for financial success.

For me, it’s not about sacrificing profitability. It’s really more about finding ways to generate profit that don’t require one to compromise his or her values or integrity. This is where I believe that honesty, integrity, value and the like become important, and an examination of specific business practices really becomes interesting for me. Bill identified a few specific business practices in the OP: contracts, franchizing and promotions as incentives. Some others that I think are inherent to McDojos are a tiered fee schedule (ie, instructor tracks, black belt clubs, etc), mandatory belt testings, forcing students to purchase gear from the school, and mandatory add-on sessions, such as weekly “seminars” that all cost the student money above their school tuition.

What do you guys think?
 

JWLuiza

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Bill isn't saying McDojos are the only way to make money, just that certain practices are beneficial from a business standpoint. I don't think anyone here LIKES McDojos.
 

Joab

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Bill isn't saying McDojos are the only way to make money, just that certain practices are beneficial from a business standpoint. I don't think anyone here LIKES McDojos.

I hate McDojo's and won't go to any school that is remotedly McDojoish. Sure certain practices are beneficial from a business standpoint, offering free heroin to people works out in the long run with a rather addicted clientele willing to pay top dollar for the product, but that doesn't mean its right.
 

JWLuiza

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So there are no valuable lessons from the success of the McDojo and everything they do is 100% wrong... And we can't adapt some of their practices without turning into a McDojo....

It must be nice to have such black and white thinking!
 
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Bill Mattocks

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So, once again, to this point, Im really not trying to further any agenda. Im genuinely trying to pull together what Ive heard everyone say. Me, Bill, CC, JWLuiza, everyone these seem to be things that we all agree on. If Im wrong, let me know, please.

I'm totally on board with this.

Now, presuming that we agree on these things, it seems to me that theres room to discuss the specific business practices not just from the perspective of whether they generate profit. Once again, most of them do, but do they improve the company? Now, Bill, I know that this is subjective. Is there room in this thread for this? I dont know. I hope so.

Again, total agreement on my part.

Ultimately, what Im hoping to do is salvage this thread by turning it in the direction JWLuiza suggested, which is to talk about the business practices not strictly from the perspective of whether they generate income, but also whether they ultimately contribute to the overall health of the business. Ive said several times that I believe that McDojo business practices are largely unscrupulous, and Id be inclined to find more honorable alternatives to each. I believe that for each of the business practices inherent in the McDojo business model, there are alternative ways to drive the business that are less seedy, can maintain a consistent standard of quality and still provide for financial success.

For me, its not about sacrificing profitability. Its really more about finding ways to generate profit that dont require one to compromise his or her values or integrity. This is where I believe that honesty, integrity, value and the like become important, and an examination of specific business practices really becomes interesting for me. Bill identified a few specific business practices in the OP: contracts, franchizing and promotions as incentives. Some others that I think are inherent to McDojos are a tiered fee schedule (ie, instructor tracks, black belt clubs, etc), mandatory belt testings, forcing students to purchase gear from the school, and mandatory add-on sessions, such as weekly seminars that all cost the student money above their school tuition.

What do you guys think?

Looking forward to more constructive discussion of this nature. Absolutely in agreement here.
 

Steve

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JWLuiza, which McDojo business practices do you think could be adapted from a McDojo without compromising the quality, values or standards of the school?
 

JWLuiza

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JWLuiza, which McDojo business practices do you think could be adapted from a McDojo without compromising the quality, values or standards of the school?
Got to run to a dinner talk soon, but I think tiered pricing is OK as long as the penalty isn't huge and there is a sensible release valve in the contract. It can be good for students AND instructor. (e.g., a first kyu student pays for a year because it'll save them $200 and they know they'll stick with it and an injury clause let's them put contract on hiatus, one-two month penalty for breaking early to cover the discount).
 
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Bill Mattocks

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I hate McDojo's and won't go to any school that is remotedly McDojoish. Sure certain practices are beneficial from a business standpoint, offering free heroin to people works out in the long run with a rather addicted clientele willing to pay top dollar for the product, but that doesn't mean its right.

One might look at it another way. By analyzing the business practices of the typical franchised McDojo and picking out any parts that could be used to advantage by a non-McDojo, it becomes easier to compete against them. Beating them at their own game, as it were.
 

Steve

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Got to run to a dinner talk soon, but I think tiered pricing is OK as long as the penalty isn't huge and there is a sensible release valve in the contract. It can be good for students AND instructor. (e.g., a first kyu student pays for a year because it'll save them $200 and they know they'll stick with it and an injury clause let's them put contract on hiatus, one-two month penalty for breaking early to cover the discount).
As you've outlined it, tiered pricing and contracts might work. I have never trained at a school with contracts. Does anyone have any experience with how they're typically set up? My impression, which might be skewed from having read about them only online, is that they seldom include injury clauses or an out clause if it just doesn't work out. Am I mistaken? If this is the case, by modifying it as you have, are we still talking about a McDojo business practice? What I mean is, the dreaded McDojo contract horror story is the guy forced to pay for 9 months after breaking his knee or some such is in direct contrast to a reasonable contractual agreement that includes some common sense provisions to protect both the school owner AND the student.
 

Blade96

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One might look at it another way. By analyzing the business practices of the typical franchised McDojo and picking out any parts that could be used to advantage by a non-McDojo, it becomes easier to compete against them. Beating them at their own game, as it were.

sort of like using a thief to catch a thief. lol
 

JWLuiza

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What are the specific business practices that for good or ill are definitive of a McDojo?
 
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Bill Mattocks

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What are the specific business practices that for good or ill are definitive of a McDojo?

Without assigning a 'good' or 'bad' value, some that I can think of:

1) Use of contracts
2) Guaranteed promotion (sometimes based on criteria)
3) Membership in associations offering 'credentialing'
4) Local competitions with awards
5) Fees for testing
6) Fees for promotion
7) Extensive use of add-on sales (merchandise and services)
8) Franchising
9) Advertising / Marketing campaigns
10) Vertical (specialized) accounting software packages
11) Extensive use of attendance records
12) Group membership in associations offering liability insurance / health insurance for employees / legal representation, etc
13) Advertised focus on whatever form of martial art or exercise is currently 'hot' (MMA, BJJ, kick-boxing, taebo, etc)

I'm sure there are more, but those jump to mind first. I would also venture to say that health clubs, gyms, and other 'health' or 'wellness' related businesses probably follow similar models.
 

JWLuiza

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Without assigning a 'good' or 'bad' value, some that I can think of:

1) Use of contracts
I think this can be useful for income, and used properly can be of benefit to the student. I think forced contracts with no escape valves provide negative word of mouth

2) Guaranteed promotion (sometimes based on criteria)
I see this as a way to keep less talented students around, and something that may delegate your school to a lower "tier" in the local community.

3) Membership in associations offering 'credentialing'
I don't belong to any associations and feel I didn't need them. There can be benefits when people move, but I'm not sure how much value add there is here.

4) Local competitions with awards
Competitions drive retail sales, give kids something fun to do, and are profit generators. See no problem here.
5) Fees for testing
6) Fees for promotion
Gotta pay the bills somehow. We charge about $30 or so per test until dan ranks. Excessive fees are a problem, but board members, facility space, etc. should be covered.

7) Extensive use of add-on sales (merchandise and services)
8) Franchising
9) Advertising / Marketing campaigns
10) Vertical (specialized) accounting software packages
11) Extensive use of attendance records
12) Group membership in associations offering liability insurance / health insurance for employees / legal representation, etc
13) Advertised focus on whatever form of martial art or exercise is currently 'hot' (MMA, BJJ, kick-boxing, taebo, etc)

I'm sure there are more, but those jump to mind first. I would also venture to say that health clubs, gyms, and other 'health' or 'wellness' related businesses probably follow similar models.
[/quote]

Too tired to finish right now. Good list though.
 

Steve

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Without assigning a 'good' or 'bad' value, some that I can think of:

1) Use of contracts
2) Guaranteed promotion (sometimes based on criteria)
3) Membership in associations offering 'credentialing'
4) Local competitions with awards
5) Fees for testing
6) Fees for promotion
7) Extensive use of add-on sales (merchandise and services)
8) Franchising
9) Advertising / Marketing campaigns
10) Vertical (specialized) accounting software packages
11) Extensive use of attendance records
12) Group membership in associations offering liability insurance / health insurance for employees / legal representation, etc
13) Advertised focus on whatever form of martial art or exercise is currently 'hot' (MMA, BJJ, kick-boxing, taebo, etc)

I'm sure there are more, but those jump to mind first. I would also venture to say that health clubs, gyms, and other 'health' or 'wellness' related businesses probably follow similar models.
Some other common practices. I'm bulleting them, but I'll explain further if any aren't clear:

  1. Black Belt Clubs
  2. Mandatory seminars
  3. Rules against cross training
  4. Focus on "family marketing"
  5. Instructor Training (for additional fees)
  6. Mandatory Testing on a regular schedule (ie, quarterly... just before one's taxes are due)
  7. Emphasis on Values training/De-emphasis on martial skill
  8. Focus on teh d34dly. "We don't spar because our techniques are too dangerous."
 

Touch Of Death

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Some other common practices. I'm bulleting them, but I'll explain further if any aren't clear:

  1. Black Belt Clubs
  2. Mandatory seminars
  3. Rules against cross training
  4. Focus on "family marketing"
  5. Instructor Training (for additional fees)
  6. Mandatory Testing on a regular schedule (ie, quarterly... just before one's taxes are due)
  7. Emphasis on Values training/De-emphasis on martial skill
  8. Focus on teh d34dly. "We don't spar because our techniques are too dangerous."
I can't believe you are against values! What is the world comming to these days? :mst: I thought the Shaolin guys were Monks with values.
Sean
 
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AlanE

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One might look at it another way. By analyzing the business practices of the typical franchised McDojo and picking out any parts that could be used to advantage by a non-McDojo, it becomes easier to compete against them. Beating them at their own game, as it were.

Right, Bill! Beat them at their game, but also beat then where they don't compete (we should come in first place there). However, it always comes back to, "What are you selling?" Students have different reasons for starting. What did they hope to buy? Their reasons for joining can change over time. What are we giving them? Comprehensive instruction given simply, where there exists an inherent motivation for attendance, even if students see no easy belts on the horizon.

If we lose focus on our chosen mission we can ask ourselves that central question from time to time. What are we selling? Self-respect, self-sufficiency, and camaraderie? (for example).

If I understand where the thread has progressed to, schools should begin with ethical, capable instruction. From there we're looking for possible ways (and to see if it's worth it to us) to maximize profit, growth, and create a positive influence locally and beyond.

Is below a good initial premise?

- Extra costs to customers should have a clear benefit to them, and the extra processes should be sensible, sustainable sources of income comparable with monthly dues.

Just to be sure we're incorporating all ideas, Tez3 made a valid point that got buried, which was the value of instructor competence. This point is so big it can in cases change the general rule about lineage being the best indicator of training efficacy. It can also enhance profitability. Naturally gifted teachers, with graceful movement or boundless energy, this can outshine lineage by far throughout the evening sessions (in the minds of learners). Also, the most creative and capable instructors, the innovators, are not necessarily watering down the art. Okay, they might be, or they could do as many have done: modify techniques and give it a new name. First persons were everywhere in history. They began lineages.

Another point is we generally like to see the lineage arts to require a lengthy foundation of slow and responsible mastery. Innovators may do it differently and threaten this idealistic and profitable income stream.

Matching the improved direction of the thread, what we can do as well as McDojo's is:

- Marketing
- Advertising
- Clean facility
- Highly organized instruction
- Delegated authority but not responsibility
- Public service (clean-up, volunteer services, demos,
- Halloween neighborhood walks with local police not in uniform but with
distinctive name tags (or other indication).

What we can do better is:

- Not trap students into contracts
- Keep improving our own qualifications; stay connected to those who will challenge us to grow (one of the better reasons to maintain lineage).
- Provide consistent, meaningful, deeply respectful instruction
- Provide better monitoring of student instructors, sparring, and
giving exact instructions along with a teaching methodology that builds
on previous lessons (not just another lesson, but always some cohesion
and "in Monday's class we saw Mary demonstrating..."
- Make sure it's fun and everyone gets special treatment...equally
- Make sure it's physically and mentally challenging
 

Steve

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I can't believe you are against values! What is the world comming to these days? :mst: I thought the Shaolin guys were Monks with values.
Sean
:) I was typing on a phone. Not sure if you're being serious or not, but what I mean is that a McDojo will often sell values training and minimize any actual martial training.
Here's an example I just pulled from a TKD school website. It's the first TKD site I clicked on in google:

"We're building greater unity in families, workplaces and in the communities we serve. Vital benefits in today's society!

FUN! EXCITING! INSPIRATIONAL! EDUCATIONAL!"

While any of these things are laudable, if you're not actually learning any applicable martial skill, you're not REALLY learning any values either. If that's not clear, let me know.
 

harlan

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I'm unclear...the example you cite does not suggest that they purport to teach self-defense, or even anything truly martial?
 

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