There are many terms thrown around regarding martial arts, self defense, and martial arts schools. If you were new or are new to the world of martial arts it can be a very confusing landscape to navigate. I have been involved in the martial arts for over 26 years and a fan of the martial arts for many more years. I also have extensive training in the legal world. My education in law came about after my expertise in the martial arts had been obtained. One thing to get out of the way: I am not an attorney and if you need legal advice about the martial arts and self defense contact an attorney.
A derogatory term used a lot in internet forums and other places is the “Mc Dojo”. There is some truth in the “standard” definition of Mc Dojo. A large chain of Martial Arts schools whose main purpose is to make money. Obviously Mc Dojo is an analogy to fast food. An argument made many times is that the instructors teaching at these commercial schools are not qualified to teach or instruct the martial arts. Let the question be: if you are learning from “some dumb guy” in his garage for free what are his qualifications? Most experts in any field have received their education from an institution that also makes money. So gaining your education in the martial arts from a school that also makes money is not necessarily bad. Necessarily is: the qualifying word. There are many martial arts schools that have a poor product and for the trained eye they are easy to pick out. For someone who has no experience in the field it would be difficult to distinguish what a good product is versus a bad product. Make no mistake, martial arts schools produce a product. The product produced is: black belts. This is exactly what many would say is the exact definition of a Mc Dojo. We call them schools. The product of a school is graduates. How would we rate an educational institution that never graduated any students?
There is nothing wrong with someone making money from teaching Karate, Judo, and Tae Kwon Do etc. Just as there is nothing wrong with teaching dancing, gymnastics or boxing for money. As long as all involved are upfront about what they are teaching. Beware of the person who wants to teach you his super kung fu skills so no one will ever beat you up. As with the purchase of any product research it and then choose your purchase carefully. Most people will research the purchase of a big ticket item but will plunk down their hard earned money to the first “Karate” school they find in the phone book. Most people would not buy a car without test driving it. Test drive your Karate purchase. Whether it is for you or your children watch and listen to what the school teaches. Ask other students and parents what they think about the establishment. Keep in mind many schools have good sales people. If you are wary about what a car sales person says be careful about the salesmanship of the Dojo Master. If they use high pressure tactics to keep you from shopping around, leave and don’t go back. If they have a quality program they should be confident. They do not need to pressure you to sign up now.
If the assumption is that an institution is producing a product then, only the quality of the product should determine how good or bad that institution is. The problem with many critics and people using the term “Mc Dojo” is: they are not judging the same product. Some are assuming that the purpose of learning the martial arts is to become the ultimate street fighting machine and every black belt should be that street fighting machine. If you want to become an ultimate street fighting machine/ultimate urban warrior you won’t need to spend your money on the martial arts. The best method for becoming the best street fighter is to get into a lot of street fights. If you are not arrested, killed, or maimed you will become a really good street fighter. You could then use the money you saved for your hospital, legal fees, and funeral costs.
I trained under Kyoshi Steve Lavallee for about 7 years. He told me he could teach, a talented athlete, everything physically needed to become a black belt and/or good fighter within a year’s time. However, the mental fortitude, discipline, humility, and all else that makes a real black belt takes much longer. This is why it takes several years to become a black belt. Exactly how long it should take to become a black belt is another argument for another time. The point is: there is more to becoming a black belt than knowing how to kick and punch etc. Now we come around to the misconception that the martial arts in our modern world are about fighting and/or self defense. The origins of the arts certainly go back to combat but in the 21st century the arts have evolved. The skill we learn can cross over to a self defense situation but I would say if you have found yourself in that situation you have already failed at self defense. Marc “The Animal” MacYoung has written much about the topic of real self defense and discusses this topic in detail on his website. I suggest this as a place to start if self defense is something you want to learn about.
There is a big difference, legally, between what is deemed self defense and what is deemed fighting and/or assault. As an example let me use one of my favorite Kenpo self defense techniques. The technique is called the dance of death. Right away, just from the name we can assume that this technique might be overkill and it is. The technique ends with your “opponent” on the ground. Once the alleged dirt bag is on the ground you side kick/stomp on his head and then hop over him and stomp/side kick his head again. If you did this and the cops show up you will be seated in the back of the squad car with your hands cuffed behind you. Your next “dance” is likely to be with someone named Buba. Once an aggressor’s attack is stopped, any action beyond that point is assault. Another technique I learned was for a gun being held to your head. The technique ends with you holding the gun and then shooting the “attacker” who is on the ground at that point. A law enforcement official, training with me at the time, pointed out that if you did really shoot the attacker, after disarming said attacker, you would definitely be charged with murder/man slaughter and hauled off to jail. While this gun defense technique looked cool in a demo it was neither practical nor legal.
If the Martial Arts are not about fighting and not about self defense what does that leave us with? I would say it is a sport and a hobby. I now train under Rick Iannuzzo and he once pointed out to me that training for most people, like myself, is a hobby. Many people would admonish me for having this opinion. Real combat now does not involve swords, spears and hand to hand fighting. Real combat in the modern world has nothing to do with what was the origin of today’s modern martial arts. I would also say that what we learn is an art. Expression of movement is an art. That is what we have now. Sure many of us enter the Arts to learn self defense but if you stick around long enough you find that is not what keeps you training. Training will keep you healthy and active; training will help you gain a feeling of achievement. The martial arts can push you to discover your physical and mental limits. Learning some new technique or kata keeps your mind fresh. Learning to concentrate during a sparing session also keeps your mind far more active than just sitting and watching T.V. Also being active with something that motivates you and is interesting keeps your body moving. Keeping your body moving keeps you healthy. If you attend a good studio you also have the benefit of being surrounded by good people. So now the Martial Arts are both a sport and an art and will have the benefits of both. The art will keep you thinking, learning, and expressing. The sport will keep you competing having fun and being in a social environment.
Now, if what you want is real self defense do not look at the modern martial arts school. Also you must decide if you really need to learn physical self defense. Are you in law enforcement? Are you a prison guard? Do you work in a mental institution? These types of professions do need to know how to handle a violent person’s attack. If you are in one of these professions your organization will, in most cases teach you what you need to know, if not ask them to hire a professional that does teach self defense. In most cases this does not mean a martial arts professional. For the rest of us we need to know how to avoid these attacks and stay out of situations and places were these attacks might occur. That sometimes is not a simple task and if what you are really interested in, is self defense than look for books and writings of people qualified in that field. In almost all cases your martial arts instructor is not that person. Sure there are martial arts people that do know a lot about real self defense. If your instructor says they have this training just be sure they have proof of those credentials. Otherwise trust that your Martial Arts instructor is just that a Martial Arts professional and that, as I have discussed here, is something other than self defense.
My stories as I remember them during my journey in the Martial Arts