Beware the McDojo

Cover photo by Leslie Jones.

There is a shadow war being raged within the ranks of many police departments around the nation. A war where the winners will determine the future of policing. Three factions, fighting for supremacy, there can only be one winner.

The prize?

A comprehensive martial arts / defensive tactics program to keep officers safe on the streets and allow them to better deal with violent situations.  Or, the lack thereof.

The factions?

The naysayers – A group of Officers and civilians who believe every police encounter can be solved with good ‘ole police presence. Or a taser.

The traditionalists – High ranking practitioners of the mystical arts of Kung-foolishness, each one a 5th or 6th degree black belt, martial arts hall of fame inductee, and complete badass.

The realists – A diverse group of people who believe that martial arts programs should be effective and that police should regularly train.

Jokes aside.

When I went through defensive tactics training in the academy, they made sure that we knew each and every day why we’re doing what we were doing, and ensuring we trained with a purpose.   This is serious stuff here. Civilian or officer, if you train, it’s because you want to be prepared for that ‘oh crap’ moment. As an officer, that moment if handled incorrectly can very well cost you your life, or worse, your partner’s.

What is a McDojo?

Mc Dojo’s are bad, seriously bad. Especially when an officer trains at one and attempts to apply what they’ve learned on the streets. They can end up dead. Like the no respawn second chance type…

Let’s stop here for a moment. Training can honestly be the thing that saves your life one day. It’s a serious topic, and deficiency in this area is simply going on patrol on a wing and a prayer.  I think that’s the attitude and mindset that needs to be established early on and before we go any further.

Shifting gears now with that in mind, imagine if you will a scenario.

Introducing Blake.

Blake trains at Tiger Thunder Kung Fu school. Blake has been a loyal and devoted practitioner for all of … hmmm… let’s say 5 years. He faithfully goes once a week, and even helps teach the kids class. Blake is 3rd Degree black belt. Blake is also twelve, yep twelve. If you go to a martial arts school and see this, leave immediately – you’re in a Mc Dojo.

All a Mc Dojo really is, is a belt factory for kids. In a way they serve their purposes; they teach children coordination, confidence and even some slight martial skill. Great for kids, but terrible for adults, who I often see training at these establishments. The same endearing qualities that make them so great for kids is detrimental to adults. The martial skills taught in these dojos is ok, at best, but extremely unpractical. Forms? Flying side kicks? You probably won’t be performing these in a street fight.

A police officer training in these dojos will develop a false sense of confidence in his or her abilities and be just as dangerous if not more so than the officer who doesn’t train at all. At least the officer who doesn’t train knows they don’t train so they’ll have very few illusions of what they are capable of.

Where Should Officers Train?

Look to gyms that offer practical arts such as Jujitsu, Muay Thai, Boxing, Judo or Wrestling. These types of gyms will allow you to walk in day one and walk out with a practical technique you can use on the street that same day. They have also been proven to work in today’s modern environment and are extremely combat effective.

However, even among these staples, Mc Dojos try and weasel their way in, so here are some signs to look out for and avoid:

  • Too many locations; now this isn’t always the most accurate way to decipher whether or not a school is legit but it’s a good place to start. Specifically, anything that has ATA, World, or Of America in the name.

  • You should do some sort of live contact drill day one. Live contact is extremely important in helping you develop range, timing and the practical application of your techniques. Remember bags don’t hit back.

  • Cardio-based gyms. You will not gain any martial art skill at these locations. Their focus is to make you sweat, not sharpen your skills and technique.

  • The instructors never spars with the students. This is a huge indicator that you are in the wrong place. You need to be able to practice with people who are way above your skill level so you can see how they handle various situations and techniques.

At the end of the day training is fundamental for any Officer working the streets today, but not all gyms are created equally. The best way to avoid a Mc Dojo is to simply ask around and do your research; or simply train where other cops train and you should be good to go.

Be safe out there.