Car Dealerships, McDojos & the Commercialization of Martial Arts Spirit

Have you ever had a feeling of trepidation when you have to go to a car dealership?  Did you have a legitimate concern that the business was always trying to take the most they could from you and get you locked into a high pressure contract?  Was your concern legitimate?

Many high-end car dealerships have an unlimited budget.  They have amazing buildings, inventory, and have many employees and resources.  Are you awed when you walk up to the dealership?  Does an aesthetically pleasing exterior mean that you will be treated with honor on the inside?

In today’s martial arts market, many schools/dojos have become similar to car dealerships.  They are about locking you into a long term contract and using high pressure sales tactics to extract the most amount of money they can from you and typically provide fast-food quality for a country club price.  Their business is about making huge profits and many have modeled their sales tactics after corporate America and Wall Street tactics.  Many of these “McDojos” won’t even let you watch classes or “test drive” the car before you commit.  Is this a fair and reasonable practice?

Paying off a car can take many years.  It is a big commitment that empowers you to do many things in life – such as work and recreation.  But a car is constantly giving you a return on your paid investment and it is absolutely necessary for most people to conduct their life.  In such an instance, it makes sense to have a 3-5 year commitment.  But what about a martial arts school that you sign your child up for?  Does it make sense to make a three year commitment for your child that locks you in to paying for something you can’t even test drive?  What if life circumstances change and you are still obligated to pay for something you don’t need or want any more?

Has your child ever started a new activity and not stayed with it for more than a year?  Do children’s interests change and does it make sense to commit your family to tens of thousands of dollars and the pressure that goes with that?  Would that create a hostile environment for your child and family should they decide after a year that it isn’t for them and you have two more years to pay on your contract?

Here is a wonderful article from the wall street journal that talks about the pressures families and children face when parents are forced to pay huge amounts of money for their children’s athletic training and thereby poison the well because they expect too much as a result from their children:

When people buy a car, they often forget to take into account the cost of the vehicle as well as the payment itself.  There is insurance, gas, tires, tolls, repairs, cleaning and other maintenance.  The same holds true for many McDojos.  Besides being ridiculously over-priced, there are many additional costs that are often discovered after the contract is signed.  These costs include testing fees, forced tournaments, breaking boards, equipment such as sparring gear, commute costs, and injuries to name a few.  After you calculate the REAL cost it can be very, very expensive.

With a vehicle purchase, at least you have a set expectation of quality.  If it is expensive, chances are you are getting a very nicely refined automobile that you can be assured you will enjoy.  Is this the case with many McDojos?

I would like to take a moment to address the quality vs. size and growth of an organization.  It seems to me that if you are asking a ridiculously high price, you should be providing a “Mercedes” quality service.  Is this the case with the McDojos or are people lured in by the glitter of the Wizard’s facilities?

Based upon my personal experience, I can honestly say that most of the McDojos are selling you a fast food burger and asking for a country club price.  That is insulting if you ask me.  Going back to the car dealership example, at least the high price entails something of quality and continued use.  It is a purchase that they will let you explore intimately before you sign the contract.  Would you honestly spend tens of thousands of dollars if you were unable to look at the vehicle and ensure you knew what you were getting into?  Would it even be reasonable for the dealership to ask that?  So why is this the case with many large, box-school McDojos?  What are they afraid of?

Is it reasonable to put your child in a three-year, forced adhesion contract when children’s interests are always changing and to make you feel like an unfit parent that doesn’t think their child is “worth it?”  Why would someone think it is ok to sign a child up for any kind of commitment like that?  Children are still exploring and learning what they like in life and these things change!  Have you ever signed your child up for an instrument and then they want to quit?  If you owe ten thousand dollars still, and they want to quit, is that going to cause an emotional issue between you and your children because of a huge financial obligation that you still have to pay?   Is an organization pushing these types of sales really a healthy place for your child?

I have found that these types of organizations will force you to stick to your contract as well if you try to back out.  Is that really in line with the values of the martial arts that these organizations say they abide by?  In taekwondo, the five tenants are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and cultivation of indomitable spirit.  I do not understand how there is anything courteous or with integrity about these types of grimy sales tactics.

Lastly I would like to remind you of the Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy and her entourage were overtaken by the glitz and glamour of the emerald city and the power and majesty of the wizard.  But when the curtain was drawn back, they realized they had been had by a simple con-man.  Remember the car dealership example with the fancy buildings and unlimited resources?  Does this really entail quality and satisfaction?

Finally, If you are going to make such a huge purchase and commitment, it is important to do your research and homework.  Talk with seasoned martial artists that have walked their own journey and learned from mistakes so that you and your family may avoid the same pitfalls.

Don’t be awed with glitz and glamour and investigate the satisfaction and retention of an organization.  You will often find that retention is horrible and the focus is not on longstanding clients – but rather getting more contracts to pay for the emerald city and the wizard’s extravagant lifestyle…because as many people as they are able to sign up, are usually walking out the back door disgruntled.  Finally, interview some people that have made that type of a commitment and see what their impressions were.

McDonalds is one of the most powerful restaurants in the world.  They have beautiful stores in every country and city, but how will your family’s health and spirit be if you eat there every day for 3-5 years?  Please watch out for the ridiculously priced, processed style McDojos and ensure your family cultivates spirit instead of wasting it away.  Here is another great reference article that will help you to make a wonderful decision in choosing a QUALITY martial arts school:



We hope this article has been helpful in aiding your family’s first step on their martial arts journey.


Master Nic Karkabe

World Taekwondo Federation

Chung Do Kwan

5th Dan Black Belt

Blue Wave Taekwondo Academy


Illumination Point

630 Hwy 105

Palmer Lake, Colorado  80133



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