Friday, March 16, 2007

McDojos... Keepers of the Belt

This is not a news worthy post, this is merely anecdotal and a little bit funny. This regards my recent experience at trying to buy a brown belt for Judo practice.

After having done well at a Judo tournament (1st in Whit/Green/Blue, 2nd in Brown) and meeting other training requirements, I was promoted to brown belt. But, it was an on-the-spot promotion; no fan fair, no ceremony, just "You're a brown belt now," from my judo instructor. He did not hand me a brown belt, I was expected to go buy my own. I have no problem in buying my own belt, at least this way I can get one that I want. I figured that as fast as I advanced to brown belt, I'd probably be one for a while. But, I kept delaying getting the belt. I just never seemed to have the time to buy one and I'm not one to order things I wear from the internet without first having tried them on in real life. Plus, I'm a BJJ guy and I'm not yet familiar with the sizing system of Judo and other traditional martial arts (TMA) belts. The green belt that I had been wearing was given to me by a friend and I had no idea what size it was.

Anyway, a couple of months go by and I figure I need to get a brown belt in order to respect my instructor's decision to promote me and to avoid confusing the newcomers at the dojo. It was a Thursday evening and after work I decided that I'll get a brown belt before I went to practice that night.

My first stop was the local martial arts supply store, but they had closed at 6 P.M. Feeling a bit dejected, I remembered that many TMA schools also sell uniforms and belts. This was great because the Ann Arbor area is chocked full of these types of schools. But time was running out on me. Judo practice started in about an hour and I didn't have time to visit all of these schools and shop around. Thankfully, my girlfriend carries a phone book in her car and we were able to make some calls while still out driving around.

The first half dozen phone calls were not answered or went to an answering machine. Then, finally, we got a person on the other end to answer my question:

Jason: "Do you sell belts?"

McDojo Receptionist: "Umm... What?."

J: "I need to buy a belt and I was wondering if you sold belts."

MR: "I... I... I don't know."

J: "You don't know?"

MR: "I don't know."

J: "Do you sell uniforms and other martial arts supplies?"

MR: "Yes."

J: "Then, you probably sell belts as well."

MR: "Well we have belts for our students, but I don't know if... You see, our students have to earn their belts. So if you want a belt, you'll have to enroll and earn it like everyone else."

J: "I'm not interested in enrolling. I need a belt for another style before class tonight and I'm in a pinch. That's why I'm calling you."

MR: "Well, I'll have to clear this with the instructor."

J: "Okay. Where are you located? I'm in town and I can just swing by."

MR: "Okay, sure." She gives me the address. "Come on in. I'll tell the instructor that you're coming."

It worked out great because this place was about a 1/4 mile from my girlfriend's apartment, and we were heading that way as it was. We pulled into the strip mall parking lot and were greeted by a swarm of children running around in little white gis. They were screaming loudly and executing flying kicks whilst their mothers tried to shuffle them into the appropriate minivans (Soccer Mom Assault Vehicles - SMAVs) without getting hit by other cars.

I strolled in to be greeted by a thin little receptionist wearing glasses and standing behind a glass display counter stocked full of throwing stars and nunchaks. The class was in full swing and kids were "Ki-yapping" their little heads off, while their parents sat and watched mindlessly from the lobby. Admittedly, I was on defense about the whole conversation I was about to engage in. I've been in the martial arts since I was 8 years old and BJJ since I was 19. I have heard a lot of crap spewed from the mouths of TMA proponents that take themselves and their art too seriously. I wanted none of it today. By now, I was on a mission and solely focused on buying a brown belt, I didn't care if it was a piece of crap or not. I was hopeful that I could convince them to sell me one.

After our greetings and introductions, my conversation with the receptionist went basically like this:

MR: "So, you're not interested in enrolling, huh?"

J: "No. I just need this belt for another style."

MR: "What style?" She asked as if we were going to have some kind of connection or bond.

J: "Judo." When what I wanted to say was "A real martial art." But, I think the bluntness of just "Judo" sufficed. I wasn't even about to say that I also do BJJ, because nothing ticks me off more than when these TMAs glean a BJJ move off of YouTube, incorporate it into their program, and claim that they do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, too. Same goes for Judo. ("See how much we have in common now?" *Slap*).

MR: "Oh, we do some of that here, too." 'No you don't,' I thought to myself. 'There's no way you do that here.'

J: "Oh. Do you sell judogis then?" As I'm always in the market for them.

MR: "No. Just the karate gis." 'Like I thought, you don't do Judo here.'

So she cuts to the skinny and fills me in on the whole selling me a brown belt situation.

MR: "So, yeah... I talked to the instructor about selling you a belt and she said that belts here are earned, not sold. But, if you really are in another style and you really are a brown belt, then you'll need to bring a note from your instructor to prove that. Then she'll sell you one."

I looked out on to the mat area and saw kids around 9 years old wearing black belts. "You don't sell belts, my ass!", I thought.

To be honest, I felt rather insulted. Her comment was taken by me to mean that I didn't earn my brown belt, or that Judo is inferior to whatever style she's got going on in this former nail salon... or whatever was here before. But, I can see the logic from which their argument is based. However, it is a flawed argument beyond the philisophical and ethical realms, in that there are many martial arts supply businesses doing quite well selling belts to individuals and schools like the one I was standing in at the moment. She wasn't comprehending the fact that the reason I was even there was because a store that does sell belts just happened to be closed when I decided to get hell bent on buying a brown belt.

I looked around the school again and saw kids, teens and adults wearing tabi boots and spinning ropes and sticks around. A few of them were doing Aikido-like wrist locks to counter a slow moving and lobotomized attacker. I began to put the pieces together, slowly at first. Throwing stars, nunchaks, tabi boots, swords on the wall, children wearing black belts, a general vibe of weirdness... Then the pieces fell into place. I turned to the receptionist and asked,

"Is this a Ninja school?", as I wondered what the look of disgust on my face looked like from her perspective. Does the look on my face imply that I really wanted to add profanities to that question if kids weren't around? I hope so.

MR: "Yes. We actually teach a style of Ninjitsu called, blah blah blah."

My ears were off. She lost me at Ninjitsu.

I looked around more closely at this world I was in. I was taking it all in. I played back our conversation quickly in my head. I felt rage and anger creep over me from the middle of my back until it reached my face, making it red and warm as I realized what had just happened. They shrill of "Ki-yapping" little kids wearing black belts wasn't making things any better. I thought to myself, "Did... Did I... Did I just get dissed by a McDojo?" I did. I got denied by a frickin' McDojo.

Then suddenly, I had a flash of morbid fantasy in my mind: I was going to walk out on to the mat and fight the McSensei for my brown belt. I figured it would only take a few seconds: Ippon seoi nage, armlock, tap or snap, presto - brown belt. I'd even still pay for it. As funny as that would've been, I obviously didn't act upon it. I am not a dojo stormer, but this would probably be a better story if I were.

I had my mind made up. I don't know who made up my mind, the McDojo or me, but I wasn't going to get a note from my Judo instructor so some Ninja could sell me a belt (crafty Ninjas). My Judo instructor is the type who might wonder why I didn't actually just fight the McSensei for it, and send me back to do so. Besides, since when do ninjas wear belts other than black, anyway? Imagine being in feudal Japan and seeing a Ninja slink across the roof top dressed in all black and wearing a yellow belt. "Oh, that's Hiroki, he's new. He can only scale one story buildings and throw smoke bombs. Don't worry about him." Stupid Ninjas.

To humor myself, I turned to the receptionist who was watching me this whole time with eyes full of anticipation at my decision and asked,

"Out of curiosity, what brand of belts do you guys carry?"

MR: "Century."

What! You want me to get a note from my Judo instructor so you can sell me a piece of crap like that? I figured that after all they were asking me to do that they might have some top level gear, ninja stuff that none of us BJJ and Judo players have ever heard of before. I would be cool and show up to class with a kick ass brand of belt that was more obscure and harder to find than frickin' Yeti droppings. But, they wanted to me jump through hoops for Century. I chuckled at the receptionist and shook my head.

MR: "What?" she asked.

J: "No, that's okay. I'm not going to do all of this for a Century belt." I don't give a crap what Chuck Norris thinks about them.

MR: "Why don't you like Century?" Was she unaware of the cornucopia of other companies out there that sell gear 100 times better than the likes of Century?

J: "They're crap", I said loudly. A couple of the zombie-like parents in the lobby heard me and turned to invesitgate. 'Screw them, too,' I thought. Still bitter from my defeat at the hands of a McNinja.

MR: "Oh."

J: "Have a nice night." Exit McDojo.

As soon as I got outside I had to laugh out loud and a part of me hoped that they heard me. I was in awe of what just went down, and that I wasted that much time in a McDojo. I would've bought the crappy Century belt if they just would've sold it to me on the spot and not wanted a note. I thought back to all of the discussions on the Underground forums about fake BJJ black belts, etc., and I had to laugh at the situation I was in. I had been defeated by the McNinjas in accomplishing my mission. Stonewalled. I was no match for them. Even though they are a different style, they attempted to protect the integrity of Judo and other martial arts by sending me on my way. I guess they could've used a little introspection themselves in that department, though. I was reminded of a quote that I read some years ago, from somebody who's name I can't remember: "Against all logic, there is no armor greater than ignorance." I think whoever said that, was frickin' Ninja.


Anonymous said...

I usually hate people who think their style is superior to other styles, but in this case you weren't dealing with another style. It was just a daycare center.

Clint said...

Hilarious story.
You might want to take a note back over there just in case. You never know, they might track you down and ninja-steal your belt during the night.

Anonymous said...

Dojo storm is in order!

Alex K said...

I take it by the multicolored belts, kiyups, century gear, nunchucks, and nine year old black belts that this wasn't an official Bujinkan dojo?

Alex K said...

Oh, and you TOTALLY should've fought their sensei.

Jason Clarke said...

yeah, i don't know if it was an official dojo. i'm not familiar with what real ninja dojos look like. but, this place was definitely a McDojo and seemed to cater to kids and teens. it sucked.

zeerebel said...

I had to do the same thing for my brown belt and black belt in Judo.

Funny stuff about your McDojo experience.

Yuri Chi said...

Yeah You should have fought the Mcsensei for the thing like an old kung fu flick. Challange the top ranked students and the sensei HAha

Jason said...

Thanks for all of the comments. This was supposed to be an op-ed/personally funny story. I intended it to be self depricating/humiliating, while at the same time illustrative of the commercialization of the martial arts in America as a dichotomy of not only being McDojos, but also at the same time, in some Twillight Zone sort of way, also being the true defenders of the belt ranks.

To some this all fell on deaf ears (blind eyes). I have been critizied extensively for this little short story by some on certain message boards and forums.

To conclude the story, I now have my black belt in Judo and I run my own BJJ academy in Iowa. That school is nothing to me anymore but a source of humor.

Anonymous said...

Thanks God I live in Taiwan! After World War II, there was a civil war in China and the democratic side lost and fled to Taiwan. With them came a group of top fighters in Taiwan. Most students who study Kung Fu now in Taiwan have learned from them or their students or their students' students. The reason there's little McDojo's in Taiwan is because when these elite fighters came they threw everyone who was, as they felt, bringing humiliation on their style out of business. Method was simple. Beat them up in front of a large crowd of people.

Anonymous said...

Laurence J. Peter said that quote