7. McDojos, McDonalds and Masa’s Sushi


Sooner or later, if you frequent the online chat boards dealing with martial arts, you’ll encounter the derogatory term “McDojo.” Like a fast food chain of restaurants, a McDojo is often in a strip mall, offering to give you a quick taste of generic martial arts training, quite frequently from a franchised, formulaic enterprise. Like a fast food restaurant, the food will be homogenized, reduced to the lowest common denominator, and served up quickly. YOU TOO can earn a black belt in X amount of months, guaranteed as long as you pay your money. Hot showers, padded walls, no need to learn too many arcane terms or rituals…as long as you pay your money. You can drop off your kids and leave them there for several hours’ worth of organized yelling, screaming, kicking and punching…as long as you pay your money.

Sounds like the worst aspects of greedy capitalism wedded to organized violence, doesn’t it?

Actually, for someone on the totally opposite end of the spectrum, I don’t think I knock the typical McDojo as much compared to other purists. The way I see it, there’s a wide range of ways you can organize a training system, with McDojos on one end and the really, really “go away kid, yer botherin’ me” traditional dojo on the other end. It’s a spectrum, and the lines get really blurry in between.

It’s not that making money is wrong. Even in the most traditional of dojo, money and capital are needed for a variety of things, such as paying rent, electricity bills, organizational fees and so on. I learned that the very hard way, by not having enough money from student fees to pay all the rent. One has to learn to budget and plan, unless you’re independently wealthy.  It’s very rare to find any budo group that shuns money of any kind. The economics simply would be impossible for it to survive in this day and age, where there are no daimyo lords to sponsor your training.

Anyway, there’s a range. And there’s some good in McDojos too, as long as you don’t expect them to offer you what they can’t.

What McDojos are good for

McDojos are great for a physical kiddie activity that’s an alternative to soccer, Little League Baseball, and so on. Their classes are usually big, full of boisterous kids screaming at the top of their lungs, and having a good time rolling around atop the foot-thick multi-colored tumbling mats. They’re also great ego-boosters for the parents if Junior Boy gets a black belt in half a year’s worth of training.  You can brag about it to the neighbors.

Because they are organized as money making ventures, you can bet that the  leaders of the dojo have a concern that they have lots of kids in the classes, so they’ll pep up the regular training with lots of tournaments, picnics and other family friendly activities. There’ll be frequent promotions. There’ll be lots of tournaments where your kid has a chance of winning trophies taller than them. And maybe, the kids will get a little healthier and develop a little more self-discipline from the training.

If a McDojo is able to offer up all of the above in a satisfactory manner, then it’s a good McDojo. It’s still a McDojo, but it’s a decent one. You can’t knock it for not being what it’s  not supposed to be.

It’s the same with our local McDonalds. It offers decent hamburgers and fries. Not great. Nor would I compare it to the bistro 15 miles away that serves Pan-Pacific New Age cuisine such as buffalo burgers with zesty sesame sauce, or even the cheap Japanese noodle shop on King Street that makes its own noodles and broth from scratch. McDonalds is all about a mediocre meal served quickly with lots of saturated fats that fill you up quickly when you don’t have the time or effort to cook your own food or drive farther out to a better restaurant. It fills you up. You can’t ask for much more. And you know what you’ll be getting. Walk into any McDonalds in any state of the Union, and aside from just a few items that are a nod to the local tastes (in Hawaii, it’s Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice on the breakfast menu, and a bowl of saimin noodles for dinner and lunch), the food is pretty much the same. Bland, but the same. No surprises.

Step into one outlet in the chain of Joe Blow’s Tae Kwon Do and MMA Grappling McDojo (which probably also promotes cardio kickboxing for the parents) and you pretty much get the same kind of training no matter which outlet you call upon. No surprises.

…And that’s about it. You can’t expect much more because they’re not designed to offer more. We’re talking mass production. We’re talking maximization of profits. We’re talking FRANCHISE!!!

Do you detect a smug sense of elitism on my part? Au contraire. The McDojo supplies a necessary need, else they would not exist in such proliferation, just as McDonalds exists because it also serves a need, and profitably at that. I teach and train in a small group. But we couldn’t possibly ever offer martial arts to lots of little kids who are screaming to punch and kick like their favorite anime action character. We simply aren’t geared for that.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are what I would liken to a one-of-a-kind craft shop, or a fine dining experience with limited seating. The food is exotic, the taste is acquired, and it’s not for everyone. Masa’s Sushi down the street seats only eight customers. It is barely profitable, but the proprietor is the chef himself, and he makes sure every one of his customers (and he knows all of them by first name) is happy with his specialty sushi menus. Masa’s personal tastes can’t be easily reproduced and franchised, so it will always stay small. Perhaps a couple of his assistant chefs, after decades of working with him, will open up similar small restaurants in other cities. But Masa’s will always be small-scale, for the connoisseur who knows how fresh maguro should taste, who can discern the quality of the beans used in the natto sushi.

It’s not for a lot of people, and it was never meant to be. In many ways, that’s how a lot of my former teachers and associates teach martial arts. It’s a craftsmanlike tradition, taught in small groups, with one-on-one instruction.

But the variety of martial arts enterprises is a RANGE. In the middle are a lot of modern budo organizations. They are big, like Shotokan or Aikikai. They have “franchises” in which the outlets offer more or less the same fare (specific kata and/or kumite). They also manage to embrace some “small group”  values such as a somewhat high level of quality control and training, adherence to high technical skills development, and so on. These groups may have somewhat large classes of adults and children, but they stress rigorous discipline and attention to excellence. Competition may be possible but it has its place, and flashy, crowd-pleasing impractical techniques (that look good at anime conventions and cosplay fests) are not permitted. By their nature, they won’t attract as many off-the-street students as the dyed in the wool McDojos. They’ll attract people who prefer the integrity of such training, but who don’t have the inclination or cultural or personal character to pursue more idiosyncratic forms of martial arts.

So having a range of martial arts school types are, in my opinion, as natural as having a range of restaurants, from fast-food franchised burger joints to Dennys to one-of-a-kind fine dining.

The problem I DO have is when people try to randomly stick the characteristics of one system of teaching onto another. Usually, this means some McDojo tries to use a methodology or concept that by necessity just doesn’t fit. For example, some unscrupulous McDojo, in an attempt to exoticize their schools, have found fit to go beyond simply labeling their teachers “sensei” to calling their top masters “shihan,” “kyoshi,” “soke,” and so on. Perhaps they’ve exhausted all the shock and awe that came with the title of sensei, or of giving themselves 13th dan ranks.

But come on. I can  understand “shihan” if you’ve been given that teaching title in a very carefully regulated and systematized association such as the JKA (Japan Karate Association’s Shotokan system), but “soke” Joe Schmoe of his own Schmoe-ryu Kempo Kung-Fu Mud Rasslin’ Kurottee? That’s like someone saying, “Yeah, I’m the master chef for the Evergreen Mall’s McDonald’s.” Nope, bubbah. You’re not a master chef. You’re a fry cook.

The baggage that comes with being a soke can take up a whole other blog, and it goes beyond simply declaring yourself the master of your own style, which you may think only entails punchin’ and kickin’ and ninjerin’ around. There’s a lot more to that, and it will, as I noted, take another blog.

That caveat aside, I can see the worth in a McDojo. I wouldn’t want a bunch of screamin’ crazy kids trying to join my own little dojo anyway, just as Masa wouldn’t want people to take up his eight seats and then try to order some Big Macs at his sushi bar. A McDojo has its purpose. A middle-of-the-road large dojo that has lots of students and offers strict training in judo, aikido, kendo, karatedo, etc., has its purpose and clientele, and we have our own little, tiny clientele too. But let’s not mix them up and pretend that they’re all the same.

20 thoughts on “7. McDojos, McDonalds and Masa’s Sushi

  1. Very Nice. This is refreshingly unbiased, IMHO.
    I would call what is going on in Japan: “Ramen-ya Budo”. You can pretty much get Ramen everywhere. It’s the most popular restaurant type in Japan and in general they are okay. This would be akin to school Judo and Kendo and College Aikido, Kempo and Karate groups. You really cannot go anywhere without having one around, to be honest; then there is that special little gem that stands up from the rest. It may not be the most popular, it’s not a franchise, but a mom-and-pop joint that is just perfect. The locals eat there, and that says something. It’s just different in a vast sea of fairly tasty Ramen-ya.
    In the same vein, Japan also has a phenomenon that I don’t think could be replicated anyone else:

    The Sports Center

    They allow so many different “flavors” of budo to be practiced in one place- you really never know what you can find there. It’s kind of like a buffet of budo. The standard flavors are all represented there…then some are more exotic dishes that have different tastes. It gets rather international too!

    For example, on Saturdays I go to a sports center in central Nagoya that has at least 6 different groups practicing there at once. The Ju-dojo and Ken-dojo are HUGE and are packed. On any given Saturday in the kendojo you have Chinese Wushu, a kendo, jo, and iai. On the other side in the Judojo you have Roppokai Daito Ryu, Yoshinkan Aikido, Aikikai, Karate, Brazilian Jujutsu, Capoeira, and perhaps some Judoka squeezing in. Despite the amount of styles and the crowded space we all get along. It’s really amazing how this works, because normally the isolated dojo seem to be at ends with each other, but as soon as you hit the sports center they can be as friendly as friendly can be.
    It’s like walking in the city compared to the mountains, I believe. In the city, people won’t even look at you- but in the mountains, everyone is friendly and willing to say hello. I don’t now why that is, it seems it would be the opposite in the crowded dojo, but it is an amazing testament to the budo spirit that you can find here, I believe.

    Just to keep things balanced:
    I have a counter story. A few years ago I rented the Tokyo budokan for myself and some of my friends- a mixed group of Japanese and Western-ites. There was some kind of Ramen-ya Aikido group that was scheduled next, their kids and mothers arrived before the sensei did at about 5. I spent about 15 minutes chasing the kids and rolling around with the kids….then walked in the teacher. He was furious at us. It was some weird ego thing, even the mom’s were set back. They went about their business after a rather strange scolding by their teacher, I went over to talk with the mom’s and apologize for riling their kids up and getting them in trouble (who laughed and smiled the whole time). They seemed rather happy that we were so friendly and continued to laugh and chat with us- the whole time I was getting the evil eye from the instructor. Pretty soon, I left them to their business and then the sensei approached us, insisting that we move because he had “rented the left half of the dojo”. We double checked our ticket, we had the left side side rented until 5:30. He had gotten their early (5:15- it was 5:20 by that point), and insisted that we move. The moms all looked at each other and murmured as we all smiled and moved over for him. The mom’s swayed to our side, talked with us until it was time to leave. The instructor kept giving us dirty looks and when we had just about packed up, several of the kids ran over and said goodbye, much to the chagrin of the instructor. This Ramen-ya budoka turned the brightest shade of red I have ever seen. The moms seemed to be overjoyed. It was very strange, I am not sure I understand what was going through the instructors head…but it was like a Denny’s manager being mad at a ice cream stand that set up across the street for a carnival. 🙂

    1. Great story, Russ. The sensei got his hakama wadded up, I guess. I’ve encountered my own share of uptight sensei as well. Chalk it up to personality and territoriality, I guess. Good humor for me is the first defense in such situations. Miyamoto Musashi should have mentioned that in his Gorinsho.

  2. I have similar views regarding McDojs. As you pointed out, they are there for a reason and as long as you do not promise more that you really are, then live and let live. Same goes for Traditionalist, (which I consider myself).

    I recently started Hula and found that there is Awana (modern) and Kahiko (traditional) forms of dance. Awana is fun. Everyone knows this and respects this. Kahiko has deep cultural significance and practiced respectfully. I was surprised once when discussing the subject with a local hula teacher telling her where I practiced and she replied, “We’re not that serious”, made me think of the same attitudes in Karate.

    I wish the Karate community could just accept that there are modern forms of MA and Traditional. It’s all in the advertising. Say what you are and no more… Peace

    1. Thanks, Ray. Nice comments. I frequently think of the difference between kahiko and auwana too in terms of how “serious” the training is/should be. A lot of little kids really couldn’t deal with the rigors of kahiko done traditionally, but you can get them started having fun with auwana. Food for thought.

  3. Interesting re: hula. As for martial arts, I tend to be pretty brashly modern in some ways, very traditional in others – doing both seems to walk the middle way.

  4. I had to look up the Hula references.

    I found this Kahiko to be pretty awesome:

    Then the Wahini’s doing the Auana Hula…gorgeous.

    I am totally going to retire to Hawaii. To hell with the landlocked states…..

    1. Russ, one of the biggest exports from Hawaii to Japan is…hula instruction. I know of several hula teachers who go to Japan to teach their officially sanctioned hula “shibu” and make quite a lot of spending money from teaching fees and licenses. It fits into the whole Japanese traditional craft system. I think Japan’s got the bigggest number of hula students outside of Hawaii. Go figure. Problem with lots of Japanese hula students, though, is they can’t sway the hips smoothly enough. Swaying is hard for them. But they have good posture and they work hard at it. Like it’s a martial art.

      1. Good kata is a lot like good Hula. You should be able to feel the Mana. Mana is when all is one. Mind, body & spirit is connected and all external conditions are in sync. It’s a wonderful feeling. Only felt it a few times. I guess that’s why I like to practice both hula and kata.

        Search Kane kahiko (men’s traditional) on youtube. Lots of good stuff.

  5. While I enjoyed this article and found a lot of correct charges with in, I also think it was written based on a few false premises.

    To challenge the largest false premise: I choose to believe that a martial arts school can be wildly successful and profitable while at the same time being magically meaningful and respectable (and thus not a McDojo).

    I choose to believe that teaching young, loud, energetic kids does not mean you are running a McDojo.

    I choose to believe that positioning a school in a strip mall is simply good business and has no bearing on the school’s quality or underlying purpose.

    I choose to believe that quality martial arts schools that ignore smart and innovative business practices do just as much harm to the industry as McDojos.

    I’ll stop there so as not to take the discussion off on too many tangents.

    The basis of my point is that too many of these articles are written as a “choose one” (traditional vs McDojo) when those two choices are both invalid (as defined) in my eyes and there are outlying choices not found on the typical “spectrum” that you speak about.

    1. Kevin,

      I respect your opinion, but I disagree with some of your conclusions. If I could discuss some points:

      Perhaps a martial arts school can be “wildly successful and profitable while at the same time…etc.” Perhaps. But I haven’t seen that, either in person or from what I’ve seen on the Internet, if what you mean is a huge amount of money taken in by the main owners. “Modestly successful and profitable within reason while keeping strong one-on-one instruction and not exploiting anyone” I have seen. When you start talking gobs of money, the old socialist anarchist Marxist in me starts to think that somebody is making too much for what he/she is putting out. One former karate teacher of mine does well running a chain of schools, but he’s no Warren Buffet. He keeps the quality control tight and makes sure any teacher at his branches is highly qualified and skilled. In bigger organizations, I’ve too often seen a decay in teaching quality because there’s not enough qualified instructors to go around. Brown belts start to teach. Or black belts with poor technical and teaching skills. It’s a constant struggle to maintain quality, and if making insane profits take precedence, quality does and will suffer.

      “Teaching young, loud, energetic kids does not mean you are running a McDojo.” OK, I’ll give you that. A room full of kendo kids screaming at the top of their lungs is probably the highest decibel dojo I’ve ever heard. But while that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re running a McDojo, it’s symptomatic of a McDojo. I’ve never seen bouncy kids in a koryu school. Kids, yeah. But it’s not like they’re in recess time in school.

      “Positioning a school in a strip mall is simply good business and has no bearing on the school’s quality or underlying purpose…” In large part, yes, but I’m talking comparing the average strip mall dojo to the average koryu school as found in Japan. Big difference in attitude. Part of it is the location, which bespeaks of commerce. There’s no getting around it. So the underlying purpose does get influenced. Maybe one day my premise will be destroyed when, say, a non-profit Yagyu Shinkage-ryu kenjutsu school opens in a strip mall. So far, I haven’t heard of any koryu school doing so, so there’s got to be a reason why they don’t.

      “Quality martial arts schools that ignore smart and innovative business practices do just as much harm to the industry as McDojos…” So far, I have to disagree. Most of the pedophiles, blowhards, aggressive violence-prone machismo types come out of McDojo, or McDojo-characterized groups, at least, from what I’ve seen locally and in news online. Head instructor who served time pushing dope and getting his senior students to help distribute dope? He was head of a large chain of kempo schools here. High ranking teacher who is now serving time for killing a kid at a fast food drive-in for looking at him? He was a teacher at a large Tae Kwon Do school in a strip mall. Head instructor now facing trial for abusing some of his male students? He ran a large McDojo karate school here. Guy who served time for being an enforcer for the local organized crime syndicate? He was head of an aikido and karate school. I think these guys do way more harm to the “industry” of martial arts than any koryu teacher I have known.

      Also, the thing is, koryu folk on the nether end of this spectrum don’t look at martial arts as an industry, as apparently you and McDojo folk do. It’s an avocation, a calling, a lifestyle, to them. Not an industry. So perhaps we DO more harm because we don’t think of furthering it as commerce. Hmm. Maybe you’re right on this one. Guilty as charged.

      I’m one of those ignorant and unsmart persons who think all the recent “innovations”: Xtreme MA, caged fighting, bohungous big tournies that feature sparkles, bangles and beads, etc., all do incredible harm to the traditional mindset of budo, not advance it, so in your eyes I may be paleolithic. Again, gulity as charged. We may have different opinions on what is “innovative.” I think pads on my knees are the supreme height of innovation in iai training. That shows how backwards I am.

      I’d really be interested in “smart and innovative” business practices but on a lot of so-called smart and innovative budo business sites that email me to buy into them, all I see are rehashed pyramid schemes, get-rich quick ideas, franchising, peddling of tchochkis, fancy gear, and self-promotion. That’s old hat. Show me how you can business innovate in something like…say Shinto Muso-ryu Jo and still keep the character, spiritual aspect, okuden techniques and “fun-iki” and I’ll be real curious. If not, the two are polar opposites. I’ll grant you that there’s a muddled middle ground where some largish modern budo schools CAN in fact make a modest living and still embody a lot of “old school” ideas, traditions and atmosphere, so it’s a continuum, but I don’t entirely buy all your arguments.

      On the other hand, note that I don’t entirely diss McDojos. They are good for what they are. They introduce a general population to something sort of like traditional martial arts that doesn’t require them to change their mindset much, and for lower general quality, they allow more people to train for shorter periods of time, for their health and for the economic increase of the teachers. There’s no way a koryu can do that. You take an average middle class American kiddie from a suburban, middle class environment and a McDojo is the best thing for that kid. For such a typical kid (of course, there are “untypical” kids galore…) a McDojo is great. They can imagine they’re “Kung Fu Pandas” and get a lot of health benefits. I’m not being facetious. I think there’s a place for McDojos. It just ain’t my cup of tea.

      Your tease about “outlying choices” not found on the “typical ‘spectrum'” is interesting. Care to elaborate?

  6. To your first paragraph, I would say that just because it isn’t the norm doesn’t mean it’s not possible. My point is that what the industry has done up until now is exactly what was described in this article, but it isn’t how it HAS to be or how it SHOULD be.

    Profit and quality do not have to be negatively correlated. In fact, they should be positively correlated when the stars align (there are too many factors to make a generalized statement). So to say that it’s only possible to make a modest profit in a high quality school (rather than a large profit) would be a fallacy in my eyes; not because it’s being done on a large scale, but because it’s possible to accomplish with the right mindset.

    As for the Marxist thing, I’d challenge that as well. The amount of profit you haul in only points to your perceived market value. There is no point where you “make too much.” The market determines what your value is and they pay it willingly. As long as people are paying willingly, you aren’t making too much.

    You are correct that quality often goes downhill the larger an organization gets. But that’s not a market law at force, it’s a failure in leadership (especially if profit takes attention away from quality). But the market corrects that.

    The days of the high-profit, low quality McDojos are numbered; I’ve been preaching that for a while now. Market corrections do take time though, so it may not be obvious at first.

    “I’ve never seen bouncy kids in a koryu school. Kids, yeah. But it’s not like they’re in recess time in school.”

    That’s assuming that loud and screaming equals free play? I teach my students to be loud and energetic while at the same time being focused. The loudness comes from intensity, not play. But we also keep things interesting; they can learn without being forced to play the silent game.

    “Also, the thing is, koryu folk on the nether end of this spectrum don’t look at martial arts as an industry, as apparently you and McDojo folk do. It’s an avocation, a calling, a lifestyle, to them. Not an industry. So perhaps we DO more harm because we don’t think of furthering it as commerce. Hmm. Maybe you’re right on this one. Guilty as charged.”

    I want you to see it as commerce only because as the industry grows and strengthens and becomes more profitable you get to share your art with more people. That’s a good thing right? And when the “traditional” schools get more involved in the business side and start to spread, we counter-act the McDojo takeover.

    By claiming that “traditional” means “ignorant to the business side” or “we don’t care about profit”, you make it very difficult for martial arts schools to thrive at all.

    My vision of martial arts as an industry is very clear: we will make lots of money by making martial arts magical again. We put the ART in martial arts teacher. We create remarkable businesses that people pay top dollar for because we ACTUALLY change lives and provide people something they can’t get anywhere else.

    But when one group (the McDojos) are off selling out to half the country and the other group (traditionalists) are sitting in the corner teaching 15 and a half students and barely making ends meet, we create a dysfunctional market where everyone eventually loses.

    You know, it’s possible that people will just throw up their hands and say “to hell with martial arts” when the image of the industry gets bad enough. Sure, they’ll come looking for the “quality traditional schools” as they shun the McDojos, but since you guys are ignorant to the business side and couldn’t create a scalable system to save your life, good luck being able to support the big influx of students who want to learn “the real thing” from you…

    As for innovation, wrong kind of innovation. We’ll get to that later, I don’t want to complicate the discussion.

    Your challenge to innovate the business side of a traditional budo school is interesting. Since I’ve never attended a school like that, I’d have to have more information on how you do things, history, etc. That might be an interesting phone conversation one day…

    I don’t think the McDojos have a place. I think people are ignorant to what they are buying and will eventually catch on. The McDojos are only responsible for making our industry less profitable. They do have some of the benefits you describe, but those are short-term and short-sighted. The lasting damage done to the image of martial arts and our industry tips the cost-benefit scale to the “death to McDojos” side.

    1. Kevin, if I understand what you are saying, then more power to you and your aspirations. Seriously, good luck, if you can raise the standards of martial arts training in the States, great.

      But I don’t think most of what you say will make sense at all to a really traditional koryu school. Rather than get toooooo explanatory here, go on over to http://www.koryu.com and read some of the stuff about what characterizes a koryu. I simply don’t see thousands, or even hundreds, or even tens of average middle class American kids (and their parents) happily agreeing to do keppan, recite the Lotus Sutra at a death anniversary (as we do at the anniversary of our founder), suspend our own beliefs to at least allow for some shugendo, mikkyo, Buddhist and Shinto concepts (plus some primitive Taoism), and being forced NOT to yell loudly and actively, but with very tight control. There’s also no real “tests” per se, getting a teaching license will probably take at minimum ten years, no less, and even then you are teaching only under the direction of your soke or shihan. You need to have direct instruction from an accredited source, which is actually a lot more lax compared to the old “isshi soden” tradition. That means, you can’t learn from videos, DVDs or books. If you don’t have a license, a menjo, menkyo, oku-iri sho, inka, etc., you can’t teach, form your own school, or take any remuneration. Oh, did I say that right now it helps to speak some Japanese because most koryu are still only in their first or second generation in America, and so most of the teachers who will rank you are Japanese, and many only speak Japanese? How you gonna stipulate that folks learn a minimum of Japanese, or at least understand a minimum of Japanese culture in order to understand the higher oku waza?

      Here’s one example: I just spent over an hour this morning discussing via email the Japanese term “dosa” with two other higher ranking koryu folk. They are not in my own style, but they have a kata that requires a specific dosa. What does that mean? Anyone can look up the term in a dictionary and all it will say is “movement.” But in terms of geido, dosa has a particular meaning, and then you have to translate it from a gei- like sado into a koryu budo like Yagyu Shinkage-ryu. So we’re talking about the history of Sen No Rikyu and his theories of tea and how it relates to “presence” in a chashitsu, and how it relates to the dosa of a movement, and I’m noting how that fits into the “hinkaku” of a Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu kata, but the form basically is about quickly drawing a sword and cutting someone’s head off, and it’s the same wa as tea, but it’s not, and we’re throwing around various terms from tea ceremony, the arts (both Western and Asian), and martial arts, and looking at historical anecdotes for clues. And unless you have SOME inkling of all the cultural implications, you won’t ever get the mental aspect of this form, let alone the physical technique. This is NOT gonna work teaching it to a typical bunch of seventh graders. Believe me. I’ve taught kids as a high school art teacher. 99 percent of them will not get a discussion like this, and they don’t want to get it. They’re too interested in Lady Gaga’s latest video. You’re not going to make money from the koryu. Maybe in a different time, different generation. But not now.

      I know, all that makes it difficult for a koryu school to thrive. That’s why they invented (at least in part) the modern budo: judo, karatedo, aikido, kendo. You want thousands of students regardless of race, creed or age? You got the great already-invented modern budo, and all that came out of them, including Brazilian JJ, MMA, XMA and so forth. Your job, as I take it, is to bring back quality control to THAT group. Our group is really out of the loop here.

      Look, I used the analogy of different kinds of restaurants. Let me talk about furniture. You can buy a lawn chair made in China out of plastic for $5 at Wal-Mart. The store makes a killing at selling thousands of cheap, mass produced lawn chairs that are all the same, and serves a purpose well. If that was all there was to furniture, we’d all be sitting only in those kinds of chairs. Yet, people will still pay top dollar for an authentic Amish-made chair. From what I heard, some of the Amish have actually “modernized” and are using some power tools, but for the most part, they continue to make their furniture largely by hand, one by one. That means there’s a limit to what one Amish craftsman can produce. Well, you could tell him that you could make tons of money because people want their product, and if they only modernized their production and introduced modern factory fabrication techniques, robots and plastic, they’d have people pay top dollar AND create scalar advantages. But the Amish have always refused the lure. The most they will do, perhaps, is use power tools for the raw shaping of the lumber, just to speed up the tedious initial process. They still work mostly by hand. To them, that’s progress. Dangerously modern progress. They’re still very concerned about electric tools polluting their work style.

      Now, there’s a range of types of furniture; from the $5 Wal-Mart plastic chair to mass produced but still wooden chairs, to hand-crafted one of a kind products. There’s a place for all of them. But you just can’t say that you can make gobs of money making an Amish chair in a mass produced manner. It would no longer be an authentic Amish chair if it was made out of plastic in a factory in China and sold at Wal-Mart. Call it what you want, “Amish Modern” Made in China, but it’s not Amish. It’s not made by an Amish craftsman cutting dovetails by hand, one by one. In like manner, I would contend that once you start to introduce the trappings of modern martial arts marketing, you destroy what is a koryu. You might as well be doing judo, karatedo, aikido, kendo or any of their modern offshoots. So why bother reinventing the wheel? It’s been done already. That’s what the modern budo are. Better to celebrate the differences, not mix them up (modern budo forms are OK, they just won’t ever be koryu, and vice versa) and leave it at that.

      I’m actually not angry at you, I’m just trying to get you to understand. I encourage you to work on raising the level of quality in what you do. But it’s not going to work in koryu, and if you do some reading, you may probably realize it too.

      Wayne Muromoto

      1. You spent the first half selling me on why you CAN’T sell to me. I would note that as your first hurdle toward making money at what you do.

        Many of the negatives you listed are positives to more people than you probably realize; people with money.

        Your style can’t make money now because you haven’t packaged it to do so off a false assumption that it’s not marketable. What you subscribed is a very defined niche and in business, specifically defined niches are generally very profitable.

        But if you’re convinced you don’t have a product, it’s very hard to make money on it.

        The story of WalMart is WHY it’s profitable to make custom chairs by hand. You get paid top dollar for them. You just used the wrong example by highlighting the Amish because they’re not interested in scaling business.

        If you want a car that’s rare and built by hand, however, you generally pay the most money and there’s the highest profit margin. That’s because companies that build exotic cars by hand use extreme exclusivity and outrageous pricing that people gladly pay for status. That’s because the hand-built exotic car companies understand scale.

        The Amish don’t want to scale their business, so they don’t. That doesn’t mean that the Amish hand-built chair product isn’t scalable without factories and a loss of quality.

      2. Kevin,

        I’m probably guilty as charged. But I wonder if you can understand that I (and most others who do koryu) are like the Amish. We don’t WANT to scale our business. We’re speaking metaphorically, but I would also argue that once you scale up, it’s no longer an Amish chair. Take the hand and personal away, and it’s not Amish, not when it’s mass produced. Anyway, I think that’s the impasse we’re at. Please go through the http://www.koryu.com site and read some of the entries on what makes a koryu. You will see it’s a lot like the Amish mentality. Change that, and you change the whole notion of what is Amish, and it’s no longer Amish. Change some aspects of the koryu, and it’s no longer koryu, it’s a “-do.”

  7. Dear Kevin and wmuramoto,

    Thank you for this interesting debate. I enjoyed reading your outlined perspectives and motives. Speaking for myself, I am at kind of a crossroad, practising both modern and traditional styles/ryu’s and being a professional in the field of sports.
    My idea is, that as with all culture driven ‘activities’, the problem which arises here is very often based on the basic principles and guidelines of the respective style (and their practitioners!), which/whom can vary a lot.
    The fact that there is such a wide variety of styles is saying a lot about Martial Arts as a whole (e.g. being open or segregated). It does however create a difference in approach to many issues relating to the business/ managerial and political/ policy sides of the practice.
    How we handle these different kinds of things is therefore always different, thus it can hardly be said that there is a good or a bad way of doing it, only that it is different from maybe your way. That being said however, I do strongly encourage every way, style or practice to be open to the vision and handling of others. There is always something to learn from it!
    Be well.

    Kind regards,

    PS. English is not my first language, so please forgive any misspelling. 🙂

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