Are you interested in training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) but you’re unsure what to look for in a gym? Whether you’ve trained elsewhere or considering a new academy, it’s crucial to discern the stark differences in training philosophies.

As BJJ grows in popularity, it has unfortunately given rise to “McDojo gyms”.

What is a McDojo (gym)?

The term “McDojo” refers to any martial arts academy of dubious authenticity. This may be in the quality of the tuition; prioritising business and profit over genuine teaching; awarding belts for the purpose of student retainment without considering actual skill levels and other practices that we will look at below.

Operators of McDojos harm the art form’s integrity and, most importantly, the student themselves, by instilling a false sense of confidence in their own ability. Everyone wants to feel like they’re making progress, right? But in the world of martial arts McDojos use premature belt promotions to improve student retention (belts matter a lot to people to a lot of people…) and to give the impression they are a legitimate school by having lots of higher belts, regardless of true ability.

However, premature promotion is just one sign of a McDojo. Here are 10 more.

10 warning signs you might be training at a McDojo

Here are ten crucial indicators to help you recognize if your gym falls into the McDojo category:

1. Suspicious lineage: Legitimate BJJ schools proudly display their instructor’s lineage when asked. Vague or evasive responses regarding an instructor’s background may signify a McDojo.

While not every school may have an established lineage, the BJJ community is a small world and people quickly know others by reputation.

2. The instructor doesn’t roll with people who visit the gym. One thing about BJJ is that there is no hiding. People who train jiu jitsu quickly get a feeling whether a person is truly a certain belt colour. “Game knows game” as they say. There’s no faking jiu jitsu and those who do are quickly exposed.

It’s a big red flag when an instructor never rolls. The go-to excuse in many cases is that they are “injured”. This may well be true but when an instructor consistently avoids rolling to protect their ego, a deception, or they know they are not really what they say (or told) they are, it might signal a McDojo’s profit-focused mentality.

3. A cult-like atmosphere: Watch out for an environment that demands blind obedience rather than fostering genuine camaraderie among students. Cliques, humiliating hierachies and discipline are warning signs. Your BJJ gym should be a social place you go for training. It shouldn’t be a bootcamp where you’re belittled and punished. Not everyone is training to be a world champion and just train because they get something personal out of it – and that’s perfectly fine.

4. Excessive prices and contracts: Overly restrictive contracts or fluctuating, inflated prices are red flags indicating a McDojo. While contracts can be perfectly legitimate and fair (e.g. you get a discount if you sign up for 3-6 months in one g0), they should not be complicated or difficult to break.

Extremely high prices can be sign of a McDojo. If you live in a large city, prices will invariably be higher but excessive fees are a sign that your gym may value money above all else. Yes, BJJ instructors are harder to find than, say, PTs but they are not unicorns and there should be no reason to charge sky-high fees.

On very rare occasions you may encounter a gym operated by a famous jiu jitsu name – but even then you should consider what you’re actually getting for your money. If the famous name never teaches or rolls, what are you getting that you can’t get at another gym?

5. Promotion philosophy: Multiple belt promotions within a short period might indicate a lack of genuine skill development, suggesting a McDojo at work.

We have already spoken about this but it bears repeating.When belts are given out like sweets, it’s usually for an ulterior motive, e.g. student retention, getting “higher belts” to teach more classes so the owner can sit back, or the owner wants to franchise the business and open other McDojos in other towns and cities.

Typically, it takes 10-12 years to become a BJJ black belt. Yes, sometimes you will encounter talented individuals who may become black belts in 6-7 years, but their pedigree speaks for itself and they often have a good competition track record and a clear lineage that they can prove.

You harm your student when you give him a belt he can’t carry.

– Firas Zahabi, BJJ Coach

6. Cannot answer questions clearly: Instructors should offer knowledgeable and consistent answers to student queries. Vague or contradictory responses are signs that someone is not sure what they are talking about, do not know their subject, and may point to a McDojo.

7. Mandatory merchandise: Being compelled to purchase specific branded merchandise exclusively from the gym is a sign of exploitation, characteristic of a McDojo. Forcing members to buy certain apparel through the gym – or they can’t train – is a dubious practice. Teaching the art of jiu jitsu is what should matter and as long as the student is not wearing anything inappropriate, that should be all that matters.

8. False claims: Instructors boasting impressive achievements without evidence, especially if they don’t actively participate in training, could signal a McDojo. Impressive claims require impressive evidence.

9. Continually asking members for favours: People from all walks of life with diverse skills train jiu jitsu, e.g. plumbers, lawyers, computer programmers. Coercing members into unpaid favours outside of training sessions, unrelated to genuine friendship, might indicate exploitation.

10. Self-defense or unarmed combat “expertise”: Claims of exceptional expertise in self-defense, training special forces (don’t they all…) or multiple martial arts by an instructor who avoids practical application may hint at a McDojo.


McDojo gyms tarnish the essence of BJJ, focusing solely on profit and disregarding the art’s authenticity. By recognizing these warning signs, you can steer clear of such establishments and find a genuine BJJ academy that upholds the values and integrity of this martial art. Choose wisely to ensure your growth in BJJ isn’t compromised by the allure of false promises and exploitation.