Recently I wrote an article wherein I theorized about why it might be that BJJ has not taken off in the U.S. the way one might have thought it would have given its obvious awesomeness (if you missed that article, read it at BJJ In The USA). I pointed out a few evident enough factors that are likely contributors to the above-mentioned reality, and I suggested that these were in no way all of the factors, or even the most pressing factors. I also suggested that BJJ Today readers, many of whom are far more qualified and knowledgeable than me, would probably offer more and better reasons. Boy did they ever!
Many of the readers’ comments overlapped and agreed, and in them a distinct and crucial factor that I had blindly overlooked, or at best barely hinted at, was pointed to: the ‘McDojo’ factor. I take no credit for the name ‘McDojo’; that also came from the readers.
The BJJ McDojo
In essence, if I understood the readers, the McDojo factor is this: for the same reasons that fewer and fewer Americans are unwilling to or simply do not know how to make a good, homemade meal, or appreciate a fine wine, and so flock in numbers to fast food restaurants like McDonalds, so also many Americans are unwilling to put in the time, energy, and effort BJJ demands, a process of growth and learning and that takes a lifetime and a whole lot of humility, and so flock to those martial art chains that promise instant gratification…McDojos.
Readers pointed out that the amount of time it takes to get promoted in BJJ is a hard sell to swallow in a consumer culture where instant gratification is the norm. This is undeniably true. We’re told that it usually takes around 10 years to get a black belt in BJJ. Maybe 6 if you happen to be a prodigy. I write as a two-stripe white belt in BJJ who has been at this for close to a year now. If I had taken up one of the more popular, market-friendly, commercialized martial arts, I would have no doubt been promoted several times by now.
Those market-friendly, commercialized martial art dojos are what we are referring to as ‘McDojos.’ Probably much to the horror and sadness of traditionalists and purists, some of those Japanese and Korean martial arts that I mentioned in the former article have accommodated themselves to the ‘fast-food’ market that is much of the U.S. They allowed their art to be shaped by what is deemed to be a successful ‘business model’ in the U.S.
I should have seen this factor, for as a pastor I have long lamented the same dynamic at work in many churches. ‘McChurch’ I guess I would call it. At the end of the day, it has to be acknowledged that some things are simply too important, too beautiful, too meaningful, too crucial, to be given over to market forces.
Of course, there is a business side to BJJ. I wrote about this earlier (BJJ and Your Worst Nightmare). So a balance has to be struck. BJJ is marketable, but not in the same way as fast food. It has to be presented as an alternative to the McDojo, and many Americans are indeed hungry for an alternative. As another reader aptly commented, “you cannot mass produce fine wine.”
BJJ is indeed like a fine wine. It takes great time, patience, and care, combined with a master’s touch and quality ingredients to produce. Now, there is a market for fine wine in the U.S. Despite the fact that Americans largely prefer corn-syrupy fizz drinks, mass produced light beers, and burgers built on a factory line to the finer things in life, there are definitely many of us who are sick and tired of being sick and tired and so are looking for something better. They want something beautiful, pure, lasting, savory, meaningful. They want a fine wine or micro-brew and a good, home-cooked, truly satisfying meal.
BJJ can tap into that market (pun not intended). And that, I believe, is exactly what we have been doing and ought to keep trying to do. BJJ is often presented as a way of life, a lifestyle. It is a journey. Ultimately, we are not aiming at getting our black belts; we aim at shaping and improving ourselves. We want not merely to eat, we want to savor. We want to enjoy and appreciate the process as much as its results.
In a fast food age, in a McWorld, this actually appeals. It appeals because people eventually come to the realization that McWorld is terribly shallow and empty and ultimately bad for you. When they come to realize that commercialization has given them the McShakes and McBurps (remember that great documentary ‘Super-Size Me’?), they’ll come looking for something better.
BJJ can be their martial arts alternative; the organic, holistic, green and healthy alternative they need, the fine wine they never realized was more to be desired than all of the artery-hardening, car battery cleaning soda-pop in the world.
If BJJ’s going mainstream means accommodation to the fast food ethos of our age, then by all means let’s not go mainstream. Let’s remain a niche market. BJJ seems quite resistant to the McDojo way of doing things; let’s see to it that it stays that way. People need and deserve a healthy alternative.