For the last four years, exposing scam artists and abusers in martial arts has been the full-time job of Rob, the 37-year-old behind the social media brand McDojoLife.
It’s not what he expected to end up doing when he started training in karate 25 years ago. But it’s a natural extension of everything he’s witnessed as a student, instructor and consultant — and he wants the world to be aware that your local sensei could be a fraud.
The idea to highlight bad leaders in martial arts started nearly a decade ago, when Rob was teaching at a jiu-jitsu academy. After one class, he and a few students began joking about their hatred of “McDojos,” a derisive term used to describe martial arts schools with sketchy credentials, unskilled training and a belt-for-cash mentality. A new attendee, however, sheepishly admitted they had no idea what “McDojo” meant — and as he defined the term, Rob began reflecting.
“He just asked me, ‘Why doesn’t anyone do anything about that?’” And I thought, “Huh, that’s a good question.” There is no governing body for all martial arts. It doesn’t exist. There is no real standard for opening up a martial arts school. Anyone can do it,” Rob tells me. “So I started digging and realized, well, nobody is really calling this abuse and fraud out. Why not me?”
At first, McDojoLife was just a Facebook page on which Rob would write lengthy breakdowns of individual instructors or schools, using his “five rules that make a McDojo” as the guiding framework. Those “rules” are more like red flags: If an institution touts supernatural “no-touch” knockouts, harbors sex offenders as instructors, promotes unsafe and cult-like behavior, traps students with shady business practices or has a leader that’s lying about their rank or fight record, odds are that it’s a fradulent “McDojo,” Rob says.
“You see blatant lies on school websites all the time, like, ‘I’m in the martial arts hall of fame.’ Oh, yeah? Which one? There’s a billion of ‘em, and they’re almost always good-ol’-boy networks where they circle-jerk each other with awards that you have to pay to receive,” Rob says with a laugh.
But over the early years of producing McDojoLife content, Rob found that simply posting video evidence of frauds and abusers gained more attention than a written investigation. And so, he started to say less, and show more, leveraging Instagram and YouTube for the task.
The account began to blow up soon after, going viral with a number of hilarious, infuriating and often shocking clips — instructors using “force fields” around them, assaulting their students for no reason and just plain making stuff up. In one particularly viral clip Rob posted last month, you see an Indonesian silat teacher seemingly yell to freeze his attacking students, turning them stiff as a board without even raising a finger. It “works” on two people, but a third student is less compliant, slamming a fist into the teacher’s jaw and sending him to the ground. (Rob’s caption for the video: “When you get called up to demonstrate chi powers against the guy that doesn’t like you.”)
Such goofy incompetence seems perfectly designed for the viral internet, and humor is a big reason why Rob’s content resonates with both martial arts casuals and experts like Joe Rogan, a self-professed McDojoLife superfan. But Rob has also seen and heard far more serious, tragic examples of predatory and abusive behavior, and he’s energized by the task of exposing toxic egos and dangerous practices through his platform.
There’s the tale of the coach who shot a student with a live round during gun-disarm training, only to continue using the same techniques in future classes. There’s the young child in Taiwan who was put into a coma by his (uncertified) judo instructor, who repeatedly body-slammed him into the ground. There are countless stories of sex offenders using martial arts to groom and isolate victims. Then there’s the story of the Egyptian “coach” who beat on small children, sending them tumbling across the floor, as part of his school’s training regimen.
The 2020 incident was a proud moment for Rob, given how McDojoLife’s fandom mobilized en masse to call the regulatory agency for martial arts in Egypt and report child abuse. But it didn’t have a happy ending, either: “Ultimately, the statement that they released noted he wasn’t a certified coach. So they were gonna go ahead and push him through training and certify him. In my head, I’m like, why the fuck would you certify this grown man who’s clearly abusing kids? You think magically he’s gonna realize, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t kick the shit out of little kids anymore?”
Apparently, some people are very much in favor of how their McDojos operate; Rob notes that he regularly receives death threats and unhinged messages from the followers of the teachers he exposes. It’s perhaps the perfect example of the ignorance and cult mentality that martial arts schools can breed under the guidance of a charismatic, convincing leader, he says — and the reason why such behavior needs to end.
“The real ultimate goal here is to get people to stop bitching and moaning about petty, stupid, subjective shit in the martial arts industry and focus on the blatant issues. It’s ridiculous how many pedophiles are in this industry. It’s ridiculous people are getting killed and extorted in martial arts. The sexual harassment alone is such a vast issue,” Rob tells me.
Shedding light on a spectrum of bullshit and atrocities is important to the future of martial arts, something that saved him from being bullied in school, gave him real joy and led him to a career. A third-degree black belt in karate and Lissajous-do, he is still actively training and teaching in Florida, and is nearing his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His priority, however, is to keep exposing the dark side of this multifaceted world — up next is a feature-length documentary, which he hopes to release later this year.
“The internet has shown how rampant these problems are. Imagine us in a world 40 years ago, when people didn’t have cell phone cameras. It was just so much easier to lie to people. Martial arts was even more of a niche,” he says. “Now, there’s a way to generate accountability, little by little.”