There is a lot of talk these days on "real" martial arts. So, what is real? Depends on individual perceptions, but there are schools and there are dojos. One is designed to stroke your ego and keep students (and money) flowing in. The other is structured to discriminate between committed individuals and hobby-seekers; the latter typically don't last long and are often encouraged to seek training elsewhere.
So, what does a real dojo look like? Here's some food for thought.
1. The dojo is sparse and spartan. Take a look at any Japanese or Okinawan dojo and you'll find a place that is specifically meant for training in martial arts. If it's not outside, it's a very crude and mostly empty space aside from training equipment. It has no heat or central air and smells like a locker room most of the time. No fancy posters, no trophies, nothing special with exception to the kimaza or spiritual center of the room/building.
2. The training is difficult and painful. A dojo exists for two reasons: To study the art and science of combat and to mitigate the ego. In order to accomplish these things, your training must be severe because combat is severe. You have to learn to deal with pain, fear, frustration and disappointment. A dojo was never meant to be a place where you go to have a good time. It's supposed to be harsh and void of comfort. You go to a dojo to learn how to deal with life...and death.
3. The test for black belt (shodan) nearly kills you. This depends on the style, but shodan represents one's physical and mental growth in a martial art. It essentially means you have reached the point in your training where you can now truly learn something. It's not the goal...it is the beginning. As such, it should only be awarded to those who consistently demonstrate the capacity to learn through tenacity and grit. Shodan should never be given to you just because you've shown up a number of times.
4. You and your technique are constantly tested. A good teacher will create an environment that provides you with lots of opportunities to fail. If your understanding and physical application of the art are never tested, either through serious randori or kumite, how can you possibly believe your practice is valid? This means your training partners actually try to hit you, grab you, stab you, etc., with various, unplanned attacks. It means that if you fail to apply a given technique effectively, you go home with a black eye, a couple of bruises and some wisdom.
5. There is more emphasis on practical application than aesthetics. With some exceptions, e.g. kyudo (bo and arrow) or iaido (the art of drawing the sword), most modern budo forms were designed for close-quarter, physical confrontations. Practicing merely for looks, adding silly acrobatic moves to karate kata or having training partners take ridiculous, unnecessary falls dilutes the art. If the art you practice places a strong emphasis on combat applicability in the real world, the mental, physical and spiritual benefits are sure to follow.
6. You teacher trains just as hard if not harder than you do. This is paramount for me. I have no respect for people who strut around a dojo with an exalted status, providing "pearls of wisdom" without ever braking a sweat. You really need to question a teacher who refuses to take the same falls, conducts but never participates in kihon (basics) or avoids kumite (sparring) because of some misguided notion that he or she is above all that. Be particularly concerned if your teacher is out of shape, smokes, drinks too much or does drugs. This person is obviously not living by the discipline he or she claims to practice.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. People tend to forget that martial means military and military means combat. Whether we're talking about modern arts (budo) or classical (bujutsu), the original concept of the dojo had nothing to do with being a type of daycare/personal training/pizza party venue. And if you are paying a large sum of money to train there, you should question how that money is used. You go to a nice, well-equipped gym and pay high-end personal trainers for the amenities and the compliments. You go to a dojo to learn that you don't need the creature comforts the rest of the world chases after.
Jissenkan Karate Jutsu