PDA

View Full Version : Beginners Retention Rates


Please visit our sponsor:
 

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!


akiy
03-24-2006, 09:40 AM
Note: This thread is a split-off from the Aikido in 70 Words or Less (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10048) thread.
Our goal is to get as many people signed up as possible, because general retention rates for ExCo classes are around 15% by the end of the semester. (Last semester, 70 people signed up, 8 people tested for 6th kyu at the end of the semester)
Perhaps the issue here is, then, not that you need more people joining at the beginning of the semester but to take a look at the curriculum to see if what is being taught during the semester and how it is being taught should be examined?

In any case, I wonder what sorts of changes people here have had to make in their beginners curriculum in order to try to help their retention rate.

What worked?

What didn't work?

-- Jun

SeiserL
03-24-2006, 11:46 AM
Great question. Since I don't actually teach, I will offer my own experience.

I didn't join, much less stay, at schools because they didn't know how to actually punch or make it look, much less be, a martial art.

I joined, and have stayed for over 11 years, in my current school because my Sensei and the people I train with help me keep it real. It seemed doable and practical since day one.

MaryKaye
03-24-2006, 02:03 PM
We noted that a lot of beginners were daunted by forward rolls, and experimented with omitting forward rolls from the Intro curriculum (our seven-session course for brand new beginners).

I don't think it helped at all; it annoyed the more athletic beginners, and people who were going to be driven away by forward rolls maybe stayed a few more weeks, but they still left.

The biggest thing I have personally noticed is that retention is worse in Intro during terms when it was small to begin with. Students feel lonely if there are too few of them. You can partially cover this by asking more advanced students to come, but at some point you lose the sense that it's an Intro class at all--the beginners start feeling that they are slowing the advanced students down, and you might as well just have had them come to open classes in the first place.

Mary Kaye

Amelia Smith
03-24-2006, 02:29 PM
... the beginners start feeling that they are slowing the advanced students down,
Yeah, what's up with that? Aren't we supposed to practice with people at all levels? I have been wondering about how to impress beginners (and some others) in the dojo with the fact that it's OK to slow the advanced students down a bit. It helps the advanced students, too, and it helps the art (to survive, because we need new people, all the time). Of course, it helps if the advanced students have a good attitude about working with beginners.

I think that a 1 in 10 retention rate from first class to first grading/test is pretty typical. A lot of people who try aikido probably decide they just don't like it. Others can't make the time... and others are turned off by one thing or another at the particular dojo/class they go to, some of which we can do something about, some of which we can't.

The only thing that I see making a meaningful difference is if the senior students are friendly and helpful, which is less of an issue in intro classes. We've never had an intro class at this dojo, but I'm trying to start one, as an experiment, so I'd be interested in what people have to say. Also, I wonder if intro classes help with the general retention rate at all.

--Amelia

Michael O'Brien
03-24-2006, 02:54 PM
Our dojo has an intro class and I personally enjoyed it. Several of the intermediate and advanced students usually attend and are happy to work with the newbies. As far as it helping retention rates, I don't know? I think that those that are honestly interested in training would come and train anyway and those aren't you lose anyway.

On a side note about slowing down the advanced students and it being good sometimes. Working nights now I have only been able to attend our intermediates class that is offered twice a week in the mornings now for the last few months. My instructor advised me this past Thursday I should also start attending the Saturday morning advanced class. I told him that exact thing "That I was worried about slowing down the training of some of the more advanced students." He told me to come and train anyway. That it would help me get up to speed faster and would help them focus some as well.

senshincenter
03-24-2006, 04:18 PM
Our take is simple: Retention is based on a dojo's capacity for cultivating the virtues of commitment and discipline in the deshi.

If a dojo doesn't take on this role, and few do, then you are like the fox that waits by the tree for the rabbit (his dinner) to run into it and knock itself out. In other words, dojo that don't take on this role, are left waiting for that person that comes in "as is" and "ready made" for a life of Budo training. That person is hardly going to show up - they are very rare - especially if your understanding of Budo is about the whole enchilada. Thus, if he/she does, it probably is only because of huge allowances that you've made in regards to "Budo" (e.g. no forward rolling). Better to start with the premise that the newbie is totally lost, totally incapable, like a newborn, and thus in need of not only training but of the character traits that support training.

For the long lasting of us, we know what helped us to cultivate the virtues of commitment and discipline, some of those ideas were mentioned already, but we often have a very hard time in understanding how we make those things an actual structure of the dojo culture and its pedagogy. However, this is precisely what folks have to figure out if they are truly interested in having folks stay and stay in the right way and for the right reasons. Once you do, retention issues are left for those folks that die, or move (hoping and trying to move back) and for the occassional square peg that shows up about four times a year (or less).

If you leave newborns to fend for themselves, they die - law of nature.

Young-In Park
03-25-2006, 03:11 AM
A former instructor said if students "don't know how to roll, there's no one to party with."

It took me a couple of years to develop a systematic way to teach ukemi to beginners. I took beginners to a corner of the mat and taught them how to roll.

I first practiced teaching with children. When I started, there were about five to ten children enrolled in the children's "program." When I stopped teaching, there were about thirty children, of various ages and ranks, enrolled.

When I tried to implement the same teaching strategies with adults, I met fierce resistance. Not from the beginners, but from other instructors. In spite of their resistance, I singlehandedly taught all the beginners in the dojo how to roll. I was even able to teach those (even the most reluctant ukes) already in the dojo how to do breakfalls.

Since I wasn't the most politically correct person in the dojo, I was passed up for promotion. Then I was constantly reminded that I had to listen to those who were ranked higher than me, although they had less experience. I was expected to listen to an instructor who taught kumitachi to beginners who were on the mat for the first time for their first ever aikido class.

About three years ago, I told the chief instructor that the dojo was losing beginning students because they were being thrown into the fray too quickly. He wanted to survey the former students as to why they left the dojo...

During the time I was teaching beginners in the corner of the mat, the dojo made a modest profit every year. Due to a difference of opinion, I left the dojo about a year and half ago. At a recent meeting, it was noted the dojo is now breaking even. When speculating as to the reason, someone said the beginners are not sticking around as long as they used to because no one is teaching them.

Although it isn't as bad as it was before, the adult program has a lot of white belts (beginners), very few mid ranked students (6th - 3rd kyu) and a lot of high ranked students (2nd kyu and above).

I thought this was a peculiar situation unique to this particular dojo. However, I've seen variants on the same operating philosophy at other dojos.

Basically a dojo should teach beginners how to stretch, roll and some exercies (ie aiki taiso & how to punch) before throwing them into the general dojo population.

YoungIn

SeiserL
03-25-2006, 09:00 AM
Basically a dojo should teach beginners how to stretch, roll and some exercise (ie aiki taiso & how to punch) before throwing them into the general dojo population.
More personal attention to beginners by the advanced belts. That makes sense to me, not only for learning the basics better/faster but also for feeling a part of the larger group.

The problem may be the senior students seeing the beginners as theirs and not following the overall curriculum or protocol of the school.

Nice insight, compliments and appreciation.

Alec Corper
03-25-2006, 12:05 PM
I don't mean to be contentious, but I think this is a wrong question to be asking. As an instructor I prefer to stay focussed on what I need to teach and how best to teach it so that those who want to learn will get the best chance to do so. This may seem the same as thinking about student retention, but it isn't. It is not my job to "keep" students, it is their responsibility to learn. The only exception would be kids, and I don't have children's classes.
Other recent threads have addressed the idea of "basics" in Aikido. If a dojo is strongly focussed on Kihon, everyone, including beginners, will benefit. The temptation to make Aikido easier to attract and hold students, IMHO, is as dangerous as doing "advanced" techniques to hold and please senior students who are no longer improving through the study of the essentials.

gstevens
03-25-2006, 04:33 PM
This is a complex question, and one that I have been pondering for a while now.

I only have a limited amount of experices to draw on, but according to our Dojo's stastics, I am in the 5% or so of students that continue training after 2 years. (Don't quote me on that I will look it up on Tuesday where it is posted on the wall and tell you what it is for sure).

There are different sets of people in the dojo,
For some it is one of the basics of life, something akin to breathing or eating. Others it is an activity that makes them feel better, better able to deal with the world and their own emotions. To some it is just exercise, others primarly a community or lifestyle enclave somewhere to be the social animal that we are.

There is a lot of retention of brand new people that depends on their connecting to someone in the Dojo, and being able to see their own improvement in their techniques, right off the bat. The feeling that they have learned something new, been able to change their way of moving connecting or thinking in the first few classes. The Idea and realization of Budo as an art, or a way of life comes much later if at all for some people.

The people in the dojo are the people that need to make the connections to the new people to strike up conversations, to be friendly and open to having a community and relationships. If all you are at the Dojo for is to train physically your dojo probably is not going to attract or keep beginers. This does not need to be a huge thing, just little stuff, and being patient of new people on the mat.

How many of you of advanced belts feel compeled to bow into a person on their first night? How many of you inwardly grimace after the demonstration if the person next to you is a white belt, or unranked person? If you are grimacing inside, you are grimacing for that first contact too. You know that you can feel it in your training partners, even though they are new they can feel it too.

Some people are not going to stay, they didn't realize till they started doing aikido how little they like others in the personal space. They didn't realize that it would involve people touching them and grabbing them. Others are looking for a magic bullet to life, safety, self defense, whatever. Since there are no magic bullets, they are going to try for a while and move on.

The idea of a college level class on part of a campus seems to me to be a very hard one. There are time commitments pulling everyone in all directions, keeping students in such an enviroment would seem to me to be difficult. The larger the class to begin with the more people there are to network and compare experiences with generally that will help retention, the fewer the people, the more others are likely to look for these connections elsewhere.

What brings people in the door is rarely what keeps them on the mat.

Guy
:-)

Dan Rubin
03-26-2006, 04:33 PM
[T]his is precisely what folks have to figure out if they are truly interested in having folks stay and stay in the right way and for the right reasons.

Different teachers/dojos have different ideas of what is "the right way" and "the right reasons." Are you saying that each dojo should decide on their own definitions of those terms? That's an interesting idea. Defining the type of student a dojo is seeking provides the dojo with a target audience to concentrate on, with training to match it.

However, like any business, smaller dojos can afford to target a small niche audience, while it is harder for larger dojos do so and survive.

The current issue of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts contains a 14-page article on this very topic, titled "The ‘Risk Society' and Martial Arts Training in New Zealand." The article examines why students enter and remain in the martial arts in general, not any particular art or any particular dojo. The author argues that there are four reasons why students enter the martial arts: a fear of assault, a fear of poor health/physical fitness, a fear of social isolation or a fear of spiritual isolation. Of those students who stay, the ones who entered for the social community tended to stay for that same reason; the others stayed for a variety of reasons. (Needless to say, it's unfair to the author to summarize such a long article in two sentences.)

The article is interesting, but after reading it I felt that I had gained understanding but no useful ideas about student retention. Perhaps others in this forum can discuss the article further.

Dan

senshincenter
03-26-2006, 08:01 PM
Hi Dan,

Thanks for writing.

I'll try and take a look at those articles and maybe make some comments later - time affording. However, thanks for pointing them out.

Well, I think different dojo and different sensei all have different ideas, etc. - even if they don't say it, and/or even if they don't try to have differetn ideas, etc. Call it the multiplicity of Life. Thus, I wasn't really talking about that - not really anyways. I was trying to be a bit more specific.

What I was suggesting was that dojo that are truly interested in retention (which is more than a business matter - since the passing of time is also integral to the maturation of skills) need to figure out how to make the cultivation of commitment and discipline an actual part of the dojo's very structure (in terms of culture, pedagogy, praxis, theory, etc.).

Right now, most Aikido dojo function by hit or miss policies (which themselves often go unstated and/or function at a less than conscious level). They often passively wait for folks that have a capacity for commitment and discipline to walk in (which is one reason why Aikido dojo tend to be made up of older folks - relatively speaking) or they are lucky (which can only be "periodically") to have some things in place that might be able to address the issue of student retention (e.g. a strong senpai block; some folks that are already highly dedicated to their own practice; a crowded mat that inspires high degrees of energy/euphoria; etc.) - things that help newbies to cultivate commitment and/or discipline.

In either case, one is not going to be looking at a consistent increase in dojo membership - this is because folks mature enough to train a lifetime (or many years) - just walking in off the street - are few and far between, and because luck fades (turns into bad luck - e.g. your most dedicated students leave/move, your senpai block all quit, etc.). At most, one's membership is going to be a matter of ups and downs - which often go unexplainable. Of course, this is how most Aikido dojo see the world, and experience it too, but this is precisely because they do not have any real (i.e. viable) plan in place that is designed specifically to address the issue. Commercial dojo have a plan, albeit for different reasons and thus by different means. However, though, we'd rather not be a commercial dojo this does not mean that traditional dojo need to be left out to the chances of the "weather" ("Gee, do you think it will rain tonight?" "Not sure, maybe, maybe the monsoons will come, but then again, maybe we'll have a drought this year."). Traditional dojo just need to figure out how to make the tenets of their own practice work for them. They need a plan - a traditional (vs. commerical) plan. After all, traditional training is a "life-time journey" and "Aikido is for everyone" and "the spiritual maturity of the soul is the fulfillment of Life/Existence," etc. - if you look at this, this is one surefire business plan. You are open to everyone, and you are open to them for the whole of their lives. Talk about a client! I think only the tabacco industry has something close to this!

Instead of suffering the weather, or, worse, being tempted to borrow some of the lesser nauseating features of the commercial dojo, traditional dojo need to figure out that what is hard is expecting joe-blow off the street to be capable of a life-time practice, etc. Never mind that, that is not hard - shouldn't have said that - that what it is is impossible. It's not that a life-time practice is impossible, it's expecting folks that aren't capable of a life-time practice to have a life-time practice - that is what is impossible - just as expecting folks to walk-in ready-made for such a practice is improbable. Traditional dojo should thus then work toward giving folks the tools they need to develop the capacity for a life-time practice. Start out asking, "What does it take to have a life-time practice?" Get your answers. Then go out and create, invent, borrow, etc., ways (i.e. practices) that generate these answers in the individual. Sure, you won't get everyone, but this number is much different from the "everyone" that we see in the common explanation for poor weather: "Traditional Budo is not for EVERYONE."

well - ranting a bit there - forgive.

thanks, take care,
dmv

Nick Simpson
03-27-2006, 03:00 AM
Perhaps the issue here is, then, not that you need more people joining at the beginning of the semester but to take a look at the curriculum to see if what is being taught during the semester and how it is being taught should be examined?

Thats it there. Generally we get 15-30 new people come to the first class of the year at the uni club, quite a few hang on untill christmas and then dont really come back after the holidays. Generally get one person who stays from each year and grades etc etc. I've spoken to a few people who no longer train and they tend to feel like they didnt learn much and that they couldnt defend themselves if the need arose and they would prefer to do a 'striking' art. My reply is to go try everything, but you get out what you put in...

Peter Seth
03-27-2006, 05:12 AM
Hi all. :)
It is usual to get beginners - especially male, who want a 'quick fix,' to be bruce lee, steven seagal etc in a very short time. They want to 'take out' quick-time without realising the amount you have to put in to achieve anything in life - especially a martial art. I think maybe in the case of a uni club there are lots of other things which have to be considered - drinking/socialising/other sports/activities interests available and of course study. It is sometimes hard to prioritise. Aikido in particular does not tend to give 'quick fixes' - safety in practice has to be a priority especially at beginner level and quick fix self defence techniques have to be carefully introduced, which does not suit all beginners. But, maybe they will come back to aikido after they have tried other arts - a lot of people do. We can all teach basic self defence techniques which may include bits from a variety of arts - I sometimes do - even just to show parrallels to a specific aikido movement/technique. This can also be useful in keeping individuals interest, but must be used judiciously or you end up teaching another art?

Sorry would like to continue but lunchtime is over. - maybe later
Pete :)

batemanb
03-27-2006, 06:43 AM
I don't mean to be contentious, but I think this is a wrong question to be asking. As an instructor I prefer to stay focussed on what I need to teach and how best to teach it so that those who want to learn will get the best chance to do so. This may seem the same as thinking about student retention, but it isn't. It is not my job to "keep" students, it is their responsibility to learn.

It all depends on how you teach what you need to teach. I agree with this last sentence, ultimately my role as an instructor is to inspire my students to want to learn.

rgds
Bryan

SeiserL
03-27-2006, 07:46 AM
IMHO, usually satisfaction comes when the realities closely match the expectations or desires.

Michael O'Brien
03-27-2006, 04:33 PM
It is not my job to "keep" students, it is their responsibility to learn.

Technically this may be true; But if you don't "keep" your students then there is no one there to teach. Then you have to analyze that maybe your "best way" to teach isn't really the best way to teach after all?

If a dojo is having a major issue retaing students then the question of "Why aren't we retaining students" is a valid question to ask.

James Kelly
03-27-2006, 09:35 PM
Funny, from the topic heading I thought this thread was about beginners retaining the stuff they're taught.
There is a lot of retention of brand new people that depends on their connecting to someone in the Dojo, and being able to see their own improvement in their techniques, right off the bat. The feeling that they have learned something new, been able to change their way of moving connecting or thinking in the first few classes. The Idea and realization of Budo as an art, or a way of life comes much later if at all for some people.

The people in the dojo are the people that need to make the connections to the new people to strike up conversations, to be friendly and open to having a community and relationships.This is a good point. At my old dojo we noticed that the students who tended to stay felt they had some personal connection to one (or more) of the regularly attending senior students. This connection would arise spontaneously -- usually if they got along personally or if the beginner were particularly enthusiastic or talented.

So we instituted a mentor system where every new student was assigned to a senior student. The senior was responsible for the new student, to look after and mark their progress and generally connect with them and keep them interested. It worked reasonably well and seemed to the unscientific observer to helping retention rates, but it had the problem that a mentor and a junior may be mismatched and may have been stifling spontaneous connections. Unfortunately the policy wasn't well received by all the seniors and didn't last long enough to get good data.

But what did come out of that was a similar policy where for every kyu grade, a junior has to find a senior student (at least 3 ranks higher) to sponsor them for the test. The senior helps the junior prepare for the test and takes some responsibility if the junior isn't up to par (and can suggest to the junior if they think they're not ready). We found that this created some bonds between the juniors and seniors while allowing them to arise naturally and, again unscientifically, seams to help retention. And students coming up the ranks would routinely choose the same senior for sponsorship which basically created the mentorship we were looking for in the first place.

mriehle
03-28-2006, 11:31 AM
But what did come out of that was a similar policy where for every kyu grade, a junior has to find a senior student (at least 3 ranks higher) to sponsor them for the test.

I quite like this idea. I'm not sure how I'll implement it in my school, but I'm going to find a way. It would solve several problems I've had, retention being only one of them.

As to why students stay or go, I have this observation:

When I desparately tried to get people to stay, I lost all my students. When I was always trying to get new people in, they stay a month or two and then leave. For various reasons, I don't much care if they stay or go now. They mostly stay.

I think, maybe, the first step is attracting people who are teachable. That doesn't mean people who are ready for the full commitment and just walk in and Do As They're Told. It means people who you, as a teacher, can reach and teach them the principles they need.

As to how you actually do that...

...workin' on it... :)

Alec Corper
03-28-2006, 11:40 AM
Michael wrote:
Technically this may be true; But if you don't "keep" your students then there is no one there to teach. Then you have to analyze that maybe your "best way" to teach isn't really the best way to teach after all?

Yep, totally agree

If a dojo is having a major issue retaing students then the question of "Why aren't we retaining students" is a valid question to ask.

Nope, sorry, the question is "Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"

Michael O'Brien
03-28-2006, 04:41 PM
Michael wrote:
Nope, sorry, the question is "Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"

I think perhaps we are looking at the same elephant, just from opposite ends. LOL

senshincenter
03-28-2006, 04:43 PM
"Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"

Could I ask for more explanation - I'm afraid I'm not following (my fault, I'm sure).

Please/thanks,
dmv

Charles Cunningham
03-28-2006, 05:16 PM
At a recent demo, one of our senior instructors spent several minutes explaining to a large group of prospective students just how difficult and frustrating aikido is. He showed them how much easier it is to simply hit uke than to blend and do an aikido technique. He said it takes most people more than 5 years to learn to do a nikyo right. Then he told them how few students are still practicing after 6 months, after a year, after 3 years, after 5 years, etc. He painted a fairly bleak picture of aikido. "Hmm," I thought, "Interesting choice. Give 'em the ol' weed-out speech."

I seriously doubted that any of these prospective students would return to try a regular class. It surprised the hell out of me to see about a dozen of them (the majority) come back and stick with aikido for several months now.

Shows you how much I know...

Charles

senshincenter
03-28-2006, 05:32 PM
He showed them how much easier it is to simply hit uke...

Charles

I'd say it's easy just to touch someone in the face or on the torso when they are just standing there - sure - that's easier than trying to do Nikyo in Kihon Waza (choreographed ukemi). HOWEVER, this don't make it easy to hit someone - certainly not easier than doing Nikyo. Being able to hit someone as designed by striking arts, in the midst of a combative situation, is every bit as hard as trying to pull off Nikyo under it's own designed conditions. What is easier is fooling oneself into believing that one's strikes are effective (when they are not) - that is easier than fooling oneself that his/her Nikyo is effective when it is not (but not by much).

What is hard about staying in the training is not the art. That's why these attempts to make the art easier are in my opinion missing the point. What is hard about commitment is commitment itself. That's why, if you were to ask all the looky-loos, the hobbyists, the 3 monthers, etc., you see that they almost have nothing in their lives where commitment is practiced. By the time they get to your dojo to quit your Aikido, they've already quit a million things. When they are left without assistance in the cultivation of commitment, about the only thing they can't quit is quitting itself.

Michael O'Brien
03-28-2006, 06:26 PM
Well spoken David. It seems in our fast food society, anything that can't be gotten in 90 seconds or less isn't worth having anymore.

Alec Corper
03-29-2006, 01:55 AM
Alec Corper wrote:
"Why am I not teaching Aikido in a way that will attract and hold people without the interference of my personal wishes?"


Could I ask for more explanation - I'm afraid I'm not following (my fault, I'm sure).

Please/thanks,
dmv

David, you are unfailingly polite, it's a pleasant exception to general internet etiquette.
I used to be a business consultant and "reframing" questions is a vital part of "new" thinking. For example, if a product is not selling we can spend a lot on advertising, marketing and sales training if we refuse to consider that the product does not appeal to the customer. If we are convinced that the customer is stupid we get the RTFM syndrome (read the F****** manual). It is my personal wish to believe that the product is perfect, that the customer is stupid, that the sales guys are dumb, anything except that my product is no good. "Invent a better mouse trap and the people will come!" Yes, but only people who want a mouse trap.

My response was based upon the danger of trying to "attract" students which can lead to commercializing, diluting and reducing Aikido to make it palatable, instead of staying focussed upon doing and teaching our best Aikido. This to me means that personal progress of the instructor in all areas, not just technically, will bring and hold the "right" people without our personal wish to reach them. If Aikido is actually the process of integrating body and spirit then our behaviors are the orchestrated best results of our current development. Adding tricks just makes us trickier in the long term.

I don't know if this makes it clearer, but I hope so

regards, Alec

George S. Ledyard
03-29-2006, 08:59 AM
Retention rate at a dojo is very much dependent on the ability of the students to identify with the teacher. The average person walking through that door is not particularly hard core. Aikido attracts a disproportionate share of folks who, if they weren’t doing Aikido, wouldn't be doing martial arts at all.

So these nice, usually middle class, pretty well educated folks come through the door and if they don't encounter someone at the helm who they can identify with, they won't stay. It has almost nothing to do with the quality of the instruction. When Saotome Sensei's DC dojo opened back in '76, he had around thirty students for the first couple of years. That dojo didn't grow until he had plugged in a bunch of yudansha to teach the lower level classes. Over the years the dojo grew as more hard core people moved there to train with Sensei and the small retention rate eventually still managed to fill the dojo.

I find the same thing. My take on Aikido is very committed and very serious. I don't do this as a hobby. But as my good friend, John Messores Sensei, has often said, most people doing the art are hobbyists. They don't see themselves as becoming Rokudan or opening their own schools. A big goal is to simply get a Black Belt (and most don't stay to do that). As far as my own experience goes, the best instructors I have encountered do not have the largest dojos. Those with the largest dojos have accomplished the goal of making the largest number of students comfortable being there. That has little to do with turning out good martial artists or transmitting the art on some deep level. In fact I think the two goals are somewhat incompatible.

I don't think this is just in Aikido either. Every activity has this. Look at women's gymnastics, which can hardly be called "women's" as the top performers are all young girls. Most of them started in some local gymnastics program which was geared to mass transmission of the basics. A smaller number stayed to go into the advanced class. Eventually the weeding out process left a small group that was perhaps capable of performing at world class levels. In the end, the ones that want to really hit the top level of skill enroll in a program which only accepts the top people and they train ar a level and with a severity that the majority never would or could have done. Every individual sport has this. Look at tennis... Most folks do it as a game which is fun to do. It is strictly recreation for them. What the professionals do has almost nothing to do with what the average person is doing. They couldn't even be on the same court together.

So the teachers of Aikido position themselves in this hierarchy very much based on their own skill and experience. If they are happy where they are, generally content with their own progress, enjoy sharing what they know with their students, and have the basic personal skills to communicate with others well, they will have a successful dojo.

If the teacher is not content, is always looking for a better way to develop himself and his students, confuses his students by changing his approach periodically, seems to be trying to transmit a level of the art that requires too much commitment to achieve for the average person, that teacher's dojo may have excellent training and the students may function at a high level when compared to their experience levels but the dojo will also be relatively small. This is certainly the case with my own school. The Aikido that I am interested in pursuing and in turn transmitting simply requires too much effort for most people. They leave, all the while telling you haw great it was, all the while saying they'll be back when they have more time and their schedules change. They are still saying that eight years later when you run into them on the street... They still talk about coming back but they won't (or if they do, and I have had a couple folks leave and return three or four times, it is just a replay of the first experience).

Saotome Sensei once gave me some pointers on how to grow the dojo. I replied that my "model" for my own school was his dojo in DC in which I had trained. I wanted to achieve that level of training at my own school. he replied "You can't do that and survive, especially on the West Coast". He was, of course, talking about my being a professional instructor. But I didn't open a dojo in order to make a lot of money. I started teaching full time so I could spend more time focusing on my Aikido. I have no interest in creating a dumbed-down version of the art which will make large numbers of people feel comfortable. Consequently, I have only a relatively small number of students. Most people who come through the door leave. It's not even that we are too severe. People almost never get injured training at our school... it's just that the picture of Aikido that I present is too overwhelming for most people and they leave. I couldn't figure out how to teach what I know without doing that so I stopped worrying about it. I simply focus on training the higher level folks who have stuck out the process. I have people travel across the country at great expense to train with me. Most of the folks that travel to my place or invite me to their own places are long term, fairly high ranked folks who appreciate what I have to offer. That’s clearly where I do the best job, not working with beginner people.

I see this a lot. There are folks who are great Beginner teachers, who attract large numbers of students and make them feel excited, welcome, supported, etc. Then there are people who are much better suited to training people who have already passed through that early stage or who come in with serious intent right out of the shoot. Very seldom do I see these people being the same people.

I think that real Budo is not compatible with mass transmission. A certain experimentation can be always be done to see if you can do a better job of bringing beginners along... but in the end it still comes down to commitment and most people are only willing to give it so much. So the choice becomes, do we shrink the art to the requirements of the majority of the students, or do we present the art to the very best of our abilities and simply wait for the folks that really care as much as we did to find us? My way is clearly the second way. Given the direction I see Aikido taking both in the States and in Japan it certainly seems to me that many folks have chosen the former option.

Ron Tisdale
03-29-2006, 09:25 AM
Thank you for your post George. I'm going through a bit of a crisis myself these days, and I honestly can't say how it will turn out. I always thought aikido was difficult, but I hoped it would get easier at some point along the way. In my case anyway, it's gotten harder.

I think the model that you and people like David V. use is a good one. There are plenty of places for the casual budo bum to go. What is needed are (relatively) safe places to push the edge.

Best,
Ron

gstevens
03-29-2006, 10:16 AM
That Ledyard dude, not only seems to really know this Aikido stuff, but he writes really well too. :-)

I was really worried about our Dojos retention rates, especially the students that I had uked for on their test, which then left after taking only their 5th kyu exam.... Then I read Sensei Ledyards article comparing the dojo to a tree, and while I understand it better, it still worries me.

Thank you Sensei Ledyard for your learned wisdom.

Guy
:-)

George S. Ledyard
03-29-2006, 12:59 PM
Thank you for your post George. I'm going through a bit of a crisis myself these days, and I honestly can't say how it will turn out. I always thought aikido was difficult, but I hoped it would get easier at some point along the way. In my case anyway, it's gotten harder.

I think the model that you and people like David V. use is a good one. There are plenty of places for the casual budo bum to go. What is needed are (relatively) safe places to push the edge.

Best,
Ron

I find this whole thing very interesting... My own Aikido has made a quantum jump since the first Expo and the change has accellerated in the last two years. My understanding of what I am doing is completely different than it was. My teaching reflects this... I get nothing but positive feedback from my existing students. Almost every place I have taught has invited me to come back, many have started inviting me to come every year. People seem genuinely excited about what I am doing yet the dojo itself, where people have to really step up to the plate and practice hard if they want to actually be able to do what I am showing them, is at a low point membership-wise. There may be other factors involved like the economy etc. but it still remains that I think that as positive as people say they are about the Aikido I am trying to teach, their realization of what an enormous effort it will be to actually get it themselves causes them to fade away.

They see me hitting two or three camps each year, attending a number of seminars with all sorts of great teachers, teaching a wide variety of targeted intensives, etc and I think they just don't see themselves making that type of commitment. It's very much a factor of my location as well. We are located in the suburbs where the primary focus is on career and family. Even the students I do have are working their buns off at very demanding careers (Microsft high on the list) and most of them are married with families. It's possible I'd have more students in the city where many of the younger singles are located. I supervise a satellite dojo in Seattle which has a number of wonderful young folks training (college and just post college). I not only don't have any of those but i don't even get them coming into watch class... So it's difficult to find students who did what many of us in the old days did... train six or seven days a week, attend every event within a ten hour driving radius, spend every vacation at a camp training...

Anyway, aside from the wonderful students I do have at my dojo, and i have to say I enjoy every minute I am there with them, I am focusing my efforts on reaching out to as many of the mid-level instructors out there in the hinterlands that I can. They've already made a substantial comittment and have stayed the course and they seem to appreciate what I can offer. Every instructor I teach is really thirty or forty people I am reaching so I feel as if i am having more of a positive effect tham just teaching the small number of serious individuals who are willing to train with me every day.

So the dojo just does what it does. Occasionally someone will move here to train with me but largely its the revolving door of new folks coiming in and disappearing within a few weeks or a month. And the students who stay keep on getting better and better. Nothing surprising here I guess.

Michael O'Brien
03-29-2006, 03:56 PM
My response was based upon the danger of trying to "attract" students which can lead to commercializing, diluting and reducing Aikido to make it palatable, instead of staying focussed upon doing and teaching our best Aikido.
Alec,
Thanks for that clarification post; It showed the point of you were expressing much clearer (well for me anyway) and I really enjoyed your analogy. Working with computers/networks all day we really wish we could get a log of users to RTFM.

My difference in view in looking at this with yours was I wasn't looking at it as "attracting" new students per say. Once the student has come through the door and signed up for the beginners 2 month introduction class, etc they have shown some interest in training for whatever reason.

After the initial 2-3 months that they have trained why are they leave then? Why are you not retaining them as ongoing students? That was how I viewed it.

I agree wholeheartedly that diluting or commercialing Aikido similar to what has happened with other arts (TKD in particular) is a terrible idea and shudder at the thought of that ever happening.

I'd have to move so I could train with Ledyard Sensei then. :)

I also really enjoyed your two posts by the way. Very insightful.

mriehle
03-29-2006, 05:15 PM
My difference in view in looking at this with yours was I wasn't looking at it as "attracting" new students per say. Once the student has come through the door and signed up for the beginners 2 month introduction class, etc they have shown some interest in training for whatever reason.


That (Alec's comments inclusive) being said, what about the role of who you are attracting in your retention rates? This is not a trivial question.

Clearly, you want to promote your dojo. There are many ways to do this, starting with the sign you put out front. You certainly don't want to intentionally attract people who clearly will not be happy in your dojo. This isn't about modifying your school to attract the right people, it's about presenting it to give the correct impression.

For example: If Ledyard Sensei were to present his dojo to the public as a place where you can easily pick up a few tricks that will devestate all attackers in under a month, he'd likely have all the wrong people signing up. This is a ridiculous example (I hope!), but it illustrates the point, I think.

Your dojo is what it is. The first step in student retention, I think, is signing up the people who will be happy there. It seems to me like part of this is being aware yourself what kind of environment you are creating.

cck
03-30-2006, 09:13 AM
I need some clarification:
Why must serving beginners/hobbyists and the truly dedicated students be mutually exclusive? Could you not imagine a dojo that would cater to both - even if the sensei cannot/doesn't like to?
Mr. Ledyard's example of tennis, for instance - or soccer: a club will vacuum in the beginners and enthusiasts, and those who are willing and interested in making a commitment go into the higher echelons where they can develop to their potential, but the hobbyists get to play too and receive training and have a grand time.
Could you not have a dojo that would welcome and train beginners and keep their hobbyists happy, as well as have advanced classes and seminars for those who are willing to make the commitment required? By that I mean time, sacrifice, study etc - time away from other things that might be important to people. Hobbyists can be very dedicated at the level they are at, and keep coming back as circumstances allow - the leaves and branches, I guess, providing those bodies that beginners might identify with.
Or is that just dishonest?

Ron Tisdale
03-30-2006, 09:35 AM
Hi Camilla,

I would consider the Doshinkan dojo where I attend keiko to be a school which caters to both, to a large extent. Our training methodology is a little different from the Aikikai schools I've been exposed to, so we are not necessarily comparing apples to oranges though. The distinction between hobbyists and "truly dedicated students" students is very blurry there though. All of our senior students are very serious about their training, and as in George's school, have pretty intense careers as well. At the same time, we do seem to get a lot of new students, and there are always some portion that 'stick'. One of the benefits that we have is a class at Temple University that keeps a steady influx of beginners...I wouldn't say that a high percentage stick..but a good portion of the yudansha are actually students that came from that program. Some go back and teach that class, some drift away after shodan / nidan, some really push forward in the art.

I'm not sure that we should expect everyone who comes to train to make a life long commitment. It's ok that they try for a while, enjoy themselves, grow a bit, and move on to other things. That is what the majority of people do in every endevour that I can think of. I also think we should make a way though, to keep as many of those who are on the edge of more commitment as we can.

One of the things that wears me down is the increasing level of physical coordination at the higher levels (ok, maybe intermediate in my case) as my body gets older. I think this is wear the rubber meets the road in many cases. You have people that start in their late 20s and 30's, they train for 10, 15 years, and now have to really find ways to manage the physical challenges in the art with aging bodies. I think for me that means I must now do things to take care of my body that I didn't have to before. More of a daily regimen to stay limber and strong to take into account how my body is aging. Last night I spoke with a 3rd dan who is going through this as well. Yoga is her method for getting through this time, and I think I'm going to take a more serious attitude about that as well. It's that, or risk fading out of keiko over the long run.

George, what things do your middle aged students do to keep their bodies going past the 10, 15 and 20 year marks?

Best,
Ron

senshincenter
03-30-2006, 11:04 AM
Hi Alec, and others, - THIS IS WAY LONG.

Thank you very much Alec for your reply – I see that perfectly now in your previous post. Additionally, I like your practice of reframing the question. I am hoping to use that in what follows.

If I may, I see some overlap between yours and George’s post. Quoting you both, this is where I see the overlap:

Alec wrote: “My response was based upon the danger of trying to ‘attract’ students which can lead to commercializing, diluting and reducing Aikido to make it palatable, instead of staying focused upon doing and teaching our best Aikido.”

And George wrote: “Those with the largest dojo have accomplished the goal of making the largest number of students comfortable being there. That has little to do with turning out good martial artists or transmitting the art on some deep level. In fact, I think the two goals are somewhat incompatible… I think that real Budo is not compatible with mass transmission.”

Continuing onward, to tie the thread together – to make and eventually present a new “reframing” of the issue – here is where I think George and I have overlapped – on the issue of commitment.

George wrote: “A certain experimentation can be always be done to see if you can do a better job of bringing beginners along... but in the end it still comes down to commitment and most people are only willing to give it so much.”

I had written: “That's why these attempts to make the art easier are in my opinion missing the point. What is hard about commitment is commitment itself. That's why, if you were to ask all the looky-loos, the hobbyists, the 3 monthers, etc., you see that they almost have nothing in their lives where commitment is practiced. By the time they get to your dojo to quit your Aikido, they've already quit a million things.”

First, on the notion of authentic training vs. mass consumption…

In terms of reframing the issue, what happens if we apply a little Aiki to this (very commonly) accepted dichotomy (i.e. between real or authentic training and small dojo populations on the one hand and watered down or commercial training and large dojo populations on the other)? What if we reframe the question of “Do you want a watered down Aikido and a large number of students, or do you want an authentic Aikido and a small number of students?” What if we first ask, “Are these really our only choices?” Or better, what if we start by asking, “Why do we feel that this dichotomy is the only thing we can have before us – what is holding this dichotomy together – why does it make sense to us?” I imagine if we think a little bit, we would start to see that there are many reasons for abandoning this dichotomy as the way the world works.

For me, in a way, this dichotomy is kind of like asking, “Do you want to attack or defend?” or “Do you want to initiate or respond?” It would seem that Aiki finds ways of offering “third” alternatives – as it has in these last two cases - such that the initial question, with its apparent “obviousness,” ends up making no sense at all – being seen as a trapping of our own inability to transcend dualistic thinking. I would propose that Aiki philosophy, in helping us to reframe this issue, cannot only free us from either of these poles, but that it can also free us from attempting to manifest that ever-elusive utopian medium that is thought to exist between these two poles – which many schools are now struggling to find. To do that, first, let us poke some holes in the assumed contrast that is thought to exist between authentic training and commercial training.

In that light, I think it is good we are talking about retention, and not, for example, attraction. Attraction, I think will make us too defensive, and thus too unwilling to do without our contrasting poles. This is even more true now since many authentic schools do the commercial tactic of offering beginner programs, free gi, free membership, free weapons, etc., when you SIGN UP NOW! Let us face it, we as Aikido folk have a lot at stake in keeping these poles – they do a lot for us in addressing our fears and desperation. They are kind of like a god we can blame things on, that we can use to deny things that might be of our own responsibility. You know? In other words, for example, they allow us to fail at setting up a dojo, establishing a lineage, etc., but all the while being better for that failure – “I failed because my Aikido was too authentic.” Etc. It will not be easy to get beyond these poles, in other words. However, as hard as it is going to be, retention is one of the ways it can be made “easier.”

I think retention is a good way into finding a third alternative – something that transcends this dualistic thinking. Let us start by being critical of the contrast said to exist by acknowledging that commercial schools do not thrive because of their capacity to retain students. It is not true that there are schools out there that have a watered-down training, etc., and that thus do not have the same low retention rates that we face in our own dojo. Additionally, it is inaccurate to believe that commercial schools remain financially viable because they retain students. Rather, they remain financially viable because they can capitalize upon the high turnover rate that normally plagues most “authentic” martial art schools. Where they put all of their effort is in attracting new students and in continuing a cash-flow by obtaining the monies that come with the new memberships/contracts, the sale of needed (new) equipment, and the meeting of various institutional costs (e.g. testing, etc.) Quite contrary to popular belief, commercial schools do not have any more insight into the problem of retention than the average Aikido dojo. The difference between the commercial school and the Aikido dojo is this: Commercial schools do not even really bother to try to remedy retention rates. In fact, in some cases, a school might be more financial viable if old students quit at black belt/instructor level! In short, a reframing of the issue seems in order because it is not true that commercial schools do not also show the same retention rates (i.e. most folks quitting between three and six months). Thus, they also do not show that watered down training curriculums work to address retention rates. The difference in terms of retention rates between commercial schools and Aikido dojo (as we are all understanding such a phrase here) is that the former uses said rates to their advantage (i.e. using the high turnover rate to produce a constant cash flow) while the latter chooses to be victim to those rates (for admirable reasons, of course).

Sure, in commercial schools, there are limited efforts, like ranking, colored belts, uniform qualifications, advanced curriculums, etc., and commercial tactics like these do assist somewhat with retention rates. Nevertheless, these tactics are far from foolproof, and thus no successful commercial school expects much of them. The short-term goal is never as successful as one would imagine when it comes to the commercial retention of students. Successful commercial schools know this. They also know that such tactics work primarily on the immature of mind and spirit – which is why they work better in the children’s program than in the adult program. The funny part is this: We see these same things in supposedly non-commercial Aikido schools as well. For example, many Aikido schools – schools shooting for authenticity - test. This they do this, and claim authenticity, even though failure is highly unlikely, even though constant personal “extenuating circumstances” enter into the final judgment, etc. They also rely on strangers (a person even less likely to fail someone) to judge someone else’s practice, while they cap everything up with statements like, “I really enjoyed your test…” Commercial schools do this same thing. Continuing onward…

Aikido schools – schools shooting for authenticity – also use rank. They get some bullsh.t system in place, thought to be authentic, but that never has anyone sitting at one rank for the rest of their lives – everyone moves up, everyone pushes everyone up (such that rank is more about attendance and duration of attendance than it is about the acquisition of skills). It is a system where no one ever gets demoted for getting out of shape, for being debilitated, or for starting to suck, etc. Additionally, though considered authentic, early ranks are considered meaningless, freebies, and later ranks are floating somewhere between the same meaningless and some abstract notion of symbolic value; etc. Finally, many authentic Aikido dojo use hakama donning and weapons training in the same exact way that a commercial school might use a blue colored gi, a school patch, or the Amercian flag belt and matching headband and the secret ninja nunchuku form.

In the end, in most cases, there is not this great contrast going on between commercialism and authenticity. When you combine this with the fact that commercial schools, water-down programs and all, show no more control over retention rates than those of us that are trying to train FOR REAL, well, it certainly does seem that a reframing of the issue is in order. The structural supports of the dichotomy simply do not exist in real life. If they seem real to us, I would suggest it is most likely because our own fears and pride are tangled up in the dichotomy itself – just like they might be in the dichotomies “attack or defend” and “initiate or respond.”

This brings me again to the issue of commitment. Like George, I believe that commitment is the main issue when it comes to the problem of retention. However, I think we differ in what we have said thus far when I suggest that the cultivation of commitment is the responsibility of the dojo. In my opinion, traditional schools, authentic training programs, make the cultivation of commitment an integrated part of the overall dojo culture. This is totally different from the commercial dojo – whom like other Aikido dojo sees commitment as being the responsibility of the student. In short, truly authentic training is going to involve both the gaining of a capacity to train over the long haul and character development. This is because there can be no skill development without either of these things existing. The virtue of commitment is the meeting place of these two objectives.

I cannot see how anyone can claim to be part of authentic training when commitment is expected and not cultivated. Rather than comparing things to sports and/or other hobbies, I think the closest thing to authentic Budo training are the religious callings – in terms of commitment. For example, when you want to be a monk, sure, a certain level of calling is expected, but there are technologies of the self in place to both verify that calling and/or to deepen it. Why? Because part of deepening that calling is to have it challenged. To challenge commitment without cultivating it, or to challenge commitment outside of cultivating it, is simply irresponsible. In way, to act thusly is nothing more than training folks to quit. This is exactly what is going on in all the short-term goals that both commercial dojo and many Aikido dojo share. They all work not to cultivate commitment, but rather to postpone it. So, in a way, they are training folks to quit by cultivating them to not have commitment.

Please let me offer a few elements from our own paradigm for dealing with retention rates – for cultivating commitment. I will also speak briefly on their underlying context – which is vital for them to function as designed. I hope that one will see that it is not only possible to have authentic training and high retention rates but that high retention rates are integral to authentic training. Most of these things are viewable to the general public on our website under “Dojo Information” – click on “membership” and “Dojo FAQ.”

Of course, we do away with all those short-term goal strategies. For example, we do not have tests, rank is one step above meaningless (not totally meaningless, because you can be demoted when skill/commitment drops, etc.), everyone wears hakama, everyone does the full curriculum (at their level), etc. The first step into the dojo for the beginner is our Trial Membership Period. This works on commitment because it marks outsider from insider. The problem with most dojo is that they let folks feel like outsiders, and thus be outsiders, even though they are in. In a way, the trial period is like when you transfer a fish from one tank to another – leaving it in its baggy for a while. Folks are not let out of their baggy until we know they are capable of surviving the tank. It is our job to help them become capable. When it comes to the cultivation of commitment, this is a matter of how well we can have them follow the dojo’s protocols regarding the Minimum Training Requirement, the Intended Training Protocol, and the Absence Courtesy. Respectfully, these things have folks learning to train at least two days a week, learning to integrate their life and training schedules, and taking responsibility for those days they cannot make but said they would.

However, these things do not happen in a vacuum of technical training. In other words, we do not expect that doing Ikkyo will cultivate a capacity for commitment. This is a big mistake the most Aikido dojo make. Rather, to support these policies, to assist them in their capacity to increase our own capacity for commitment, a whole culture works toward the same end. This, in my opinion, is where most dojo fail, even those that borrow some of our own technologies of the self. Most dojo think little beyond how to present a class topic and/or things like mat etiquette. However, a culture is made up of several factors – all of which must work to reinforce each other. For example, we set the above-mentioned protocols in place, and they are supported by the information presented in our website and via our email list – information that explains why they are there, how one should follow them, how one should face the difficulties that arise when following them, and even how to fail at following them, etc. This is then combined with things like true mentoring relationships, peer support, etc., which then are supported by things like how we understand the Nage/Uke dynamic, to how we design our tactical architectures, to how we develop our training drills, to how we understand Aikido, to how we practice Budo, etc. Underlying all of this is a notion of servitude that most dojo simply refuse to function at (or perhaps don’t even consider possible). In the end, we have an extremely high retention rate – one that no commercial school could ever compete with – not even close. Additionally, of the five members that quit in the last year and half (one going to grad school, one to law school, one to college, one saying he needed a break, and one saying it’s too hard for him to train and do school at the same time), four, the first four mentioned, still contribute dues on a regular to semi-regular basis (they also return to train when they can).

So, the question, in my opinion, is not “Do we train authentically and suffer low retention rates or do we train in-authentically and gain high retention rates?” Rather, the question is, “How do we make high retention rates part of an authentic practice?” The answer, “By cultivating the virtue of commitment in the dojo via some very well-designed technologies that can be supported by a equally well-designed culture.” This answer is important from a dojocho’s point of view – because there are financial ramifications to low retention rates, especially if you will not participate in the commercial tactics of attraction. This answer is also important from a teacher’s/practitioner’s point of view since low retention rates means that one’s home base will never function at high enough a level to be a true research field.

Thank you,
dmv

Charles Cunningham
03-30-2006, 03:09 PM
I certainly agree with David that only people who are capable of commiting to something will become long-term students in aikido. On the other hand, there is no hope that a person will become a long-term aikido student unless he or she actually comes to a few classes and begins to practice. My intent in my posting was primarily to reflect on a particular strategy used to achieve the latter short-term goal, a strategy that struck me as counter-intuitive but proved successful in one instance.

How does one get people at an aikido demo to return and try out a few classes (i.e. to take the first steps as potential long-term students in aikido)? I would not have guessed that a "weed out" lecture would be helpful, one that focuses on how difficult aikido is and how few students stick with it. However, I was clearly wrong. Perhaps such a lecture brings out a stubborn streak in those who hear it. Perhaps it even serves as a filter passing those who have the aforementioned capability for commitment--time will tell.

As to the question of whether it is easier to hit someone or do nikyo, I am unpersuaded by David's argument. Rare is the nikyo that does not present multiple atemi (striking) opportunities along the way. On the other hand, I readily grant David's point that both striking arts and aikido become substantially more difficult to use under combat conditions.

Charles

senshincenter
03-30-2006, 03:33 PM
As to the question of whether it is easier to hit someone or do nikyo, I am unpersuaded by David's argument. Rare is the nikyo that does not present multiple atemi (striking) opportunities along the way. On the other hand, I readily grant David's point that both striking arts and aikido become substantially more difficult to use under combat conditions.

Charles

Going a little off topic here - but so as to keep things clear...

My point of consideration is two-fold: 1) that pertaining to actual hand-to-hand combative experiences (not training); and 2) that of having a strike do its intended level of damage (not just touching the target). Both of these perspectives pertain to one's mind being unfettered while in the midst of violence, and to the development of a practical power. The development of these attributes is long and arduous. There is no quick or easy way of bringing these skills to a practical level - other than making sure your opponent is without skill and/or of an inferior athleticism or aggressive intent. This remains true whether one is trying to do nikyo or a rear cross - because one is still going to have to seek to develop these attributes and that is the hard part of either tactic when it comes to a hand-to-hand combative experience.

In short, as many people as there are in Aikido that couldn't do Nikyo to save their lives, there are that many folks in the striking arts that couldn't strike to save their lives. If there is a difference, I would suggest that Aikido's emphasis on two man forms makes it less likely to delude oneself (vs. hitting bags and/or doing solo and/or no contact focus strikes). However, as I said, two man forms have their own way of allowing for a delusion of skill (e.g. fake ukemi). So, I imagine things are even on that account as well. :D

cck
03-30-2006, 05:12 PM
Hi David -
I have to bite: from previous exchanges, I have a picture of you as someone who has a very clear vision of what you want and you ask it. I also know that I could not find a place in your dojo - you ask too much, or rather, you ask the wrong way for someone like me.
On the issue of commitment, I am deeply and utterly committed to my family, choices get made with it in mind. Hence, I do aikido at lunch at a dojo that fits my schedule, that way I can spend awake time with my family. I chose my dojo for that reason, it just happens to turn out to be a place where I am extremely happy.
It is in fact my pre-existing commitment that makes me what you (at least I think it was you) have termed a "dabbler" - albeit a very committed one, and I don't see that as an oxymoron. I love my dojo, the community, and what aikido does to me. I cannot, however, commit to a certain number of training days per week - my circumstance - and my choices - do not allow it. Work, which pays for the rest of my life, including dojo fees, must be attended to in all its whims. If I had to call and say "sorry, can't make it" every time an ad hoc meeting got in the way, I would start to feel bad about what would indeed then feel like my lack of commitment, and it would become a lack of commitment.
However, even more than the impracticability of work, I would balk at being made to make a commitment in that way. I already give up something to come to the dojo, valuable time that could be spent with my kid. If I choose to enter into a relationship with a dojo, I will play by the rules; that is understood. If I can't do that, I must leave. But if you demand demonstration of my good will and deny me flexibility in an otherwise well meant effort to make me accountable, I will resist. I know, I know, this could be just me, and it may even be something I need to pay attention to. But my understanding of being an adult means that you take your commitments seriously, and that you are accountable. I have a mutually accepted relationship with the dojo, I do not have a reporting relationship with the dojo.
I had a period of two months where I only went to training 15 times. It was very unpleasant, and I was aching to go. Had I had to make excuses every time, the desire might have turned into something else. I go because I want to, and that is what my dojo expects of me.
I am just someone - what I am trying to illustrate is that I think many people have things they are deeply committed to, and they really like aikido as well and try to fit it in where they can; that, to me, is commitment. I don't know that fostering commitment through what I essentially see as a contract ("I will train this much and on these days") would work for a lot of them.
The chicken or the egg question - are people attracted to aikido and stay because it jives with who they are, or because they want to remold themselves and experience some success in that endeavor? And further, back to that old question, can we change through aikido at all? You must think that we can - that you can cultivate desirable changes in people. If people seek you out to change, they have the motivation, granted, and then you can build a culture around that. If you provide a certain structure, then I trust you get students who respond well to that. Personally, I do not feel transformed through aikido - perhaps uncovered and strengthened, but I am not some other being than I was before. And I cannot separate the fact that I just have gotten older (which has a great influence on me!)
If dojos have the students that are attracted to what they propose to offer... I don't know that you can increase retention rates other than making it as easy as possible to come train. Yes, a big part of that is the community and a welcoming attitude, that beginners find people they can identify with, but it is also as mundane as a generous schedule and a reasonable fee structure.

George S. Ledyard
03-30-2006, 05:46 PM
I need some clarification:
Why must serving beginners/hobbyists and the truly dedicated students be mutually exclusive? Could you not imagine a dojo that would cater to both - even if the sensei cannot/doesn't like to?
Mr. Ledyard's example of tennis, for instance - or soccer: a club will vacuum in the beginners and enthusiasts, and those who are willing and interested in making a commitment go into the higher echelons where they can develop to their potential, but the hobbyists get to play too and receive training and have a grand time.
Could you not have a dojo that would welcome and train beginners and keep their hobbyists happy, as well as have advanced classes and seminars for those who are willing to make the commitment required? By that I mean time, sacrifice, study etc - time away from other things that might be important to people. Hobbyists can be very dedicated at the level they are at, and keep coming back as circumstances allow - the leaves and branches, I guess, providing those bodies that beginners might identify with.
Or is that just dishonest?

This has alot to do with the article I wrote about Clarity inones training...

I am quite aware that most folks are of the "hobbyist" persuasion but, as I stated in my article, almost no one sees his participation as somehow less than serious. Everyone wnats to participate at the level which is comfortable for them but they still want to feel like they are getting the goodies, so to speak. If you tell them that getting to a certain rank will reuire a given level of commitment, they will tell you that they can't make that level of commitment because of a,b, c reasons. What they want you to do is say, "Well, ok. I understand you can't do that, even though you want to, so I will adjust my expectations." This will allow them to feel good about what they are doing, which they see as something they deserve because they participate as much as they can.

Frederick Lovret Sensei once said, "There are two types of students; those who train as much as they can and those who train..." People who put in as much effort as they can still want to be affirmed the same way the students who train all the time do. They aren't happy seeing people who come in a couple of years after they started blast by them on the rank continuum because they are training at three times the frequency. They still think, "That guy started after me and now he's higher ranked than I am." or "That guy started way after me... how come he is taking all that ukemi and getting all that attention?" Rather than admit that they simply aren't committed at the same level and adjust their expectations about the validation they want for their efforts, they leave.

It's not that they aren't welcome. It's that everything in the environment reminds them that they aren't part of the group of "serious" folks. A local seminar happens and the seniors are talking about attending, the core group takes off every summer to attend summer camp together, folks travel from other places to train at their school, etc. Most people come in and see what the serious folks are doing and they don't see themselves as doing that... but they still want to feel like what they are doing is of value.

At a dojo at which most people do not train outside, no one goes off to the various camps except the occasional individual, where the main focus on testing is affirming the students and creating a strong community structure for the dojo, the student of only modest commitment can feel right at home. He won't get too stressed by testing because the standard has been tailored to exactly the effort he will put in. Nothing serves to make thyat student feel different from any other. I have direct experience of such places... They usually have a nice solid group of folks who have trained for quite a long time, who all get along well... No one gets pushed too hard to excell... the guest instructors all tell everyone they are doing fine...

While there is nothing wrong with this picture, it represents a large group of folks who are genuinely happy with what they are doing; one seldom finds anyone of real excellence coming out of such a place. It is hard for the individual who wishes to do more to get support for making the extra effort

What I find is that, if you find a place where the students who wish to really go the distance and get to the highest levels of their art can do so, it will be a place with a small but very serious group of folks training. They'll cycle a vast number of people through for every one that sticks.

David's statement that you teach commitment is true. My core group of around thirty students is very committed. But I've had this school for 17 years (some have been around almost that long). I have noticed that, as this group has formed, it has become increasingly difficult to merge new people into the group. Now, not only do they compare themselves to me, they have a group of sempai that they admire and compare themselves to. It creates a huge disconnect... They want to be part of the group but at the same time, they aren't committed enough to break into the group the way the previous folks have, namely by training frequently and consistently. So, once again they are reminded constantly that they aren't part of the "serious" group. The only solution to this issue that I know of is to eliminate the "serious" group. If the training is homogenized, the students will not discern a difference between themselves and their fellows. This is very good for group cohesion and encourages people to stay in the community. But this involves the Japanese practice of pounding down the nail that sticks up... For this to work well, no one should be encouraged to move along faster than his fellows or train harder, or do outside training which the general members don't do. Then you can have a group which can grow to its maximum size potential.

Anyway, I know of schools which have fabulous beginner's programs; I know schools which have excellent training for the hard core folks; I don't know very many who can do both successfully.

SeiserL
03-31-2006, 08:01 AM
Anyway, I know of schools which have fabulous beginner's programs; I know schools which have excellent training for the hard core folks; I don't know very many who can do both successfully.
I am most fortunate, because IMHO the Westminster Aikikai under Sensei Dang Thong Phong has both. While there are certainly more people who start then stay, we have a large population of both. we all work out together and it seems quite compatible.

I think it has to do with accepting why people are there as a short-term or long-term serious hobbyist or a die-hard identity-encrusted martial artist. We each work at our own level of intent and intensity.

cck
03-31-2006, 12:08 PM
Mr. Ledyard wrote:
Anyway, I know of schools which have fabulous beginner's programs; I know schools which have excellent training for the hard core folks; I don't know very many who can do both successfully.

Can I assume that your concern is the future of The Art, and where the next shihans will come from? That there will be a continuous supply of dedicated students/senseis? And are you thinking that at some point we will have "elite schools" and "hobby schools", or perhaps that such a situation exists today?

As far as I understand, the whole world of associations is very muddled and full of internal strife. Granted, my understanding is very shallow on this point. My question is, who would be the arbiter of qualification? The "licensing" authority? What would the potential student look for as a sign of quality (given that beginners usually have very little knowledge about aikido itself)? Lineage is one thing, but for instance, I have 5 different instructors during the week (if I go every day), and only one is with the sensei. Am I getting my money's worth? I would say an unqualified "YES", but others may think of this as a very diluted version.

I do understand that to stay in aikido, you have to get something out of it, yes, it should meet your expectations (adjusted or realistic expectations, if you will), or it should give you something you never expected. But to a beginner looking for a dojo - in the phone book, on the Internet, whatever - really, really mundane things matter. In that phase, you are looking more at a consumer-relationship than anything else.

senshincenter
03-31-2006, 02:44 PM
Hi Camilla,

I certainly wouldn't want to say that our dojo is for everyone -- it's just that I would say that everyone that comes to our dojo has a fighting chance at cultivating commitment. So, I can't ask, "What do you mean you couldn't fit in at our place?" This becomes an especially silly question when one has already decided that they can't fit before they try it. So there is not really much that I see I can respond to or with in regards to your reply. I can only respect it as your opinion.

I can point out some things, to make some things clearer. For example, your resistance to notifying the dojo of your absences… This is not a matter of making excuses, since excuses are not given. Reasons do not need to be offered, and if they are, any and all are accepted equally. This is a protocol of courtesy, by which one marks his/her relationship with the dojo. It is no different than when you make plans to meet a friend for lunch and then when you can't make it, offer the courtesy of calling them, etc., to let them know you won't be there. When we do this with our friends, we do not feel pressured, or strained -- such actions are a natural extension of the respect we hold for each other and for the relationship as a whole -- also from the intimacy that exists between us. Or, if we do feel pressured or strained to offer such courtesy, and this is the point of the protocol, we should probably reflect on the relationship and the nature of our own person within it.

Probably, if such courtesy is more burdensome than representative of mutual respect and/or intimacy, one can use said protocol to look into how or why they hold such resistance -- one can use said protocol to see why they might need the dojo to be a place where no such intimacy is required or expected, etc. For a spiritual tradition, as is Budo and Aikido, issues of intimacy and mutual respect are important elements. So too then is our resistance toward such things. Because the protocol accepts any and all reasons for missing class, and because no reasons need ever be offered, one learns that this protocol is not about "reporting to big brother" but is about reflecting upon virtues like mutual-respect and intimacy and the vital place they must hold in our training -- because they are very much a part of practicing commitment to the dojo community and to the sensei/deshi dynamic, etc.

Behind all of this talk of commitment is an understanding that true commitment is about integration. It is not about the sacrificing of one's "life" for the sake of Aikido. This would be a very spiritually immature state of commitment -- something I would call more convenience than commitment. For example, commitment is not about choosing to train over choosing to be with one's children. Commitment is about integrating parenthood and training. Just as commitment must be cultivated, integration is also something that must be learned -- like commitment, it is a skill of sorts. So the question is not going to be, "Do I choose to train or do I choose to be with my child?" The question is supposed to be, "How do I integrate training and parenthood?" and this latter question is really one of "How do I develop my skill at integration -- how do I gain a true commitment to my practice?"

This is what the Intended Training Schedule Protocol is about. It is about developing one's skill at integration. At first, it starts out at a very mundane level -- that of hours. However, soon, one learns very quickly that it is hardly a matter of finding hours. Anyone can find hours to train -- that is how most folks train -- they find hours. Rather, this protocol is about making hours to train. In the making of hours to train, one will either start integrating "life" and training or one will be resistant to the idea of making hours. Either way, the protocol functions as designed because the whole point of it is to move beyond the mundane-ness of time allowances. To make hours to train and to be resistant to making hours to train are going to allow one to see how well they are at integration and thus at commitment -- this will take place from a spiritual level, to an emotional level, to an intellectual level, to a physical level. The point here is not to make classes at all cost, the point here is to simply move away from a practice of convenience. So, I have deshi that run their own companies, for example, and they have to miss classes during crunch times, etc., sometimes for two or more months at a time. This is no big deal. Through such times, they are working to make time to train. After such crunch times, they continue to make time to train. In the end, they train when they train, but this is not the same "train when you train" when one's practice is grounded in convenience. There is a difference, and it takes place at a deeper level of self. To support this deeper level of self, a dojo cannot be on par with a fitness club, where one shows up when and however they would like -- sneaking in and sneaking out. As you can see, the flexibility is there; only it takes place at a more authentic level of experience -- one far different from that of convenience.

I cannot speak for you Camilla (so I am not doing so here), but in my experience, in what I have ran into in our dojo, when we've come into contact with folks that are resistant to the courtesy protocol, we are dealing with folks that have deep-seated intimacy issues and/or tendencies to feel inadequate (particularly toward authority figures). When one is wishing to train in Aikido -- these things have to be reconciled. When we have folks that are resistant toward the intended training protocol, we are usually looking at folks that function primarily via convenience -- they feel safe (for habitual reasons) only if they are floating, being manipulated by pressures external to them. These protocols, for example, because in the former they present an alternate type of authority figure (i.e. a universally accepting one) and because in the latter they allow one the freedom to safely make mistakes and the constant adaptations that are necessary to practice self-responsibility, are chances for folks to transform themselves. They are technologies of the self. Resistance then is going to be part of the process, not external. Thus, I would say, someone like you would fit right in at our dojo -- because your resistance is the practice, not the halting of it.

I came across this quote by David Lynch the other day -- seems relevant to any discussion on commitment and integration -- so I offer it here for everyone to comment upon:

""People tend to dislike anything that is not black and white and yet self-study is by its nature obscure and even hidden from first sight. Brought up in the marketing mentality, many potential students want to know precisely what they can get out of aikido, without giving much thought to the effort they would require themselves to even scratch the surface."

Thanks so much for the post,
dmv

Ron Tisdale
04-03-2006, 07:32 AM
I love posts that make me look at myself critically, without raising my hackles. Thanks again, David.

Best,
Ron

cck
04-03-2006, 10:35 AM
Understood, David. You are right, I have not attended your dojo, I just read your web site and that is what I reacted to. Apologies for speaking with a foot in my mouth.
You wrote about those resisting the courtesy protocol that "they feel safe (for habitual reasons) only if they are floating, being manipulated by pressures external to them." As I see it, motivation to practice is internal - if there is no internal drive, then no amount of external pressure can make practice relevant. I would still say that commitment starts with a choice: "I will do this (and not this)", and the integration flows from there - the integration is not the difficult part, it is a logical consequence.
It is probably true that I see the relationship with my dojo as fairly one-sided; they can get along perfectly well without me. And you are probably also right that there is a "floater" attitude in that, that there is an out should things become somehow difficult. All I can say is that I feel driven by a need to go to practice that is internal, and internal only. I guess I make the commitment to myself. Perhaps I see commitment as a very personal thing, and essentially one-sided.
There is a difference between willing/felt commitment and formal structure of commitment to me. Why it makes such a big difference I can't define, but I'll think about it. As usual, you have many thought-provoking insights; I am not sure why what you say hits a spot with me, but it does. Pretty much every time. So I think I will shut up for now and just think for a while.

jonreading
04-03-2006, 10:41 AM
First things first, I do not believe a respectible martial arts dojo should have a "high" retention rate of new students. Martial arts (and aikido) are not for everyone and many individuals cannot meet the physical, philosophical or emotional demands of training. Healthy aikido dojo should filter out those students that are/may be detrimental to the dojo - not because we want to kick people out of an exclusive club, but because we want to focus our energy on teaching those that possess the committment and ability to learn aikido. It's my job to pass along my instructor's teachings of aikido, not give some hobbiest a colored belt.

Aikido has filters to help instructors maintain a safe and progressive learning environment. On a rudimentary level, aikido has physical demands that filter unfit students. On a more complex level, aikido has philosophical and emotional demands that filter out even more students. These filters exist so that we [instructors] can rely on an external source of feedback to help point out problems with students. The students ultimately make the decision to stay or leave, but they witness the feedback first-hand. I think some dojo no longer use filters to restrict their student body, which makes the student body difficult to manage. I think it is important to keep these filters in place to prevent bad relationships from developing but sometimes dojo that use filters also make mistakes by either being too restrictive or not restrictive enough. To me, these filters is exist to manage student body and to exercise some control over the inflow of new students. I may look to alter my filters to accomodate a unique aspect of the dojo (location, average age, previous experience, etc.) if I feel that the dojo is not growing in a positive direction.

Groucho Marx once said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." Your dojo reflects upon you, your instructor and aikido as a martial art. Your standards, habits, and leadership as an instructor influence your student base and your dojo.

Perry Bell
04-05-2006, 11:13 PM
Yeah, what's up with that? Aren't we supposed to practice with people at all levels? I have been wondering about how to impress beginners (and some others) in the dojo with the fact that it's OK to slow the advanced students down a bit. It helps the advanced students, too, and it helps the art (to survive, because we need new people, all the time). Of course, it helps if the advanced students have a good attitude about working with beginners.

I think that a 1 in 10 retention rate from first class to first grading/test is pretty typical. A lot of people who try aikido probably decide they just don't like it. Others can't make the time... and others are turned off by one thing or another at the particular dojo/class they go to, some of which we can do something about, some of which we can't.

The only thing that I see making a meaningful difference is if the senior students are friendly and helpful, which is less of an issue in intro classes. We've never had an intro class at this dojo, but I'm trying to start one, as an experiment, so I'd be interested in what people have to say. Also, I wonder if intro classes help with the general retention rate at all.

--Amelia

Hi Amelia

I started a beginners intro class and I told all my students that they were welcome to join in the class but not to expect to be doing advanced techniques, only ones that a beginner is capable of performing, to my surprise a number of color belts started to join in and very soon the word got around how great it was going back in time that now my black belts come to the class, we still only run it as a beginner class and every one there now helps out the beginners, I think they realized how important the basics are but also how much fun it is doing them.

I always say to my students your training and your life is what you make of it if you find it boring ask yourself what you could be doing to make it that way change it, same as work all work is good its peoples attitudes that make it fun or not.

You know if you could change one small thing in your life and change your whole life what would that be.........?

take care smile heaps and be happy

Perry :)