PDA

View Full Version : Does having formal Sensei - Sempei - Kohei relationships attract more students?


Please visit our sponsor:
 

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


Peter Kaye
06-13-2007, 03:26 PM
I am relatively new to AikiWeb and may have missed discussion of this topic in previous threads-forgive me if that is the case. I've been training in Aikido for almost 4 years now, all with 1 dojo and 1 sensei, although I have attended numerous seminars, camps, as well as having trained with several other sensei's from neighboring dojos.

As we constantly work to grow our dojo (currently about 15 students), we see many new students come and go, and we wonder why this occurs. We wonder if there are specific root causes for them deciding not to join, causes that we can work to improve upon so they don’t recur… but also understanding that it is quite normal in Aikido to have students come and go in the normal course….specifically, we are trying to ascertain if we lose more students because our level of formality on the mat may be less than what they expect.

Our dojo has a very friendly sensei and many of us have developed friendships with him, and occasionally, we all go out after class and socialize (dinner, beer, etc). Occasionally on the mat during class, there may be a short conversation or some joking between sensei and students.

Given this, I would really like your input and thoughts related to current thinking relative to “standards” of relationship between sensei and student. That is to say, do you believe it is generally better to have a very formal, strict behavior expected between all students (and teacher) on the mat while training, with no talking during class, strict addressing of sensei (and not by their first name), followed by a relaxation of this behavior after class where occasionally it's ok to all go out for a beer with sensei and students? Or do you feel it is inappropriate for sensei to socialize with his/her students at all, or to keep this socialization to a minimum? How do you think your response affects retention of students...ultimately we want more students to continue training with us. That is a goal of your dojo I'm sure.

Your thoughts and input and sincerely appreciated.

Zenogantner
06-13-2007, 03:43 PM
Does having formal Sensei - Sempei - Kohei relationships attract more students?

No. Because most prospective students visiting your dojo will think you're nuts.
Most people won't understand why you take a social concept from Japan and try to implement it in a Western setting.
IMHO, they are right with their scepticism ;-)

The way you approach training and relationships inside your group is perfectly normal, so don't change it.

I don't call my teacher 'sensei'
Just like you, I call him by his first name.
Everything else would be weird ...

Regards, Zeno

crbateman
06-13-2007, 03:47 PM
I know that many people have problems dealing with a formal hierarchy when they have dealings on a different level with the same people outside the dojo (social, employment, romantic, etc.). Seen it many times... spouse senior to spouse, employee senior to boss, offspring senior to parent, and so on. This can come into play more often when you rely on word-of-mouth to attract new students, as many of your newbies will be coming from within the larger circles of your existing students. I've found that practically everyone in this position will claim to be above all that, but it still eats at many of them who won't admit it, but will let it affect them nonetheless.

Drew Mailman
06-13-2007, 04:53 PM
Even in an informal school, you'll still see students come and go.

The school I have been a member of for nearly two years has the same situation. We're very informal, but over the past two years, I've noticed that new students generally last about 3-6 months or so. I think that in the time I've been there, we've had three students (including myself) join and stay. I remember one guy who bought a gi and only stayed for one class. WTF?

I don't know... It seems that Americans don't have the attention span that they used to. I know I haven't been the most dedicated student, skipping class to play video games or fool around with girls. But I'm done with that stuff... At least video games, anyway. ;)

Hanna B
06-13-2007, 04:59 PM
I've considered adaptation to "mainstream" regarding etiquette etc thinking students might get to seminars and people think they can't behave... but to attract beginners, no. Do it your way, and don't care what will attract students. If you pretend something that is not your way, the outcome will not be good.

SeiserL
06-13-2007, 05:54 PM
IMHO, it attracts some, but usually in the western world/mind, its a trun off.

rtist
06-13-2007, 06:04 PM
If our dojo instructed under strict discipline with formal separation between sensei and student, I doubt that I would have stayed the last 7 years.
I have a good time studying aikido. when I stop having a good time studying aikido, I will stop.
Students come and students go ... some even return later. for as many reasons as there are students.
If a dojo's "personality" drives away some students - they were not meant to study there.

PeterR
06-13-2007, 08:17 PM
Its pretty clear to me that most students come to aikido to learn the martial art - not to be more Japanese than the Japanese. That's not to say that some of the associated etiquette is not attractive and even unnecessary (budo without rei is just violence) just that an overly formal atmosphere has little to do with learning aikido.

I started training Aikido in Japan and remember being quite shocked by the level of formality I found in some dojo in the West to the point it was completely foreign to what I was used to. When I started my dojo in Japan I kept formality to a minimum and slowly brought it up to the level of Honbu over the course of 4 years. There, for example, you never here people being addressed as sempai/kohai.

I remember someone else presenting me with a list of do's and dont's his nidan sensei had given the Western dojo and my only comment was "he is not Shihan". The comment reflected rank not title and is another of the big mistakes I have seen in the West. When I say that I brought my dojo up to the level of Honbu that meant an understanding of the context.

In my mind one should approach fomality very carefully otherwise you will do the aikido you do a disservice beyond turning off potential students.

Roman Kremianski
06-13-2007, 08:48 PM
Or do you feel it is inappropriate for sensei to socialize with his/her students at all, or to keep this socialization to a minimum?

Sounds a bit like a superiority complex there. Does the sensei have his own social circle of sensei to drink with?

I think everywhere outside the dojo there is the kohai/sempai system, even though it may not be called that directly. The nice thing about Western civilization though is the fact that you can tell an ass sempai to f off, while it would be social suicide in Japanese culture.

And I'm not going to lie, but some people really do become too Japanese for their own good after training too much in Aikido. It's kind of the awkward side of Aikido. Hehe.

Peter Goldsbury
06-13-2007, 10:09 PM
I agree with Peter R. here.

We do not have a formal sempai/kohai system in my dojo here, but the beginners are looked after by the more senior students. It happens naturally. All the students except one are Japanese (we use English with him), so there is no question of anyone out-Japanese-ing the Japanese here, or becoming too Japanese for their own good.

In Japan sempai/kohai have a specific social context and I do not think there is any sense in exporting the terms without the social context, which would be impossible anyway.

Nafis Zahir
06-14-2007, 01:13 AM
I am relatively new to AikiWeb and may have missed discussion of this topic in previous threads-forgive me if that is the case. I've been training in Aikido for almost 4 years now, all with 1 dojo and 1 sensei, although I have attended numerous seminars, camps, as well as having trained with several other sensei's from neighboring dojos.

As we constantly work to grow our dojo (currently about 15 students), we see many new students come and go, and we wonder why this occurs. We wonder if there are specific root causes for them deciding not to join, causes that we can work to improve upon so they don't recur… but also understanding that it is quite normal in Aikido to have students come and go in the normal course….specifically, we are trying to ascertain if we lose more students because our level of formality on the mat may be less than what they expect.

Our dojo has a very friendly sensei and many of us have developed friendships with him, and occasionally, we all go out after class and socialize (dinner, beer, etc). Occasionally on the mat during class, there may be a short conversation or some joking between sensei and students.

Given this, I would really like your input and thoughts related to current thinking relative to "standards" of relationship between sensei and student. That is to say, do you believe it is generally better to have a very formal, strict behavior expected between all students (and teacher) on the mat while training, with no talking during class, strict addressing of sensei (and not by their first name), followed by a relaxation of this behavior after class where occasionally it's ok to all go out for a beer with sensei and students? Or do you feel it is inappropriate for sensei to socialize with his/her students at all, or to keep this socialization to a minimum? How do you think your response affects retention of students...ultimately we want more students to continue training with us. That is a goal of your dojo I'm sure.

Your thoughts and input and sincerely appreciated.

Will it attract more students? Well that depends on what the potential student is looking for. Personally, I think that type of relationship is needed in order to maintain a certain level of martial discipline as well as martial respect on and off of the mat.

arjandevries
06-14-2007, 01:16 AM
As I see it, fomallity in the dojo does work until a certain level. As the instructor I am not God. Just a guy passing on what he thinks he has learned. I do not give other students a certain status but I do tell people that they should not tell seniors what to do. In my case, I do not have real seniors because the dojo is not that old :)

On the other hand: there is some order in a martial art and in my opinion a dojo is not a democracy. Someone has to be "the boss".
There must be at least one person people can hang on to and of course this is the instructor. But I also are on my knees cleaning the tatami!

I also tell my student how it can be in other dojo's or at seminars. My advise: follow the rest!

I also decided that there will be no one folding my hakama but me.:)

A happy dojo where rank is not really visable atracks in my opinion more people.

Nick P.
06-14-2007, 05:48 AM
...(budo without rei is just violence)...

Couldn't agree more.

Bronson
06-14-2007, 11:12 AM
...do you believe it is generally better to have a very formal, strict behavior expected between all students (and teacher) on the mat while training, with no talking during class, strict addressing of sensei (and not by their first name), followed by a relaxation of this behavior after class where occasionally it's ok to all go out for a beer with sensei and students? Or do you feel it is inappropriate for sensei to socialize with his/her students at all, or to keep this socialization to a minimum?

I believe it is generally better for the attitude and tone of the class to be an honest reflection of the personality and temperment of the person running the class.

Bronson

Tracy Van Zandt
06-14-2007, 11:34 AM
I think, as with everything, this is going to be a matter of personal preference for each student.
At our dojo, our sensei quite formal on the mat -- as a new student I found this somewhat intimidating, but now I vastly prefer it (compared to our assistant instructor, who is less formal). I find that it helps me focus on my Aikido, rather than discussing my weekend plans with a fellow student, asking too many questions when I should just be doing the technique to figure it out... etc. But I'm sure that other people would like a more casual atmosphere.

Off the mat, however, we all socialize quite a bit, both in and out of the dojo, our sensei included. This contrast doesn't seem to cause any problems that I've seen, though we are also a fairly new dojo, and it's something I have wondered about. Have other people in similar circumstances found that this causes difficulties?

Marie Noelle Fequiere
06-14-2007, 11:57 AM
[QUOTE=Roman Kremianski;180789]

The nice thing about Western civilization though is the fact that you can tell an ass sempai to f off, while it would be social suicide in Japanese culture.

I cannot believe that I read this.:eek: We in Haïti have a lot more laid back culture than the Japanese:cool: , and it is a custom in our dojo to spend some time exchanging jokes after class:D . And yes, Sensei participates to the fun.But telling a sempai to f off will certainly send YOU off to look for another school!
Do not forget that the first asian masters who traveled to the west to teach quickly found out that they needed to make a minimum of adjustments to the western culture. For example, some of them thought nothing of hitting a student. When they realized that this was not acceptable in the western world, and that the student would just leave, they were forced to stop it. But telling a sempai to f off is in no way acceptable. Some compromises are necessary because of the culture of the country where an art is taught. Others are not.

eyrie
06-14-2007, 06:46 PM
Seems like a rather odd question to ask... but I would've thought that student attraction and retention rates have more to do with product positioning, demographics, marketing and other such variables, rather than culturally specific overtones (or undertones).

Unless what you're selling is precisely that, a product with culturally focused packaging...??? In any case, bottom line question is what are you selling and are people buying it?

There are any number of reasons why students buy into a specific martial art/paradigm. These are also many reasons why any number of them drop out, notwithstanding the level of formality (or lack thereof) within the class setting.

I'm guessing the only way to find out why people are dropping out is to ask them? Presumably, when they first signed up, you would have captured their contact details?

Otherwise, it seems to me that you're attempting to formulate some sort of internally-focused marketing hypothesis without the benefit of external input. How would you even test the validity of that hypothesis, let alone determine if there is any significant correlation between the level of formality and attraction and retention rates?

DonMagee
06-14-2007, 06:46 PM
I think each relationship model will attract a different kind of student. Personally I like the kind of students informal relationships attract. I just click well with those kind of people.

Qatana
06-14-2007, 07:31 PM
Our dojo is informally formal. We have a colored belt system so everybody knows everybody's rank- actually we are so amall we could probably do without colors but we like them- but kohei are free to help sempai with technical feedback as opposed to the more traditional only sensei/sempai may give "corrections".
We call Sensei Sensei on the mat, and Bob off the mat. I don't think any of us would dare to call *his* sensei by his first name, but when my sensei refers to his sensei , he refers to "Bob" rather than "Nadeau Sensei". Of course being Nadeau's senior student would imply some kind of familiarity after 40 years of training together!
Tell a sempai to F off? Maybe at a party, in jest, at risk of broken bones...

Roman Kremianski
06-14-2007, 08:42 PM
But telling a sempai to f off will certainly send YOU off to look for another school!

Woaw there bud, you totally misunderstood me. I meant sempai in the regular world. For example, I would tell a guy at work/school to f off if I felt he was taking wrongful advantage of his seniority (sempai status) over me.

I would never tell anyone on the mat to feck off, let alone even use that word for anything. :P

I mean, imagine telling a sempai in the Japanese workplace something like that? You'd be silently gone the next day. At least that's what I've learned.

PeterR
06-14-2007, 10:47 PM
I think each relationship model will attract a different kind of student. Personally I like the kind of students informal relationships attract. I just click well with those kind of people.
Which brings us back to the original question - very good point.

Perhaps a bit more formallity would help your teaching and the students learning but gently gently. Add a little bit more and see how your current students (who are far more valuable than any potential students) respond.

As I explained in my previous post it took me 4 years to go from a casual "lets train together" group to where the dojo is now. I did not mention that only one person remained from that original group but I think that was turnover as much as any change in atmosphere. I brought about the change because I felt it would bring training to a higher level (it did) but I also knew that your students have to be at a certain level to make use of it. It is much easier to bring new students into a group structure than to change the group structure.

PeterR
06-14-2007, 10:58 PM
Woaw there bud, you totally misunderstood me. I meant sempai in the regular world. For example, I would tell a guy at work/school to f off if I felt he was taking wrongful advantage of his seniority (sempai status) over me.

For some of us the dojo is the real world or at least as much a part of it as anything else. I still think may people here misunderstand what the sempai/kohei relationship is.

I think everywhere outside the dojo there is the kohai/sempai system, even though it may not be called that directly.

Well at least you have an inkling. Some guy shows a new guy the ropes at his new job and in return the new guy shows his appreciation by helping out with a job or buying the guy a beer. Happens all the time and all over the world. Hey we even have a word for it - its called mentoring. In both cases its an understanding rather than a formal set of titles

Roman Kremianski
06-15-2007, 08:20 AM
For some of us the dojo is the real world or at least as much a part of it as anything else.

Notice how I changed it to "regular world" after reading over my original post and realizing it doesn't make much sense?

Are you saying that you've never stood up for yourself off-the-mat against someone higher then you in authority?
Abusive managers/co-workers/classmates? It's very different from telling a person of significant rank over you in Aikido that they are straight up wrong.

PeterR
06-15-2007, 10:35 PM
Are you saying that you've never stood up for yourself off-the-mat against someone higher then you in authority?
Abusive managers/co-workers/classmates? It's very different from telling a person of significant rank over you in Aikido that they are straight up wrong.

Don't know where you are getting that from. There is very little difference between how I deal with difficulties in the dojo, at work or elsewhere. The structures may be somewhat different but rarely are the relationships even attempted to be abused.

mathewjgano
06-17-2007, 11:15 PM
I think this has been pretty well addressed, but I'm feeling gabby, so pardon my two bits.
I think from a business standpoint, the matter is too much one of individual taste to make generalizations one way or the other. I think all a teacher can do is decide what they want their training to look and feel like and go from there.
As an example, my primary dojo is a Shinto shrine (and it's in the US o' A); I also trained briefly at Peter's dojo in Himeji. Generally, the shrine is more formal, but there are exceptions where it isn't, such as lining up according to rank. In my mind it still all comes down to one thing: do I enjoy the training? And that seems based more on the people I'm training with than in what particular means they choose to demonstrate rei.
Take care,
Matt

henk van duin
01-08-2009, 07:29 AM
I don't believe in formality, i.e. to make up rules of etiquette etc in order to achieve something. So a formal system of sensei-sempei-kohei imposed on people will hardly work and atract few newcomers (or hold them in the dojo). I believe in being authentic, in behaving in the way you are, not for the result/effect but because this is how you are and what you want and believe in. A flow of students coming in and going out is normal -this year I had about 50people(members) coming ánd going. I have my website but do no other things to atract people But once they come taking them seriously, giving them attention, offering a place of intensive ánd respectfull training. And to me aikido is about learning together, from eachother, with eachother, and also from the conflicts that are part of this proces. For that I have created my own atmosphere in my own dojo in which I as teacher feel at home, inspired and creative. When I flourish my students will flourish too, and vicsa versa. No trics, no marketing, no 'targets' or 'resultmanagement'. My dojo has about 100 students and 65 children and I enjoy every day to go there and work with them. O, I almost forgot, of the tatami I'm no better than anyone else (although I'm dojoholder with certain responsabilities), and going out for a beer or dancing or whatever is no problem at all!

Henk van Duin

dave9nine
01-08-2009, 11:41 AM
I think appropriatness of etiquette/formality, on the one hand, and factors that lead to student retention, on the other hand, are pretty far apart. In other words, as many have said, students will always come and go in a dojo, and it probably has little to do with the percieved degree of formality in the place.
Focusing on the latter, i think potential students of Aikido (in the west) are looking to practice an art that teaches them about their bodies and may give them a sense of discipline-- and also for a little exercise. Most people that come in to our dojo have already decided that they want to "do a martial art." They represent the group of people that looked at their options, compared them, and decided they liked the "idea" of Aikido because its description is often esoteric and not like "the other, rough, somebody wins/somebody loses arts." Whether there is formality or not, is probably more of a side-thought.
Then again, I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and we may have a different crop of people than those that come into your dojo. :rolleyes:

In general, though, i think you inquiry is best addressed by looking at the relationship of the expectation and the actual. From what ive seen, keeping students at the dojo is a matter of managing expectations from the outset and making sure that people (really) understanding what they are getting into.
Thats why whenever a passerby comes into the dojo asking questions and saying they want to sign up, if its me that talks to them, i make sure to give them a good explanation of what we do, often comparing to other arts, and will suggest that they sit and watch a class or 2 before they sign up.

That way, if they leave after one class (which does happen, and boggles my mind too), it's their loss and there's no guilt, or "what could we have done?" questions.

--my 2 pesos..

-dave

Mario Tobias
07-21-2011, 10:42 PM
Just compare a dojo to a workplace setting. There are some pretty close analogies.

sensei = your manager
students = you workmates
dojo = your office
practice = work
etiquette = procedures / systems

As you can see, it's all about releationships and the environment you're in.

Analyze what makes a workplace tick and it may offer you guidance on how your dojo will prosper. But for me, everything boils down to quality for all the above mentioned factors.

My 2 cents worth

LinTal
07-23-2011, 07:50 PM
Given this, I would really like your input and thoughts related to current thinking relative to "standards" of relationship between sensei and student. That is to say, do you believe it is generally better to have a very formal, strict behavior expected between all students (and teacher) on the mat while training, with no talking during class, strict addressing of sensei (and not by their first name), followed by a relaxation of this behavior after class where occasionally it's ok to all go out for a beer with sensei and students? Or do you feel it is inappropriate for sensei to socialize with his/her students at all, or to keep this socialization to a minimum?

There is a distinct different between relationships built on honour/respect and simply obeying. The formality may well be imposed on the students, or there because students value what the mentor contributes and want to soak everything in.

I personally feel that to have the warmth is a huge plus. We stay quieter during class to permit each student to find their own realisations, but often go to the local tavern after class for a drink or a bite to eat, and to catch up and chat about what we experienced. The environment is tighter, more supportive. I think people yearn for that in everyday life, particularly with something as difficult and often daunting as aikido. Without this family I've found at my dojo I would have dropped out a long time ago.

Basia Halliop
07-24-2011, 08:37 PM
I don't think whether it's formal or not particularly attracts people, that I can see (maybe the odd person here and there, but it probably repels at least as many as it attracts so it probably balances out).

But the existence and nature of sempai-kohai relationships, yes, I think that can definitely have an influence on student retention. Whether you are kind of on your own, vs whether you have some kind of positive mentors or vs whether you have a more negative bullying kind of relationship - yeah, those kinds of interpersonal things do have a huge influence on people's feelings towards their practice and their dojo,