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Paula Lydon
11-24-2002, 09:08 AM
~~Hi all!
I'm looking for ideas here, even just quit your whining. After six years of training in a large dojo I've come to see that it's more like an Aikidoka clearinghouse than a dojo community (Jun's thread got me thinking about this). People come, vanish, nobody really notices or follows-up. People come, get rank and go somewhere else, usually with smaller groups. Or simply wander in and out in a ho-hum sort of way. When people go out after class, or whatever, it's usually the same small group who just seem to have no reason to go home.
~~Any ideas on how to infuse some life here? Some bonding or community feeling? Are we just too large a group, even though much of the size is that shifting demagraphic I spoke of? Thanks, :ai: :ki: :do:

11-24-2002, 10:34 AM
I'm curious how many people you are talking about. How many people train in your dojo? I suppose it doesn't really matter.

In any case, I think it's important to find a dojo where you feel supported and close to the other students. I don't mean that you should be buddy-buddy; that could possibly take away from your training. However, you are learning a martial art; this means that, among other important things, you are learning how to hurt people. (I heard it put simply: "Learn to fight, not to fight.") It seems to me that the utmost trust in you training partners should be established before you let them throw you around, and before you let them attack you.

I also question, perhaps inappropriately, because you didn't mention it, your instuctor or instructors. I worry about the kind of sensei and sempai who create and support the kind of dojo that you describe.

My last rant is about you. If you, as I interpret from you post, are uncomfortable or unhappy with your dojo, why have you stayed there for six years? That's a long time.

I think your training should be, and probably is, an important piece of you life. As such, you should be careful where you get it; what you put into your cup.


Hanna B
11-24-2002, 12:29 PM
Big dojo has advantages and disadvantages, so does small dojo.

Paula Lydon
11-24-2002, 12:52 PM
~~I was, perhaps, not as clear as I wanted to be. Yes, my dojo is like this but the material offered is worth being there. I was mainly looking for ideas I might use to facilitate a more community feeling. I try to connect with beginners, learn their names and chat with them; started a dojo family album with pics of training, gatherings, etc. That sort of thing. Thanks :)

Kevin Wilbanks
11-24-2002, 01:58 PM

I think you are overinterpreting quite a bit, and making unwarranted conclusions about the dojo and its teachers based upon a small post. Boulder Aikikai is home to Ikeda Sensei and Tres Hoffmeister Sensei... almost ASU headquarters. I have experienced both teachers at seminars, and they are some of the happiest, friendliest, most joyful Aikido instructors I have seen. Both have other things going on in their life, I believe - with Ikeda, it's co-running an international Aikido organization with a few thousand students and running the Bu Jin Design company. To make assumptions about their character based on the fact that their large dojo isn't a close-knit family seems a little far-fetched. People like me who live in a city with virtually no Aikido daydream about living near a dojo like Boulder Aikikai.

11-24-2002, 02:40 PM
I think it's an excellent question Paula, and it's one I've wondered a lot about myself. Unfortunately, I don't have much useful to offer. I've never felt like I have a clear sense of how to affect this. I just wanted to chime in and say that it's something I also wonder about and would love to hear people's thoughts about.

Chris Li
11-24-2002, 03:41 PM
~~Hi all!

I'm looking for ideas here, even just quit your whining. After six years of training in a large dojo I've come to see that it's more like an Aikidoka clearinghouse than a dojo community (Jun's thread got me thinking about this). People come, vanish, nobody really notices or follows-up. People come, get rank and go somewhere else, usually with smaller groups. Or simply wander in and out in a ho-hum sort of way. When people go out after class, or whatever, it's usually the same small group who just seem to have no reason to go home.
Aikikai hombu's a lot like that, and it's one of the reasons that I don't train there on a regular basis - some people call it "hombu kojo" ("hombu factory", because it churns out yudansha). It's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.



Jeff Tibbetts
11-24-2002, 06:29 PM
I have a small dojo, and I wonder sometimes why no-one wants to stick around and chat afterwards. Well, to be fair, there is one other student and the Sensei who will hang out outside and talk afterwards, but there are days when I wish we would all go out to eat afterwards or something. I don't think that it's a bad thing, just wondering why I barely know some of the people I train with, even though there are only about 20 people that come on a semi-regular basis. I guess that this is something that's typical of larger dojo, people seem so busy sometimes... Oh well, I'm not going to make them go out, just wonder why it's like that. Just in case you're wondering, the atmosphere on the mat is very open and friendly, and I think all the students seem like great people, and our Sensei is a very approachable and genuinely nice guy.

Kevin Wilbanks
11-24-2002, 08:50 PM
I think that at a small dojo, you have to make it happen yourself. The sensei may be the Aikido teacher, but there's nothing stopping you from appointing yourself social director. Take some initiative. Decide on something specific that you want people to do with you and invite everyone with deliberation and confidence... you might be surprised at the response.

If you try a few times with disappointing results, then it will be time to complain.

mike lee
11-25-2002, 02:45 AM
Some people have a tight schedule and others don't. Some people are not happy about staying after class and having a "chat" because their wife is already upset about them spending so much time away from home with work and all. Students may have to study, and others may not be "the social type."

In any case, I don't like people stealing my time and I try not to steal others' time. So, if I want people to get together a little more, we bow out of class a little early and sit in a circle and have a short chat until the time that class would normally end.

That way, nobody feels like they're being forced to stay after class, because we end our chat session at the same time that class would normally end.

If the dojo is large, chat sessions may be divided into mudansha and yudansha.

I especially like to have a short chat sessions at the beginning of the semester (I teach at a college), after mudans take a test (usually at the end of the semester), when there's club matters to be discussed, or when I want to discuss a particular topic (such as dojo etiquette).

While I think such sessions can help the atmosphere of the dojo, whether it makes people into "one big happy family" is questionable.

It seems that every dojo has its own spirit, and that spirit can change over time. A big city dojo with lots of students will clearly have a different feel than a small-town dojo with 12 students. A lot also depends on the spirit of the students and the teacher.

I spend a lot of time preparing myself ahead of a class. The night before, I may review what I have to teach. I may look at books to review waza in order to gain some small insight.

I take a 50 minute train-ride to the town where I teach. During that time I again review what I will teach, then read a short zen story and meditate.

I find that when I am well prepared for a class (in mind, body and spirit) it has a very strong positive influence on the students. This can be the first step in developing the kind of dojo atmosphere that you are seeking.

Although we can control ourselves, trying to control others just ends up being an exercise in futility. Therefore, it's important to have a clear understanding of the limits of what we can do. At least, this has been my experience.

Conditions are always changing, so I try to develop a sense of comfort within myself through my daily physical, mental and spiritual routines. That way, no matter what happens (whether things go my way or not), I can handle it.


11-25-2002, 08:56 AM

I was thinking exactly this just after yesterdays practice. we have a small dojo, but its good, its hard working - not to mention a very attractice space. its a city midtown dojo so we have students, family guys like me and all other sorts. some people drive quite a bit to get there. most of us made up our minds to study there before we started because of the other aikido culture in town.

but - it is as you say. despite all our positives there seems to be some barrier between us all preventing any further development. example:

we have our own space and its used for nothing else ever. but, we only meet for 1.5 hours 4 days a week? this is strange to me because i also run a fencing school in town and we do not ahve our own space. as it is we meet twice a week for about 3-4 hours each night. but if i had my own space it would be hard not to be open 24/7.

i have some ideas about why but I'm not prepared to voice them publicly. I am pretty new to the dojo so I'm going to give it all more time.

as a teacher I know that i appreciate a student taking the initiative to gather people together purposefully, whether that be more training or for a little fun. far too often students think that the teacher has time to be the prime mover of all things. what i really want as a teacher is to be free to teach and practice as i see fit. not to have to find more ways of involving everyone.

as an aikidoka it just seems strange that we aren't doing more, like why not a full two hour class? more?

good luck



11-25-2002, 09:04 AM
one last little morsel:

i have oserved that there are people who like to organize things - but that the majority of people in a group get instantly uninterested when someone is obviously planning something. My reccommendation would be for a surprise attack. don't let anyone realise you are up to something. do something to attract, don't just make lists and certainly never ask people what time to meet. just do.



12-02-2002, 05:47 AM
I think with large dojos, the situation you're describing is the norm rather than the exception. What I think can make a vast difference is having a core of students who are really into aikido, enjoy each other's company, and are friendly to beginners. Admittedly, this can be more a matter of chance than anything else, but if there is such a group, their enthusiasm can be infectious. I would add as a caveat that at no time should someone else feel "forced" to socialize or mingle.

Something else that could help is to have "teatime" after class. Nothing fancy - no elaborate tea ceremony necessary, but I think that this can be a natural way to have people sit around with each other after class instead of zipping to the changing room. Plus people will be craving liquid and drinking hot tea can actually lend some atmosphere to the dojo and help in slow, controlled liquid intake rather than just swigging Gatorade.

While you have a circle of people drinking and chatting with each other over tea, encouraging after-class practice and having the instructor give "special" tips to such people can help student development and give them an opportunity to actively quiz their instructor on stuff that they've been having trouble with.

Later will come the all-night parties, wedding invitations, and such :)