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rachmass
09-11-2004, 10:09 AM
I would like to get feedback from the peanut gallery on whether people would feel comfortable joining a dojo (or practicing in a dojo) that was run out of someones home. Would it feel too weird?

If anyone has actually run a dojo out of their home, can you write in and talk about the pros and cons of the endeavor.

Thanks in advance, Rachel

Chuck.Gordon
09-11-2004, 10:37 AM
Having a dojo in or very near my home has been my standard for many years. I transformed a 2.5 car garage into a very nice (though low-ceilinged) dojo a few years back, hated to leave that behind when I sold the house and moved.

Spent a couple of years with the dojo in a community center environment while I live in an apartment, and now split classes between the gym on post (for weapons) and the dojo in my basement (for taijutsu).

Pros:

It's close. Easy to get to and from. I can keep beer and water for 'apres' keiko in easy reach. I have complete control over it. It essentially costs me nothing (and since I seldom have actually charged students for my classes, that helps immensely). As a home dojo, I do not have to cattle-call for students or run kids' classes etc (many of the things some dojo have to do to keep the doors open). I can teach small groups in a fairly intense and personal environment.

Cons:

It's small. Potentially there may be liability issues. Otherwise, I cannot think of any cons. But then, I never intended to run a for-profit dojo and don't care to have to deal with the commericalizing aspects of having to ensure there are enough students to make rent and utility payments, having to recruit actively and constantly, and possibly having to accept folks who might not 'click' with our group because they aren't as much students as they are figures on a spreadsheet ...

Chuck

John Boswell
09-11-2004, 10:43 AM
Depends: where in the home is this training taking place?

AT your residential site is okay so long as the actual residence is TOTALLY sepereated from the "dojo" atmosphere. A garage, whether it is attached or not, in the backyard, a living space that has a door leading to the outside are all okay.

Also, how does your spouse feel about this idea? That has a GREAT deal to do with whether this happens or not.

Next: Is the instructor single or not? If single, you gotta think that neighbors and perhaps others are going to wonder what, if any, hanky-panky is going on. Or worse... what if you get some sicko student who seemed nice to begin with and turned all 'Glenn Close' on ya. (what was that movie again? scary stuff) And being a female instructor would also have a lot to do with who could/would train with 'me.' I'm not chauvanist... can't even spell it. But, there is always someone bigger, stronger, faster, sicker... who could try something. Not that I doubt your ability to take care of yourself and others, but... /shrug. Just something to think about. :(

Now then, I often dream of having a lot of land where I can have a nice residence, big back yard, path leading into the distance and in a grove of trees is a hidden dojo big enough for about 10 people to practice comfortably. You know, all traditional with sliding doors and stuff. Maybe one day I can do that, but I wouldn't attempt anything but that myself personally.

That's my 2 cents. Good luck, Rachel. I've never seen anyone with as much drive as you do to teach aikido! That's really admirable and humbling. :ai:

rachmass
09-11-2004, 11:11 AM
Thanks guys, good posts and good feedback. Actually this was my husbands idea, and I figured if we did this, it would have to be in a situation where people could start only with my permission, and would have to "fit" like Chuck said. No advertising other than the website, and most likely only fees being to the USAF (annual dues and testing). It would be in the basement, so we would have to rig up an exterior entrance. I don't know if it is a good idea or not, but I can no longer afford to throw $1,000 out the door every month to make up for the dues that don't come in to support the dojo.

Running a dojo has been a wonderful experience, but has become increasingly disheartening due to my inability to get students to stick. I had a wonderful student who had made it up to fourth kyu (from scratch) and was a terrific uke and had very solid aikido, but he left, and since then, things have gone downhill. I've never been able to get more than 8 students to practice on any consistent basis, and we are down to 3-4 at present. It could be my teaching style, my looks (overweight middle-aged woman), competition (lots of good aikido in the area, but I think we are the nicest group :) ), or any number of things that I might not be aware of. In any event, things are getting dire, as I have gone into massive debt with the dojo, and not only is it not getting any better, but I am pretty much carrying almost the entire cost of the dojo myself now. :blush:

So, please keep writing in, and letting me all know about what you all have experienced, and Chuck, I'd love to know where your students come from if you don't advertise (if you want to PM me, that would be great).

Thanks again everyone; this forum has been extremely supportive in my ongoing saga of trying to start a dojo (with advise and support).

best, Rachel

Mel Barker
09-11-2004, 12:37 PM
Best of Luck Rachel.

Mel

rachmass
09-11-2004, 12:41 PM
Hey Mel, thanks!

Michael Young
09-11-2004, 02:11 PM
Hi Rachel,

I'm sorry to hear that your dojo endeavor is not working out all that well. I've followed your "saga" through your posts here on aikiweb for over the last year. You gave some great advice and background when I posted some questions about getting our dojo off the ground a few months back...much appreciated. We have been very furtunate with our efforts so far, and have been lucky to find a good dojo spot with a great landlord. I think we had some advantages that you don't, mainly San Antonio is a large city, so we've got more population to choose from, there is less "competition" Aikido-wise here (only 3 dojos in town including us), and we were fortunate to start off with 6 founding yudansh -level members; this allowed us to spread a lot of the start-up cost and teaching burden amongst a number of people...no one person was stuck footing the bill alone.
When we were first looking for a place to start our dojo, my wife and I (she practices Aikido as well) were thinking about building a dojo in our backyard. This is probably the route we would have taken, if we hadn't been lucky enough to find the great landlord and space that we did. We are actually still thinking about doing this in the future, that way the dojo will have it's own space, without the worry of our landlord changing or being bought out, and we can also design the space any way or size we choose (we have a nice big backyard). Our goal though is to have enough members to afford to be able to build a really nice dojo space; therefore, we are going to stay in our current location for a few years and build up a strong membership base (at least that is the plan ;) ).
As a few people have mentioned there are liability and practicallity/privacy issues to consider...one that I did not see anyone sate yet however, is zoning issues. Most cities have zoning ordinances concering residences and businesses. By operating in your basement, you may be able to stay "under the radar"...but all it takes is one annoyed neighbor calling code compliance to ruin a good thing. We had an experience like that when we were building out our dojo...we built our own sign to put up on a poll by the roadside, and were ignorant of the fact that in San Antonio there are permits galore needed to install it...we rented a 35 foot platform lift to put the signs up one afternoon, and right in the middle of us installing it a city code compliance officer showed up and cited us for not having the proper permits. This happened because someone in the vicinity called them and reported us...long story short it all turned out O.K. in the end, we did not get fined and we got a contractor to put the signs up for us (cost us a bit of money though :disgust: ) and the signs look great. The moral of the story...there is always a do-gooder ready to complain :D and the city is going to get money from you one way or another.
Anyhow, I hope things start going better for you...as hard as you are working at it, and as much of yourself as you put into it, you derserve a break! Good luck Rachel.

Best Regards,

Mike

Janet Rosen
09-11-2004, 02:27 PM
Rachel, I'm sorry to hear that the dojo has been too much of a financial drain to keep going as it is. Please explore all options (home, community centers, etc) and continue to let us know how it goes.

Charles Hill
09-12-2004, 12:27 AM
Hi Rachel,

For me, it would depend on how formal everything was run. If practice was kind of laid back and without formal etiquette and ceremony, I might feel weird. Otherwise, I think it would be really nice.

Now for the bad bit. I had a lawyer/Aikidoka friend in Seattle who told me about his teacher had spent a lot of money building a dojo on his property. The teacher asked my lawyer friend what he thought of the new dojo, and the lawyer said, "It`s great, too bad you can`t ever use it." He said that the risks of being sued and the suer being able to not just take the dojo but also the land and the house were just too great.

Charles Hill

Zoli Elo
09-12-2004, 03:07 AM
The dojo that I currently attend is on a private residence in the suburbs of Pasadena California. It seems to be close to what John Boswell dreams about - traditional Japanese in every conceivable way - however it is multiple rooms. To side step quite a bit of rules and regulations it is "primarily" a Shinto shrine and also a non profit organization. Though the dojo owner has insurance - not so much for his protection but for our's in case a debilitating accident. There are no fees, but donations are accepted - just about everyone seems to kick in about $10 a lesson for the up keep of the facilities.

The one person that was told that he need not pay if he did not feel like it is a buddy of mine. That buddy has a "commercial" dojo as well as a training area in his backyard. The backyard training area is a simple slightly raised wooden platform (for sword) that can be covered with all weather mats (for hand to hand). Since it is so informal there is no pretenses to use the laws and codes in our favor, no insurance, and basically no cost. But since he is like family, just about none of those things are needed,

There is an old saying about what resources are needed to train.

One only needs a single mat ... to train.

I have been following your story for a while as well (on E-Budo), I truly wish you the very best of luck in your endeavors.

Zoli Elo

batemanb
09-12-2004, 03:53 AM
Running a dojo has been a wonderful experience, but has become increasingly disheartening due to my inability to get students to stick. I had a wonderful student who had made it up to fourth kyu (from scratch) and was a terrific uke and had very solid aikido, but he left, and since then, things have gone downhill. I've never been able to get more than 8 students to practice on any consistent basis, and we are down to 3-4 at present. It could be my teaching style, my looks (overweight middle-aged woman), competition (lots of good aikido in the area, but I think we are the nicest group :) ), or any number of things that I might not be aware of.

Hi Rachel,

You`re not alone out there, I`m going through a similar situation at the moment, albeit without the financial strains hitting me personally. My Sensei asked me to open a new satellite dojo in another part of town, on a different night. The purpose being threefold, 1. Attract new students from that area. 2. Give current students an extra practice night. 3. Give me somewhere to gain teaching experience (although I still teach the weekly kids class at the main dojo, and teach the senior class there once a month).

I`ve been open since the beginning of June, had 15 people on the mat the first night, 10 of which were first timers. 1 paid to sign up immediately after class and has never been back since :freaky:, but three signed up and came back for a month. Over the following couple of weeks a number of others signed up but again, stopped coming after a couple of weeks. Despite the odd night where I may get 8 on the mat, I am currently down to about 4 regulars.

Reasons that come to mind. A lot of people drift in from other arts, despite giving me the "how did that happen" looks when they fall over, and "this is excellent" type comments, very few of them stick with it for more than a couple of weeks, I am sure that this is part to do with the complexity of aikido (despite its simplicity ;) ), it`s also lack of "fighting" and competition, just a hobby at which point other priorities take over, some are students and their studies have affected their schedules, and a few other reasons that I can think of. Alternatively, I may just be a crap teacher.

One thing that is disappointing for me though, is the number of students from the main dojo that don`t make use of the extra night. We have 35+ senior members at the club, and outside of the two senior teachers, only two members have changed their schedules to train with me week in week out, and only three others, all seniors, have put in the odd appearance. Having said all that, all classes in the club only seem to get a max of 9 or 10 students, so maybe it isn`t so bad.

On the financial front, we obviously don`t run the club for profit, everything goes back into the club to cover the hall rentals. We use two community centres over three nights, I have managed to get a small subsidy from the local council because we are a non profit group, and a small grant from the council for our activities with the kids. When we opened up the new club, myself and 3 other instructors donated the money to buy a new mat for the main class so that I could take our 20 year old mats over to the new club. At the moment, the combined subs from both clubs allows us to pay both locations, as long as it does that, we`ll keep them both open (we figure the new club has to be running for at least a year to establish),. But, we don`t pay anywhere near $1000 per month, closer to $300 for both locations together at the moment.

I feel your pain and know exactly what you are going through. Keep persevering though, your desire to teach is strong, as long as you feel you have something to offer, you`ll find a way. My mum lives in Minnesota, maybe when I come over to visit in the future, I`ll be able to come and visit you wherever you are teaching. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours.

Regards

Bryan

wendyrowe
09-12-2004, 05:04 AM
Rachel,

A friend of mine built a dojo in his basement recently just so he could practice and maybe someday take some lessons and have some friends join him. He's very glad he has it.

A couple of us classmates checked into insurance since we knew that "real" dojos have insurance in case someone gets hurt and sues, and we were surprised to find it doesn't cost that much -- something like $300/year, and it's easy to find online and probably if you ask friends with dojos (there are lots of insured karate dojos out there, even if aikido's not as prevalent).

Cities and towns definitely have zoning regulations you'll run into if you actually plan to run a business and/or if you want to put up a sign as Michael said. You can probably go to City Hall to look at the zoning maps and find out what's allowed where you live. Also, around here even if you're in a zone where home businesses are allowed, you need to apply for a "variance" if you're going to have people showing up and parking (they expect home offices to get maybe one car at a time). And we have a group that has to approve the design, size and position of your sign so you don't do something tacky and inappropriate (e.g. 30' high, neon, and 6" from your neighbor's fence). There's probably something like that where you live -- I checked your profile to see where you're from and it's not somewhere in the wild west, and your city's 50% bigger than my town. If you're uncomfortable starting to ask around at City Hall, you might be able to get answers at the Chamber of Commerce -- with luck, they'll be willing to give you info even if you're not a member, hoping you'll grow and join them.

Good luck! I hope it works out for you. I would love to have enough space for a real home dojo -- all I have is one mat and two full-length mirrors and a 7' ceiling so I have to do all my bokken practice on my knees ... and my kids keep encroaching on my corner of the basement.

Chuck.Gordon
09-12-2004, 06:23 AM
... if we did this, it would have to be in a situation where people could start only with my permission, and would have to "fit" like Chuck said.


This is the greatest advantage of not running a 'commerical' operation. However, you do understand that the onus of filtering then rests on your shoulders.

I tend to make prospective students watch 3-4 classes, sit and talk with them, find out what they're looking for, what theyr'e like, how the react to the training. Then, if things 'feel' right, I'll invite them to train with us on a sort of probationary basis for a month or so. That, coupled with the observation period helps me decide who to accept and who not to.

Truthfully, I've been very lucky. In recent years, I guess my filters are better tuned, or maybe we've just been attracting folks better suited to our internal quirks and attitudes, but we've had a very good record of folks staying the course, so to speak.

Very few dropouts that weren't due to work/family.school obligations or moves.

No advertising other than the website, and

We've taken this approach for years. Keep the website current, occasionally, whilst in the States, we'd slip a handful of mini-flyers into bookstores (if they were amenable), and post flyers on kiosks here and there, but that was it.

We tend to get students through the website or through word of mouth. Currently, our weapons training in the gym is our key advertising medium. Folks see us swinging sticks and ask what we're doing ...

most likely only fees being to the USAF (annual dues and testing).


If you have any fund issues at all, make sure you keep your personal and dojo finances seperate. If you comingle funds, it can get tricky come tax time.

In many US states you can operate as a defacto small not-for-profit club without going thru the incorporation drill, as long as you keep good records and can prove that no funds are comingled, that the club does not make a profit.

Liability issues can be a factor, as I mentioned and others have commented upon. Do check into proper insurance and try to get a good civil lawyer to look over your liability release (the release will NOT prevent lawsuits, nor does it guarantee that you would win any such suit, but it can be a powerful tool for your defense if it's properly crafted).

In well over a decade of running a private dojo, I've never had problems with students getting froggy, liability wise, but I've also worked very hard to ensure a safe environment and to keep injuries minimized,

As for the zoning thing, that CAN be tricky, do check local statutes and get advice if there's any question. Also, it might not be a bad idea to chat up your neighbors about your plans.

I never had any trouble with neighbors in any of the home dojo I've run, in fact, most seem pretty much amused or at least bemused by our peculiar avocation. We get some very interested onlookers when the weather's nice and Emily and I train sword or naginata outdoors.

can no longer afford to throw $1,000 out the door every month to make up for the dues that don't come in to support the dojo.

I fully understand that. The last time I taught in a public venue like that ()geez, how long ago was that? 93 or so?, I wound up dumping hundreds of dollars a month into the operation ot keep it going.

become increasingly disheartening due to my inability to get students to stick.


This is par for the course. Sadly. It's kinda like throwing money at the wall. You get to keep what sticks ...

practice on any consistent basis, and we are down to 3-4 at present.


To _ME_ this is about an ideal class size. I top out at about 8 folks. More than that, and I don't feel like I can reach them as deeply as I prefer. I'm a big fan of quality over quantity.

I have taught classes of 30+ folks, with assistant instructors on hand, but the older I get the less I like that environment.

I find that I can impart a great amount of information much faster, and see it stick, in small-format classes.

I KNOW my students, and they get personal instruction. I take ukemi from each of them at least once per class. I participate int he training, and don't just oversee it. I get hands-on knowledge about their strengths and weaknesses.

It could be my teaching style, my looks (overweight middle-aged woman), competition (lots of good aikido in the area, but I think we are the nicest group :) ), or any number of things that I might not be aware of.

I wouldn't worry about the looks thing (Hell, I don't, and I'm certainly no hard-body), as long as you're competent, confident, welcoming, open and honest about what you're doing and how. If students are turned away by your appearance, they probably aren't looking for what you can offer anyway. There are plenty of Cobrakai-style dojo (even in aikido) out there to cater to the beautiful and beautiful-wannabe folk.

better, but I am pretty much carrying almost the entire cost of the dojo myself now. :blush:

Time to change your plan then. Hang in there.

what you all have experienced, and Chuck, I'd love to know where your students come from if you don't advertise

As I said above, mostly word of mouth. I kept in close touch with the beter budoka in my part of the country, ran a few small seminars, welcomed visitors from all over. I never had to beat potential studentsaway form the door, but there was a steady trickle. I turned away about as many as I accepted and made sure to try to help them find a place that would work better for their needs and desires.

Here, the sessions in the gym draw lots of curious onlookers, but few take the bait. The ones who do get to watch a few classes, then get a stick shoved in their hands. By the time we've done a couple of classes, we know whether or not things will work out on both sides.

Chuck

rachmass
09-12-2004, 07:59 AM
Thanks guys!

You have all been terrific in helping with advice, experiences, etc. I also received a great email message from someone whom I have been in contact with over the past two years of this saga who gave me lots of sage advice as well.

I think I'll look into all the liabilty issues before I proceed further, and from there will work with logistics of building out the basement into a good dojo space (there is enough space for a 21 x 18 foot training area, which is bigger than our current space) and the associated costs.

As with all the posts regarding my struggle to get a dojo off the ground, I'll keep you all posted. This site has been a tremendous help to me in knowing that I am not alone in my struggle to launch a successful dojo, and I appreciate everyone's input over the years.

Thanks again!

kironin
09-12-2004, 09:18 AM
I think I'll look into all the liabilty issues before I proceed further, and from there will work with logistics of building out the basement into a good dojo space (there is enough space for a 21 x 18 foot training area, which is bigger than our current space) and the associated costs.


as far as liability issues, this varies from state to state. You need to check what the situation is locally for you.

for example, Texas has a homestead law that prevents them being able to go after your home, car, and the personal belongings within. In Houston, a local lawyer who is ASU has a large tree house dojo on her estate where she teaches children and teenagers. An iaido teacher has a private dojo in his garage for which students are heavily screened (similiar to what Chuck described).

The liability insurance should be a fraction of the $1000 you mentioned (but don't you already pay for insurance already for this place you have now ?)

I have seen too many people throw thousands of dollars at running out of a commercial space. Unless you are wealthy, please stop it now!

Dyusan
09-14-2004, 12:52 PM
Rachel;
Sorry to here that it is getting dire. I came from a "home dojo" and it was the best time as far a training goes. The only problem was when the bathroom was needed we had to go through sensei's house. His wife took it all in stride. She complained only to sensei. Some of us always remembered her birthday which helped. The only drawback that I can see would be insurance some homeowner policies don't cover training. Check with your agent. The plus side to a home dojo is you can be very selective in letting people in.

gibsonsensei
09-14-2004, 04:26 PM
We have been a home based dojo for several years now. Most of what everyone has said is right on the money. Its nice not having to make the rent and utilities every month. You can be selective about who you let train.

The down side is that its hard to get people to stay and alot of people are not interested in training at a house even for free. You have to think about keeping equipment up and the occasional damage done to your your home.

Now that we have been at the house a few years we have out grown the space. Just this month I took on three new students. So now we are at the point where there is not enough room and just under what we need to move out into a building. Since we are now the only aikido dojo in Tupelo Mississippi I think it will work out in the long run either way but I have to say I will miss the home dojo!

Best Regards
William Gibson

Hanna B
09-14-2004, 05:32 PM
I would like to get feedback from the peanut gallery on whether people would feel comfortable joining a dojo (or practicing in a dojo) that was run out of someones home. Would it feel too weird?

If I was to pass through a room of the actual home on my way to the training session, then it might feel a bit weird unless the teacher/houseowner was a very good friend. Otherwise, no problem. In Japan it is kind of standard for a dojo to be dojo in bottom floor and teacher living upstairs. ;)

I think less "organised" forms of training can be fine. It gives time to concentrate on the important stuff - the training in itself. Where I live, almost no one teaches aikido as a business. It is almost all non-profit. There are good sides to it and bad sides. When I look at another interest of mine, dancing, and compare professional studios and non-profit places... then I am much in favor of non-profit stuff. Some people will assume the more expensive places will be better, but then again others will not.

I'd say go for it. Sad to hear that your previous strategy did not work out.

rachmass
09-15-2004, 05:07 AM
Thanks again folks, and nice to hear from you Hanna.

If we do this, it will be in the basement. To get to the basement currently, I am thinking folks would come in through the garage, through the laundry room, hall and into the basement. Does this sound too weird? I am checking into the cost of having a basement door added (it isn't an above grade basement at all!) because I think that is important, but at the start it would be through the house.
Basement has good space, with a 22 x 18 area that should be good for training and one post which we can wrap. There is a drywall partition, and an area that we can cordon off for changing that doesn't get in the way of the 22 x 18 mat area.

Exploring other options as well, and really would like to continue to hear your folks opinions as they are extremely helpful!

Thanks again, Rachel

Noel
09-15-2004, 09:06 AM
Sorry to hear the dojo isn't working off-site Rachel.

The big question I would have about the basement is, if you practice with bokken or jo, do you have enough height to make a proper shomen strike? I know some iaidoka who have built off the back of the garage for precisely this reason. Floor joists kind of interfere with a nice cut.

If I remember correctly from discussions in the past, if you have a separate, outside entrance to the dojo, you don't have to get a rider on your homeowner's policy. Of course Michigan may be different.

Good luck!

-Noel

Larry Feldman
09-15-2004, 10:23 AM
Here's another idea, somewhere between your own commercial space and the home dojo. Find a location......gym, YMCA, dance studio, gymnastics gym, VFW hall, community college and teach there.

Make a revenue sharing arrangement with the facility, it can be 70/30, 50/50 - whatever you can work out.

This will give you a chance to advertise a little, and have some signage, and may avoid your zoning and 'weirdness' issues. It will also allow you to build a student base, which as you have seen can take some time (sorry no quick fix there).

rachmass
09-15-2004, 11:00 AM
Hi Larry,, that was the first choice for any venue (prior to renting my space), however the Yoshinkan dojos are extremely big here, and are in virtually every little spot you can find! That one was explored.

Thanks, Rachel

Bronson
09-15-2004, 02:18 PM
Hi Rachel,

Sorry to hear it isn't working out...you've got a nice place there.

I know my sensei's ultimate goal is to have the dojo on his own property. He's got enough land to put up a nice sized pole barn in the back. Money and neighbors are the issue though.

If it's any consolation he's been teaching for 20 something years, holds a 6th dan in our organization, a shodan (I believe) in judo, and familiarity with several other arts and still runs the dojo at a loss every month :( So you are not alone.

Good luck. Keep us posted on the progress.

Best,

Bronson

Hanna B
09-16-2004, 05:40 AM
If we do this, it will be in the basement. To get to the basement currently, I am thinking folks would come in through the garage, through the laundry room, hall and into the basement. Does this sound too weird?

Not at all. If you are confident about it, it will work.

DavidEllard
09-16-2004, 06:07 AM
My Sensei asked me to open a new satellite dojo in another part of town, on a different night. The purpose being threefold, 1. Attract new students from that area. 2. Give current students an extra practice night. 3. Give me somewhere to gain teaching experience (although I still teach the weekly kids class at the main dojo, and teach the senior class there once a month).



Hey Bryan,

I didn't know you guys had opened up a Thursday class, Kents Hill near where i am in MK so I'll try to get down there if not tonight then in the near future.
(Can't come tonight I'm off to Oslo to train this weekend and my beloved is getting a little twitchy about the time i'm spending training, particularly out of the country!)

I'll make a note to visit soon, promise!
---

As for the post in general, i'm sad to here a friendly dojo is in danger of closing. I've known people who have training set-ups at home (garage, barn etc) for informal work but I'd want to be 100% sure of the legal situation before teaching a class.