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05-09-2005, 05:58 PM
Hi folks,

Not that I'm in any place (ability nor ambition!) to do this, but I wanted to solicit information from those who have started up their own dojo (or helped out in setting one up) to see what sort of issues and solutions you ran up against in doing so.

What were some of the hurdles you had to clear in order to set up your dojo? How did you resolve those issues?

If you had advice to those who wished to start up a dojo, what would they be?

If you could do things differently, what would you have done?

Any other stories, anecdotes, or experiences that you had in starting up a dojo would be greatly appreciated!

I may collect your responses and put them into the AikiWiki (http://www.aikiweb.com/wiki). Please let me know if you don't want your information to be placed there...


-- Jun

05-09-2005, 07:13 PM
This is a great Idea!! I'm working on opeing my own school now and could use any advice!

-Chris Hein

05-09-2005, 07:44 PM
Warm bodies are essential - no one joins an empty dojo. Drag in your friends, your family, the kid next door even if it means subsidizing their costs. You may find that in a years time no one of your original group remains but they will have been essential in getting your core group started.

05-09-2005, 08:09 PM
Hi folks,

Not that I'm in any place (ability nor ambition!) to do this, but I wanted to solicit information from those who have started up their own dojo (or helped out in setting one up) to see what sort of issues and solutions you ran up against in doing so.

What were some of the hurdles you had to clear in order to set up your dojo? How did you resolve those issues?

If you had advice to those who wished to start up a dojo, what would they be?

If you could do things differently, what would you have done?

Any other stories, anecdotes, or experiences that you had in starting up a dojo would be greatly appreciated!

I may collect your responses and put them into the AikiWiki (http://www.aikiweb.com/wiki). Please let me know if you don't want your information to be placed there...


-- Jun

Well, for starters...

Start with no fewer than 10 established students half of which have a brown belt or higher
Start with the first two years worth of expenses in the bag and prepare to loose all of it
Start researching your location (make sure there is plenty of disposable income in the neighborhood) as less afluent communities tend to focus on less disposable activities.
Start with a budget including a complete marketing plan in hand... now double it!
Start with completed brochures, business cards, and signage - including all of the copy and artwork. Go back and copyright everything before someone steals it!.
Start with your waivers and martial arts insurance all ready to go then go out and get a commercial lease and tear it all apart and draw it up in your favor instead of the crummy, full-of-lies-I-mean-promises landlord's... now go back and talk to both a lawyer and an accountant and have them check that you did it all correctly.
Start designing a professional website now and use that information in your other materials [b]and get some help from the students
Start by planning how your dojo will sign up the local kids over that Tae Kwon Do school down the block
Start by planning on having at least as many kids classes as you have adult classes, at least for the first two years
Start planning for all of the contingencies you think "...won't happen to me..."
Start by being not-for-profit get some lawyers and accountants and friends on the board of directors so that it all isn't taken away from you while you "F" it all up the first few years
Start with the understanding that it takes 10 years on average to build a successful dojo and at least 2-5 years to make any kind of reasonable return on your investment
Start by finding a silent business partner who wants to invest his money and wants to let you do things your way from the get go.
Start by owning your own or building your own builiding then you may forget about all (or at least most) of the things I listed above...


05-09-2005, 08:23 PM
Shaun gave some wonderful advice. Sure wish I had followed even 1/8th of that when I attempted to start one!

Jun, we had a long running thread about my trials and tribulations that started around 3 years ago if you want to check the archives.

best regards, Rachel

05-09-2005, 09:37 PM
Great advice Shaun.... the voice of experience. ;)

People aren't generally interested in learning something which *might* be useful. They want to know that they can use it instantly and are prepared to pay bottom dollar for it.

So what are you selling???

I highly recommend this book: "Starting and Running Your Own Martial Arts School" by Susan Lynn Peterson & Karen Levitz Vactor.

05-09-2005, 09:37 PM
IMHO, start with a trip to the library and get a business education about having a business plan. Just because you can execute a techqniue doesn't mean you know how to make a living at it. There is so much to running your own business that they seldom teach you.

05-09-2005, 11:16 PM
Shaun and Lynn make some excellent points.

On the personal side I think the advice I got from my teacher has served me well - it was: "No matter what you may feel when you think your students aren't getting it, don't give up - keep trying harder."

Aside from teaching, I have stretched this advice to include a constant working toward the dojo's growth and security - as any business person would do for their own business. I often think of those famous business stories (e.g. How many times Colonel Sanders was turned down before someone tried his fried chicken recipe - something like in the thousands of times) that centered around tireless and unceasing effort whenever I think I'm gliding and/or not moving forward with things.

Another thing from my experience that one might at one time or another find useful is this: We had one reversal in our program - it came about one year into our formation as a dojo (from a club). I found that we did too much catering to the "needs" of the newbies and as a result we actually hindered their growth since less was being asked of them (by themselves) in order to train and progress in the art. Perhaps feeling a little guilty, and maybe even a little unsure at that early stage, for example, I was concerned over new folks getting hurt in our style of Aikido practice. As a result we were way too pampering early on - thinking as ukemi skills, etc., would advance, we would kick it up a notch, and so on and so on, until we reached the level that we like to train at.

What was happening however was that folks were getting a misrepresentation of our dojo. This made two things happen: folks that wanted to be members could not really relate to the dojo properly since we were presenting something that we eventually wanted not to do; and folks that quit during that stage couldn't represent our dojo accurately to other potential members. As a result, one day I decided that I would find other ways of addressing the needs of new folks - ways more in synch with our style of training; and I decided that anyone that would quit early on would pass on the word that our dojo was extremely "intense" "serious" "hardcore" "rough" etc. - this in turn lent itself to folks more attune to our style of training seeking our dojo out (meaning, we were able to select members from a group of people that were already seeking something we were trying to be).

In short, find your dojo in your heart and then use your creativity and imagination, your mind and your body, to make sure you manifest it - let everything else fall in place from there (even if that means you have to reverse things, delay things, and/or reject things).

05-10-2005, 02:34 AM
David - what is the difference between a Dojo and a Club.

Shaun seems to presuppose a working group before taking on a permanent facility - like making sure the horse is in front of the cart. The way I read the question is how to start even before that point.

Jorge Garcia
05-10-2005, 07:20 AM
When we were in Corpus, I was not the dojo cho but was part of a dojo that had the typical start up problems. We had a nice facility with a donated mat and a decent but not great location. Turnover and getting and keeping new members was the main problem. Even though there were 10 to 15 of us, it was hard to pay the rent, utilities, and phone. At that time, we only charged $50 a month, it seemed that charging more wasn't going to help the problem. The dojo eventually closed after about 10 years due to the finances. The members were still there but the wives got tired of seeing us putting the extra money into it.
In Houston, one fellow has done a decent job on his startup but he started with a big loan from his family. That went quickly but he did get about 35 -50 members. His main problem was turnover. Over the years, he has done everything in his power to solve that problem by basically doing two things. One was to do everything he could- non stop- to get new members. He has done demos, passed out flyer's (everywhere), TV commercials, etc. Another innovative thing he did was to have these super beginner classes where everything was catered to the beginner. I noticed that these people didn't seem to improve, even after a year or two. The fact some were in that long proves my point. He still has 35-50 members. I think with him, there is another factor. One that is usually unseen. That is the personality of the person running it. "Nuff said".
In our program, we have maintained about 50 members from the start. The kids classes have been our salvation but being in a YMCA has made the difference in that regard. We have no expenses and the network of the YMCA in a major city to work through. The down is that we share our practice space and privacy is not the best. Getting the legal corporation was an issue since we needed a legal way to bank money. That took almost a year to complete. This dojo is still in the experimental stage. I have some theories I am trying and I will report later if they worked.
I think that the real success is based in intangibles like leadership, networking, and reaching out in a friendly spirit. Not withholding but being giving and benevolent is one of my major principles. It sounds preachy but I don't mean it that way. I think that we have to do some "sowing" into people's lives and that in the end, it will come back in positive ways. I think that the real problems are concentrating on what we don't have instead of sharing what we have with others. That's why we do the "free" seminar. People have told me I'm crazy for doing it, even my own members! I refused to believe that and still do. I believe that if we give instead of withhold, that it will come back on a good way. We had a first great seminar and all expenses were paid. Lets see how the second one goes. Out of that first one, I made a friend out of a non Aikido practitioner and we now have a second location in his Karate dojo.In short, I think it is the intangibles that make the difference.

05-10-2005, 08:12 AM
Well, I started four month ago.
It is not really my dojo. It is a group withing a budo gym which has several budo sports. I contacted them and suggested to start an aikido group.
The members pay their fees to the gymowner and he pays me by the our.
What happens in the future I will see. I have no costs at this moment.
What is important is to have a website!



05-10-2005, 08:55 AM
- Try to get an affiliation with a nearby club (even if they are a slightly different style). They can help with insurance and may also assist in sending students to help get the beginners started. It also helps for your continued development and helps introduce your students into the wider world of aikido (rather than considering just what you teach as aikido).
- Ensure it is financially viable (student insurance, venue insurance, instructor insurance, hall fees).
- Try to get some uke's and students who have previously done aikido to start with you since you may find you get an enormous class of beginners, and most training is really absorbed on a one to one basis.
- start VERY VERY slowly with some simple practical techniques; most of your new students will know NOTHING. Move at the pace of your students and try not to force their progression into a pre-conceived plan.
- one option is to run 10 week introductory course for a set fee. Many people will stick out the course to get their money's worth, and it will enable you to give a true impression of aikido (since it often takes a few weeks for people to understand).
- don't do it just for the status of running your own club! It's not worth it and you may not get as much training yourself as you expected (although it is a fantastic learning experience).
- try to get a social aspect; this is often what keeps people coming.
- maintain a friendly atmosphere but tolerate no violence or bullying what-so-ever (even if this means throwing someone out in the first session as an example).
- don't just teach blindly; focus on the student's needs; set the level to the middle of the club.
- Grade the first group early to distinguish people from absolute beginners and to encourage them (and it gives them some authority to help the absolute beginners, giving you more time)

It is very much like getting a big concrete ball rolling. You have to keep pushing and pushing for the first two years until it gains some momentum. Don't give up on the club for the first two years until you are absolutely certain that there is no way to continue.

Ian (from my experience in setting up a dojo about 3 years ago)

05-10-2005, 09:11 AM
David - what is the difference between a Dojo and a Club.

Shaun seems to presuppose a working group before taking on a permanent facility - like making sure the horse is in front of the cart. The way I read the question is how to start even before that point.

A club is one way of making sure the horse is in front of the cart.

For us, club status meant some of the following:

- no dues
- no open door - invite only membership
- falling more under someone else's authority/guidance (someone over and above the club)
- having less classes per week
- Etc.

For us, club status centered around a group of folks that just wanted to train together/work out. A dojo (again, for us) is about a group of folks that want to build a space where the Way can be practiced as a culture. OR - In the first case, everything revolved around training - working out. In the second case, everything, including training, revolves around the culture of Budo and the place one has reserved for that culture to prosper. As a result, different concerns come up, which means different courses of action have to be taken and/or averted.

hope that helps,

05-10-2005, 09:14 AM
In my opinion, a club is a small group that rents space, and a dojo is a community. Some people refer to their small club as a "circle".

I think the main problem is that most people who want to start a new club or dojo only have experience with being in class with a shihan teaching. When they branch off on their own at sandan or lower, they try to copy their teacher - and that is just not level-appropriate. These new shodan, nidan, and sandan instructors typically start out very condescending and looknig to be put on a pedastol due to their new position of power backed up by their relative "expert power" they have compared to their juniors. They typically have put their teacher on a pedastol and even if they are not eg-maniacs, they tend to have the expectation that they are supposed to be on their own pedastol in their new dojo.

Here's my advice.
1) Ability: Actually bother to train long enough to learn how to really relax your body such that you can go to any seminar around you and work out easily with any yondan there before you branch off to focus on your teaching career.
2) Attitude: Actively practice giving EVERY junior person in your dojo the same level of respect that you give your teacher. The primary power you should be exercising is "charismatic power" with "expert power" as a secondary source of authority.
3) Maturity: When you do start your own dojo, understand that it is your job to refuse to let anyone put you on a pedastol, your new students, and yourself. If anyone does put you on a pedastol, it is your job to knock yourself off of that pedastol.
4) Lead by conviction. Make sure that students understand that they need to be helpful, serious, friendly, and quiet - all appropriate to their level, and nothing short of that will be tolerated, and never make allowences for people who are physically talented but lacking in thier ability to be respectful to their peers especially their juniors. Community is the key.

Now once you have that down pat, branch off from your main dojo with a few friends as Shaun suggested and grow.


Jeremy Young
05-10-2005, 11:10 AM

It sounds like your main point is being humble? Thank you Shaun-sensei....that was enough advice to blow my mind!! wow...

05-10-2005, 11:30 AM
Hi everyone,

Thanks to everyone who has pitched in their experience so far! Please keep your thoughts coming...

-- Jun

05-10-2005, 11:35 AM
I attempted to open an aikido dojo some years back. There was an old elementary school that someone had bought and was trying to lease out space. It wasn't in the best of locations, so I was able to negotiate a nice deal. For starting out, the owner let me "rent" a space for the dojo in this manner: Instead of a set price per month, we split the cost per student in half. So that whatever each student paid, he got half and I got half. That way, he could make some money and I'd have a start at getting a dojo going. That part worked out great.

Unfortunately, after three months, I still had no students. Getting the word out is the hard part if you don't have money to invest into advertising. I put out local flyers all over, but that didn't seem to work. I used word of mouth but that didn't help. So if anyone has any suggestions on how to advertise, I'm all ears. It would be nice to hear different suggestions for little to no money and for having enough money.


05-10-2005, 02:23 PM
I have been very fortunate to have grown to about 12 - 15 constant members in 2 years time. I have not used any advertising, but believe the website has attracted the majority of students - the rest word of mouth.

My biggest recommendations are:

1: Be patient: your school will grow, give it some time.
2: Be consistent: Always show up to teach ontime. Always teach as if you have a packed mat, even if you have only 1 student.
3: Have fun: if you are having fun, your school will thrive.
4: Keep Learning: Even as you grow into becoming a teacher, continue to study with your peers and those who have come before. It is a great gift to give your students; seeing their teacher learning from others.


Charlie Huff
05-10-2005, 05:42 PM
I went out on a limb and started a school about 4 years ago, which is still operating. I can't claim any particular wisdom on this matter, but here are a few points that I think have worked for us:

(1) Try to start out in a church, YMCA, community center, or some place like that. We started out in a church building with nominal rent. This has let us concentrate on developing the school without worrying about how to pay the bills each month.

(2) Be prepared for slow growth. There were nights when I'd unlock the doors and nobody would show up. Now, there's a core of about 15 people that I can count on. Be patient.

A good dojo is a community of people who find they have something in common and it takes time for all those crazy, wonderful people to find each other. A handful of dedicated people will start recruiting their friends and eventually gravity or magnetism or mutual craziness or some such force starts to take over.

(3) Don't get obsessed with recruiting new students. Our best recruiting tools have been: (a) our website, (b) a 40-word ad that we run every week in a local paper, and (c) word of mouth.

At one time, we had flyers out all over the city. The only person ever responded to one of those was a friend of who saw my name on the flyer and decided to see what the hell I was up to. I'm happy to do a demo for anyone who asks, but I've never seen anyone join the school because of a demo.

(4) Keep it fun. We train hard but still find plenty of reasons to laugh at each other. As Pogo said: "Don't take life serious - it ain't permanent nohow."

That's my 2 cents. Hope this helps somebody.

Mary Eastland
05-10-2005, 07:41 PM
Ron started out teaching at the YMCA almost 30 years ago.....then moved to a Youth center. After about ten years we rented a garage bay among storage units. We stayed there for 12 years. Last year we built a dojo at our house. I firmly believe that "If you build it.... people will come".