View Full Version : Succession Planning

Please visit our sponsor:

Rocky Izumi
11-04-2005, 01:56 PM
I thought I might start another contentious little thread for the fun of it and see what develops. Recently, I mean the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that when I leave my home dojo permanently to move to another location (I do this about every five years), I should completely destroy the dojo that I built and leave the students to start up their own dojo or dojos from scratch. I take my mats, my weapons, my tokomon, my scrolls, my photos, my furniture, etc. and whatever I don't want, I either distribute to the students or give it away to charity or send it to the landfill or destroy it. I make the students have a clean start.

I came to this process in order to forestall any inifighting between the students for power and ownership of the dojo and to make them put their blood, sweat, and tears (and money) into building their own dojo. That way, the new dojo would be "theirs" and not something that was handed to them. It would make them learn quickly what it takes to build and keep a dojo. Many of the students, even though they have taken part in the administration and maintenance of the dojo, never seem to get a good feel for how much it takes, emotionally, physically, and financially to keep a dojo running. It seems they can't really get a good appreciation for what it takes until they have built and kept a dojo running for a while. Also, those that do take over the dojo and do a good job of it seem to get a big head. They think "Sensei left the dojo to me. I must be really good at Aikido." Or others seem to think that they have to follow rigorously in my footsteps and not do their own thing to make the dojo their own. These successors never seem to blossom into their own but try to be a poor copy of the person who created the dojo and put their stamp on it. These are the folks that I feel the most sorry for because they are always trying to fill shoes that don't fit. I would rather see them build their own dojo and put their own stamp on that new dojo. At least, that is my experience.

So, I put it to you folks out there. Do you think handing over a dojo to a senior student is a good idea or do you think that destroying a dojo you built is a waste? Would you rather see someone take over a dojo you created or would you rather have them create their own dojo?

Oh, one more thing. I have found that when I destroy the dojo I built and make the others start their own, Two or three spring up to fill the space that is created so the martial art as a whole benefits by the propogation of new dojos. And these dojos all have different flavours and attract different types of people so the diversity of the art is expanded to the betterment of service to the community.


Chuck Clark
11-04-2005, 04:13 PM
Hey Rocky! Long time since you've made any noise...

In my opinion, the dojo isn't about those material things really. The dojo is made up of the group that trains together, the trust they have in each other and their teacher. I have left several dojo to others; some make it, some don't. It's the way of things. If there are personality or ego problems, they'll work themselves out one way or another... it's up to them.

I'm in my seventeenth dojo now that I've started in the past 45 years. Dojo come and go... my practice continues.

Your way sounds good to me.

Rupert Atkinson
11-06-2005, 11:44 PM
Certainly an interesting perspective. One danger could be that only those with a bit of money, administrative skill, and business daring will rebuild and continue. Such talent does not equate to skill at Aikido. If all the old members were to be included in the plan then it would probably work, but I doubt all would be happy - you can never please everyone. That's life I guess. Basically you are setting them free - nothing wrong with that, if they are ready.

Fred Little
11-08-2005, 01:53 PM
You pose a very interesting question, and my immediate response was, "Yes, in fact, I have yet to meet an instructor who was given a dojo who didn't lack an appreciation of the efforts of those who start dojo."

And when I realized how far up the food chain that observation extended, a small chill went up my spine, and I returned to thinking a bit more closely about the situation you are discussing directly.

In a nutshell, the very fact that you can decide "to destroy the dojo that you built" reflects a very particular scenario with a very particular set of dynamics.

If you built it, and you're out of pocket, and you're leaving, it's your business, in both the general and the specific senses of the word.

So the first question I might ask is: "Why not sell it?"

That's one surefire way to make sure that whoever takes over is fully aware of the financial commitment that's involved.

In truth, most dojo aren't very much like businesses at all, and it's not so easy to sell a business that never has and never will make any money, so you're not selling an asset, you're selling a liability.

Selling a liability tends to color relations between the seller and the buyer for a long time thereafter, and not necessarily for the better.

So maybe you don't want to do that. On the other hand, the mats, the tokonoma, the spare bokken....that's just stuff, and people sell and give away stuff all the time. And people who buy stuff with their own money usually value it.

Busting up the dojo? This is the wonderful luxury of running a relatively small-scale sole-proprietor private operation, and arguably an excellent way to make a clean break.

Whether it's good for the students depends quite a bit on what kind of group you've put together in five years -- which is right on the cusp of becoming self-sustaining. But if there are other training venues open to them and there's no going back to the nest, they'll adapt or quit, and if they quit.....well, people quit all the time.

Good for the students is one thing, good for the art is another. And it probably would be good for the art. The seeds scatter and light where they will. If you've taught your students things of value, that will be clear to the training partners they find in your absence, and it will clear to your students in what they find absent in their training partners.

And what they learn from their new teachers will be distinct in their minds from what they learned from you, giving them an appreciation for their individual teachers and a respect for the gifts of those teachers, which is a whole different thing from being a member of an organization who kept on practicing in the same way, in the same place, on the same schedule, day after day, week after week, year after year, out of sheer momentum and lack of imagination.

Which is to say that they may be human, adaptable, willing to change, and alive, and realize that the dojo exists to help us toward those goals, rather than to provide us a safe place to hide from them.

But all that said, if you stay someplace for 10 years instead of five, that's a whole different deal.

Fred Little

Rocky Izumi
11-09-2005, 07:56 PM
This is great! Thanks for the opinions. I would not be too worried about someone with less skill and better administrative skills taking over a dojo. It does no good to have an instructor who has good technical skills who can't keep the dojo open.

I've been in some places longer than five years but I don't find that time changes the nature of the dojo very much. In fact, the more self-sustaining a dojo is, the more I find that it is important to break up the dojo and make people start fresh than a dojo that is not as self-sustaining. The ones that are not quite self-sustaining, I don't worry about because they will self-destruct anyway. It is the ones that will continue that I am more worried about. There are still ones in existence that I have left and I have not been happy with the results because they still seem to have some umbilical cord attached to me, more than as the instigator of the dojo.

I suppose if I were trying to build up a large group of dojos that were all studying under me, that would be different but I am more interested in developing instructors that can stand on their own and deal directly with the Shihan for that area or the one under whom I developed the dojo. I would rather not see their loyalties split between me and someone else, or to have to deal with learning two different styles.

I know that I have fundamentally different views on Aikido than the Shidoin (used here in the general Japanese meaning of just leaders) of the Federation to which some of my old dojos belong and for them to try my Aikido and also the Aikido of that Federation would only confuse them. I let them evolve and change their Aikido away from mine and to that advocated by the Shidoin of their Federation.


George S. Ledyard
11-23-2005, 05:32 PM
Hi Rocky,
I have expereinced inheriting a dojo from someone else msyelf. Mary Heiny Sensei asked me to take over the Seattle School of Aikido when she left to go to Canada after ten years in Seattle running the school she had founded.

My feeling about this is: if there isn't someone senior enough to run the place. tell everybody to find a new place to train with someone qualified. If there is a person who is ready to start teaching, then give them the dojo, publicly, in front of the students with some sort of investiture ceremony to make it feel official to the other students. If there are several contenders, pick one and tell the others to go start their own places.

I inherited a dojo with many seniors who weren't my students and weren't going to be. This was an impossible situation to attempt to be a leader. After three years I left to start my own place and the student who wanted to train with me went with me. Every one of Mary Sensei's students took a turn and then arrived at the same conclusion. Every one of them left and started her own place. This process took a huge amount of emotional investment, relationships went through very tough times, people quit, etc.

If the dojo had been given completely to any one of us and the others given the instruction to go forth and multiply the school would still be vital today. Instead, the school that turned out half of the teachers in the Seattle area now has virtually no one training with of any great consequence. It is a club run by committee and there is very little happening there. This too bad because it is an historic dojo. There are six dojos run by instructors who trained at that school at some point.

There are other instances of this type of thing I have seen and things wnet much the same way. Make the succession clear, tell the other folks to put up or shut up and then walk away knowing that even if many people leave, the school will probably survive and there will be some real direction provided by a leader not lowest common denominator Aikido run by committee.