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akiy 09-30-2002 02:21 PM

Who Stays, Who Leaves
Hi everyone,

(Cross-posted from Aikido-L...)

It's always interesting to see who actually stays through their beginning stages of training. As I usually help out in the beginners classes here, I often get to see who stays and who drops out after, say, the first six months of training. Oftentimes, the unexpected folks stay (those who seemed to have been struggling all along) and/or drop out (those who had the most energy in their training).

My question, though is if anyone has any good way to get feedback from those who decide not to continue? I created a feedback form (both hardcopy and online) which I gave to people in the beginners series I led to try to get feedback. Although I got a few pieces of feedback, I really didn't get much from those who decided not to stay, despite the fact that putting one's name on the feedback form was optional...

Anyone have any good thoughts on getting honest feedback from people who decided to leave?

-- Jun

Bruce Baker 09-30-2002 02:59 PM

I have been one of the people who fit into to "why the heck is he still here?" Fighting the specter of ill health, and either family obligations or cash for a hobbie, the missing collections of hiatus from training doesn't seem as long as it did.

Most of the people who, I later meet on the street, tell me that the classes were either too much for them, they had other obligations to take care of, or social and financial difficulties took priority over training.

Only a small percentage of those who trained for a year or more did not come back after a period of time.

Depending upon what the student expected from training in Aikido, or adapting it to either street defense, or some type of defensive/ offensive training that would reinforce their confidence to deal with previous difficult situations, the student who returns again and again is the one who see's the application of the practice as a viable and tangable asset.

I become a pain in silent Tai chi classes because if I am with someone watching I start to spout off on what each movement could be used for in a martial art, and that these people may be doing a nice dance, but there are hidden meaning to using it as a martial art too.

Anyway, there has to be a connection to the brain for the student to train, or they might as well stand in the rain in spain that falls mainly on the plain.

erikmenzel 09-30-2002 03:57 PM

We at our club havent been able to find a good indicator for who stays and who leaves.

Twice a year we offer a 8 lessons introduction course where people can come and experience some basics and expereince training at our dojo. Sometimes this is a very difficult group who are just struggling along, yet lots of them stay after the course. Other times there is a very hardworking group who seem to have much fun and then only one or two stay.

We have kind of the idea that with these beginners it is often the group effort during the class that is more predicting than just the individuals.

At our club we always ask people why they quit. Most often this is due to relocation or change of workinghours. Very rare to have someone go away because they dont like it.

Still knowing for sure could be maybe be helpfull in guiding/keeping people. Having enough people at our dojo with a lower turnover would certainly be nice.

aikilouis 09-30-2002 04:26 PM

After 3 full years of activity for our dojo, we can see that a third of the students from the previous year (who paid their fee and registered for our federation) come back the following year.

Most of the the people who attend our general assembly in june promise to be here in september, but I pay no more attention to that kind of talk, and do not try to find out about other people's reasons.

Louis R Joseph

rachmass 09-30-2002 07:31 PM

I've noticed a pattern over the years (and this could be our area, and not endemic of Aikido in general); the folks who are really gung-ho in the beginning and go to class every day tend to burn out within three or four years and disappear. Many get to shodan and then quit, but it seems that the majority of these folks quit around nikkyu. Anyone else have experience with this one?

Aristeia 09-30-2002 08:56 PM

There is in my experience no way to predict it. Some enthusiastic, regular trainers drop off, some who are so uncoordinated you wonder how they can walk down the street, are still there years later. What's even more surprising to me is the number of phone/e-mail inquiries I get from people who are "definately going to come down and check it out" and never do. Jeez, we haven't even started hurting them yet...

Erik 09-30-2002 09:22 PM

Re: Who Stays, Who Leaves

Jun Akiyama (akiy) wrote:
Anyone have any good thoughts on getting honest feedback from people who decided to leave?

My thought is that if you want honesty then I'm not sure you can ask them. I think you'll have to build a profile of students such as age, sex, marital status, profession, physical condition, whatever. Then over time compare the profile to whether they stayed or left, how long they stayed, how often they went to class, etc. Then take the same profile when they leave and see if anything has changed such as they got married, started a new career, moved, injuries, etc.

I really think this is the only way to get a truly honest answer. So many people just fade away, and while they are fading, they swear up and down that they are coming back. If they lie to themselves like that, how can they possibly tell you the truth?

Bronson 09-30-2002 10:03 PM


the folks who are really gung-ho in the beginning and go to class every day tend to burn out ...
Yeah, this has been my experience too. It almost happened to me. For a short while I was only attending the class I taught once every other week.

I finally got to the point where I wanted to start working on my technique again. I wanted to start incorporating all the things I was learning by teaching into my own aikido. For that I needed mat time as a student.

I've since found that limiting my dojo time is the best for me. It's part of my schedule and there are few things that could make me miss the classes I attend now. The difference is now I attend two classes/week as a student and two/week as instructor that I look forward to instead of classes seven days a week that I ended up having to force myself to go to.


akiy 09-30-2002 10:11 PM

Hi folks,

I appreciate all of the responses so far.

I asked one aikido teacher (6th dan) who happens to be a school principal about the subject of retention. She said that she had tried every approach in teaching from the "show it four times and 'dozo!'" to "Oh, you're doing wonderfully! <Pat on back>" and basically came up with her feeling that it didn't matter. People who'll stay will stay, and those who'll leave will leave.

However, I still keep thinking that even if we could retain even 5-10% more, that would amount to quite a lot over the years. Our beginners classes have drawn over 100 people a year. If we could retain even five to ten more people, I think it would be great.

I'm not very sure that even if we knew exactly what caused people to drop out that we'd be able to do anything. However, I sometimes feel as though perhaps there's something we could do in the way of teaching that we could change to better suit our target "audience."

Here's the online version of the survey that I made, if anyone's interested:

(Submission has been turned off...)

Any thoughts from the experienced teachers out there?

-- Jun

Creature_of_the_id 10-01-2002 03:09 AM

I'm not sure how my sensei found out (I think he phones people up who have quit a short time after), but he found that most begginers quit in the first few weeks because of undisclosed injury. They come on the mat and they are not 100%, they sign the form saying they dont have any long term injury, and then whilst learning ukemi they get injured and dont come back.

So... to try and get around this, we dont teach ukemi for the first few weeks to see ifit makes a difference to retention.

I'll try and find out if the plan is working and get back to you

Jason Tonks 10-01-2002 03:26 AM

Rachel, I have also noticed the tendency for the gung-ho beginner to suddenly vanish as quickly as they appeared. Another thing I've noticed is the talkers, who come in the dojo chatting,wanting to ask all sorts of questions about everything. We had one guy come in one night train with us then ask how e could train in Aikido five nights a week in our local area. Never saw the fella again!

I think the people who stay adopt the mindset of just consistent quiet diligent practice tend to stay for the longer journey. Another problem I think is impatience and maybe as a beginner not feeling progress is being made quickly enough. Most people want too much too soon. Just my views. Good topic.

All the best Jason T

Jim ashby 10-01-2002 04:38 AM

We have an informal "buddy" system. When a group of beginners enters the Dojo and begins their training, they are encouraged to "gee each other up". They tend to take their gradings together and they form a team almost. The proof of this is that, at the last Dan gradings, there were five people who had all started close to one another, all of whom passed. It seems to be cutting the dropout rate, however I have no definitive numbers yet. BTW, when I started there were fourteen of us at the first grading, only I went on to take Shodan. There were some that moved away, some that had changes of cicumstance, but the others just dropped out, one after his first kyu grading. Go figure.

Have fun.

mike lee 10-01-2002 05:11 AM

keep the faith
Many people come to aikido after reading something about it being a "soft" art. After several training sessions and a few bruises and sore muscles, their illussions are dashed (along with their will).

I think honesty is the best policy. Tell them up front that the first few weeks won't be easy, and encourage them to get through it. They're going to hurt a little, but it'll get better after the body starts to toughen and they begin to grasp some basic skills.

Also, be happy with just teaching beginners a little in each session. Continue reviewing what they learned in each session. This will give them the feeling that they know something and will help to build their confidence.

In the end, though, one has to get used to the fact that for a number of reasons, drop-out rates are quite high. Don't take it personally -- just keep training and raising your skill level. Higher skill levels in a dojo attracts students -- not a lot of fancy credentials, advertising, and empty promises.

Creature_of_the_id 10-01-2002 05:19 AM

Our association also has clubs in germany, france and belgium aswell as the UK. Another thing we have found is that our clubs in germany retain a much greater number of students than, our english clubs.

I dont think they have as many new begginers, but the ones that do join have a tendancy to stay much longer.

So, it does appear to be a mind set or personality trait brought on by cultural differences, and not necisarily teaching styles that keeps the students on the mat.

(the clubs in other countries are taught much in the same way that the ones here are).

aikigreg 10-01-2002 11:16 AM

I bet 3/4 of the dropouts are ego centered. When someone has to roll their bulk along the floor, or take a shameful fall, they learn quickly their conception of Aikido (Seagal) is quite different from the reality. No shouting, no blocking. Why, this looks NOTHING like karate kid!

THose of us who started thinking the rolling is cool, and that we're actually acquiring grace and skill, stay.

For the remainder, it's probably outside stress and laziness, or perhaps Aikido was just their hobby of the month. Or they were just honestly not suited for it.

As an aside, I wonder if the retention rate is any different for other MAs?

Erik 10-01-2002 11:48 AM


Greg Gross (aikigreg) wrote:
As an aside, I wonder if the retention rate is any different for other MAs?

According to what I read in the trade magazines the dropout rate is 7%/month and no one has any real idea how to change it in any significantly material way. The train of thought seems to be that it's no different in health clubs or most activities for that matter.

Assuming you run a decent place (clean, safe, etc.) the only retention answer seems to be to recruit more students and you'll find more that will stick around.

achilleus 10-01-2002 01:43 PM

From a teaching point of view this is a persistant question - fortunately I do not make my living teaching, so my comments may not be as scientific as one who MUST track the data.

I am an aikidoka (student), but I am the Provost of a Classical Occidental Fencing School. Beginning courses usually have a 6 month retention rate of 50% - 1 year 25%, etc. I get discouraged occasionally, but that has a lot to do with me wanting the room full. I quickly adjust and am thankful for the 15 students that have stayed over the last 5 years.

I have come to adopt my Grandfather's church explaination: he is a retired minister of what in the 1960s was one of the largest churches in St. Louis, MO. By 1975 the membership had dropped by a whopping 85%. When I asked him why, he took the tone of a good demographer and replied that social changes no longer "coerced" people into being churchgoers. He smiled. I asked why he appeared to be thankful for the drastic change. "Because then the only people in my church were those who really wanted to be there". For him, it was a positive change. And I smile, too, knowing that while it would be nice to have the room cram packed, those who come every night really want to be there.

MAs are similar in that what we are ultimately teaching is not easy. If it were, everyone would be training with us.

JJF 10-02-2002 06:25 AM


Kev Price (Creature_of_the_id) wrote:
Our association also has clubs in germany, france and belgium aswell as the UK. Another thing we have found is that our clubs in germany retain a much greater number of students than, our english clubs.

I dont think they have as many new begginers, but the ones that do join have a tendancy to stay much longer.

So, it does appear to be a mind set or personality trait brought on by cultural differences, and not necisarily teaching styles that keeps the students on the mat.

(the clubs in other countries are taught much in the same way that the ones here are).

Hi Kev!

I don't know which clubs in Germany are affiliated with your association, but I have had contact with a few German dojo's primarily connected to Aikikai. They seem to have a very stable base of students as well, so maybe it's a thing about Germans being more dedicated :). Another possible answer is that in Germany they have very few instructors with high dan-grading (at least as far as I know). Some clubs have 1. kyu's instructing and this might have an impact as it dosen't seem for the students to be impossible to reach a level close to that of the instructor. It also might create sort of a 'pioneer' feeling of being together in creating a good dojo. This could very well boost the morale and make people want to go that extra mile for the sake of their art.

I have no proof for this, but I have had similar experiences in other arts, however if the level of teaching is TOO low the drop-out rate seems to be just the same.

Just my thoughts on the subject.

Creature_of_the_id 10-02-2002 06:46 AM

Nice thoughts Jørgen.

It does appear that they are more dedicated or patient.

Our association has 3 or 4 3rd dans and one 4th dan teaching in germany at the moment. so I cant say much on the points to do with students staying because of a percieved attainable goal. although it does sound very logical, and i remember as a begginer having alot of low grades around me helped me.. as I aimed to be like them initially rather than like my instructor who was 3rd dan at the time.

johnkeya 10-02-2002 11:18 AM

I have been taking aikido since April, so I am right around the 6 month mark. I test for 7th kyu this coming sunday.

I have seen a quite a few faces come and go in the short time I have been practicing and I think that Jason makes a good point as to why the ones who seem to be the most "gung ho" ususally don't keep with it. They don't have the patience. This type of person is the one who is expecting to become a great martial artist in a very short period of time. They are probably very athletic to begin with and can jump right and do some pretty fearless ukemi and the like, which can be really fun and make you feel as though you are progressing faster than you really are. They have probably excelled in other sports and maybe even other martial arts and expect to do the same in aikido. But after a few months, when they start getting into the more "complicated and difficult" techniques (they all seem to fall under this category for me) they start to realize that this aikido stuff is hard! It is a lot more intricate than first meets the eye. Even if you can go through the motions and look as though you know what you're doing you just don't have the mental awareness of all of the subtelties and concepts involved, let alone the ability to actually apply them. I supppose that getting tossed around like a feather and promptly dumped on their butt by someone much smaller and a lot less "athletic looking" than themselves can be a rude awakening for someone who thinks that after a few months they can do the techniques just as well as people who have been doing it for years.

Every class I go to I learn again just how much I don't know and just how far I have to go. It really is a lifelong process. And for those who are expecting to jump right in be truly good at this stuff within a few months find out very soon that this just isn't going to happen, no matter how athletic you are nor how many times a week you go to practice.

Creature_of_the_id 10-03-2002 02:33 AM

Good luck on your grading, John :)

johnkeya 10-03-2002 07:13 PM

Thanks! I am really looking forward to the experience. :eek:

Steve Bland 10-04-2002 10:09 AM

Does anyone have an observation on the age of the people who stick with Aikido, as opposed to those who leave?

Perhaps whether or not they come as a group or alone may be another factor?

As a relative newcomer to Aikido, I found my motivation slipping when encountering difficulties with a variety of techniques (ie everything!).

My mate wouldnt let me give up, and helped provide the get-up-and-go when mine had gotten up and gone.


beanchild 10-04-2002 02:16 PM

At my dojo, there are a range of ages for those who have been doing aikido for a few years; for example, from 17 yrs old to 40 yrs old or older.

I would agree with some of the previous posts in that the motives of those who stay may well be different than the motives of those who leave. Technically aikido is a "soft" art, and defensive in the outset rather than offensive, however it is still a martial art.

Ali B 10-30-2002 11:50 AM

Kev - is your Sensei John Emmerson? I used to go to courses at Perth Green and South Sheilds. :)

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