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Phillip Armel 06-19-2003 08:49 PM

Opening a Dojo
Hello. How do you go about opening your own dojo? I love going too Aikido practice and I think having my own dojo would be so much fun. It would be work I think I could enjoy, even after 5,000 days of doing it. I think so atleast lol, plus your keping the art alive. I'm only 15 so I got awhile, but how would you go about doing that?

Charles Hill 06-19-2003 09:37 PM


I recommend you start thinking about how you would teach what you already know. Some people need verbal explanations, how would you explain a technique to them? Some people need to see it, how would you show them? Some people learn best by trial and error, how would you set up a great learning environment for that kind of person?

The most successful dojos have the best teachers. These people not only work hard to perfect their technique, they work hard to learn how to share it with others. If you want to be an Aikido teacher, that's great. Now you have to work twice as hard.


rachmass 06-20-2003 04:48 AM

Hello Phillip,

I started a thread some time ago on the subject of opening a new club. You can go to that thread by clicking:

Lots of folks wrote in with advice. Now, that said, I've been training twenty years and teaching for close to eight, and this dojo is limping along at best, so at age 15 you might have an even harder time. I think it's really hard to start something from scratch, but it is really worth the effort. I am very happy that I've done this, but it is still extremely difficult, and I'm still having a hard time getting folks in the door.

best wishes,


Phillip Armel 06-20-2003 10:55 AM

Thanks, that thread had tons of good info. I checked out your website and it's pretty cool too. I hope it works out! :D

jxa127 06-20-2003 12:02 PM


What do you consider "limping along" and how many students would you like? The dojo I attend is pretty small. At different points, we've been down to three students with only one or two showing up on a regular basis.

I've been studying there for almost four years, and we've never had more than 12 or so people on the mat at once (that I can remember anyway).

One thing that helped us was a change in venue. This past summer we moved to a location close to a major road. We painted a nice sign that's visible from the street. Now we get people dropping in on a fairly regular basis to check things out. Our attendance has gone up to five to seven students in each class.

To some, that may be "limping along," but the small class sizes lead to a lot of attention from our instructor. This, in turn, allows us to practice techniques that would be too advanced with less supervision.

Just some random thoughts. Regards,


rachmass 06-20-2003 12:16 PM

Hi Drew,

Good question! I have four students and the dojo has been up and running for seven months. All are new to aikido, and only three train with any regularity. Two are extremely dedicated and excited. Problem is that my rent is $800 per month and I am bringing in $80 so I am bleeding out the other $700 or so with no end in sight!!!! I don't think I will be able to keep this up too much longer, and I can't find a cheaper place (visability is a major issue, but then rent becomes much more costly). I am sharing the space with a yoga person who is paying some of the rent, but it still leaves me extremely short. I've implimented a summer special and put out an info flyer box on the outside of the dojo, so hopefully that will help.

Anyway, class size is typically 2-3 people (including myself) and sometimes up to 5 (a friend who comes up to train a couple of times a month), and the training is very good I think, but energy can be an issue with such a small group of people, and when (and if) folks coming in the door to watch, there is very little activity. Half the time no one shows up, and I just sit around for 1/2 an hour before bagging it and going home.

The smaller class size is condusive to more help, and my students are doing exceedingly well in their progression. I am worried that after time, once they have progressed to a certain point, that they will want to leave to a larger dojo with more excitement on the mat. It is a hard row to hoe, and I hope it gets better and that the dojo lasts long enough to grow (it takes awhile when starting from scratch).

anyway, those are my random thoughts too.


Phillip Armel 06-20-2003 12:23 PM

If your class isn't real big, and you're hurting for rent, could you open the dojo in your home? If you have a basement and you got 400 square feet you might be able too pull that off.

rachmass 06-20-2003 12:31 PM

Liability my friend. Insurance wouldn't cover it, nor would the home owners association, nor would I want people coming into my home for aikido....

Charles Hill 06-20-2003 01:34 PM


John Stevens once told me that he would come into practice late due to work and travel and sometimes find his teacher, Shirata Rinjiro Shihan, all alone practicing by himself. Stevens Sensei was sure that there were a number of times that when he couldn't make it, Shirata Shihan had no students. This was a top student of the Founder, pre and post-war, who was ranked at 9th dan. So, try not to worry about it (although easier said than done) and just keep doing your best.


rachmass 06-20-2003 02:09 PM

Thanks Charles,

I hadn't heard that one before, thanks for sharing it.

It is always worth it; just have to survive the start-up is all.

best all,


tedehara 06-23-2003 11:59 AM

We are currently reorganizing our dojo. We will literally have to start again.

After spending over a month looking for a potential practice site, we have come up with a couple of possibilities. Now we will need to incorporate and apply for insurance to limit liability. We will also need to go into final negotiations with the owners.

I also need to come up with some mat$ and a business plan. Fortunately, I've been through most of this before. Unfortunately, nobody will be able to practice until this gets completed.

Before we open, a marketing plan should be created.

Is this a hassle? Sure.
Is this worth it? Of course.

justinm 06-24-2003 09:50 AM

I have been running a dojo since Sept last year - an existing small dojo with only two or three regular students. I've now got 6-8 regulars but it frequently drops to 2 or 3 due to vacations, work commitments and so on. It peaked at 11. Of these 6-8 regulars, only 1 is a beginner - the others were existing club members that trained at one of the other local club dojo, that now also come to mine as they seem to like the classes. So 1 new person in 10 months! I have another beginner that comes and goes but it has been more than a month since I last saw him, so who knows...

I have had 2 others come for a few weeks and then stop. I have had about 5 visitors come and watch a class but not come back. One student I had to ask to leave.

I think it is very difficult to grow a dojo unless you are in a strong catchment area, for instance a college or sports club. Especially as I am only a 2nd dan, and there are two other clubs in the same town. As a fairly new teacher, my ideal class size is around eight. I find it can be very disheartening when only a couple of people turn up, especially as I am putting so much of myself into the club. However I have also been to classes run by 5th and 6th dans where there are only 2 or 3 students, so I think there may be some hidden law that limits aikido dojo size, with a few exceptions that prove the rule ! :)

Rachel - I really hope it works out for you. I know how much heartache goes into starting a new club.

C. Emerson 06-24-2003 10:20 AM


I think theres a reason for small class sizes. The reason that taekwondo has become so succesfull is because of the simplicity of the art.

Kids can kick and punch with ease, looking in the mirror they look like Bruce Lee. Circular arts are difficult to say the least. Theres no foolin, with circular arts.

It works or it doesn't.

Circular arts are skill arts. Striking arts are not nearly as skill full. You can be very effective as a striker if your fast and powerful. Not neccessarly skillful. Look at Bob Sapp, mma fighter. He is a goliath, very limited skill but overpowering. Yet he is successful. Circular arts can only be learned over time, natural ability helps but is not a substitute for seasoning. The dedication that these arts deserve, is difficult to find in people these days.

rachmass 06-24-2003 10:27 AM

Hey guys,

Yes, I think that Chad has a point about the class size, and Justin, thanks for sharing your story about your dojo. Aikido is almost esoteric to some people, and if you don't locate yourself in some place that is condusive to it, it's bound to be difficult. My dojo is in a small town that appears to be pretty conservative in nature. Ann Arbor is just 10 miles north and is a very liberal city, and there are no fewer than three active aikido dojos there (plus numereous clubs at the University, the YMCA, rec centers, etc.), and they more or less thrive. I've got lots of friends in Toronto, and there they have almost innumerable aikido dojos, and these all seem to be pretty chock-full of students. Maybe it is the culture of a community as well.



thisisnotreal 06-24-2003 10:33 AM

slow leak $...
Dear Rachel,

A guy I knew was a very shrewd business man...and he managed to convince the landlord that he was in it for the long haul.

It was acknowledged that the start-up phase is extremely difficult, but once clientele was established, things would be better.

Somehow, by hook or by crook, he managed to sign a contract that went like this:

1. first year free rent

2. next year 6 months free rent

3. normal rent, plus 6 extra months rent

4. ""

5. ""

I have no clue how in fact he convinced a guy to go along with that....but the fact is he is now in his 6th year, all paid off and business is booming.

just an idear.


rachmass 06-24-2003 10:46 AM

wow! have him come and negotiate something for me please!!!!

Actually I did the negotiating for the space for the dojo I used to train at (still all buds here), and did work out something pretty nice there with lower rent at the beginning and increasing over time. Unfortunately the community that I am in is not very negotiable even though the occupancy rate has declined (it has to do with the illusion of what you can rent something for versus actually renting it for less-affects the market value), so that would not be much of a starter here. Bummer though, what a great idea!

Philip, is any of this helping you with your ideas of starting a dojo?

mike lee 06-27-2003 05:56 AM

be the man
Buy a building, be the landlord, own the dojo. (Interest rates are very low.)

rachmass 06-27-2003 06:19 AM

Mike, that sounds good on paper, but there are such things as qualifying for a mortgage for a commercial space, plus the cost of these types of buildings outright. If it were that simple, we all would have done that years ago. BTW, I am always keeping my eye out for one of these buildings, but in my area that is at least $500,000, which certainly won't work for a dojo!

mike lee 06-27-2003 06:37 AM

leap of faith
Did you try?

If you own a home, you can take out a loan against your house. I know a number of land developers that became millionaires by starting out just this way.

A small commercial site that can host several buisinesses, such as a dounut shop, a dry cleaners and your dojo ( and maybe a couple of apartments upstairs), will immediately begin paying you rent, which can then be used to pay off the loan.

Just a thought.

(Please excuse my enthusiasm just doing a little brain storming.)

rachmass 06-27-2003 06:52 AM

Hi Mike,

I'm in the real estate business and know most of the angles, so I am just speaking from common sense as well as experience. A good commercial space is very costly, and a dojo (unless well established) does not bring in enough to cover a mortgage payment on this type of space. Even with interest rates at record lows, the economy is pretty shaky, and I for one would not want to risk my one safe haven (my home) for a mortgage on a commercial building that I could not pay for, and might not be able to rent.

The best scenario I've seen so far is having a dojo on your own home property, but to be viable you need to have enough land, and zoning that permits this type of use, as well as decent visability. This is one of those options that I am always looking for, but the right property hasn't presented itself in a price range I can afford.

Glad you are so enthusiastic! Brain storming is what we all need to do.

best, Rachel

mike lee 06-27-2003 07:19 AM

on dangerous ground
From a legal perspective, having a dojo on your own private property could put you in danger of losing everything in the event of a serious injury and a law suit. The insurance rate will be quite high and it still may not cover a major suit. In such an event, they could take your home, savings, assets everything. That's why being incorporated and having a location on a commercial site is safer, from the legal perspective, because they usually can't go after your private assets.

Once again, I'm no expert in this area, but it seems to me that there are some serious hazards to be considered when having a dojo on your own private property.

fullerfury 06-27-2003 07:25 AM

If your dojo on your home has private access and you keep locked any connecting entranceways from your home and your dojo(thus limiting liability from your home), you can get the same insurance any other dojo operating out of a commercial space would get.


rachmass 06-27-2003 07:27 AM

Hi Mike, Hi Garrett;

Garrett, where did you get that information? Have you checked into this thoroughly? I think I recall you were doing just that with a dojo, right?

Goye 06-27-2003 07:50 AM

There is no secret formula other than work, work and work. well,.. there are some tips that have worked for me!

* Make the students LOVE Aikido.

* Have good Costumer service, talk to them after class and find what is the reason for them to be in the dojo,.. and give them some of that.

* Keep your training and don let them get bored, teach some of this,.. some of that,.. show them how have them improved their skill.

* The first Aikido days are the more difficult, I remember that when I started aikido, I had a lot of pain in my shoulders and back,... and some times thought two times before going again to class,.. after a month pain was gone,... explain that to your new students. I think it is normal.

I also think Aikido is not for every human on the earth, if someone after some Aikido training doesn't feel good and wants another kind of MA,... well,.. there are some other people that will come later. It is sad to see a student go and never come back,... but,.. that is part of your own learning experience,....


fullerfury 06-27-2003 11:22 AM

Well put Cesar. I believe your love of Aikido will shine through to your students...and you will win more than you lose.

Rachel, I have secured insurance through a reputable Martial Arts Insurance supplier. If you would like more information, I can send it to you. My email is


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