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Old 03-30-2006, 05:46 PM   #39
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Beginners Retention Rates

Camilla Kieliger wrote:
I need some clarification:
Why must serving beginners/hobbyists and the truly dedicated students be mutually exclusive? Could you not imagine a dojo that would cater to both - even if the sensei cannot/doesn't like to?
Mr. Ledyard's example of tennis, for instance - or soccer: a club will vacuum in the beginners and enthusiasts, and those who are willing and interested in making a commitment go into the higher echelons where they can develop to their potential, but the hobbyists get to play too and receive training and have a grand time.
Could you not have a dojo that would welcome and train beginners and keep their hobbyists happy, as well as have advanced classes and seminars for those who are willing to make the commitment required? By that I mean time, sacrifice, study etc - time away from other things that might be important to people. Hobbyists can be very dedicated at the level they are at, and keep coming back as circumstances allow - the leaves and branches, I guess, providing those bodies that beginners might identify with.
Or is that just dishonest?
This has alot to do with the article I wrote about Clarity inones training...

I am quite aware that most folks are of the "hobbyist" persuasion but, as I stated in my article, almost no one sees his participation as somehow less than serious. Everyone wnats to participate at the level which is comfortable for them but they still want to feel like they are getting the goodies, so to speak. If you tell them that getting to a certain rank will reuire a given level of commitment, they will tell you that they can't make that level of commitment because of a,b, c reasons. What they want you to do is say, "Well, ok. I understand you can't do that, even though you want to, so I will adjust my expectations." This will allow them to feel good about what they are doing, which they see as something they deserve because they participate as much as they can.

Frederick Lovret Sensei once said, "There are two types of students; those who train as much as they can and those who train..." People who put in as much effort as they can still want to be affirmed the same way the students who train all the time do. They aren't happy seeing people who come in a couple of years after they started blast by them on the rank continuum because they are training at three times the frequency. They still think, "That guy started after me and now he's higher ranked than I am." or "That guy started way after me... how come he is taking all that ukemi and getting all that attention?" Rather than admit that they simply aren't committed at the same level and adjust their expectations about the validation they want for their efforts, they leave.

It's not that they aren't welcome. It's that everything in the environment reminds them that they aren't part of the group of "serious" folks. A local seminar happens and the seniors are talking about attending, the core group takes off every summer to attend summer camp together, folks travel from other places to train at their school, etc. Most people come in and see what the serious folks are doing and they don't see themselves as doing that... but they still want to feel like what they are doing is of value.

At a dojo at which most people do not train outside, no one goes off to the various camps except the occasional individual, where the main focus on testing is affirming the students and creating a strong community structure for the dojo, the student of only modest commitment can feel right at home. He won't get too stressed by testing because the standard has been tailored to exactly the effort he will put in. Nothing serves to make thyat student feel different from any other. I have direct experience of such places... They usually have a nice solid group of folks who have trained for quite a long time, who all get along well... No one gets pushed too hard to excell... the guest instructors all tell everyone they are doing fine...

While there is nothing wrong with this picture, it represents a large group of folks who are genuinely happy with what they are doing; one seldom finds anyone of real excellence coming out of such a place. It is hard for the individual who wishes to do more to get support for making the extra effort

What I find is that, if you find a place where the students who wish to really go the distance and get to the highest levels of their art can do so, it will be a place with a small but very serious group of folks training. They'll cycle a vast number of people through for every one that sticks.

David's statement that you teach commitment is true. My core group of around thirty students is very committed. But I've had this school for 17 years (some have been around almost that long). I have noticed that, as this group has formed, it has become increasingly difficult to merge new people into the group. Now, not only do they compare themselves to me, they have a group of sempai that they admire and compare themselves to. It creates a huge disconnect... They want to be part of the group but at the same time, they aren't committed enough to break into the group the way the previous folks have, namely by training frequently and consistently. So, once again they are reminded constantly that they aren't part of the "serious" group. The only solution to this issue that I know of is to eliminate the "serious" group. If the training is homogenized, the students will not discern a difference between themselves and their fellows. This is very good for group cohesion and encourages people to stay in the community. But this involves the Japanese practice of pounding down the nail that sticks up... For this to work well, no one should be encouraged to move along faster than his fellows or train harder, or do outside training which the general members don't do. Then you can have a group which can grow to its maximum size potential.

Anyway, I know of schools which have fabulous beginner's programs; I know schools which have excellent training for the hard core folks; I don't know very many who can do both successfully.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 03-30-2006 at 05:50 PM.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
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