Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Re: Student Intake Questionnaire
Thanks everyone for all the comments. I really do appreciate the diversity of perspective.
It's interesting that no one asked me if I actually use this form, or it it's just another one of my columns meant to reflect what's on my mind and (hopefully) to provoke some feedback.
In fact, this column represents a draft of something I've been considering for a while, but have not yet used.
When I started aikido in 1979 with Bill Sosa Sensei in Dallas, we were first required to observe a class, and then set up an interview with Sosa Sensei. There was no intake form per se, but the interview was clearly a screening process. We were made to understand that we were applying for admission in a school, and that acceptance was at the discretion of the headmaster.
I did not find the process in any way off-putting, and I had to respect the amount of time that Sosa must have spent with each prospective student. Given that he doubtlessly weeded out some, and others self-selected out, the amount of his attention to the intake interviews far exceeded the amount reflected by just the number of students on the mat.
In our public facility, we were required by law to accept all comers, and I was extremely happy to comply. I would love to make aikido accessible to all who seek it.
Now, however, in our private setting, we have a limited number of slots available. We are on private property. The conditions are greatly changed, and there needs to be a way to communicate very clearly what the expectations are, what the limitations are, what the requirements are.
Of course, this goes both ways. If a prospective student came to me with a written list of questions they'd prepared in advance for me, I'd be blown away by their thoughtfulness. Students must choose us, and we must choose them, if it's to be a meaningful, healthy, and productive relationship.
Furthermore, I do think that all dojo have a selection process. It may be informal to the point of invisibility, it may take months or years to unfold, but it's there. I understand deeply that this model can work very well, having been immersed in it more often than not. At the same time, this can leave beginning (and advanced!) students guessing at hidden targets, and never really knowing how to fit in with the dojo culture.
I'm certainly not presenting the interview and intake form as the solution to everything, nor do I think it's right for all dojo environments. But for those who find the idea offensive, I'll be interested to know which doctors you go to, which dentists, which colleges and universities you've attend that do not require their own pertinent kind of intake form.
In my opinion, an aikido dojo, or any school of budo, is no less a serious matter, and it reflects no insult to those inquiring after us to treat it so. If we are serious, it does not mean that we must be sober, somber, and harsh -- to the contrary! -- but it does mean that our approach to relationships ought to be thoughtful, mindful, respectful, and above board.
There is a range of selectivity that's appropriate for different settings. But I'm not sure I'd want to be associated with any that have none, and the longer I do this, the more I appreciate it when the criteria are made explicit.
To me, it only seems like a courtesy.
Again, thanks so much to everyone for the thoughtful feedback.