Re: Three dojo management questions...
Well -- I can't speak with any knowledge of Phoenix Oregon…although I read ‘the Oregon trail' as a kid, I can only speak from the perspective of running dojos in an English city where things are all close together -- the houses, the people and competing martial arts dojos -- both in Aikido and no Aikido.
We experience constant attrition due to mobility of peoples lives, changing circumstances & changing jobs…and I see ceilings along the way where students decide they need a change. 1st grading, other kyu gradings, dan grading, 2nd dan are all milestones where people may decide they have had enough.
My job is to provide a training environment where there is continued growth, new challenges etc that can be seen. Its not enough to leave it to individuals …some stay…but others need reminders and help to see what Aikido offers.
So retention is a problem that can be address by class content , and by class culture -- as instructor I remain open and look for new input, new ideas etc …anything to keep my classes vibrant. So like you I have a growing band of committed seniors who have reached the point where they simply are ‘Aikido' people and change is not an option.
However others do leave so we are constantly recruiting.
What do we do?
Well firstly we know what we aren't MMA…but we aren't Tai Chi. We are a martial art at all times …but we are not focused on how much we can hurt someone else but on how we conduct ourselves and how we are perceived. I feel we are seen as having the potential to harm but the desire to play nicely both in and out of the dojo.
So this is our product and what we sell.
How do we sell it?
First and foremost -- we are our best advert. In the middleground between hardcore & soft we are good…the students are good, the club is well run and we are there for each other.
We have a community -- a facebook presence, a website and discussion forum. So Aikido is constantly in the lives of the students.
We put ourselves about and have a great reputation …we take part in external seminars, multi art courses, give demonstrations and advertise. Even participation in Aikiweb is marketing in the way you conduct yourself. People know about us and very few have a bad word to say about us. Even the hardcore MMA / Boxing fraternity locally know of us, when they meet us we give a good account and train hard and sincerely so we have credibility.
Everything is marketing -- and you and your students have to be out and about on the local MA scene to be accepted as a viable part of it.
We were very fortunate to have a central visible location for many years. So this brought a lot of people to our door. Retention though is down to the culture of the club.
We are now bigger than most so some things are easier for us but this wasn't always the case…for instance we have some classes for specific kyu levels, when beginners arrive they are included in a group of peers and we have frequent gradings to give them short term goals. We also have open classes so they get to feel seniors, but by giving them something they can achieve then they swiftly become part of the dojo and acquire the knowledge of how things work. Finally we have seniors classes where the real business takes place. These are out of reach until the students are past the ‘shiny new toy' phase and gives them something to aspire to.
Of course having established you senior group, the pressure is on you to deliver…if you want to remain in front you have to constantly refresh your skills and this is not easy when the students are all high grade. But since you already have a high grade group I'm sure you already know this.
If you don't have a prominent position where everyone can see you then you need to resort to old fashioned advertising -- I'm just opening a new dojo and doing this right now -- so website is key…it needs all the possible info you can give, then advertising is down to you. I believe in leaflets…but I live where houses are close together. I'll walk around the area near the dojo and drop off the leaflets. Most will hit the bin….but some won't and when they look at our website they'll see every student chatting away on forums, loads of photos, some great videos and every bit of it is excellent advertising.
If you get them from here to visiting then its up to you to generate belief in what you do and in how your club can meet their needs - Which varies from person to person of course..
I could go on….and on…..but you probably get the drift. All publicity is good and if you are genuine in your belief in you group …and have the ability to do something…and can pass it on. Then you WILL succeed. People love to have someone to follow that makes an effort to be the best they can.
Last thing -- Kids into adult classes. Well it's a long haul….and as kids get into late teens there is so much in school, Uni & life for them that lots drift away.
Be there for when they return.
For those that make it through…practice has to be fun. I may be an old duffer but the youngsters like their Aiki with a bit of bounce. So give them what they want and as they mature lead them to a more mature aikido.
Anyway -- hope this helps. If theres just one thing to take from this -- believe in yourself and others will believe in you. If you have somewhere that you think people would enjoy training TELL THEM.