Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo
Reflections on Operating/Owning an Aikido Dojo.
The maintaining of students and the increasing of one's overall membership is an important issue for dojo, especially traditional dojo, as traditional dojo can find this to be a difficult task for many reasons. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that popular media outlets frequented by the masses today are not commercially assisting the traditional arts. For dojo that have relied, knowingly or unknowingly, upon such resources, these may be dark days. It has been many years since "Above the Law" came out or since Tom Cruise was a samurai.
Additionally, the traditional arts are not being assisted by current social trends regarding such apparently disparate things as notions of masculinity, concepts of self-defense, the Wellness Industry, the Happiness Industry, etc. Most of these venues have usurped the discourses and pedagogies of the traditional arts but have done so while disparaging their sources, noting them to be wasteful, and able to be dissected without issue - all in the name of modern efficiency. In the face of these challenges, without a steady and increasingly growing membership, traditional dojo face financial risk and arts such as Aikido face degeneration and possible extinction.
While it may appear to a dojocho that the traditional arts today offer low returns and exchanges in potential cultural or social capital compared to MMA or BJJ, the mistake to avoid is trying to make one's dojo and one's art more MMA/BJJ-like. Aikido Journal is wrong in this regard. This is a mistake for two very important reasons: First, it is a mistake because the abovementioned only describes one market, a market that is already saturated, a market that is increasingly and rapidly producing lower and lower returns across the board: lower quality of practice, lower quality of art, lower student populations per school. We are also beginning to see an increase in school closures in this market as many have poorly decided to overextend themselves with second or third schools or by adopting larger facilities.
The traditional dojocho needs to understand that other markets are available and that these markets should be sought out instead since doing so always makes more sense business-wise than coming late to a game that is commencing its ending. It is also a mistake because the traditional arts' market viability actually rests in the quality of its practice and in the quality of its transmission. As such, the aforementioned market, through its mass appeal, leads to an accumulation of dabbler practitioners by default. As with all mass appeals, this market's prioritizing of meaningless and material things over things of real value, etc., makes it the wrong market for the traditional dojo.
Instead, the traditional dojocho should avoid this market and almost everything about this market. Rather than trying to make one's dojo less traditional, one should make it more traditional. By doing so, the traditional dojo thereby enters into another untapped but resourcefully sufficient market, one also conducive to training in a Budo.
Do not try and jump on the MMA/BJJ bandwagon! Let the MMA/BJJ market do its thing, and you do your thing. Wile the MMA/BJJ crowd seeks out young males indirectly addressing insecurity issues with fantasies of violence and fame, or while it seems to meet the immature and commonly held need to address ego-duels, you instead seek out all people that have seen through or that want to see through the superficiality of modern society, that are seeking the wellness of spiritual maturity, that want something as real as it is lasting.
Stop attempting to cater to the segment of the population that is by its very nature only starting an art to quit said art. Instead, seek out and cater to those individuals that can develop and keep a life-practice. Your market is not the MMA/BJJ segment share of the population. Your target population is this: Those individuals that want to cultivate their spirit and their body interdependently, those individuals that want to learn how to address reconciling their fears and self-attachment for the sake of performance enhancement across all segments of their lives, those individuals that see the benefit of and want the benefit of having a sacred space in their lives, those individuals that are seeking a weapon-based and size-irrelevant self-defense system, those individuals that want a channel for self-cultivation through craft perfection.
MMA/BJJ should have as much to do with your dojo as banking, or fishing, or making hamburgers -- nothing. As you likely do not follow the market pertaining to the "burger war" for determining your dojo's path and destiny, so should you not follow trends in the MMA/BJJ market for determining your dojo's path. The two population pools are completely different, and more than that the MMA/BJJ pool does not lend itself to the market strategy needed by the traditional arts -- my final point to be made here:
A dojo membership strategy is primarily addressed by two means: One, a dojo membership strategy can be based on getting more new students, or, two, a dojo membership strategy can be based on keeping existing students. Naturally, there is some possibility to do both but in actual practice you will see that traditional dojo should prioritize keeping existing students and allow getting more new students to happen incidentally of this prioritization. Why prioritize one's efforts this way? Here's an example: It is the keeping of existing students that allows them to develop a life practice of Budo, and this in turn keeps the art thriving on the mat and as a tradition.
This thriving is made visible to the prospective student drawn from the aforementioned population pool. Meaning, when they look on the mat at your dojo, they will see highly skilled practitioners doing powerful and sophisticated movements. This in turn attracts the right people to join the dojo while the dabbler intuitively realizes that he or she in the wrong place for doing "martial art-lite."
In short, here are my recommendations:
- Be more traditional.
- Know your population market pool and cater to that one.
- Prioritize keeping students over gaining new students.
- Separate yourself from the MMA/BJJ trends.
Now, I'm sure that every Aikido dojocho already believes him/herself to be doing these things, but such is not the case. This is because most dojocho are relying on a certain number of fallacies that actually keep them from being a truly traditional dojo, keep them from catering to the right population market pool, keep them from not prioritizing keeping students over getting new students, and that have them folloiwng MMA/BJJ (commercial) trends.
I will cover these fallacies one by one in my next segment. More to follow…