Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo
Reflections on Operating/Owning an Aikido Dojo.
Part II (Fallacies)
The following commonly held Aikido dojo business fallacies are not listed in any priority. All fallacies listed below are being looked at from the point of view of developing a comprehensive business model as described in Part I of this essay.
Fallacy: You should model your dojo after a more senior dojo or a hombu dojo.
The underlying mindset supporting this fallacy is, "There's no point to reinventing the wheel," or "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," or even "They must know what they are doing." Only the reality is that "it" is likely broken since their mats are often empty and low-energy (i.e. not a commercial draw), "they" don't know what they are doing because they never thought things through from a business perspective, and you might not want a "wheel" in the first place.
The first unsaid and negative consequences of this fallacy that I would like to point out is that its adoption very often guarantees that one's dojo will contain business and cultural aspects not consciously selected. As such, one loses the market viability of having their dojo be unique (i.e. one of a kind), and one may end up struggling to reconcile unreconcilable and contradictory combinations of business strategy and dojo culture. A good example of the latter would be one of overemphasizing the philosophical and academic aspects of the art while wanting to cater to law enforcement, or younger males, combat effectiveness, and/or wanting a crowded and energetic mat during class. Another example would be running a walk-in teen program while wanting to cater toward people looking at Budo as a life-practice. My point: Every aspect of your dojo should be consciously selected. Every aspect not in your dojo should be consciously rejected. A consultant should be able to walk through your dojo and point to any aspect of your model or even any item in your dojo, etc., and ask, "Why is that there?" and you should be able to tell them exactly why it is there and also why something else is not there.
By doing this, this allows us to gain one of the most basic sound business practices (already briefly mentioned above): Your dojo should be one of a kind. Having your dojo run or be like everyone else's or even like somebody else's requires you by default to seek a smaller share of somebody else's market. This can only be lucrative if you are in early on said market and if said market is still in its growth phase, and only if you are able to organize the market according to a pyramid shape. This is exactly what we saw with the Japanese shihan that started the USAF and the other federation movements. Today, even those schools, whether the shihan is still alive or not, are a former shadow of what they once used to be in terms of dojo membership. As was mentioned in Part I, it makes no sense to try and enter the BJJ/MMA commercial markets this late in the game, and it therefore makes even less sense to try and do so in the Aikido federation commercial markets.
Rather than following this fallacy, one should follow this mantra: If your ideal dojo could exist or does exist someplace else, you should go and train there. This is how unique your dojo should be instead! It must be nowhere else! Again, it needs to be one of kind, and it must be this even if someone tries to copy element-for-element what you are doing. Your dojo must be so unique that it cannot even be copied! This is the only way you can find your own market, and finding your own market is one of the easiest ways of successfully dominating a market, of being successful, and, in this case, of having a sustainable and growing dojo membership.
How do you create a dojo that cannot be found anywhere else? Start by using your wants and likes, your experiences, your interests, your personality, the information YOU have accumulated, the lessons you've learned, the mistakes you've made, and the mistakes you've seen others make, etc., to, so to speak, sculpt the image of your ideal dojo -- YOUR dojo. Your dojo should be YOUR ideal dojo. Look at every aspect of your current dojo, and note if it is contributing to your ideal dojo. Make sure there is no aspect of your dojo that is doing nothing toward your ideal dojo. Make sure there is no aspect of your dojo that is working against your ideal dojo.
Once you have this shape in mind, work, and dream, and aim everything you have to make that ideal dojo manifested in reality. You must be like an artist painting a painting, a sculptor sculpting, like a composer composing a piece of music -- you must work, work constantly, to generate the shape you are picturing in your mind, in your heart of hearts. Bring that into existence! Do not settle for anything else. Do not compromise. Do not veer. Only allow yourself necessary delay, the practice of patience, and the strategy of sequencing. Everything else is about uniting you, who you are, with your dojo, and manifested reality.
This is important not only from the point of view that training in your own vision is central to your own quality of life, but more importantly regarding student body size is that dojocho must be able to capitalize upon contagion (see Go Rin no Sho). Allow me to explain: The dojocho must be charismatic, for example, and to be charismatic the dojocho must him/herself be drawn to his/her dojo. It is by this drawing, this gravitational force, that you draw others to your dojo. And, this gravitational force cannot exist between deshi and dojo or between dojocho and dojo if the dojo is not unique and not uniquely desired for by the dojocho.
You must remember: If the dojocho would rather be training elsewhere, if training at another dojo even exists as a possibility for the dojocho, then it is also so for the deshi. If the dojocho is willing to go and train somewhere else, then why should the deshi not go and train somewhere else?
If you already have a dojo, then practice to counter this fallacy like this:
- Ask, what is your ideal dojo? Describe it in minute detail.
- What bothers you about your current dojo? Describe it in minute detail, but also include causations, supports, and correlations for those aspects you list here.
- Go through your business practices and ask and explain, "Why is that aspect there?"
- Go through your dojo space itself and point to everything and ask and explain, "Why is that there?"
Working in the martial arts business since 1986, I have to point out here something that I have commonly seen when people try to adopt their own ideal dojo. It is part of a fallacy I will explain in a following segment, but simply put it is this: People by nature and out of fear often come to misidentify the arbitrary and the subjective as the objective and the universal. Restructuring a business, just like structuring a business, requires acts of commitment and bravery. Commitment and bravery is what keeps one from misidentifying the subjective and the arbitrary.
Most times, dojo are filled with arbitrary and subjective aspects that are wrongly considered to be vital to a dojo's operation. During the restructuring phase, a dojocho may think that this or that aspect cannot be done without, that it cannot be discarded, thrown away, etc., even though it is at odds with the overall idealized business strategy or even though it is doing nothing for the business. In truth, there is almost nothing of popular current commercial dojo practices or of popular federation business practices that you need or that you should want. And, you're going to have to be brave and committed to your ideal dojo to figure that out in real life.
If you are going to go through the above-listed question and practices and say more often than not, "We've always done it that way" or "It is just how it is," all markers of arbitrariness and misidentified subjectivity, you are going to be like someone suffering from hoarding, like a person that cannot throw away one of the thousand boxes in their bedroom because they might need it for returning an item in the future. Meaning, your house is going to stay a mess, your dojo is going to stay a mess, and it is your fault. Don't be a hoarder. Clean your house. Make your ideal dojo. Trust -- almost anything can be thrown away!
More fallacies to discuss in the next segment of Part II…