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 Continued…
Fallacy: People join a dojo to learn a specific art.
There will be a lot of naysaying around this one, as many folks, particularly folks not running a martial arts business, or not running one for long, or not running a successful martial arts business, will here talk about how they joined this art or that art because they were looking for it. From there, they will go on to universalize their own experience – another fallacy. So, let us touch base again on our main aim and point out again that we are always talking in light of the following goal:
“To generate and sustain an increase in dojo members, AND SIMULTANEOUSLY increase the dojo’s capacity for higher levels of practice and a truer transmission of the art. Most importantly, it is held that the latter is to be organized so as to produce the former.”
My business experience, practiced since 1986, has led me to hold that while some people come to a dojo to learn a specific art, most do not. Then, out of those that do come to learn a specific art, only a small percentage of them actually have within them the capacity to practice the art as a life-practice and/or to take it to higher levels of commitment, dedication, sacrifice, and skill development – which is what we want and need. Thus, while there are indeed people that come to learn a specific art, they remain only a small portion of the market share. It makes no sense then to gear or aim one’s dojo toward them. Yet, this fallacy as a business strategy remains in place for many even though it draws from very little and produces even less. Why? Let’s get into it – for we need to know why we are prone to holding onto it if we are going to free ourselves from it.
In this fallacy, I am not solely and slowly leading us to the obvious demographic tendency that most dojo are populated by members that live within a particular geographical radius – people just looking for a school that is close and not looking for an art in particular. As such, I am not suggesting that the remedy to this fallacy is the old business standby of, “location, location, location.” Dojo uniqueness, suggested in the last section as being a key marketing strategy, should encourage folks to travel beyond said radius and with today’s social media outlets also encourage folks to follow a dojo from all over the world. In a way, quite different from the usual, I am saying, we do not want students looking to train in Aikido or that come to our dojo in any kind of general way or for any kind of general reason outside of the particularity that is our dojo.
In short, the downside of following this particular fallacy either by a conscious ignorance or by an unconscious fear is this: This fallacy inhibits or even negates the marketing gains brought about by dojo uniqueness. Moreover, identifying with a generic art, such as “Aikido,” is not only to lose oneself, is not only giving up control over self-identity, but it is also a practice in ignorance and in fear – things that negate marketing contagion and long-term dojo affiliation.
True, contemporary conventional wisdom holds that there is some marketing value to branding. As such, many people practicing Aikido or more specifically running Aikido dojo often want to make a brand out of “Aikido.” Today, most folks cannot even think without this nomenclature! It is what they say is broken, what they say they fixed, what they say needs fixing, what they do, what they don’t do, etc. “It is a set of techniques!” It is a lineage, a philosophy, etc. Yet, using classical Buddhist critical philosophy, we can easily see that it has never existed in uniformed form anywhere, and that it has not always existed in any particular form as such! Still, we hold onto it! Yet, it is but a fiction!
While this practice of nomenclature-attachment may be an extension of a political theory first utilized for and supported by an economic means, such as in the federation system, it does not necessarily mean that “Aikido” should be the brand utilized for dojo wanting to be individually successful today. For the concept of branding implies a sort of control over said brand, and there can be no control over what “Aikido” is the world over or even in the dojo down the street from yours. As such, “Aikido,” because it is a fiction, cannot function as a brand. In truth, it can never move beyond its original reason for generation and must remain what it always was: a political fiction, a political tool. A dojocho should therefore not confuse their role in a pyramid economic scheme that utilizes political fictions (e.g. federation Aikido) with sound marketing practices such as branding. Instead, as one’s dojo should be unique unto oneself, one’s “Aikido” should also be unique – unique because it is and because it has to be. The brand is not “Aikido,” but the Aikido you and you alone can control can be branded. The brand is your Aikido.
One must note, the political fiction “Aikido,” served only those at the top of the pyramid scheme, as they supplemented their membership and income with dojo memberships underneath them. As said scheme has reached the limits of its available population pools, it is those schools at the bottom that suffer financial loss first. Like all feudal systems, there are limits that must be contended with and that cannot be surpassed. What put these satellite schools in place, what has kept these supporting schools in place, what has had them forfeit their marketing uniqueness, was the symbolic and cultural capital this system promised could later be exchanged for actual material capital as long as one abided by the given political fiction. Meaning: You give us your money (material capital), and you count your membership as ours (material capital), and we will bestow upon you rank and title (symbolic capital), as well as affiliation and allegiance (cultural capital), which in turn you can then go on to use to attract new students (material capital) - ONLY THE LATTER IS FOR THE MOST PART NOT TRUE, AND ALMOST NEVER TRUE IN TERMS OF OUR AIMS (listed above).
Additionally, nowhere in the scheme was skill and truer transmission ever directly addressed. It was all only assumed and then eventually displaced. Displacement is always the result of symbolic and cultural capital economies. For example: Think on how competition negatively affects an art’s practicality, as players begin to game the rules for the sake of winning. It is the same with political symbolic and cultural capital: Players begin to game the administrative requirements for the sake of rank and title. Soon, like in competition, as when winning that once stood for skill, now no longer represents it; in political systems that make use of fictions like “Aikido,” rank and title that once stood for skill, now no longer represent it. Instead, administrative practices supplant everything! This is why all over the world today, instead of dojo being made up of deshi that train four to six hours a day, they are instead made up of deshi that train a bunch of hours in the weeks preceding an exam date.
We need to free ourselves from this way of thinking. So, think about it this way – at a practical level:
A person comes in wanting to learn the art of Aikido. How could they even know what that is, what it means? Did they read about it on the Internet? Did they hear it was good exercise? Did they read it was non-violent? Do they admire Japanese culture? Did they like “The Last Samurai”? Their friend told them it was something they would like? Is that your ideal student? A person that universalizes their beliefs simply because it is they that hold them? A person that prioritizes information over experience? A person wanting to train for reductive and alternative reasons? An ignorant person that believes you can throw people and they won’t get hurt – a person that does not take responsibility for their own will to power and seeks an external solution instead? A person so de-centered they practice exoticism? A person that romanticizes violence? A person with no mind of their own? Is this the person that is going to transmit a truer art into the future? If not, how can they help us build our particularly wanted student membership?
Or, a person comes in and they want to train in this federation or with that person of that rank? Is that your ideal student? A person so trapped by symbolic and cultural capital? A person so prey to political fictions? Are they only there to meet some administrative requirement to finish getting a fiction of their own – a black belt? Is that the person that is going to make a life-practice of the art and see it transmitted strongly and fully into the future? Hardly. But, most importantly, are they from the population pool that is going to meet the above-listed goals? No way.
Then, we must stop catering to them. Let them come into the dojo, as they do my own. But, as I do, I see this all as things that must be cut through. In many ways, give me Shoshin, give me the person that comes into the dojo knowing nothing about “Aikido” and wanting nothing from it – if you give me a choice. But, either way, what I present to them is and must be my own Aikido. As they come to learn that they knew nothing about Aikido, they must come to want to learn my Aikido. This is where you must start this key liberation process – you must find your own Aikido.
How do you find your own Aikido? Like you find your own dojo:
Every aspect of your Aikido should be consciously selected. Every aspect not in your Aikido should be consciously rejected. Both a non-practitioner and a practitioner should be able to observe any aspect of your art and point to any aspect and element, and ask, “Why is that there?” and you will have an answer. Your Aikido must be your ideal Aikido. Your Aikido cannot exist anywhere else, and must be impossible to copy by any outsider even if it is mimicked move for move. How do you create an Aikido that cannot be found anywhere else? Like the dojo, 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 your art. Look at every aspect of your current Aikido, and note if it is contributing to your ideal art or not. Make sure there is no aspect of your practice that is doing nothing toward your ideal art. Make sure there is no aspect of your practice that is working against your ideal Aikido. Once you have this art in mind, work, and dream, and aim everything you have to make that Aikido 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 Aikido, and manifested reality.
When you do this, and when you combine this with establishing your own unique dojo, you can capitalize upon any branding benefits these practices bring. You can also guide and determine through consistency and the absence of contradiction how increasing the skill and truth of your art’s transmission will increase the size of your dojo membership. Quite different from when one follows any feudalistic models for structuring their dojo business and/or utilizes any political fictions, your dojo is now not a place where you as the teacher train or where a federation has a satellite, or even where a person can come to meet administrative requirements to receive their black belts. Instead, you are your dojo. You, the sensei, are the dojo.
Like this, you are now following a more historical pedagogical model, the one out of which Budo was first born, and so too Aikido, the one where deshi come to the dojo not to train in an art but rather to enter into a sensei/deshi relationship, to enter into a particular mentorship. This is what you want. Like this, you cease to be a satellite. Like this you have removed that glass ceiling that kept you small and down and that only held others up. Like this your dojo is a center and like this you are the center of that center. Like this, true creation is possible, and your business can be whatever you need it and want it to be. Until then, you remain at the whims of a market that controls you, knowing full well that that market survives perfectly fine by either your existence or by your demise – like Nature utilizes a tree in the forest.
More to follow…