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Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive
Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive
by The Mirror
08-31-2015
Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Janet Rosen © 2015, all rights reserved.
"Tradition is tending the flame, it's not worshipping the ashes."
--Gustave Mahler
1. Budo is Not a Museum Piece

In 2002, after knee surgery and rehab, I was looking for a new dojo. One had recently relocated and was now in walking distance of home. It was non-affiliated, which didn't bother me, and folks were nice, so I checked it out.

It happened that the founder of this dojo had died some years earlier. Everybody referred to him in hushed tones. Nobody would do a single technique he hadn't had in his repertoire, and each technique had to be done just as he had done it. It was an incredibly sterile practice. I was polite and non-specific when I left after about six weeks, but what I wanted to do in that serene space was kiai to the rafters, "Aikido is not a museum! It's a living art!"

The dojo closed its doors two years later.

2. The Role Model

My teacher, Gayle Fillman Sensei, died unexpectedly in December, 2010. She had started the dojo in 1976, and as long as Sensei was alive the dojo never needed any kind of outreach other than her being out in the community. She taught aikido and gymnastics. She forged links to the local native American Pomo community and taught practical aikido to the tribal police as well as to county law enforcement. She was certified to teach self-defense and did so for abused women, the Girl Scouts, and pretty much anybody who asked. She did choreography with a local performing arts school for kids. She mentored lots of kids through rocky beginnings into productive adulthood. At the time of her death, she was providing aikido-as-therapy to children as part of her day job with a local non-profit.

3. Tending the Flame

We have two main instructors for the adult classes, both senior students of Fillman Sensei. They had been very differently trained by Sensei, a remarkably perceptive person who recognized and cultivated the distinct strengths of her students. As a result, neither is her clone, but each powerfully embodies one aspect of principles and techniques. Together, they present a well-rounded foundation in aikido.

Over the past few years, both have dug deeply into their training and experience to refine and expand their own understanding and abilities. Meawhile, experienced students attend seminars, then come back and share what they have learned in the context of the dojo's core principles. And newer students, who had never trained with Fillman Sensei, can see and feel that the techniques are not sterile kata, but living tools to understand the principles of the art.

4. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

As we near the five year mark, organized as a non-profit, we are finding the threads Fillman Sensei had woven into the community and following them, creating ties with old and new friends. We have had nice coverage in the local press and are doing public demonstrations again. Our Surviving Falls curriculum for older adults is slowly gaining fans locally and some interest outside our little town. A dojo member has created a satellite dojo to provide aikido as part of a therapeutic program for children. Another dojo member who works in public health is keeping eyes and ears open for opportunities to partner. I'm in the process of doing an Introduction to self-defense course for young women at a non-profit agency serving at-risk youth 15-24.

It's been a hard time for aikido in lots of towns, with fewer people feeling they have money to spend, and lots of younger people seemingly either enamored of mixed martial arts or too disconnected to want to touch others. So there are no guarantees....but we honor our dojo's founder by rising to the challenge of her vision: doing our best to keep the dojo alive as a living laboratory for aikido training and striving to serve the community.

(Thank you to Peter Boylan for the Mahler quote, in his blog post of June 10, 2015 http://budobum.blogspot.com/2015/06/...e-its-not.html )

"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.
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Old 09-11-2015, 12:46 PM   #2
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
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Re: Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

However charismatic a teacher, it's the students who are ultimately the life-blood of a dojo, and the responsibility for keeping it in circulation is always more the responsibility of the dojo community than the chief instructor.

Part of the contract (usually unwritten) is that the students agree to pay an instructor and/or dojo dues, but also help maintain the dojo. This means both the physical space and the health of the community.

When the community places the burden of responsibility on an individual, community fails.

"When a wise leader accomplishes something, the people say 'we did it.'"
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Old 09-12-2015, 09:33 AM   #3
Janet Rosen
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Re: Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

Quote:
Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
When the community places the burden of responsibility on an individual, community fails.
Truth

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 09-15-2015, 01:25 AM   #4
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

Our dojo in Higashi-Hiroshima is a little different. We are now in our 12th year. The instruction has not changed, except that the junior yudansha are teaching a larger proportion of the classes. It is recognized by everyone that the monthly dues are paid to the dojo and not to the instructors who teach. In the most recent class that I instructed, everyone was a yudansha, but this is actually quite rare. I mean that there is a fairly constant stream of beginners who come, some of whom stay. We also have many yudansha who come from different dojos. Since we use a school dojo, the judo mats are permanent. The dojo is still fairly unique in Japan in being a general purpose dojo (not connected to a university or a company or a government department) run by non-Japanese senior instructors, who, except for a new Chinese student, are the only non-Japanese in the dojo.

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Old 09-15-2015, 11:52 AM   #5
Janet Rosen
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Re: Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Our dojo in Higashi-Hiroshima is a little different. We are now in our 12th year. The instruction has not changed, except that the junior yudansha are teaching a larger proportion of the classes. It is recognized by everyone that the monthly dues are paid to the dojo and not to the instructors who teach. In the most recent class that I instructed, everyone was a yudansha, but this is actually quite rare. I mean that there is a fairly constant stream of beginners who come, some of whom stay. We also have many yudansha who come from different dojos. Since we use a school dojo, the judo mats are permanent. The dojo is still fairly unique in Japan in being a general purpose dojo (not connected to a university or a company or a government department) run by non-Japanese senior instructors, who, except for a new Chinese student, are the only non-Japanese in the dojo.
Thank you for the background info on your dojo!

My question would be, what - if anything - would be different when the chief instructor passes on?

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 09-15-2015, 09:27 PM   #6
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

Quote:
Janet Rosen wrote: View Post
Thank you for the background info on your dojo!

My question would be, what - if anything - would be different when the chief instructor passes on?
Since our dojo is independent of any other groups and has a direct relation with the Aikikai, I take it you mean me.

My two instructor colleagues are both younger than I am and will certainly continue running the dojo when I retire or go up to the Happy Dojo in the Sky -- or down to the 地獄道場.

However there is a growing core (or corps) of yudansha who live locally and some of them have already indicated that they will keep the dojo running. These are all Japanese, so the dojo might well lose something of its international aspect, but, unless other relatively senior foreign yudansha appear, this cannot be helped.

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 09-15-2015 at 09:30 PM.

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Old 09-16-2015, 01:36 AM   #7
Carsten Möllering
 
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Re: Musings on Keeping a Dojo Alive

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
... there is a growing core (or corps) of yudansha who live locally and some of them ... will keep the dojo running. ...
Sorry for clipping your words, Peter.
But this is exactly the way our aikidō club functions from it's beginning 33 years ago. There is not one leading person or teacher, but a corps of yudansha who are teaching the classes: Four classes per week, four different teachers. Plus two who teach the children.

It happened two times over those years that one of the teachers really stood out. But it was not accepted that he became a leading person in our Club. So both of them finally had to leave and also both of them started dōjō on their own. Both dōjō do no longer exist. One of these teachers finally quit aikidō, the other one mixed his aikidō with FMA.

Being in a similar situation now myself, I am trying to stay and to find my place within the structures of the club.
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