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Old 02-10-2018, 09:08 PM   #1
senshincenter
 
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How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo

Reflections on Operating/Owning an Aikido Dojo.

Part I:

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…

David M. Valadez
Visit our web site for articles and videos. Senshin Center - A Place for Traditional Martial Arts in Santa Barbara.
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Old 02-12-2018, 01:44 AM   #2
senshincenter
 
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Re: How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo

Here is a more accurate reflection of the ideas I was seeking to discuss:

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 – all common effects of a mass appeal. These are all things that Tae Kwon Do also experienced in the 80’s and 90’s. Like TKD eventually experienced, we are also beginning to see an increase in school closures in this over-saturated market as many owner/operators 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. And, as with all mass appeals, this market, like all markets, comes to be driven by said masses. As such, slowly this mass market comes to prioritize meaningless and material things over things of real value, etc. The traditional dojo cannot survive by appealing to the mass market.

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 mass appeal bandwagon! Let the MMA/BJJ mass market do its thing, and you do your thing. Wile some portions of the MMA/BJJ are able to take advantage of the lucrative crowds of young males that are indirectly addressing insecurity issues with fantasies of violence and fame, or while it seems there is lots of money to be made in meeting the immature and commonly held need to address ego-duels, the Aikido dojocho should 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 average 18-28 year old male 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.

The that common commercial martial arts schools seek to tap into 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 commercial martial arts market for determining your dojo’s path. The two population pools are completely different, and more than that the mass market 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 current commercial 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 following popular commercial trends.

I will cover these fallacies one by one in my next segment. More to follow…

Last edited by senshincenter : 02-12-2018 at 01:46 AM.

David M. Valadez
Visit our web site for articles and videos. Senshin Center - A Place for Traditional Martial Arts in Santa Barbara.
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Old 02-12-2018, 01:08 PM   #3
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo

There are some interesting thoughts here.

I don't agree with becoming more traditional.

You have to be the kind of dojo you are. Berkshire Hills Aikido is an American Aikido dojo. We are not Japanese. We believe in Ueshiba's philosophy that Aikido is a universal language.

Our training has evolved as we continue to practice. Our way is not for everyone. We have let some of the ritual drop since it is not relevant to our training.

An aspect that I am very grateful which has sloughed away is the mystique around the main teacher and the resulting deference that comes from fawning students.

We believe that each person can step into their own power through dedicated practice of Aikido technique and principles. Ron and I strive to provide a safe atmosphere for students to train and grow along side of us.

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Old 02-12-2018, 01:59 PM   #4
senshincenter
 
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Re: How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo

Quote:
Mary Eastland wrote: View Post
There are some interesting thoughts here.

I don't agree with becoming more traditional.

You have to be the kind of dojo you are. Berkshire Hills Aikido is an American Aikido dojo. We are not Japanese. We believe in Ueshiba's philosophy that Aikido is a universal language.

Our training has evolved as we continue to practice. Our way is not for everyone. We have let some of the ritual drop since it is not relevant to our training.

An aspect that I am very grateful which has sloughed away is the mystique around the main teacher and the resulting deference that comes from fawning students.

We believe that each person can step into their own power through dedicated practice of Aikido technique and principles. Ron and I strive to provide a safe atmosphere for students to train and grow along side of us.
These are good points. Thanks for sharing. I imagine we agree on many points, and any difference might come from my unusual way of using "traditional." I tend to draw a distinction between traditional and traditionalistic. There is something very traditional about adapting practices to fit one's circumstances, as you have done in dropping certain rituals not relevant to your training. To keep such rituals, especially when they are not relevant to one's training, is what I like to call being "traditionalistic" - tradition for tradition's sake.

Here is Pt. II. I think you will see more of what you are saying in Pt. II.

David M. Valadez
Visit our web site for articles and videos. Senshin Center - A Place for Traditional Martial Arts in Santa Barbara.
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Old 02-12-2018, 02:02 PM   #5
senshincenter
 
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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…

David M. Valadez
Visit our web site for articles and videos. Senshin Center - A Place for Traditional Martial Arts in Santa Barbara.
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Old Today, 06:28 AM   #6
Avery Jenkins
 
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Re: How One Can Run a Successful Independent Dojo

David, I've never run a dojo, but your comments seem pretty on-point to me. Aikido social media is saturated with the MMA/BJJ mythos; i've never seen so many people training in one thing while wishing they were training in another. I'm afraid I don't really understand it. in terms of dojo viability, the ufc gravy train ain't never making a stop at Aikido Station.

Last edited by Avery Jenkins : Today at 06:31 AM.

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