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Old 07-02-2005, 11:33 AM   #1
Don_Modesto
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
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"Things to look for in a dojo"

Has anyone ever actually asked a MA teacher some of those Consumer Reports Checklist-type questions we see recommended when dojo-hunting (Who are you affiliated with? Who was your teacher? etc.)

What kind of a response did you get?

How would you feel being asked to present your bona fides?

Thanks.

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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http://www.theaikidodojo.com/
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Old 07-02-2005, 11:47 AM   #2
Mike Sigman
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
Don J. Modesto wrote:
How would you feel being asked to present your bona fides?
If someone is going to advertise to the public that they are qualified to teach and offering to teach, asking for their credentials in the subject are perfectly in order. However, in the real world, I tend to find that the problem is not so much the discovery that so-and-so never really got a black belt, etc., ... the problem is more that someone has brief, superficial, etc., relationships with "reputable" teachers, and parlays every possible credential into a glowing testament of his ability. And if they studied for a month every couple of years for 10 years with some "name" teacher in Japan or wherever, it becomes "I have studied with 'name' for 10 years". And so on. Asking for bona fides is proper and can reveal some deficiencies, but I think there's actually more deficiencies in over-hyped credentials, relationships, "Japan", etc.

FWIW

Mike
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Old 07-02-2005, 05:30 PM   #3
senshincenter
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

In "shopping" for a sensei, one should try to make an informed decision. To that end, one should also realize how limited a paper trail can be toward marking a truly wise decision. If one really wanted to know who and what their potential sensei is, etc., one should also learn to ask, "Can you do this?" and "How do you understand this?" "Why do you do it like that and not like this?" etc.

I actually encourage such investigations in my potential new students - as it helps them to gain more insight into the training and the dojo overall. It also helps me address my own room for improvement. Toward that end, we actually have every potential new member go through a trial period of one month - where they are not responsible for dues of any kind, or any other type of action that commits them to the dojo. They only have to abide as best they can by the dojo's protocols and etiquette and train at least twice a week. If they can't do these things or won't do these things, they are asked to enter another trial period at a later date when they can do these things. At the end of that month, they opt to ask for dojo membership or not, as I come to determine whether we as a dojo can meet their needs or not. This is how we try to provide an informed decision as best we can for all parties involved.

Here one will find more information pertaining to this and other things relative to making informed decisions in regards to our own dojo:

http://www.senshincenter.com/pages/d...embership.html

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 07-02-2005, 06:15 PM   #4
Mike Sigman
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
David Valadez wrote:
If one really wanted to know who and what their potential sensei is, etc., one should also learn to ask, "Can you do this?" and "How do you understand this?" "Why do you do it like that and not like this?" etc.
Well, of course one should ask questions, David, but in the case where someone may have questionable credential claims, a beginner asking questions to the sensei in question might not be the best way to resolve the question. It's very difficult for a beginner to even know what are the correct questions, much less the correct answers. That's why pretty much any good-sounding story is enough to garner students within not only Aikido but in many other martial arts. And hey, if "any Aikido is legitimate Aikido because Aikido is what you want it to be"... i.e., let's don't question anyone... then the situation will continue.

Personally, if I want to know if someone is legit, I usually have enough contacts to find out if the claims are true and what the general impressions of the teacher are from the grapevine... I would never ask the teacher himself (although I'm not talking about David and without even checking I'm feel sure he's legit).

FWIW

Mike
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Old 07-02-2005, 06:35 PM   #5
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

I have always used "word of mouth" from those who I respect in the MA community. Also, I can usually tell within the first couple of minutes of meeting if they are the "real deal". It is an intuitive thing. My BS meter is usually pretty good.

I think word of mouth is the best way to find a good dojo.
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Old 07-02-2005, 07:52 PM   #6
Ketsan
Dojo: Zanshin Kai
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
Kevin Leavitt wrote:
I have always used "word of mouth" from those who I respect in the MA community. Also, I can usually tell within the first couple of minutes of meeting if they are the "real deal". It is an intuitive thing. My BS meter is usually pretty good.

I think word of mouth is the best way to find a good dojo.
Yep agree totally. I tend to find that watching how the students behave tells you everything about the Sensei. In our dojo if someone new walks through the door they're immediately and warmly greeted by Sensei and invited to join the class or offered a seat if they'd rather watch and various questions are asked, if they've done Aikido or any other MA, what they're looking for in an MA, the history of the dojo and Aikido are briefly explained, class is introduced etc. In his absence, if say someone turns up before Sensei arrives, I've noted that the same is still true. In other dojos I've visited I've noticed being greeted by indifferent students means that the Sensei himself will treat you with indifference when he arrives. One dojo, not an Aikido dojo, stands out in my mind. I turned up and was virtually ignored by the students. Eventually I asked where their Sensei was and was informed that he had not yet arrived. When he did eventually turn up he totally ignored me, until I went to speak to him. Needless to say I stayed just long enough to be polite, made my excuses and left.
Interestingly Aikido dojos tend to be the most welcoming.
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Old 07-02-2005, 09:27 PM   #7
senshincenter
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

These are good points Mike. Thanks for making them. You are right about beginner's not knowing what questions to ask, that's one reason why we personally allow for a month long trial period. It helps them to form the kind of questions they should ask or should come to ask - those things that are important to making an informed decision. Along the same lines though, beginners aren't too informed on what credentials mean either. I mean, what does "Aikikai" or "Iwama" (etc.) really mean to them? And if those don't mean that much, then what does, "World Master Aikido Federation of the Northern Hemisphere" mean for that matter? We might want to say that a federation might allow someone to check up on some of the claims being made, but a bogus claim might just be backed up by an equally bogus federation - in which case, we are back to square one.

As I said, personally, I take the notion of an informed decision very seriously. It seems to me to be important to both the well-being of the potential new member and the dojo. Again, personally, I just don't see how one can take this seriously and expect to support such a notion with anything less than some kind of protocol that is operating along the lines we have going on at our dojo (i.e. a month long trial period). That sounds kind of self-aggrandizing, but I really feel that we came to our protocol by the taking of this notion seriously. For me, anyone that also truly takes this notion seriously is going to work with something very similar - if not in form than at least in spirit.

So, let's ask: If you take this notion seriously how seriously do you take it? Is it serious (enough) to simply be offered or offer a credential from one of the more well-established federations? Is that it? Is that all it really takes, or should take? If so, what do we do in the face of the huge amount of variation that we all know exists within any federation?

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 07-02-2005, 10:43 PM   #8
Mike Sigman
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
David Valadez wrote:
You are right about beginner's not knowing what questions to ask, that's one reason why we personally allow for a month long trial period. It helps them to form the kind of questions they should ask or should come to ask - those things that are important to making an informed decision.
Well, I think you've got a good and ethical procedure with what you're doing (better by far than most), David, but even a month doesn't improve on the cluelessness of many beginners.
Quote:
So, let's ask: If you take this notion seriously how seriously do you take it? Is it serious (enough) to simply be offered or offer a credential from one of the more well-established federations? Is that it? Is that all it really takes, or should take? If so, what do we do in the face of the huge amount of variation that we all know exists within any federation?
I agree with you, rank and affiliations have been given out too indiscriminately for business reasons, in too many cases, for organizational affiliation or even rank to be an accurate indicator. The problem has no easy answer and there's simply no sure way for the majority of would-be students to really know how good their martial education is. But nothing is easy.

Mike
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Old 07-02-2005, 10:49 PM   #9
rob_liberti
Dojo: Shobu Aikido of Connecticut
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Word of mouth: Nonsense thrives in a small town. Consider an "aikido" dojo with one of those *get a black belt in 2 years programs*. The people join, learn some surface level nonsense, get approval, and basically pay for as much delusion as anyone can want. A dojo like that can thrive for decades with over 100 students - with maybe 5 or 6 who have been around for 5 years or more. All of the people who leave have *that* opinion of what aikido is. Now when little Tommy gets to high school and wants to join a martial art, his aunt Jenny says oh yeah, go to that place I used to go to, it's excellent! People in that town aren't asking Kevin Leavitt (for example) from the Internet. They might know 6 other nice people who got their 2 year program black belt are now school teachers, Realtors, kids soccer coaches, and other nice, respectable people. Assuming that dojos like this will put themselves out of business is just wishful thinking. Instead, dojo owners like this can make alliances with other local surface-level karate schools where they recommend students to each other, and they can retire rich. It seems to me that martial arts delusion is in much more demand than anything that actually challenges you to continually change and grow.

Slightly askew: Come to think of it, there are more than enough dojos with legitimate credentials whose websites are filled with what I would call "spiritual wishful thinking", or that only teach basics for the sake of basics - and resent the idea of anything more sophisticated (because it's wonderful to reach an "end" of your training and all), or that feel that the idea of teaching basics is beneath them (because we are special and different), etc. None of that is my cup of tea. Aikido is a real transformational path.

Even great dojos have many different approaches: My opinion is that you should be continually improving in ability and hopefully changing in your personal life. Making a standard is not easy. I don't care if someone does static ki exercises for the first 5 years, or wham-bam no think just move for the first 8 years, or competes against a resisting partner right off the bat or doesn't do that for 15 years. None of that matters to me. But you should probably follow someone who can help you get to where they are trying to go (as opposed to follow someone to just follow them). And the principles of what you are doing should hold up no matter where you visit.

Credentials: If someone wants to join my dojo and asks me for my credentials, I'd be happy to show them the silly passbook with my black belt ranks and dates. It's more important that they watch a class and eventually work out with me and the others. If they are serious, I'm all about helping them. If they join but are more looking to be a client then they can stay but I will always treat them as a serious student - who I am preparing to be able to learn from better teachers than myself.

I have no idea what to do about it other than develop myself and help my students develop. It's not easy keeping a positive attitude sometimes, but it keeps me determined... David, et all, if you come up with some answers I'm all ears.

Rob

Last edited by rob_liberti : 07-02-2005 at 11:01 PM.
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Old 07-02-2005, 11:06 PM   #10
Aiki Teacher
Dojo: Aikido of Midland
Location: Midland , TX
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

There was a discussion about Aikido frauds by my sensei John Riggs a few months back you may want read over the threads that were posted in that forum discussion. sensei Riggs came out with a great suggestion page on his website about how to pick a good school.

See the link below.
http://members.cox.net/aikidoc1/ChoosingInstructor.htm
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Old 07-03-2005, 12:09 AM   #11
senshincenter
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
Mike Sigman wrote:
Well, I think you've got a good and ethical procedure with what you're doing (better by far than most), David, but even a month doesn't improve on the cluelessness of many beginners. I agree with you, rank and affiliations have been given out too indiscriminately for business reasons, in too many cases, for organizational affiliation or even rank to be an accurate indicator. The problem has no easy answer and there's simply no sure way for the majority of would-be students to really know how good their martial education is. But nothing is easy.

Mike

Mike, what you write here about a month being still too short, and indiscriminate business reasons, etc., and how this results in all of this having no easy answer is very true in my opinion. Again - thanks for the reply.

david

Last edited by senshincenter : 07-03-2005 at 12:16 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 07-03-2005, 03:03 AM   #12
Rupert Atkinson
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
Rob Liberti wrote:
Word of mouth: Nonsense thrives in a small town. Consider an "aikido" dojo with one of those *get a black belt in 2 years programs*.
Rob
Eeeeeerr, but that is exactly what happens in many dojos in Japan (and Korea), except, it can take only one year in some cases! In fact, you can be Nidan in one year, sometimes. Kinda makes you realise that, yes, a Shodan is a beginner ... more so than in the West, where it can take from five to ten years in some cases.

And incidentally, no one here ever asks who taught you. They just want to know where the dojo/dojang is and that is enough. A lot of trust here.

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Old 07-03-2005, 07:38 AM   #13
Amelia Smith
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

I've trained in a few places over the years, and I think that the best way to judge a dojo is by looking at the students, rather than the teacher, unless it is very new. You would have to observe a class, and see if the students 1) seem to be having a good time 2) are training seriously 3) are respectful of each other 4) are challenging themselves and each other appropriately. Then after class you could talk to a few people and find out how long they've been practicing, what they recommend in terms of training and attendance, etc. In terms of the sensei, I can think of a couple of red flags. I would be very cautious if he leers at female students or visitors, or is a huge show-off. All of these, though, are fairly subjective judgments. It boils down to whether the prospective student is personally comfortable in the dojo and wants to come back.

I do think that membership in an organization can be important in terms of networking, recognition when you visit other dojo, and encouraging people to go to seminars.
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Old 07-03-2005, 04:09 PM   #14
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

I guess it would also depend it what you are looking for.
My suggestions would be to look for representation in all age groups.......are there high ranked women and older adults or is the dojo filled with young athletic males?

Does the class seem like they are having fun and is safety an important concern? Is everyone regardless of age, rank or gender treated with respect?

Mary
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Old 07-03-2005, 06:30 PM   #15
senshincenter
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

While I've never been sad or mad on a mat, I do not think I've ever had "fun" on a mat either. For me "fun" is something I have at a party or at Disneyland - the beach, or at park, etc. - not really something I have on the mat. "Fun" is with all my senpai and kohai after class - at a meal or at a get-together. As you say, I guess, it's all about what you are looking for. For me, I like the mat serious. I'd also say I would not want to put a mat with young athletic males in some kind of dichotomy with a mat of older adults and high ranked women. Young athletic males are not a sign that a dojo is lacking something, in my opinion. Many aspects of a dojo and of a training curriculum are carried on the backs of such a population. I mean, where would Aikido be today if it wasn't for that segment of society? In my opinion, there are many aspects or tendencies of this segment of the population that other segments would do well to adopt as their own. I would hope that higher ranked Aikidoka of either gender would be able to demonstrate some of those aspects no matter how old they may be.

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 07-03-2005, 09:11 PM   #16
MaryKaye
Dojo: Seattle Ki Society
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

But if you *are*, in fact, an older woman, there's a real risk that a dojo full of only young athletic men is going to fail to meet your needs in some way--either by asking for a nearly unattainable physical standard, or by failing to consider you a serious student. This is not going to be a universal rule, but it's something to consider.

I once visited someplace where the advanced class was all young men (though Intro was a mix of ages and genders). Perhaps not coincidentally, what they were doing was (and remains) beyond my physical capabilities; I could learn to do those moves, but not at that speed for an hour straight. This isn't a negative judgement on the dojo--I really admired their aikido--but I wouldn't be well advised to train there.

Mary Kaye
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Old 07-03-2005, 09:18 PM   #17
senshincenter
 
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Quote:
Mary Kuhner wrote:
...either by asking for a nearly unattainable physical standard, or by failing to consider you a serious student.
Well that's the part that would have me moving on - not just that they are young athletic males. Any dojo that cannot address the physical needs and limitations of its members and/or that opts to define differences in athletic physicality along a spectrum of "serious and not serious" is a dojo one should pass by. I just don't equate that with age or gender but rather with spiritual immaturity and a lack of insight into the Way overall.

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 07-08-2005, 12:00 AM   #18
Don_Modesto
Dojo: Messores Sensei (Largo, Fl.)
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

Thanks for the responses.

Don J. Modesto
St. Petersburg, Florida
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Old 07-10-2005, 05:36 PM   #19
justin
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Re: "Things to look for in a dojo"

i think good dojo Etiquette is always a good pointer if a class and sensei show this your on the right track. may be a bit simple but i find if the club strives to achive this then they will strive to follow and enjoy the art the way it is ment to be done so
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