Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Ronin's Story, Part 4: Fallow Territory

After nine months of training, my daughter was ready for a break from our father-daughter activity. Wanting to protect my own feelings or worrying that I would be disappointed in her, she broached the subject with my wife who in turn raised my daughter's concerns to me.

Admittedly, I saw this coming. Her attitude toward training changed over time from earlier enthusiasm toward later avoidance. We chatted about it: the issue was not lack of interest in Aikido, but rather this club itself was not a good fit for her. She had no friends, and she was bored. I understood:

The club's instructor was apparently a freshly minted nidan, a fellow with a demanding day job and wife and young kids at home. He did the admirable legwork to establish this club a bit over a year before our arrival, affiliating with one of the rare-but-notable organizations not yet represented in this area. The style of this organization was not his root style (nor was it my own); so, as he learned this style's version of this and that, he did what he could to bring his lessons back to his students.

By the time I had met him, though, it seemed the club was in a rut.

During my daughter's tenure, the class size rarely reached five students, and they were generally high-schoolers with spotty attendance and poor discipline. No one present had yet progressed beyond the first two or three kyu tests. The instructor was himself often late to class and classes frequently seemed ill-prepared, leaving him to revert to his favorite techniques, creating some monotony and unpreparedness for eventual testing, which itself was unscheduled.

The instructor would accept no student under the age of ten; the class hours were later in the day, twice per week from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.; and, fees charged were $50 per month per adult and $45 per month per student.

Though none of the policy, price, or schedule was unreasonable per se, late hours, lack of peers, and expense, would make it difficult for many from my daughter's circle of friends (generally homeschoolers) to join us. Moreover, my personal question regarding the quality or appropriateness of this club for my friend's children meant that we would hesitate before vouching for it or recruiting for it at that time.

Lastly, there was no indication that any of this would change on its own. There simply was no outreach effort to bring in new students and it did seem that the instructor had worked himself into a personal rut. His own personal training tapered off. He lamented the lack of students, but was confident that they would eventually come.

But this is a commodity market: There are over 10 dojos representing seven or more major Aikido styles, all within a 20 mile radius---some holding well-known shihan and other very high-ranking, respected instructors---and that's just the Aikido market. Throw in economic substitutes like tae kwon do, karate, judo, and others that face the man on the street and the situation worsens...

"Location, location, location," yes---but, location is not enough. To claim a territory and then to assume that location is enough is the same as leaving that territory fallow, and that is a disservice to Aikido as a whole. It takes supreme commitment to start a club, yes, but it also takes continuing commitment and personal dedication to sustain it and to grow it.

Sometimes it even requires trust in and help from your peers.

So, while my daughter took a sabbatical, I persevered...

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