How to Grow the Art? Multiplication Via Growth In The Franchise
By Jonathan Wilson
22 April 2015
Besides selling lots of cool official ngaexperience.com
t-shirts, one of my big goals with the NGAexperience.com website is to simply grow the art. Actually t-shirts have a lot to do with that growth model. Besides being universally stylish, they are also walking advertisements for our brand of aikido. Marketing is a mindset as much as it is anything else. My hope is to see Nihon Goshin Aikido grow to the point that some day, the sun will never set on an NGA dojo; even including opening a dojo in Chitose Hokkaido, Japan (the fallen epicenter of Nihon Goshin Aikido). Who wants to take on that challenge? It is there anyone who might aim his sights high enough? In time, I think this can be achieved.
So, back to the point on marketing and business growth. I’m always thinking about growing the art, and as a business owner outside of my exploits with ngaexpereicne.com, I find myself fascinated with business growth models to grow my own business.
Of all the business growth models out there, perhaps the closest “dojo growth” business model would be the franchise. “Franchise?” you say? Well don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you by recounting the Ray Kroc (McDonald’s Franchise) story which I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times by now ~ though you can learn something every time you review it. Rather, I want to encourage you to think of the Nihon Goshin Aikido dojo you own (as dojo cho) or train in as (student) is actually sort of a franchise already.
Walk into any NGA dojo, and you will see immediate similarities: [The Core Principles of the Art (the 50 Classical Techniques), emphasis on combining strikes with technique, the preference to begin the fight sequence out of a natural stance, Pressure Point Activation, Self Defense/Attack Lines, Pictures of Mr. Bowe and Master Morita on the wall, etc.].
Of course, there is one crucial and distinct difference in every Nihon Goshin Aikido dojo, and that is this: the Sensei or dojo cho is unique.
Why is this an important distinction? Well, unlike the McDonald’s Franchise model, we operate in the people/ relationships business. People don’t come to us for a quick fix of hamburger, fries, and a milkshake. They come to us to be taught how to potentially save their own lives, and potentially the lives of their loved ones. Far from a quick hunger fix, this is ideally is a study for a lifetime. It’s a personal exchange. A relationship. As such it needs to be treated with care, and the student/ Sensei relationship must be solid ~ if not cultivated.
So what’s the point: First off, the Sensei must commit to entering into a professional relationship with the student. This Sensei driven relationship must be fiercely loyal, and also ultimately forgiving. In some ways the Sensei is similar to a parent, and he/ she must embrace that role to its maximum purpose. I once asked my Sensei, “At what point can you tell who will become a black belt in our art?” He thought about it and this is what he said, (paraphrased), “I don’t look at it like that. I treat everyone who walks through that door as if they will be my next black belt. If at some point they decide to go in a different direction, I’m okay with that too. There’s no reason to carry hard feelings around.”
Now the point:
Since the goal is more students, we must have more teachers, and more teachers mean more dojos. I’ve seen many church growth studies that have documented the following phenomenon: “When the seats in the sanctuary are consistently reaching 80% capacity, the church will stop growing unless the leadership adds another church service, or plants a new church.”
In many of our dojos, “80% capacity” might describe a class with 10 students ~ or less ~ on the mats at a time. Often this 10 student/ class dojo may be the only NGA dojo in a 100 square mile radius! Simply put, we need more students than that. In order to grow, we must increase our NGA population density.
So, when we consistently get to that point of 80% capacity ~ where the dojo is 80% full ~ we’ve got to add another class, or start another dojo (in that same local area) so that we can begin to leverage the name recognition in a specific area, and further expand our numbers.
As to adding classes: This is an easy first step. What you’ll soon discover, however is that you can only add so many classes. Why? Well, there are simply only so many training hours that are conducive to training. So once you fill up your days of the week (Monday - Thursday & Saturday), and your prime teaching slots on those days (5pm - 9pm weeknights and 9am-1pm on Saturdays), there is no other alternative but to expand the training facility, or to add another dojo (assuming your objective is the grow the art).
Expanding the training facility is risky as it often necessitates a relocation, and will undoubtedly increase the monthly overhead costs. In light of this risk, let’s consider a safer alternative: namely starting another dojo on the other side of town (or in the next town over), as a way to leverage local name recognition, and referrals from the current dojo’s natural market.
What is a natural market? well it is the representation of all of the circles of influence of every student and teacher in the area. I have had people approach me (maybe while wearing a NGA t-shirt ~ about aikido, but they live on the other side of town (over an hour away at rush hour), so they don’t ever come to train. Put an NGA dojo on their side of town, and chances are that these prospects become students.
Another important point: more dojos mean more teachers, and more teachers mean more opportunities for a student to “gel” with a particular instructor’s personality type.
Don’t look at another Nihon Goshin Aikido dojo on the other side of town as a dojo that will compete for your students. While it is true there are aikidoka who drive over a hour each way to attend an hour aikido class, those students are few and far in between. If you lose a couple of students to the new dojo, be assured that your dojo will began to grow again (remember the 80% rule).
From here out, we’re focusing our attention to the students ~ who will become the next dojo-cho. First off, here are some considerations:
1. At some point after you achieve your dan grading, your Sensei should be pushing you out of the nest to begin formally working as an assistant instructor, then possibly teaching your own classes at the dojo, and finally, maybe even starting your own NGA dojo while you continue your training under your present Sensei.
2. In instances where the student wants to “jump out of the nest” too early, your Sensei might try to facilitate your intention (with cautious support and opportunities within the current dojo). Students should convey their desire to begin a new dojo to their Sensei via a professional and private conversation (well in advance). Rather than creating a wall of separation between two dojo owners, try to think of the new dojo expansion as an opportunity to grow the art together, and thereby increase the total number of students training in the NGA in the community.
Your declaration to begin your own dojo should not be some “airing of grievances” ~ but a natural outcome for the willing and able student.
We all recognize that at some point, the student must begin to teach to continue his trajectory of understanding, so make this a collaborative effort. Discuss potential locations that you are both comfortable with. Your Sensei should be able to help you scout out property that might be suitable. There is no sense in opening a dojo on the opposite side of the street or around the corner ~ because in that fashion you compete for the same students ~ creating rivalry out of what should be a synthesis in spirit. Rather than compete with one another, think about opportunities across town, or in the next town (10-15 miles away).
More dojo-chos = more personalities. For whatever reason, not every student will gel with every Sensei. I was talking to a former Nihon Goshin Aikido student a few years ago. He started a few months before I did, and he worked all the way up to green belt with Tim McNeal and me. We were all three headed for sho-dan together ~ until he was he accepted an out of state job, and relocated. A few months after the move, I caught up with him on Facebook. In our discussion, I asked him if he was continuing his aikido studies. His response was telling. He said (and this is his exact quote)_, “Well there is only one aikido dojo here in town, but the instructor is so different from our Sensei. I don’t know. I went a couple of times, but I just did not feel comfortable with him, so I quit going.”
My thoughts: I suspect that if there was another NGA dojo and Sensei in that town (whose Senseis got along well), perhaps Wayne would have found a better (student/ teacher) match in his new home, and still be training.
I think this leads me to my final point for now. A few months ago, after a series of email correspondences with Sensei MacEwen, he sent me a copy of a letter his father had written him in 1982 after he learned of some of the senior instructors in Nihon Goshin Aikido had left to study other arts. A few of the great lines in the article follow:
“What scares me is that when I see “internal strife” within an organization, especially when the trusted “soldiers” become unhappy with the leadership.”
“I am a firm believer that when the student is ready the teacher appears.”
While there is an entire book to be written on the first comment, I’ve directed my comments towards the latter comment, and along those lines, I think it could also be stated that “When the “teacher is ready, the student appears.”
New teachers should be encouraged to propel the art forward in some fashion. For me personally, that calling does not involve running a dojo (which why I run a website instead), but we are all teachers in some way, so lets commit to cease neglecting the gifts bestowed upon us.
Further, as you grow and spread the art, remain loyal to it. We should all commit to the purity of the art; refusing to make modifications in technique based on personal preference ~ which contaminates the art for the generations of new students after you.
We should always seek to be courteous towards the art’s leadership, and to those who taught the art to you, for without these valuable men and women we would not be having this discussion the the first place."
So, are you interested in beginning a dojo?
If so, set up a time to speak with your Sensei, and let him help you.
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Master Morita and Master Nara taught their art in a single dojo. I’m pretty sure that Master Nara would be pleased to know how many dojos teach the art today. Let’s seek to expand that number even more, and soon.
General Thoughts On the Growth Of Nihon Goshin Aikido:
If ever personalities within the leadership of Nihon Goshin Aikido lose their ability to coexist, the art must win ~ and for the art to win, the personalities in conflict must separate themselves.
To stop teaching or studying the art would mean that the art loses.
To continue the promotion of the art, forces must divide when they can no longer coexist. The art must go forward.
Those who would see politics and ego trumpeted over the expansion of the art itself may need to reevaluate their priority list.
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