088) 5th Anniversary Year: January 2012
I did not realize that we were approaching our 5th year as a dojo community until late November of last year. January 2007 seems like such a short and long time ago. The opening night of class really does seem like a memory from not-so-distant future. I look at my class registration log and see that close to 2000 classes have been taught and I recognize that more time has elapsed than I would sometimes want to believe. In it’s totality, I am genuinely proud of what we have accomplished as a dojo community. I recently looked back at my business plan that I constructed before I began this project and compared it to the goals that I set for myself when I decided to go ahead with this venture. Luckily for me, there are more positives than negatives.
The first and most important goal for opening this dojo was for me to create a venue to pass on the gifts that Imaizumi Sensei has shared with me. Personally, I have taken classes directly from him since November of 1988 and continue to do so on a weekly basis to this day. I work very hard to try and genuinely understand what he is teaching me so that his teachings can be reflected in what I do and in what I teach. He has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for me to pursue all that I can do in the world of Budo/bujutsu so as to become a better martial artist and teacher. There are few high-level teachers who encourage their students to broaden their budo experiences and I am truly fortunate to have Imaizumi Sensei as my teacher. This encouragement has enabled me to broaden my learning experiences so that I can now regularly study with Ushiro Sensei and Dan Harden. These gentlemen are wonderful teachers who have added immeasurably to my budo/bujutsu experiences. Ledyard Sensei has been a close friend and a teacher to me as well. I have taken two seminars with Toby Threadgill, who is a gifted instructor and a true gentleman. I have had the good fortunes to be able to attend four of the Boulder Aikikai Summer Camps, which were great experiences. I would be remiss not to mention having had the true honor of attending all of Stanley Pranin’s Aiki Expos. There are others of course who have also contributed to my experience base and having left their names out is simply to keep this blog short and not a slight in any manner, shape, or form.
The unspoken teachers and motivators for me are my students. I am deeply thankful to them for allowing me to develop as an Aikido instructor. I have worked very, very hard at creating a student body that is firmly rooted in reality. Cooperative and NOT collusive practice is the norm here. We all work very hard not to allow an unspoken, collusive environment to gain any “roots”. We all work very hard at checking our egos in at the entrance so that we can be open to deep learning experiences. I am heartened when I overhear the students talk amongst themselves or to new/prospective students and the over-riding message that is given is how the training here has positively impacted them in their lives. I am honored and humbled when they thank me for providing an environment that has enabled them to make positive changes in their lives that they experience outside of the dojo. The mix of experienced martial artists to new martial arts students could make teaching a challenge if they were not willing to work hard and support each others learning experiences. As a whole, this mix of experiences has been a big asset to this dojo community. We all train hard together learning to improve our ability to both learn and teach the skills that we practice.
I believe strongly that learning truly effective martial arts skills enables a person to make positive, personal changes. As a community, our dojo has helped to create a more peaceful and safer community at large. I want to continue to make this a prime focus of our dojo. My biggest failure has been to translate this approach into a successful children’s program. I will continue to struggle to accomplish this without selling out my values in order to create a useless facade and entertainment experience for children. The popular cultural experiences that children have today regarding martial arts serve to feed the idolatry of the ego while promoting a culture of excessive violence. The teen class has become a surprising success. This success can be neatly summarized through the words of one of the teen students. Her father was surprised (and a little upset) that she was not learning a lot about punching. She told her father punching was not required in order to stop a conflict and that there were other ways to accomplish this goal. The teens spent a lot of time learning the internal aspects of the art. These aspects are then incorporated into learning how to express them in scenarios that they are likely to experience. They are both serious and fun-loving at the same time. The adult class is heart and soul of this dojo. Unlike other dojos that require thriving children classes in order to survive financially, we have a solid core of adult students. The adult students work very hard at learning the core principles of martial arts and are not clamoring for more techniques and more frequent tests. I am usually the one who has to tell the adult student that it is about time that he or she take the next test.
The business model that was established has been successful in creating an economically viable dojo, even during these difficult times. We are seeking to grow in numbers so that we can expand our marketing efforts in order to create an even greater degree of financial stability to foster continued growth in the size of our dojo community. This planned, financial growth will enable this dojo to provide financial support to senior students who teach in my absence and who will hopefully be able to teach their own classes at the dojo in the not-so-distant future. I would love to be placed in a situation where we had to expand the size of our facility (or find a bigger facility). This business model is based upon rock-solid martial arts skills. This will continue to be the foundation for all that we do here, because without it, we will have to “compete” with other schools that teach the flavor of the week. As long as I am chief instructor of this school, I will not allow this to happen.
I look forward to our celebration dinner. I hope that we can all reflect where we have come from and look forward to how much more we can accomplish at this dojo, both personally and as a community. For me personally, my obligation to Imaizumi Sensei is alive and well at this dojo. This gift can only remain alive as long as we recognize that our responsibility as a student is to become a teacher to pass the gift onto another student, regardless of our rank and stature. The goal is not a dilution of the gift that is passed on, but to live up to and exceed the levels of achievement that is reflected within the gift of the teaching. In order to achieve this lofty goal, we must never rest on our laurels. We must always focus on the aspects of what we do that are not good enough. It is funny to hear some people describe this approach as negative. It is actually the opposite. I am not concerned about feeling good about what I know, but I am concerned about feeling good about something that I am actively learning. Feel-good complacency interferes with our ability to learn and is not encouraged at this school. The years ahead should reflect this policy as we all make major achievements together in our training.
Thank you for these great years that have past and for the years to come!
Marc Abrams Sensei