The Core of a Dojo Pt. 1
Although now I am a “dojo of one,” I began and am a product of a dojo of many. In that sense, I was privileged to begin in a Dojo that was fully formed when I got there. By this I mean, a good sampling of ranks from white to black, with hierarchy, and linked to an established organization, which in my case was the Shoreikan Goju Ruy Karate of Seikichi Toguchi while he was still alive and kicking. It was a good size school of more than 30 to 40 students, plus instructors. Of course, the Dojo wasn’t always so. There was a beginning, and the beginning was a teacher and white belts. Dojos don’t come out of the blue; they begin with one sensei who must create a school out of nothing.
Unless a sensei migrates with a core of instructors or is an offshoot of an organization close by, he or she must first create what will be this core. No easy task. This core will be the foundation of the Dojo. This first crop must be sowed well for therein lies the seeds of the future. Ideally, these first seeds will be heterogeneous, come in all sizes and temperament, their only common element being their zeal.
It takes 6 months or more to “season” a white belt. A staggered entry of “whites” with no organization to absorb them results in a lot of “unseasoned” whites.
This brings me to the point of this post. If a sensei wants to create a school he or she must hibernate the idea of school and concentrate on creating the core. If he or she just wants disciples, 5 or 6 will do. Is a sensei with his or her close knit coterie of the chosen few a Dojo? No. Out of this group can come the Dojo, eventually. There is a difference in saying I study or am a student of Sensei so and so and saying I belong to a Dojo.
I had the experience (as a black belt) of belonging to an ever-aborted Dojo. I was invited to practice with a sensei who ran a very small school where I hoped to learn from him and hone a few “classic” Goju katas. The price was belonging to the Dojo and helping out. Since he had no instructors and constantly admitted new students there was never enough sensei to go around. He gave everybody the same class. I ended up doing basic katas with one day students, six month students, and the occasional 10 or 15 year lapsed karatecas. And since he also wanted to go over the advanced katas with me, they all joined in too. Sounds democratic. But in reality it was anarchy and chaos. People got frustrated and left constantly. Funny thing was the sensei is a great karateca with a lot to teach. His philosophy of teaching undermined his school, constantly aborting all his best efforts.
He should first have dedicated a year to creating a core group of students, say 6. Work this group to assume within a year his future core. Get them well started and seasoned. Invite guest instructors, recruit old lapsed green, browns, and blacks and bring them up to speed. In other words, invest, seed, harvest…and then open a dojo that can absorb new students weekly or monthly without holding back those in progress and not frustrating newcomers.
The core. From which all else spirals and come forth.