Should I start a club? – Feb 5, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

I don’t know why I’m the king of klubs, but I regularly get asked for my opinion on whether I think it’s a good idea to open a club, or whether someone is ready.

First, if you’re asking you’re thinking about it and thus you’re likely ready. If you’re thinking about it you have reasons, listen to them.

Second, if you’re asking me you’re pretty much there. I mean, what am I going to say? I’m the poster boy for starting a dojo, started the U.Guelph iaido club in 1987 because of rule #1.

So what are the rules?

Rule #1: Are you the only game in town?

Open a dojo, it’s that or quit practicing.

Rule #2: Sensei suggests, hints, gets out the big stick and pushes you out the front door.

You think you have a choice? He’s done with you, go start a dojo. He’ll maybe teach you some more once you start teaching.

Rule #3: Sensei gives you the club.

See Rule #2. Whether he gives it to you because he’s tired of running it or he has died, it comes to the same thing as Rules 1 and 2.

Now that we’re done with the “no choice” considerations, let’s go to the rules for starting your own club when sensei is still teaching at the old school. We’ll start over with the numbering.

Rule #1: Have you asked sensei?

Ask sensei. He’ll let you know if you’re ready. If you have more than one sensei, or don’t know which of several sensei you should ask you might have your answer right there. Multiple sensei may often be assumed to be no sensei at all, but it’s a better problem to have than no sensei at all.

Rule #2: Do you have the ability?

Assuming you asked sensei and he said yes, you have your first hint. He thinks you’d be fine. But he may just want rid of you because you’re a know-it-all who can’t be taught. Wouldn’t be the first time someone was promoted sideways. So you have to look seriously into your own heart. Rank does not equal teaching ability. It often doesn’t even mean superior ability, it simply means minimum standard met.
One of the most curious ideas I’ve ever come across is the airport promotion where you ask your sensei for a teaching rank so that you can go teach. Do folks think that having a rank somehow gives you the ability to teach? Nah, it just gives you… well it doesn’t even give you the ability to fool prospective students. Beginners might, only might, know “black belt”, they’re not going to care that you’re a 7dan, they don’t know what that is. Serious students will spot airport grades in ten seconds so they’re not going to care about that 7dan.

Again, it comes down to you, look deep and decide if you can do it.

Rule #3: Can you afford it?

If you’re in a commercial system you will have a business plan and small business experience to call on, you will have a pretty good idea of your market and whether you can make a living in a new dojo. I’m not too worried about you.

But if you’re coming from the other side of things, where you teach in a church basement and don’t take any money and all that stuff, you might just be in for a very rude shock when that first rent bill comes due and you still have three students. There’s a damned good chance you are going to be reaching into your pocket for rent, for club equipment, for a lot of unexpected stuff.

Think carefully before you start teaching, do you have a job that will let you do it? If you’re going to be taking food off your family’s table to heat the dojo, think again. I teach in a free space at a University and I still ended up spending a very large chunk of my income through my earning years. Now my retirement nestegg subsidizes things.

Rule # 4: Have you got a place?

Some people start with this and it certainly is important, especially in a city where space tends to be rare and expensive. But it is around. Near me (smallish city) I can think of an optimist’s club, an orange hall, a dance studio or two and even some karate clubs I might try. That’s all before I would consider looking at warehouse and loft space that I’d have to convert myself. Be creative.

Rule #4: Got students?

DO NOT take students from your present club. Trust me on this, I’ve seen that sort of thing blow up way too many times. If you start a new club and sensei sends you some students or suggests you run on nights he’s closed, that’s one thing, but you must not allow students from your old club to join yours without that sort of prior agreement. Think about this. Do you want to show your sensei that his students like you better than him? That his students think you are a better teacher? If you’re leaving to slap your sensei in the face you aren’t reading these rules, you’re already heading out the door.

Tell your fellow students they are forbidden from joining your club for six months, and then only with permission of their sensei.

Which begs the question “Got students?” Got a plan on how to get some? Small hint, advertising/promotion is your one and only chance here.

Of course if sensei is splitting the club because it’s too big, you’re golden.

Rule#5: Got a support system?

Does your organization approve? Most will, more clubs means more dues and more growth. Good relations with your sensei as per the rules above will also mean support from sensei. Informal support systems with your fellow dojo heads are also a good thing, especially in the area of all that instruction on how to run a dojo that you didn’t get when you went for all that rank.

Rule #6: Go with what you need.

If all the rules above are putting you off but it’s still better for you to go teach (as in, you can’t live in your mom’s basement forever) just go do it. You’ll learn as much in failure as you will in success. More. Although I mentioned that teaching rank isn’t teaching ability, it’s defined as teaching rank for a reason.

When all else fails, drop me a line and I’ll tell ya. I’m the King of Klubs.

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