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Growing a Dojo

Growing your dojo

Daniel James, workshop topic, national seminar 2005

(more on this topic in 11 - HELP I need aikido students)

Aikido Yuishinkai has a wonderful diversity of dojos. If longevity of these beyond the current head instructor is desired, and the spread of Aikido Yuishinkai is a goal, then being able to attract and keep new members is something that must be given serious attention.

The following are my thoughts developed through my experiences with Griffith Aikido and through research into running dojos (see  recommended reading)

Disclaimer: The following assumes exisitng commitment to the art of aikido and hence will focus only with the mechanics of running a dojo, there may exist a natural tension between our individual traditional Budo values and that of having to attract students. The diversity of opinion we have  is important and ask you consider this as ‘food for thought’!

Self sustaining dojo often look like a pyramid with a wide base of new students at the bottom and a few senior instructors at the top and plenty of color in the middle.

Another way to view it is as a funnel of attrition from someone that hears about the dojo through to the head instructor. Thinking about a dojo in this way we can examine the attrition statistics (through grading records principally) and try to improve retention at each stage where we tend to lose students.

The Enquiries Funnel

Funnel Stage

% retained



Hears about dojo

# Leaflets




6000 web

10,000 leaflets


Increase volume

Targeted advertising

Passive and Active

Contacts dojo

0.1 – 10%


Make  appointments, assess needs

Turns up



Welcomeing, environment

Does a class



Infotainment, targeted content

Stays for one month



Begineers programme

Positive experience. Meets their needs

Does first grading



Forms teacher student R’ship

Makes social bonds

Becomes serious student (5th Kyu)




Becomes senior student (~3rd Kyu)



 Needs to take increasing responsibility for own learning and development, get exposure to wider community

Becomes active learner (~1st Kyu)




Does Shodan







Opportunity to teach, some autonomy of own development

Long term fixture



Able to accommodate lower level of commitment

The retention at Griffith Aikido for last 5 years of records shows the progression through the belts is 80% of walkins get on the mat, 50% come back, 63% do the first do grading, 75% goto yellow belt, 95% to orange (4th Kyu), 65% to green (first big drop out), good renention to there and 60% do 1st Kyu (next big drop out), 50% do shodan, 80% stay after doing shodan - higher than this the stats are less clear because of the small sample size.

The results are based on 1000's of students and the summary statistic is that 1 in 454 students will stay around for shodan!

Using these stats the following graph predicts class numbers based on the number of 'walkins' to a dojo in a month. A caveat we are one of 20 dojo in a large Australian city with many other activities at a university. Other dojo where there are less activities, people are less mobile will have significantly higher retention

Try your own dojo using the spreadsheet attachment at the bottom of page, it details the spread of students through the grades, via retention stats and projects eventual dojo size

Retention – Keeping Students (Can adjust significantly the retention of new members)

Make appointments for enquirers

Intro class, give the first timer a great reason to come back

Beginners course, turn the bewildering confusion of the early days into a positive experience with other beginners so they don’t feel stupid

Teaching opportunities for seniors

Senior instructor should focus on seniors, rather than dumbing down for newbies

Critical Mass – above 8 or so students creates an atmosphere that makes people want to stay, more students than this can really make a place buzz.

Advertising – Getting new students (Get more people into the funnel get more instructors)

Get more people through the door

Advertising % of typical budget 15% for maintenance, 25% for growth

Manned phone, email for enquiries (focus is on the sale…get them to turn up to a class)

Print media Yellow pages, newspaper ads, feature articles

Leaflets, fridge magnets, takes less time than you think

Short term courses attract people because they aren’t signining up for an indefinate commitment (also allow you to dedicate resources to the activity)

Regular, programmed advertising is essential, there is significant lag time between advertising and when it starts to work, don’t wait for when its wuiet to start advertising.

Rule of thumb, need to see or hear about something 7 times before responding.

Who do you want to attract?. (Griffith Aikido has nimble young adults and late 30’s+ as core members)

Forward projection over time based of a dojo of 5 members using retention figures from Griffith Aikido

Recommended reading

“Black Belt Management”, John Graden.

Quite commercial in nature, somethings I loved some things made my skin crawl..but made me think, recommend highly!

"Starting and Running your own Martial Arts School" by Karen Vactor and Susan Peterson, Tuttle Publishing

Good treatment of how to run a dojo and all that goes with it

Unknown user,
8 Sept 2010, 18:54