On two occasions during my career in aikido I have set up and taught out of garage dojos. The first experience was around 1974 in Monterey, California when our aikido class spent several months in my home garage in transition between store-front facilities.
This little dojo was affectionately dubbed “The Aiki Lab” and I can remember finding it extremely convenient to train because I could literally walk outside the door from the house and be inside the dojo. The mats consisted of “ethafoarm” which is an industrial packing material that was popular in those days as a dojo flooring.
We erected a frame and placed down the ethafoam cut to the size of the two-car garage. I believe we put carpet padding down first to cushion the ethafoam that otherwise would have been in direct contact with the concrete floor. Since the setup was permanent, obviously, I couldn’t park my car in the garage at all! Despite this minor inconvenience, I have many fond memories of the training in those days in the Aiki Lab.
Fast foward 35 years and I am now teaching out of my second garage dojo in Las Vegas. This time we are working out of a three-car garage. The mat setup is not permanent and we lay down and pick up 15 Zebramats each time we practice. It takes two people about 6-7 minutes to do the job, less if more students are on hand to help out. We can handle a maximum of about 12 people with this surface area. Again, the convenience of having absolutely no commute time to deal with is a big boon.
This time, due to the temporary nature of our setup, the tatami mats are in direct contact with the concrete floor. As such, I am careful with the amount and kind of ukemi we do to be sure to avoid falling injuries. One idea I have to deal with this concern is to lay down some kind of rubber garage flooring to cushion the mats. This is the type of mat that can be used to protect the floor from oil stains but I see no reason why it won’t serve as padding as well. If this idea proves practical, we still will be able to park our cars and lay down mats as we are doing now, but we’ll have a more accomodating surface for aikido falls.
I would be curious to get feedback from our readers who have had experience training in a garage dojo. How did you set things up? What kind of mats did you use? What, in your view, are the pros and cons of training in a garage dojo?