George Ledyard wrote an excellent comment to the blog titled “Aikido through the eyes of Google” that we thought deserved special attention.
It’s straight marketing really. How can any of us compete with MMA on prime time cable on a nightly basis? It’s a shift in the “culture” which is taking place. Our young men want to “fight”. They are not typically interested in the cerebral components of training in a martial art. Maybe this is the result in the demographic shift away from the older “Boomer” generation which grew up with the Vietnam war and the wholesale introduction of Eastern ideas into our culture. But whatever it is, our young men have a different set of concerns than we did.
Now it’s the “Man Show,” unthinkable in my youth. It’s gladiatorial spectacle as much as anything we saw in Rome, except that it beams right in to our living rooms in high def. Does anyone think that a nightly dose of young fighters beating each other to a bloody pulp will create any interest at all in more traditional arts? Quite the opposite.
So, if you have a dojo, you need to wake up to the reality that the demographic is changing fast. Aikido will continue to have an increasing proportion of women and young people. Mixed martial arts is for young men. Five to ten years of participation on a serious level will end with enough injuries that continuation will be impossible. Women who want to do martial arts simply do not go for MMA in any significant numbers. Nor do most sensible parents wish to have their kids punching each other in the head. So where do they go? It’s going to be Aikido.
It is not my understanding that the demographic on martial arts training has changed… it’s still about 1% of the population that has any interest in training. But with the young men opting towards MMA and BJJ, that leaves women, children, and older men.
I can see this in my own dojo. The average age is older. Most of my students are married professionals with families. Typically they have a high education level. When I opened my dojo twenty years ago, the ratio of adults to children was about 60% adults to 40% kids. Now it is just about 50 / 50. My ratio of men to women hasn’t changed significantly. But my location is fairly unique. The Seattle area has about twenty dojos in the immediate metro area. I would estimate that over half of them are run by women. So a woman looking to train has the ability to pick a female instructor and most do so. Of my three best female friends running dojos in the area, each of them has more students than I do. They have been able to grow their dojos while I have not.
So the folks out there running dojos need to read the writing on the wall. As Bob Dylan once said “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows…” If you don’t have a dojo that creates a supportive atmosphere for women to train, if you are not producing strong female instructors who can act as roles models, if you “don’t do kids,” you are going to have an increasingly difficult time keeping the doors open.
It’s going to change the art. If your male students are increasingly older, you not going to be able to do the kind of hard physical training that we did as young students. You art going to have to “teach” your young men how to train with women. Women constantly complain that men don’t want to train with them. Well, why is that? Because young men often can’t figure out how to train with women with positive results. If they train the way they train with the other “boys” they get in trouble for being too rough. If they “train down” to their female partners, they are perceived as being arrogant and condescending. So it’s easier to just train with the boys.
If your male students can’t figure this out, your dojo will not be a hospital place to bring female students along. They will train elsewhere, or not train.
It is essential for good dojo financial health to have a kids program. Essential. If you don’t do kids, you need to find someone who does. If you have to pay an instructor to handle the kids program, do it. That’s what we do at our school. It’s crucial that you have an instructor that is both good with kids and is comfortable communicating with the Moms who are the ones who both find the schools where their kids train but transport them to calls each day.
We actually have a separate domain name for our kids program with a completely different website. Aikidoforchildren.com is our domain. The website is specifically designed to be user friendly for folks who know nothing about the martial arts. The colors are designed to be more aesthetically pleasing rather than “hard core.” It may be Dad who thinks junior should do martial arts but it is Mom who typically finds the dojo and transports the children. We run ads that are specifically targeted towards the kids program and others that target the adult program.
If you are stuck with a “traditional” idea about how training should be, that it needs to be what you did when you started thirty years ago, you will find it increasingly hard to keep the doors open. The reality is that you will have over thirty males, females, and young people as the target market. If you are a male instructor with a dojo and the training is based on what you did when you were twenty-two, you are targeting precisely that group that doesn’t wish to do what you do. Not a good business plan. Once again, Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin'”.