We recently organized a survey to get to know the Aikido Journal community better. With over 1,000 respondents, we’ve been able to get a much clearer picture of the community and had the opportunity to get lots of great feedback and ideas. We’d like to share some of the survey data with the community, along with our preliminary conclusions, and questions that arose from reviewing the data.
I. About the Community
The community is large, with over 145,000 Facebook followers and a monthly reach that often exceeds 1 million individuals. Our community is international, spanning over 40 countries. The top five countries our community resides in are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Italy.
Conclusions and Questions
There is a significant deficit of newer aikido practitioners in the community. Only 16% have less than 3 years training. Almost 40% of the community are instructors or chief instructors. This means that there are only 1.5 students per instructor within the community. This data would seem to indicate one of two things (or probably a combination of the two):
- Aikido Journal’s content has not been able to connect or engage with newer practitioners and primarily speaks to seasoned practitioners.
- There is a lack of new students entering into, and growing in, the art of aikido.
It’s clear the site does not provide an easy or compelling entry point for beginners. We think it’s important that Aikido Journal become a resource for both advanced and beginning practitioners. Those new to the art could benefit tremendously from the community’s deep experience. We believe it would be worthwhile to improve content curation and organization and to do so in a way that benefits both novices and experts.
However, if it is the case that the number of new students is dwindling among our community in a significant way, then we have some work to do. There are multiple indicators that this is happening. Stan Pranin wrote an extensive article on the subject in 2015 and lack of student growth and retention is listed as one of the top challenges by a statistically significant sample size of the Aikido Journal community.
Another finding that we believe warrants both reflection and action is the lack of women present in the online community. We don’t know how this necessarily correlates to the gender demographics of aikido practitioners. We know many dojos have thriving groups of women instructors and practitioners, but the gender disparity in our online community is striking. Aikido is a fantastic art for women and the martial arts community can benefit from having more women practitioners, instructors, and leaders join our online community.
II. Strengths of Aikido Journal
The community loves many things about Aikido Journal and is in awe of the legacy left by Stan Pranin. The two stand-out strengths of the journal are:
- Depth of Historical Information: Nearly every respondent acknowledged the tremendous value of the historical research and documentation that Stan Pranin built over lifetime, especially his interviews with the great masters and the priceless video library.
- Diversity of Perspective: The community loves the diversity of perspective represented in the journal. The articles, videos, and input from all branches of the aikido world are seen as a major strength of the journal. Many comments also centered around benefits and insights gained from reading articles or watching videos of masters from other aikido styles and martial artists outside of the aikido world. The most popular video of all time on Aikido Journal with over 1 million views is “Death by Disarm” with Jeff Imada, a kali expert. Our most recent article sharing a BJJ black belt’s perspective on aikido has also generated massive interest.
We believe it should be a priority to make as much of the historical interviews and videos accessible as possible. We have ideas for this and will share soon in a follow-up post.
We also believe Aikido Journal should continue to embrace diversity of perspective and relevant new ideas. With community members hailing from different cultures and environments with a broad range of martial arts backgrounds, we can expect spirited discussions. As long as they are constructive, respectful, and have a sincere intent to elevate the art of aikido, we believe we should support and embrace this dynamic.
III. Weaknesses of Aikido Journal
The following were the top weaknesses respondents identified about Aikido Journal. I agree with all of them and the deficiencies are pretty clear. It’s clearly a high priority to address them.
- Website interface and user experience
- Content curation (content is too hard to find and explore, not enough new content)
- Products were recently marketed too aggressively / tied directly to too many articles
It’s clear the Aikido Journal site needs a redesign. It’s also clear the community wants a broader range of content exploring different facets of the aikido world. The form factor for Aikido Journal products and services should also be restructured to better serve the community. With guidance and input from our survey, we now have some ideas and will discuss plans in a future post.
IV. Greatest Challenges in the Aikido World
The community cited a number of challenges, but an overwhelming majority of responses were centered on these issues:
- Finding and retaining students, especially young adults
- Finding ways to improve technique quality and effectiveness of instruction / transmission of knowledge
- Developing better ways to communicate effectively about the story, focus, and benefits or aikido
These are important challenges. 40% of all survey respondents listed one or more of the above as their greatest challenge as an aikido practitioner or instructor. I believe the first step is to acknowledge the issues. On an individual level, not everyone may experience these challenges, but they are far and away the most predominant problems in our aikido community based on a statistically significant sample size. If this is the case, it seems that finding ways to explore and begin addressing these issues should be one of the priority topics the journal covers in its future content mix.
We think Aikido Journal may be able to help support improvement in these areas in some ways. With the community’s input, we’ve been thinking about resources we can build to better empower our dojos and help us all to tell the story of aikido. We look forward to sharing some ideas in the very near future.