Every dojo has a Chief Instructor, but to scale a martial arts academy, it is necessary to build a team of instructors. We wanted to take the opportunity to share our approach to this challenge. Different dojos have different priorities, circumstances, and areas of focus. Our approach has been carefully designed to align with our strategy, so it won’t be a great fit for all dojos. We do however, hope this overview provides a platform for discussion and reflection for those who teach the martial arts.
For an aikido dojo, we have a relatively large number of students and a mandate to lead each of them to reach their highest potential. We also operate multiple off-site programs and have a number of special projects underway at any given time. We can’t make this happen with a casual approach to instruction and student development.
We need to be able to deploy our instructional resources effectively and precisely. All our instructors must be capable, professional, and reliable. We don’t strive to achieve a consensus on all matters (and it wouldn’t be healthy if we did), but we know we can trust and depend on each other.
We also lead our instructors toward specialization. Encouraging specialization allows us to build deep skill and knowledge across a range of areas. And with a disciplined, coordinated team, we can then deploy those specialized skills to best serve our students.
Quality of instruction is the most significant driver in student development. Our team of instructors are able to clearly communicate concepts, smoothly guide students through movement progressions, understand how to structure classes to maximize student development, and have the experience to know how to minimize training risk. These skills are imperative in order to make a clear positive impact on student development.
We require our instructors to have the highest levels of technical, instructional, and leadership skills. In exchange for their willingness to develop themselves in this capacity, we commit to invest in their growth. Here’s what we do:
We want our team of instructors to embody and teach a consistent set of fundamentals. However, we also want them to communicate and transfer those fundamentals in their own unique ways. Aikido practitioners have different body types, psychological profiles, learning styles, and life experiences. The same principle can be transmitted in many different ways and some resonate better than others for a given individual. For every student, the path of personal development as a martial artist presents its own unique challenges. We need to provide unique methods to face and overcome those challenges.
One individual can maintain conceptual integrity and consistency easily, but it becomes increasingly difficult to do so across teams. Efficient communication is the foundation for enabling this. Just like we learn to align and coordinate our bodies to generate effective movement, we seek to align and coordinate our team members to transmit Sensei’s experience and insights across a common curriculum. Here are some of the things we do to enable this:
We hope this overview provides some insight into how we think about instruction and student development at Ikazuchi Dojo. We also hope it serves as a catalyst for reflection and dialogue around alternative solutions and strategies for developing high-performing instructor teams at dojos in our extended community.