Before joining Ikazuchi Dojo’s traditional aikido program, we interview each prospective student. Not all are accepted. Since we’ve instituted this system, a few without detailed knowledge of our process have wondered if this is an elitist approach or in some way goes against the core philosophy of aikido.
We wanted to take the opportunity to outline our thinking on this matter because we find the approach to be beneficial both to the prospective student and the dojo community. Not every dojo can or should follow the same path, but we wanted to share our approach and results so others can reflect on them and perhaps share their approach with us.
Aikido is a fantastic art and can be a wonderful practice for anyone. Education in general is one of the most valuable things in our society, yet nearly every learning institution places entrance parameters on their students. Not everyone can show up at Stanford or West Point and start taking classes. Only a certain kind of individual is positioned to succeed at those universities. Not everyone can show up at their local elementary school and enroll. Elementary schools are for kids in grades K-6 and are not designed for 40-year olds.
As a dojo with finite resources, we choose to specialize and focus in order to pursue excellence in execution of our mission. We know there are many whom we can successfully lead down the path of development as an aikidoka. We also realize there are many who may benefit from aikido, but we are simply not set up to support.
We always keep an open mind and heart when interviewing prospective students, but generally look for alignment in a few key areas.
We occasionally interview prospective students that have substandard manners and etiquette. For instance, a parent will bring in a teen who when introduced to us, won’t make eye contact or verbally respond to a “Hello, nice to meet you.” Sometimes we encounter an individual that has a challenge with basic listening skills or perhaps has an entrenched mindset that would be an obstacle to learning “I bow to no man!”
Aikido can certainly be used as a tool to address and cultivate basic manners and awareness. However, this isn’t our focus. We’re not set up to teach remedial social skills and expect those attributes to be present in the students who join Ikazuchi Dojo.
We occasionally meet with an enthusiastic individual that wants to enter our traditional aikido program, but plans on training only one hour a week. Skill development in a movement art can’t be cultivated at a reasonable pace with a single hour per week of focus. Our traditional aikido program is designed for those who want to develop themselves as high-level martial artists. Our culture and training programs are aligned to support that focus. Bringing individuals into the program who can only train once a week only sets them up for failure and wastes dojo resources.
We encourage these individuals to participate in our drop-in classes (designed for casual or intermittent practice, but still beneficial for seasoned aikidoka) or to rethink their commitment to training. We’ve had a number of students in this situation who either join our drop-in classes and transition into our traditional program at a later time or adjust their lifestyle to accommodate an expanded training plan. In the end, these students are generally appreciative that we don’t just take their money and throw them into an environment where they won’t be successful.
There are many reasons one may decide to pursue martial arts training. Without judging others’ goals, we still understand that there are certain goals we can help one achieve, and others we cannot. For example, if someone wants to become as effective of a fighter as possible over a short time horizon (3 months, for example), we’d recommend they check out another art. Aikido can be a very effective martial art from a self-defense perspective, but the learning curve is such that it will take longer to build applied combat skills than other arts (at least the way we teach and train at Ikazuchi Dojo).
In other cases, a prospective student may be more interested in a social club atmosphere and less interested in a sincere pursuit of personal development and growth through the martial arts. While Ikazuchi Dojo does provide a supportive, encouraging, strong, and fun community for all its members, our highest priority is the transmission of the art form and supporting the necessary personal transformation it demands.
We recognize that these are all valid motivations and goals. However, we’re clear up front about our capacity to support a prospective student’s aspirations and when possible, we provide alternatives for the student to explore.
We don’t have kids classes, but otherwise we welcome students of all ages (13+). We even teach a select group of kids in an individualized personal training format (outside of group classes) where we can precisely target and tailor instruction to best support their learning profile and current state of physical, mental, and social development.
Students with temporary or permanent injuries, movement limitations, or fitness challenges are welcomed into the dojo so long as there’s no material risk or danger for them to train. As long as they’re willing to do the work to improve and are open to tailoring their movements to best align their condition, we’re ready to support them.
We’ve had overweight students join the dojo, slowly make adjustments to their diet, and embark on a training routine that allowed them to take ukemi and move well on the mats. We’ve had students come in with permanent joint injuries or constraints like hip replacements. We welcome all these individuals and enjoy the challenge of performing biomechanical analyses and developing training and movement strategies to maximize their performance as martial artists.
We welcome students of all races, cultures, religions, genders, and backgrounds. Diversity is a key pillar of Ikazuchi Dojo. We seek diversity and see the ability to train and develop ourselves in harmony with others as a great way to polish and elevate our aiki spirit.
Since we’ve begun formal student interviews and made selective admissions, we’ve reduced our student drop-out rate, strengthened our community and culture, and seen healthy growth in our students’ learning and enjoyment on the mat.
Our approach won’t be right for every dojo. Some schools may feel the need to take on every student they can in order to keep their dojo running. Others may have a different focus or specialization and have a more broadly inclusive approach. We don’t believe our approach is superior to others, but we do believe that any dojo or learning institution should reflect carefully upon how they define their mission and focus, and what kind of students they can best serve in pursuit of that mission.