2005 to 2006

Happy new year, everyone!

It seems that one of the new traditions around New Year’s is to put the “year in review.” A summary of all the high points and low points that occurred over the past 12 months. Certainly, these summaries provide a great way to reflect upon the past year, and think of what one can accomplish for the next. Yet, too often, I think of these recaps as akin to the holiday letters I get from some of my relatives. Sure, I enjoy reading up on what they did and how they did, but they often strike me as self-promoting; i.e., all of the good things are listed, and all of the bad is left out.

In regards to Aikido Kokikai Silver Firs, a lot has happened over the past year. Most of it has been very good. Some of it… well, some of it could stand some improvement. So rather than write a yearly recap of the past year that glosses over the less enjoyable aspects of last year, I thought I’d write about what didn’t go as I had expected, what went well, and what I would hope we might acheive in the coming year.

Let’s start with what didn’t go as I expected. In no particular chronological order:

  • Dojo membership remained stagnant.
    I had sincerely hoped that we would increase our membership by a total of about 3 or 4 members. That’s 4 new members regardless of anyone who decided to drop out. (One of the mistakes I’ve seen made in the past is a huge push to add new members, without accounting for the attrition of current members. While I hope everyone continues to train, I never take anyone’s attendance for granted.)

    Instead of raising our dojo membership from 12 to 16, as I had hoped, we remained at roughly 12. That’s a trend that could spell trouble for us in the future; so it’s better to try to reverse it now.

  • I have been increasingly tardy to class.
    When I first started the dojo, it was easy for me to get to the dojo in a timely manner. Now, however, I have switched jobs, and traffic has gotten worse. As a result, I’ve been consistently late for class. You all have been very understanding in this regard; after all, we all fight traffic to train. However, consistent tardiness is not acceptable in my students; it should not be acceptable for me as well.
  • Our facilities are often lacking and poorly maintained.
    Of course, I’m grateful to the YMCA for letting us use the multi-purpose room. But the fact that it is not a dedicated dojo has its drawbacks. One of these drawbacks is that we do not make a consistent effort to keep the room clean. We occasionally clean the mats, that’s true, but what about the rest of the space? Doesn’t it count? The first aid kit is also a serious issue. We are often out of bandages, and our ability to handle blood on the mat is, to be blunt, very poor.
  • Our space is not adequate for weapons practice.
    This has been a long-standing issue. It’s hard to swing a bokken when there’s a huge beam in the way. I myself have nearly split a bokken during practice. As a result, I’ve let our weapons practice atrophy.

Whew. Reading through the above list, one might think our year was terrible! But that’s not the case. A great many positive things happened:

  • We continue to remain united as a community.
    While the dojo remains smaller than I would like, I am very impressed and grateful that we are a community of Aikido practitioners, rather than a collection of individuals that train independently. Community is the best tool for successful training. I can only help so much–if you cannot turn to your fellow aikidoka for help and advice, then you are at great risk for quitting your training. This aspect of our dojo is extremely valuable, and I treasure it highly.
  • Our dojo is getting national recognition from the Kokikai organization.
    In the past couple of years, I have attended camps only to find that I was treated as a student of Sensei Bannister’s. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it seems a little incorrect; after all, we have been training in our own dojo for several years. This past Fall Camp, I was very pleased to discover that our dojo was recognized and respected. I lost count of how many times someone said: “You teach in Everett? I trained with one of your students earlier! They were very strong!” I was also intrigued that a few students were told: “You train in Everett, don’t you? I can tell that you move a bit like Shevitz Sensei.” (Of course, I’m paraphrasing a bit here.) This speaks well of our community!
  • We have had very high quality members join us.
    We did get a few new students to join us over the past year, and I’ve been pleased with the types of students that we attract. I’m not trying to flatter anyone. It’s just that I have consistently seen people join who seek only to take during their training. They never want to give anything back. I also have seen people join that do not want to engage their minds in their training. The people who have joined have shown that they are dedicated to Aikido. At the very least, they find it interesting, and are willing engage both their minds and their bodies to training. Hm. Mind and body? Is that not the definition of “ki” that Sensei Maruyama uses so often?
  • We have two assistant instructors.
    I’m very pleased to now have both Ben Baumert and Dave Ward as assistant instructors. Their willingness to participate in the dojo at this level helps me tremendously. (Training for 10 years is great, but I have yet to learn how to completely avoid the flu…)
  • We continue to gain the support of the YMCA.
    As one of the few fee-based classes at the Y, we are continually improving the relationship between the dojo and the YMCA. After all, we’re the only Aikido dojo at a YMCA in the Greater Seattle area!
  • We continue to make progress.
    That says it all.

So, although not everything went as planned, a lot of good things happened this year. Now, I’d like to briefly list what I hope to accomplish this year:

  • Acquire a first aid kit that is strictly for dojo use.
    We can keep this first aid kit in the multi-purpose room and mark it for our own use if necessary. Specifically, we should have plenty of bandages, gloves, a cleaning solution to deal with blood, tape and so on. Let’s take responsibility for our own first aid kit, as we use the room very differently from the aerobics and stretching classes.
  • Incorporate regular weapons training.
    I’m still working on this. But I’m thinking at least every other Saturday should be dedicated to weapons training. I’d like to talk with YMCA to see if the gymnasium is regularly available, so we can use it for practice. When the weather gets warm again, we can simply go outside.
  • Increase our membership.
    I have a few ideas here: creating postcard-sized flyers that we can distribute to local businesses, implement a “basic training” class that occurs once every couple of months (say, one Tuesday a quarter) that is open to anyone, or perhaps a friendship day in which we ask each dojo member to bring in someone who has expressed an interest in Aikido training. These are just a couple of ideas, of course! And we have to manage growth carefully–our mat space can handle at most 12 people at a time.
  • Build a better training relationship with the Seattle dojo. Perhaps every quarter, we can arrange to have class down in Seattle instead of at the Y? Or alternate–sometimes visit them, and other times invite them to visit us?

So, 2005 had a little bad and a lot of good, and we have plenty we could accomplish through 2006. The most important thing, however, is that we continue to train hard, train often, and grow as a community. Most dojos, like most small businesses, don’t make it past their first year. The fact that we have been in existence for 4 years and are entering our 5 says a great deal about us. Thank you all for your efforts! If you have suggestions or comments on any part of this post, please feel free to add them as comments or e-mail me.

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