Is the Traditional Dojo Dying?

Attracting, keeping and training students to a traditional dojo can be a challenge. People come, they watch, and they may even try a class, but they rarely stick it out. It seems that people aren’t interested in traditional martial arts. This may have something to do with the lifestyle of modern men and women – little free time, mentally and physically drained from work, etc. And add to this the difficulties and stress of dealing with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it’s because teachers stick to an old style training curriculum. However, on reflection I think that is only a small part of the problem. The other part of the issue is the teacher and speaking for myself, I don’t think I’m a very good one.

As an aside, there is a similar situation in Japan. Young Japanese do not want to study traditional budo and instead want MMA, BJJ, K-1 kickboxing or Pride wrestling. As a result, a new type of Dojo/Gym hybrid is popping up. On top of that, it’s not only budo that is suffering, but also other traditional arts and crafts like Buyo (dance) and Sado (tea ceremony) and Kado (flower arranging) to name a few. It seems all the apprentice-based arts are suffering.

I have no intention of giving-up and feel that part of the solution is improving my skills as a teacher and educating the public. People simply do not know what traditional Karate-do and Kobudo training are about. This is not surprising since they are inundated with advertising for BJJ, kick boxing, tae bo and my personal favourite oxymoron, power yoga.

The whole situation has forced me to think about my values and my (in)ability to teach. I realize that although my values may be somewhat incompatible with North American culture, I have no desire to change them. I will, however, work on my ability as a teacher. Reflecting on this brought back a conversation I had with Kanzaki sensei many years ago. I remember asking him if he was ever worried about Tou’on-ryu dying-out as there are only three instructors that received teaching licenses from him (Fujshima, Yoshino, and Ikeda). His reply was quick and succinct, “I only need one.” I never really understood what he meant until now.