How did you open your Dojo/Dojang?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by dvcochran, Nov 12, 2018.

  1. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Recent posts got me thinking about the unusual circumstances I opened my original Dojang under. How did you do it? Did you start under a formal Instructor/Assistant Instructor format? What is your lineage? Did you have any special training or background that helped, or hurt? Are you in your own building, lease space, at the gym, or the garage? Do you teach a singular style or multiple styles? Are you affiliate with a system? What are you happy with or what would you change if you could? Are you a Corporation, a LLC, or neither?
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2018
  2. Headhunter

    Headhunter Senior Master

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    I used the door....that's how I open the dojo...mainly because I'd get funny looks if I used the window
     
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  3. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    Okay, a lot of questions. I'll answer them in no particular order, and probably miss some (and answer some you didn't ask).

    I trained to teach under my primary instructor - that's part of the standard curriculum in mainline of my primary art. I actually taught regular classes at his school as a brown belt (student teacher rank) and black belt (usually considered an associate instructor rank) for at least 3 years. After a few years (some as a fill-in instructor) teaching there, I started to form my own ideas. I felt a little constrained by needing to follow his lead in how things should be taught (that's his view of how an associate instructor operates). I eventually left the school for a combination of reasons (some personal, some financial, none that precluded my return).

    During my hiatus from my primary art, I cross-trained (mostly FMA and dabbling) and spent a lot of time examining how I wanted to teach. I considered a lot of different changes to the curriculum I'd come up under. I eventually settled on some principles, but not an actual curriculum, and started looking around for someplace to start a program.

    As I looked at how to start a program, I also had to think about organization. My primary instructor had left the association we had been in (as had his primary instructor - my first instructor). I no longer had ties to that association, and didn't really think my new curriculum belonged in any of the existing associations. I'd decided to do what I thought best with what I taught, and that rarely fits within an association. So, I was independent, unless and until I had some instructors trained who wanted to make a new association.

    I found a YMCA that was willing to let me host a 3-week self-defense seminar set (cumulative - folks were expected at all 3, 2-hour sessions) and a class thereafter. I think 11 people came to the seminars (a few dropping out before the end), and 5 (plus one spouse) joined for regular classes. That was the start of my program.

    (Historical note: That program since moved, shrunk to 1 student, closed due to loss of training location, and is looking for a new place to exist.)
     
  4. geezer

    geezer Grandmaster

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    When I returned to the martial arts, my instructor really wanted me to get back into teaching, so like you, I began with a YMCA program. Later the only other instructor in my lineage in my area left the state, so I upped the ante a bit, rented space at a dance studio, then later at a boxing gym, got insurance, but never made the jump to form an LLC.

    Our group was small and I taught as a hobby to promote our system and never as my primary way to make a living -- far from it! My total number of students between Wing Chun and Escrima never passed 10-12 students, and over the last couple of years has gradually dwindled to a very few ...with only two paying students these last couple of months.

    With the cost of rent, association dues, and insurance, the fact is I'm now losing a couple of hundred bucks a months. If I can't turn it around by Christmas, I may just shut my doors at the end of the year. A shame really... :(
     
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  5. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Sorry to hear about the turndown. I hope it turns around.
     
  6. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I've considered renting space, but I don't make enough money on my main business to lose that kind of money for even a couple of months. I don't like the idea of not teaching - I really enjoy it, and students seem to learn well from me. But my availability isn't consistent. I was surprised that I managed to keep a consistent set of students for more than 2 years, what with me being absent on random days along the way (business trips).

    My ideal would be to find another instructor or two (preferably NOT in the same art) to combine efforts with. I like the idea of an interdisciplinary group. I'd be okay with someone else teaching something that fit with my curriculum (though not necessarily part of it) on days I'm away, and filling in for them when I'm in town.
     
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  7. Danny T

    Danny T Senior Master

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    In 97 I was teaching for another instructor who moved out of the state therefore closed the school. Was teaching Wing Chun, Kali, Muay Thai, and wrestling. Several of us wanted to continue to train so I contacted the local park and rec dept to develop a program through them. Taught there for almost 2 years then rented space from a dance studio on their off days for 2 years. Teamed up with a hapkido instructor set up an LLC and opened our own training center as independent instructors for the LLC. That lasted for about 3 years with us going about our own ways as I wanted to expand and he didn't. Began my own LLC, rented a 3000 sq foot area in a local shopping center. Added a second area during the 3rd year. Now in a 6000sq foot building with 3 training areas along with an outside training area.
     
  8. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    That's a really nice progression, Danny. Good work!
     
  9. Dirty Dog

    Dirty Dog MT Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    My method is simple...
    I'll inherit the YMCA program when the chief instructor retires. Unless I can find someone else to do it, because although I love teaching, I never really saw myself running a school.
     
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  10. Kababayan

    Kababayan Blue Belt

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    There are a lot of different ways to open dojos. Most of my friends and acquaintances were/are dojo owners so I'll briefly share what they did. I've already told my history on previous threads, so I'll just write what they did.

    - A friend of mine, and many other colleagues, taught at a YMCA before opening his school. That's a very good place to start. He opened with 40-50 students. Community centers are also a good place to start, as well as running after-school programs at schools.
    - I have had friends run schools for their instructors before opening up their own dojo.
    - A dojo down the street from me self-promoted from green belt and opened up a dojo. He became a very good martial artist and a successful dojo owner. If you are into sport karate, then you would probably recognize his name.
    - Many instructors run dojos at night after working their full-time jobs in the morning. Most of those that I knew worked construction.
    - Most full-time dojos that I know lease individual suites, but some own the building. Owning the building is nice because you have a commodity.
    - A lot of people I know began teaching in parks, their backyard or garages, or at the beach.
    - I have found that background doesn't matter as much to the general public. That really only matters to martial artists. The main importance is how well you treat your clients. If you are running a full-time school, keeping your clients happy is of utmost importance. A little bit of knowledge regarding human behavior can really help when teaching or running business.
    - I have also noticed that if a martial arts dojo advertises too many arts, it can be confusing. The general public doesn't know the particulars of the martial arts. That's why you see a lot of "Karate" signs out there when the dojo really teaches (insert whatever art here that isn't technically karate). Or you'll see BJJ. or Grappling, or MMA advertised when the dojo teaches a TMA. Those are buzzwords that the general public knows right now.

    There are positives and negatives to the situations that you asked about. A long-time friend of mine owns a franchise-dojo. He pays a percentage to the corporation, but can also advertise his dojo as a "leader in the field." For most on this forum, we may see that as unimportant, but for the consumer who doesn't know the industry that can be a powerful advertising tool. Because my friend has stayed with the same system for so long, I would argue that he hasn't grown as a martial artist. Essentially he is getting really good at one aspect of the martial arts without making gains in other aspects. Renting or owning a space is great for business, but also increases overhead. Teaching out of your garage is cheap rent, but opens the instructor up to personal liability (no matter how many waivers you have students sign).

    I hope I added something beneficial here for you. If you have any other specific questions about running a dojo full-time, feel free to ask.
     
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  11. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

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    I will make some comments about the liability of teaching from your home/ garage/back yard/driveway. I discussed this in some recent threads, but I think it bears repeating.

    Recently I looked into teaching in my garage/driveway. I checked with my homeowners insurance provider, and they are dead-set against it. I checked with an independent insurance agent to see if he could find a provider who would allow it, and I got the same answer.

    The issue is this: insurance companies see martial arts instruction as high-risk, so homeowner providers don’t like it. when you get a separate liability policy to cover your teaching activities, it creates overlap and ambiguities. Example: a student goes into your house to use the toilet, and slips on the stairs inside the house. Is that covered by the business liability, or the homeowners liability? Example: students come over to train, then hang around afterwards and come in the house to share some coffee. A student trips and falls down the stairs. Again, which policy covers that?

    These are examples of the ambiguity that the homeowners providers do not like. I was told that if I teach at the house, even if i get a business liability policy to cover the teaching, and even if I teach for free so it is not technically a business, my homeowner insurance provider would cancel my policy and leave me without coverage. They will tolerate no martial arts instruction at the home.

    So my message to anyone who is currently teaching in their home is this: check with your homeowners insurance provider to make sure you understand your coverage. If you have a student who gets injured and possibly will sue you for it, when you make an insurance claim you might find your claim denied and your coverage cancelled. Having your coverage cancelled can also cause problems with your mortgage lender. Every year I have to provide proof to my bank that I have adequate homeowners insurance coverage.

    At any rate, that would be a very ugly surprise to have, when you need insurance coverage, so be proactive and make sure you know what your coverage is, and make absolutely certain that you are not doing something that might jeopardize your coverage altogether.
     
  12. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    Back in the day I had an instructor who wasn't an honorable man. I was already teaching most of the classes, which was fine with him, gave him more time to hit on women. Then he started promoting folks so they wouldn't quit. So I left and opened a school. Rented a space, gutted it, had friends in the trades help me remodel it. Started searching for the best people I could find to go study with. Haven't looked back since.

    But I have to give my first instructor some credit. He taught me everything not to be in the Martial Arts.

    To answer your specifics....

    My lineage is mixed. Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace, Billy Blanks, Rickson Gracie.

    Special training....defensive tactics in Law Enforcement.

    I no longer run a school. I currently train at my buddy's dojo. But only when I feel like it.

    I teach self defense, fighting, fitness and anything Martial related except Kata.

    I'm not affiliated with anyone. I am, however, close with a lot of folks in Martial Arts.

    I'm happy with where I live and what I do for work. As for happy with Martial Arts, I love martial Arts. What's not to be happy?

    What would I change if I could? The TV show Deadwood would still be on.

    Used to be a cooperation when I ran a school.

    But I tell you what....if I had had a great school to train in back at the beginning, I never would have opened my own. NOT running a dojo is so much fun. Running one is so much work.
     
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  13. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    This does seem to work well, under two conditions:
    1. You're looking for kids. (I haven't seen a program manage more than a few adults at a YMCA, unless they have been there quite a while, whereas I've seen programs build a student body of 50-100 kids in less than a year.)
    2. You can find a YMCA with interest and space - and enough attendance. The one I taught at had the interest and space, but too few people to ever build a program of any size (which suited me okay). The largest one in my immediate area doesn't actually have a good space available (existing group classes cover all of the prime time slots).
     
  14. skribs

    skribs Senior Master

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    At this point, the closest future I see for me "opening my own" is more like this:

    My Master expands his brand to include two locations. He can only be present at one at a time, so I take over one of them. But still under his name and brand.
     
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  15. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    I've tried to put this into words elsewhere on MT, and failed. Maybe I can do it better vamping on this theme. I'd rather teach at someone else's place - less hassle. But I want to teach what I want, the way I want. I can't figure out how to find someone (with a school) who'd be open to that. So I keep trying to run my own program.

    It was much easier teaching at my instructor's school, but less fulfilling. Even though it's an hour away, if I could teach my way, I'd go back and teach there again.
     
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  16. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Good post. This thread is intended for previewing how others have started, on a personal level. Nothing wrong with the second hand info. It is the personal info, mistakes and ideas I am hoping it will share. I am less interested in the larger corporate schools. They are very locked in as to what they can , and cannot do and already formatted.
    My post is not in the format of asking how you to do it. It is in the format of how did YOU do it. What is your location, city, "competition" like? Did you really set down and make a business plan or did you just start teaching? etc... Looking for stories more and ideas less. They will come on their own.
     
  17. Kababayan

    Kababayan Blue Belt

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    When I was selling my dojo, I interviewed many potential instructors. As I was enrolling a new student, a potential instructor/buyer began to hit on her. I know many dojo owners who hit on their students. It almost always turned out poorly. Although my first Grandmaster married one of his students and they are still married thirty years later.
     
  18. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    I have wondered if your class was at a YMCA, can only members attend your class. Can "outsiders" come in for your classes only?
     
  19. gpseymour

    gpseymour MT Moderator Staff Member

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    To touch on a few things I didn't mention in my first post...
    • I use my business LLC, operating each "division" (including Self-Defense Academy of Western NC) as a legally-filed alias for the company.
    • I just wanted to teach, and really wasn't trying to create a great business. I wanted to do better than break even, but didn't care by how much. So, not much market research in advance. I manage profit by controlling expense.
    • If I were starting over (wait, I actually AM!), then I'd schedule seminars at a regular interval, to bring in new students. I don't need many, and most students seem to stick around a while (a much higher percentage than my overall experience predicts), so if I could bring in 6 new students every year through seminars, I probably have a growing program.
     
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  20. dvcochran

    dvcochran Senior Master

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    Impressive.
     

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