Starting a Dojo

Although not every student wants to have their own school, my personal goal is to help every student who wants to open their own school do so.  Starting a school is probably easier than you think, although it depends on the type of school. Starting a for-profit commercial school is like starting any business, requiring a business plan, startup costs, etc.  Starting a club or free school is relatively easy.


1) Talk to your instructor.

This should go without saying, but if you have even an inkling of wanting to start your own school, talk with your instructor and other higher ranked students.  Your instructor has gone through the process, and can provide information, support, and perspective. In the WYKKO, your instructor’s approval is virtually a requirement for opening an official branch dojo.


2) Find a location.

The hardest step is to find an actual place to hold training.  Let’s assume you’re not wealthy enough to buy or rent a commercial space.  Your options are to use your home, a city or county space, or space in an existing business like a gym, dance studio, or yoga studio.


2a) Use your home.

Unless you live somewhere with perfect weather, you’ll probably need an indoor location.  If your house has a single large (500 sq ft) room, it is workable. Some people use their garage, but such a space rarely has an appropriate floor, unless it has been remodeled.  You can also build an addition, but the price for such is around $60-100/sq ft. Enticing students to come to a private home is difficult due to distance from central areas and cultural bias against strangers going to a private residence.  If you live in an apartment complex, a common-use area may be the perfect solution.


2b) City or County Space

The recreation department of a city or county is a good starting place.  If there isn’t a martial arts program in place, they may be willing to accept proposals for starting one.  They may have students register through them, or they may just allow you to schedule the space and manage the school yourself.


2c) Existing business

A related business which has the space and open time slots may be willing to host a dojo.  The easiest arrangement is for students to pay the hosting business the usual rate for classes.  An alternative is to charge students directly and then pay the hosting business. The most important thing is establishing clear expectations and a positive relationship up front.  If the hosting business is hoping or expecting dojo students to eventually sign up for their business (such as a gym), that should be made clear to the students.


3) Get authorization.

Although mostly taken care of by item 1, the parent organization will need to approve your dojo.  For the WYKKO, this requires confirmation by Kaicho Toyama and Kaicho Culbreth. Usually, your instructor will initiate this conversation.  Once you’re authorized, you can begin training students!


4) Marketing and attracting students.

Product, price, place, and promotion are the classic principles of marketing.  Why would a student want to come to your school? What do you offer that differs from their other entertainment options, or even other martial arts options?  Where and how can you advertise your dojo? People are bombarded with so much passive advertising, active marketing is much more effective, but consequently more time consuming.


5) Be patient.

Some days you’ll come to class and no one will show up.  Sometimes there will be only one or two students. This is typical for the first year, and as long as you have some students who keep coming back and having fun, you should persevere.  If you have no students show up or no students come back, you may need to reconsider your approach to be successful.


Opening and running a dojo is one of the best, most satisfying things I have ever done personally.  It hits the three principles of motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. If you’ve done martial arts for long enough to earn a black belt and enjoy teaching and organizing, starting a school is a minor step in contrast.  You should do it.