What to look for in a Dojo:

(Just a few things to think about…)

1.- what national/international associations are affiliated with the club? are they reputable? 

   There is ALOT to be said about a person that goes about illicit means to fool people into thinking they have credentials that they do not have. None of it is good. 

 There are many Internet sites out there that you can simply buy rank from. Yes the sites may look very nice but make sure you really read what is being said. If they do not teach the Art, the school is centered around, or sells rank to people from Arts they are not qualified to Instruct themselves, that should be the first clue.   There are people out there that may be able to fight and have learned through the school of hard knocks about what works, but is it the safest and most efficient way? Wouldn’t they be a better Instructor if they were led down the right path themselves?

A ton of certificates on the wall, or just one doesn’t make a difference, what matters is WHO SIGNED the certificate. The certifying officials are the ones that you really should be able to research easily.  If they don’t wish to show you their diplomas but are still asking for money this should raise a big red flag in your head.

 Your hard work is a Big investment.. Money and time wise. To receive a  ranking certificate or diploma that is not recognized anywhere else  and is only good to cover the hole in the wall may not be what you are after. After all you wouldn’t go to a doctor that received his degree from the Janitor would you?

2. – Do you have confidence that the instructor has something worthwhile to teach you?

   This should be after you have verified the Instructors Credentials. If he has learned from good qualified instructors he should be able to pass it on to you.

 This is not always the case though.  There are and will always be students that “just don’t get it”. They may get up to a certain point, but still not have the last piece of the puzzle that ties it all together. You may wish to give the school a chance, but if you still feel like leaving make sure you tell them why.

3. – Are the classes fun?

 This should always be one of the MAIN deciding factors. If its a burden to go to then you probably wont stick it out when things get difficult and your frustrated at having a hard time with something.

 Take a look around you, do the students/ Instructors interact pleasantly, and look like they want to be there?

4. – Do you think you can learn from the instructor’s teaching style? (or are you at least willing to give it a chance?)

 Not everyone can get along with the Different teaching styles that are out there. Just because someone is reputed to be the best doesn’t mean that you can learn a thing from them. Especially if your mind is focusing on how you don’t care for the presentation of the material. 

5. – Look for kids/families that have “grown up” with the club

 This should be your best clue to the abilities of the Instructor. The long term students hold the visual key to where you can expect to be in a similar amount of time. The sempai’s attitude, and actions towards the Instructor are all indicators.

 Are there old students that still maintain contact with the Instructors even though they have moved away or are deployed?

6. – Do you think the instructor will be able to help you to achieve your personal goals?

 Again this is subjective, but something to seriously think about. If the Instructor is focusing in a different  manner than you are wanting to head, Think Twice.

7. – Do you have something to give to the club?

 Yes, this is extremely important. If you feel that you will not be able to contribute to the learning environment, for any reason then you should definitely not go there.  To elaborate on this; If you cant be serious about learning, you will be a distraction. If you only want to test yourself and not progress any further, you will be a distraction to others again.. things of this nature.

 I am not talking about being able to bring technical knowledge to the table. Rather the ability to learn, and help others in their learning process.

8. – What is the etiquette of the dojo? Can you live with their traditions?

Some schools are fully traditional and require you to do a lot of bowing, Semi Traditional usually only bows once, and then some schools don’t bow at all.

Dress code has been another big issue. Bare feet or are socks allowed on the mats? This can be a really big issue if you see a student has nasty feet and isn’t made to wear anything covering them such as socks or stockings to protect you from where you will eventually end up landing.

9. -Do they want you to sign a contract?

 While this may not be a bad thing, make sure you read it and your not stuck paying for stuff your not going to use.

Also look for hidden costs, such as an abundance of testing fee’s, mandatory seminars, and tournaments that also cost. It can get out of control at times and take the fun out of things when you cant afford to participate, or eat to be able to satisfy your contract.

10. -Are they still continuing to learn and grow themselves or have they hit their Plateau or peak?

    I consider this matter to be of such importance that if I were looking for a new senior to teach me, one of the first things I ask is “Who do you train under?”

I can tell you of some of the looks of complete disgust this had gotten me in many “MCDojo’s” and gyms.

“What do you mean, I’m a master! I don’t train under anyone; I teach!”

Really? Maybe they teach some other ignorant soul. But you aren’t teaching me.

Another answer might be something along the lines of “Well I go off to a mountain where my master lives in another country, and I train alone with him in secret. “

Yeah right. The senior who has a teacher that he can’t produce or to whom he’s not willing to introduce to his students is a walking advertisement for bad budo. A real senior who is your teacher will be happy to have you train with his seniors when the opportunity presents itself. He’ll probably invite, you to attend seminars or training sessions with others who are senior to him.

The senior sets the pace. He leads by example. He is not afraid to admit there are things he doesn’t know. He makes it very clear that while he is the teacher and he is in charge, he is still in the process of learning, too. The second prerequisite I would insist upon in accepting a senior as a teacher would be the assurance that not only is he setting the pace, he is also going in a direction where I want to train.

Important and commonly asked Questions we have Received…

Q. I’m not very strong, out of shape, old, Can I train in Aikido?

A.  Using Aikido’s Principals if you can walk you can Play Aikido! This is not a Martial Art in which you will use force against force or needless tests of strength. We would rather use the aggressors Momentum/Strength to achieve an advantageous position.

Q. I hear that Aikido is like magic using a strange KI Force and is hard to learn?

A. Aikido has been taught many different ways. We teach Aikido from a technical viewpoint, in which everything can be explained in simple terms with no mystic riddles to try to figure out. Even though you will be able to understand the theories and principals right away, you will spend a lot of time on the mat applying this to a physical application.

Q. Is Aikido really that hard to learn?

A. NO its not hard to learn. Think of the learning process just like walking, first you see it done and hear how to do it. Someone then guided your body through the motions, soon enough you were practicing it on your own until it became internalized and a part of your natural movements.  I guarantee that you will learn something that you can take with you, and apply for the rest of your life from the very first class.

Q. How long does it take to Learn Aikido?

A.  The Process of truly learning aikido will take you longer than you have left to live. What I mean by this is that you will learn techniques, and how to apply them in no time.. Then if you are really a serious student of aikido, you will spend the rest of your life working through and studying the various physical techniques, and the issues each one presents. The way you perform a technique will change over time as you progress more in your understanding of not only how and why but what’s really behind it in principals.

Q. Is Aikido Fun? I played this other martial art before and didn’t like it.

A.  I have a lot of fun playing aikido. This doesn’t mean that it is right for you. the only way to know for sure is to come in and find out for yourself.

Q. So What is Aikido?

A. Please refer to the What is Aikido Page.

Q. So how do you know that Aikido WORKS?

A.  I Know that my Aikido works. It has gotten me personally through a couple of altercations. All the Techniques have been thoroughly tested in not only Randori Applications, but in real life and death situations everyday. It should be pointed out that prison guards, soldiers, and peace officers are all taught a form of aikido / aikijujitsu. They rarely lose in an altercation. As a citizen it will be easier for you though, as you will not need to restrain someone in an encounter. You only have to survive, and move on.

Q. Are you a Traditional Dojo?

A.  We are semi-Traditional in a lot of aspects. We do not bow or clap to a picture, or shrine. We bow onto and off the mat. We also circle up and show respect to each other by bowing together, for the training we are about to conduct. I fully believe that the teacher should not be placed on a pedestal, as he/she is human as well and subject to error. It is the greater teacher that can admit to his students that he/she made an error and go back to fix it.  It is also the greater students that allow for human errors, and are more interested in advancing this great art than in pointing out every small error that may eventually occur.

Q. Could you have thrown me?

(asked in the middle of a class during a small open period of movement, by a guy that just stopped in to check things out with his friend)

A.  My answer will always will be either  “Yes, three times” or sometimes simply “Yup” in this situation.   What is not said is that; 1. I could have thrown you out the door, 2. thrown you on the mat with some more positioning, and  3. I just threw your confidence…  I have a weird sense of humor and it is a part of me at all times. If you take yourself too seriously, you are missing out on the great times in life that you can have by simply smiling, and cracking a joke.  Also It is so I can ascertain if you are actually interested in Aikido, and how/why it works, or just there to take up space. I would rather have just one serious student there to work with,  than a dozen people half heartedly working their way through class.

Q. How will My Army Combatitives stand up against Aikido?

A. I personally do not Teach Aikido as if it were a sport. I realize that you have learned the “system of Combatitives” as if it were a sport competing against your Nco’s and peers. That is not in the spirit that I teach. I teach to harmonize with society, and help you Survive an Incident. Not to become the next UFC contestant. (although they could also greatly benefit from learning this art..) Yes some Tomiki Aikido Organizations do Compete, However you will be hard pressed to find one in Texas at this time.

Q. I want to learn a Martial art that I can use to beat people up when I have a Problem.

A. This is definitely not the dojo for you.  I will be happy to recommend you to a place to train, but I have a different outlook on life.  If you train with me and I find out you use it for unethical reasons, you wont be training with me for long. Of course defend yourself, and survive an altercation, but the goal of being able to go out to the bar to stir trouble, is a big no-go in my opinion.

Q.  I got your phone# from SGT. XXX, He said you train soldiers for free? What are the hidden costs?

A.  There are no hidden Costs, we are a NON-Profit dojo. I am up front about everything. You are welcome to come in and train. No cost to train and play for anyone during My scheduled Classes.  If you wish to Grade (go through the belt system), Receive recognition of your training abilities when you visit other places, and have visible recognition for your hard work and training time then you will need to become a member of the ATAA, at their yearly dues rate. Otherwise you are still welcome to come in and train during My scheduled classes. All I ask is that you reward my time with your willingness to seriously learn.

Q.  How do you stay in Business if you don’t charge tuition?

A. This is not a Business, It is a Club. We started this club so we would be able to continue playing and training in our Beloved Art since there is no other dojo around here suitable for advanced learning and training. You can only progress so far without being able to spend more than an hour a week on the mat. As well as learning the big throws and to do that you have to be able to take the big falls… there is no other dojo equipped for Aikido Or Judo  in town. I wont charge tuition because it does limit those that aren’t as affluent, but any donation that is made is gladly accepted. The real Payment We expect is that of being studious in your training, or using the door to leave.

Q. Why do you have “Permanent aikido floor” listed on your website?

A. To my knowledge there is no other permanent Aikido/judo Spring floor in this area. This is Extremely Important as it will GREATLY LESSEN your chances of Injury during your learning Process. It will also make it so you can possibly play aikido for 30 + years as some of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting have done. I originally learned on a hard rubber Karate puzzlemat floor. There was not much Ukemi taught due to the risks, My learning process with Ukemi (Falling) took a whole lot longer (due to Injuries) than those that had a forgiving surface to learn on. Rolling on cement is no problem once you learn how to roll. But it does present a few problems to learn on…lol.. For more information on spring floors click Here  or look at the Pictures of the new floor in the pic gallery  to understand what it is.

Q. Why do you train in Aikido?

A.  I have trained in a few other martial arts, and I now see how the principals can be applied differently than in the striking arts I played. When I started Training in Aikido, I found that even when I am tired I still have the ability to survive, applying the principals of aikido, and perform techniques when they present themselves. I definitely now take a whole lot less abuse in an altercation than in the arts I trained in before. I also Started to notice all the old Judoka, and other Martial Arts people on the mat, and asked them what their draw was to aikido…. The number one response was that they could still Play aikido, when they hurt due to becoming older and the injuries they received playing  their other arts. I love to play Aikido whenever I can, and have learned valuable skills to stay out of situations I used to get into years ago. The best way to win a fight is to not have to fight…

Q.  Why don’t you train in another form of Aikido? Why Tomiki Aikido?

A.  I have played in a few other systems, and this system makes the most sense to me. I like some of the differences in the other systems, and I will store those away for personal use if ever needed, I just found this to be better for me personally.  Not to say that any other system is wrong, or not as good as, because all aikido is good. I just simply prefer how the principals are applied in this form of Aikido.

Q. Several times during the Q&A it is referred to as “playing” Aikido. Why?

   Why not say training or practicing?

 A. I wrote the Q&A from my personal perspective. I answered all of the questions as I speak, and think so you can understand how the dojo-cho thinks. When I am training with my Sensei (and with Shihan when he indulges) I am definitely Training. I Play aikido with my students as my Sensei plays aikido with me while I am training. When you first learn something you will be training. After it is internalized, you can start to play with it. Working in as many variables as you can. Every new person gives me a new set of different variables. Such as a different stride, longer or shorter arms stronger movements, moving with or without your center. This allows me to Play, as I train you in the ART of Aikido. Sometimes It can get frustrating while you are learning something new. If you have someone on the opposite side of the mat, smiling and having a good time with it, I find its a whole lot easier to stay focused and not let the small frustrations get to you. I have had the good fortune of training with some of the most revered Aikidoka, and all but one were playing aikido, on the opposite side of my training in aikido. Sometimes laughing with me, sometimes laughing at me, and enjoying my seriousness. Their Positive attitude and ease of movement gave me something to look forward to.          I hope that I can be half the Instructor for you that my teachers were / Are for me. If you cant have fun with it there’s no point in doing it. Otherwise yes, Practicing would be another good term to use instead.

(the following is from one of my old Shihan after he read what I wrote.)

Jeff,

You actually left out a component – doing Aikido.  I like to use 4 parts actually. 1) Learning – getting the basic movement of a technique. 2) Practice – doing the learned technique 1 step at a time ad nausium. 3) Training – doing several learned techniques in combinations in order to understand the various options available to tori, and 4) Doing – the actual application of aikido in a “for real” situation.  Most people don’t get to stage 4, and those of us who have don’t get to it very often.

The “playing aikido” verbiage is used, usually between members of the dojo, to mean “have fun”.  If I say to you, “Lets go play” it usually refers to hand randori, but not always.  Also, to “play” is a mental state condition.  People have a tendency to remember more when they are having fun.  So if I say, “lets play some aikido” I have already put your mind in a relaxed state, a fun state, where you will be receptive to my instruction.

(This is why I love the ATAA They are interested in the growth and development of this dojo and the people teaching the art, even in a non-profit dojo)

Q. Is Aikido Better than this other Martial art my buddy is learning?

A.  There is no Martial art that is “better” than another. There are only better Martial artists.  The human body can only move in a few ways, all martial arts are derived from this fact. The only difference in reality between the arts is how you apply those Principals of movement.

Q. I studied a different Martial Art besides Aikido Before, and have achieved XXX Rank, can I wear my belt to class?

A. As long as its not pink I wont make fun of you…Lol… Seriously though, I personally don’t care. However, we now have visiting Aikidoka, and Instructors, both from our organization and from Outside Orgs. It is important that you wear your Aikido rank so they have a benchmark as to what you have been taught in Our system. This is to make sure they (visitors) don’t do techniques beyond what you are ready to handle. Most of the other Arts do not teach you to protect yourself from some of the situations and throws that occur in Aikido.

Q. What color Belt do you Wear?

A.  I tie on the belt of a serious student. It is black in color (in aikido a black belt is the sign of a serious student..not an expert). If  all you are concerned about is belt colors this may not be the Dojo for you. I have had some students come in that had no formal Ranking but had played Aikido at another post, and could do the Kata’s for up to Dan graded Levels. Their lack of belt color doesn’t stop me from spending extra time on the mat with them after class to learn what they know.. Everyone has something to offer when Honest and open training is being conducted!  

Q. What Rank are you now, and who did you really learn Aikido from?

A.  Gail and I both are Yondans in the Tomiki Ryu System of Aikido. We are serious in our training, and continue to learn under our Sensei and Dojo Sponsor Tim Cleghorn who is a Nanadan in Aikido, and a Yondan in Jyodo.

   When We Started Playing Tomiki Aikido we learned from an Officer in the U.S. Army who was teaching at The Shobukan Karate Dojo on Stan Schlueter (My Gratitude and Thanks still go to Sensei M. Da Costa for his generosity of allowing us to train there.) The Instructor Deployed So we started traveling to Houston on Saturdays and worked at keeping the Club together with the others. It became time for half of the club to leave that Organization, and we started training in the JAA Method of Tomiki Aikido with another Soldier in the club for about 6 Months. The path we were on led Us to what I call Home, Where we are now with the ATAA. I have all of my Certificates and Diplomas in the open from where I have been and am upfront about my future goals in life.   

We have had the best of  luck to be able to study Aikido under some of the best Tomiki Players, including but not limited to; Tim Cleghorn Sensei, Nick Lowry Sensei, Russell Waddell Sensei, Ray Williams Sensei,  Karl Geis Shihan, David Witt Sensei, D. Derasario Sensei, David Nyugen Sensei, Sammy Sandaval Sensei, and a few others along our path.  I may never be as good as my teachers, but If I work Dilligantly, and make it so its fun along the way, I will at least hope that they can be proud of what I have accomplished due to their hard work.

Q. I am Leaving to go to Iraq / AFG. soon, Can I still come and learn while I am Here?

A. Please do, I love to teach and to have new questions and viewpoints brought up. If you are going to be here for at least another 4 to 6 months and attend regularly you should have built up enough of a base to continue learning and practicing what I have taught you for your deployment term. I also am Happy to correspond with you by e-mail, or video (talk as you go through things so I can see what direction you are pushing as you do it), and Phone.  We have an e-mail list of all deployed students at this time for members to contact one another. Also you may get lucky enough to be at one of the camps with another and have a good Uke to learn with. (the market sells throw mats there for a reasonable price.)

Q.  Where are the guys located In AFG. that Trained with you before?

A. I will not give their locations out. Once you arrive to your Camp across the “Big Pond” shoot me an e-mail and I will send it to the guy in that camp. If you can hook up during your time off GREAT…  But I cannot and will not violate my students/Friends Trust.

Q&A with Ellis Amdur

Written by Paul Schweer

Q: In your book, Dueling With O’sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage, you took a hard look at what can go wrong in martial arts training. How might one recognize and avoid bad training environments?

Ellis Amdur: There should be absolutely no abrogation of any legal or human right in a dojo environment, and a teacher who deliberately injures a student is committing an assault, or worse, battery. That’s a crime, plain and simple.

A fellow martial arts practitioner who deliberately tries to “disable” you is also committing a crime, plain and simple.

A teacher who wants to sleep with your wife, your husband or your kid, is, at best, a sleazy human being. And any “reframe” that this is some kind of teaching is bull.

How does one know if an environment is abusive?

I am aware that this can be tough, particularly in a rugged training environment. Your teacher thumps you — was it abuse or a caution about an opening? But:

a. Read The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker — if something feels wrong, something is wrong

b. Ask yourself what it is you set out to learn — and how does a broken arm or a broken marriage move you forward on that path? How does coerced sex lead to more integrity? (This one’s important, because one might see it as an “exchange” to get more knowledge on the mat from the teacher.) The issue should not, should never be, acquisition of power alone; it is the attainment of personal integrity. A person who trades off a sense of pride, self-worth or dignity for the possibility of a better sword cut, has gained absolutely nothing.

c. Don’t deify the teacher or the art — what you think is so exclusively special is in fact all over the place. There are lots of venues where one can learn great martial arts. Maybe not the particular system or ryu you started out with, but at least one where you won’t go to class nauseous with adrenaline sickness, shaking with fear, or dealing with an aftermath of rage.

d. Use common sense, ordinary activities as your touchstone. Music class. Gym class. Ordinary learning of any kind. If you don’t need to perform sexual acts to learn to play Bach or volleyball, why should you in karate or aikido? If it’s offensive when a neighbor comes on to your spouse in a party, why not in a dojo? If you are being offered a relationship with someone who maintains a hierarchical distance based on power, status, control or the possession of knowledge that will only be yours if you roll over, and you are drawn to it, you are always mistaken, because that’s a form of mercantile exchange, otherwise known as prostituting yourself — hence, a compromise of integrity. Ask yourself why you’d choose a loss of dignity or integrity for anything.

e. Limited scope — with the exception of those in a true military environment (where one is trying to take civilized human beings and impart the ability to kill on order as part of a group), there is no need for any sort of personality breakdown in training. Challenge to preconceptions and limitations? Yes. Wiping the slate clean? No.

What I’m coming to more and more is that martial arts are nothing special. It is specialized learning that can enrich one’s life. A hobby, in other words. Just as one should not be violated collecting stamps, the same applies to a dojo. Injuries can happen, sure. But if I’m learning to ski, and my instructor tries to deliberately send me on a slope beyond my abilities, that’s criminal. If he or she is more concerned about getting laid than teaching me what I pay him or her for, that person is a gutter human being.

Q: The advice to trust one’s fear, in the context of considering how one might recognize and escape an abusive training environment, seems bittersweet. Isn’t it fair to say that seeking confidence in, or even the capacity for, self-directed action brings many to the dojo?

And I wonder if martial arts are, as you find your opinion settling near, just another hobby. Granted, most folks don’t seem to lose themselves in the magic and mystery of third-period gym. But then again, the world of sports certainly doesn’t lack exploitive and abusive behavior. But the thing that keeps bugging me, the difference that nags, is participant expectation. Do people come to Aikido primed and prepared, by their own motivations, for exploitation?

Do folks study Bach to self-actualize? Is stamp collecting a spiritual pursuit? The way of the snow ski, path or destination? Probably not. But in a few cases, probably, yes. And I’d expect those few to face the same pitfalls tripping, sometimes swallowing, those in love with loving Aikido.

Ellis Amdur: Most spiritual traditions are, in some manner, escapist, in that fear is regarded as a noxious illusion to be expunged by equanimity. In my unenlightened opinion, we were born to be human beings, and therefore, nothing human should be erased from us. Anything human carries knowledge/information. It is how we act on that knowledge. Therefore, fear, as horrid as it can feel, is a teacher. (Old Spanish proverb: The only difference between a brave man and a coward is what direction they are running). So: hopefully, through training, one masters debilitating fear; hopefully, through training, one uses fear as a teacher

My use of the word, “hobby,” is not patronizing or belittling. It is an attempt to reduce things to a proper proportion. There are survival-based activities (farming) as opposed to enriching activities (gardening). When we have accomplished survival, we have the luxury to flourish and enrich ourselves as humans. I bridle at the pretentiousness that many (myself among them, in the past) have displayed, blaring about a martial “way.” Inflation, deification, mystification — all of these are the fertile ground where abuse and illusion grow best.

Can benign expectations lead one into danger? Absolutely! Aikido — peace, love, unity, musubi, along with samurai mystique — all of these draw people with particular hopes, fears and dreams… and, yes, make them particularly vulnerable to exploitation

Q: What else do you see in those attracted to Aikido?

Ellis Amdur: Aikido seems to draw a lot of people who are looking to see “through” violence to something else. Yes, there are lots of people who are genuine fighters who no longer want to be, there are others who want to pretend to be fighters and use aikido as a place to play out fantasies, there are many bliss-ninnies and aiki-bunnies, and thousands of ordinary human beings who just love the art — any conceivable permutation of human character — but at core, I believe there is something about the movements of aikido, the way the reciprocal practice is structured with its exchange between uke and nage, which strikes many people deeply in a mysterious way. It is such a paradox! Technically, aikido is quite limited — and this is deliberate — which forces people into a template of movement. This, by definition, makes it an art, as the skill is created within a frame. There is also a psychological challenge in that one is working for conflict resolution while practicing throwing people down, or locking them in painful configurations.

I believe that aikido offers a lot of people the chance at experiencing something clean and pure — a practice of relationship that holds all the opposites — insecurity/confidence, aggression/peace, taking/giving, and metaphorically, at least, cuts a line right through the oppositions. I’m not saying that people always, or even most of the time, can do this. But I think of Yasunori Kuwamori or Shirata Rinjiro, and see that aikido can be a vehicle to this end. Not enlightenment. Simply a clean line through life.

Ellis Amdur

Special Thanks to Mr. Schweer for allowing us to share this here.