A Home from Home – Again!

There really aren’t many permanent dojo around these days. My first dojo was one of these rare places (Walsall Martial Arts back in 1984) and was a converted social club with a dojo on the first floor and a bar/changing rooms/Karate Champ arcade game on the ground floor. Six days a week there was keiko, mostly traditional karate (Wado-ryu) but they enjoyed a few guest instructors teaching other goodies from time to time. I pretty much lived there for years, and was a home from home for me.

Eventually it was bought out by a large karate organisation that turned the teachings from traditional wado to something, well, still traditional, but different. As a consequence, a lot of the membership didn’t feel the urge to relearn a lot of stuff and eventually, the club folded due to dwindling numbers. The building was bought by the local college and became an annexe for students to use as a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award centre. I did some volunteer work there for a few years, taking the kids out into wild country (Dudley? Wolverhampton?) and teaching them orienteering etc. Walsall College eventually stopped the D of E courses and the once-great-dojo-turned-activity-centre was emptied, and stayed that way for a couple of years.

The building was knocked down last year. I tried to get access one last time before it got destroyed in the name of progress to make way for a shopping centre, but the fat idiot with the word ‘security’ on his jacket (heh, the only thing secure about this guy was the fact that no-one was nicking his lunch) said no. So, I took a few pics and went home, smiling about great times when I started out as a budoka.

For those of you interested, I was forced into budo by my dad as he wanted me to join the family tradition of boxing. I refused, he was adamant, I wouldn’t budge, he continued etc etc. Eventually I gave in and said I would have a go at martial arts instead of boxing. We looked around on the weekend, visited this place on Monday and by Wednesday I was a karateka! This was when I was 11.

Anyway, back to the dojo thing. I took pictures, went home, showed the mrs my pics and regaled her of stories of times gone by in my second home. She lasted 15 minutes exactly before nodding off, bored senseless. Eventually, Sleeping Beauty woke up and asked me why I didn’t run our group out of a permanent dojo? I said quite simply ‘costs more than keeping bloody horses’.

I explained that even the commercially-minded guys tend to hire out premises on a weekly/monthly basis. 97% of martial arts groups* in the west are not capable of maintaining premises due to the constant ebb and flow of their student input.

(* I made that up)

However, we have spent a lot of money over the years hiring venues for practice, and the mrs being very good with money (unlike me) got talking, worked out our current costs and informed me the astronomical expenses we were coughing up at the moment. I also considered our student retention rate. Since starting over four years ago, we have lost three students – two moved abroad and are still practicing and one to serious injury. We have lost zero students to apathy/disinterest/moving on.

Hmm, the club is growing, we have added an extra night of practice to the schedule, the guys pay the dojo fees via standing order to maintain financial stability – and with a bit of tweaking (and hiring the dojo out to other interested groups), we could possibly have a permanent dojo.

This was not good. Ever since then, I have wasted One-Meeellion-Man-Hours (Dr Evil voice needed there) on number crunching, researching costs and making enquiries – all with the plan of running our MA studies from our own place. Instead of paying a fortune to borrow other peoples’ premises, we could pay a fortune and have our own! Somewhere to train, to meet up, to chat after keiko, to serve as the Second Dojo (the pub), to hide from our other halves! Superb! Might even put a Karate Champ arcade game in there!

We sign the lease in a fortnight. WOOHOO!

– Scott

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