Why we start

Over the past couple of months, our dojo at Hamacho has welcomed a handful of solid new members. This is a big deal for us, since the dojo was focused primarily on a core group of black belts for a very long time.

Especially in Japan, it’s rare to really have an influx of adult students, so we want to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity. So of course, we’ve been thinking about all the basic things - the practice schedule, training routines, how we want to run each class to make it valuable to both old and new students - but it’s also had me thinking a lot about motivation.

In short, what does each student really want from Taido?

If Taido is addressing your true wants and needs, then you’ll commit to putting in the hard work during training. You’ll show up, even when you’re busy. You’ll stick around and improve. But if Taido isn’t meeting those deep motivations, you’ll find excuses to quit.

When people quit Taido, there’s a 99.99% chance they’ll say it’s because they’re “too busy.”

This is almost always a lie.

The truth is that everybody has their own unique reasons for starting. Those too, we tend to cover up with generalities and half-truths. The psychology behind it is interesting, but it’s not really the point. We say “I wanted to get some exercise,” or “I want to learn some basic self-defense,” or something else that’s equally vague, and most of these surface goals would be better met with something else anyway.

When I was seven, I started Taido, which at the time was indistinguishable from karate. There were a lot of reasons. I often say I started because I wanted to be like Daniel LaRusso in Karate Kid. But the real reasons were two:

  1. I wanted to be like my father, who was practicing other martial arts, and…

  2. I was small and the youngest kid in my class, and I didn’t wanna be picked on.

Taido never got me a girlfriend like it did Daniel. I never won the Valley All-Styles Tournament either :)

But I did get to spend a lot of time with my dad, because he joined Taido too. And as I practiced, I developed a lot of confidence in myself that I hadn’t had before (whether or not that was bred from genuine fighting ability is a topic for another time). Because those two boxes were checked off, I didn’t quit Taido like thousands of the other students I practiced with over the years, most of whom also saw Karate Kid.

So identifying the real reason a student begins Taido is extremely important if we want the to stay and be successful.

Unfortunately, it’s not something you can usually ask directly. Oftentimes, the student doesn’t really know precisely why; it’s just a feeling they have that they wanna do this. In Japan, it’s also a bit rude to ask direct, personal questions to people you don’t know well, even in the context of trying to help them. Martial arts are a traditional part of Japanese culture, so the idea of a bespoke student experience is pretty foreign; everybody has expectations of what the interaction is gonna be like, and you have to kind of color within those lines.

Still, I’m getting closer to their real motivations each practice. And if I can figure them out in time, I’ll be able to keep them in the dojo and teach them how to keep learning from Taido for a very long time.

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