Starting karate was easy, my dad couldn’t wait to take me to my first class, starting my own club, has been one of my biggest challenges yet, but also one of the most rewarding.
For about 3 or 4 years I had been thinking about whether I should open the doors to my own club or not. I’d been teaching on a regular basis at Zetsurin Otley for about 5 years already, and had watched how the young club had grown into strong club, not only in terms of student numbers but far more importantly I watched it grow into a club with solid foundations of respect and love for the art, as well as budo spirit.
Having been closely involved in the club for so many years I was under no illusions that setting up and running a club would be easy. I knew it required not only time dedicated to teaching class, but the hours that go in behind the scene, very often not seen by the students and parents, is really what makes a successful and strong club.
Taking into account the amount of work I knew would be involved, the additional hours of my personal ‘free time’ it would devour and considering that I already have a full-time senior job role in a young start up company..... in December 2016 I made the decision to start it anyway! --If anyone's thinking of starting your own dojo, i really recommend this article by Jesse Enkamp, it helped me decide.
After a few conversations with my partner in karate since a young age, my brother Kieron, we set to work to ensure that we could open the doors on the 14 January 2017, almost 22 years after walking into a dojo for the first time myself.
There was by no means a flood of people waiting at the door, but there were at least some people. For our junior session, there were just 2 eager children and for our adult’s session about 6 adults… most of which (all bar 1) were friends that were kind enough to come a long and show their support.
Over the next month or so we continued to get a few more children, including a lucky find of four brothers that were very keen. But still no floods of people, despite distributing almost 2000- flyers to local schools, Facebook campaigns etc. By April that year the children’s class had about 6 -8 regulars each week depending. I remember one Saturday morning I got a call from the mum of the four boys to say they’d be unable to attend that day, knowing it was half term and other students might be away, I did have a few moments of panic, and worry convinced no one would turn up for that day’s class- which surely meant the club was a failure?
Now I can’t remember whether anyone did turn up that day or not, today it seems insignificant, completely overshadowed by the gains and progress our (few) students were making each time they came to class. When our first students went to their very first karate grading I’m certain that Kieron and I were far more nervous than they were, but could not have been prouder when they all passed with flying colours and massive smiles - a sight I won’t forget!
In May 2017, after being approached by Bob Jones a well known Aikidoka we move from our previous location to Ichiban Leeds, as the ‘resident karate club’, and in so doing added a Monday class to our teaching schedule. Now I can definitely remember turning up to teach to the Monday sessions and there being no one to teach. As our ‘regular students’ were used to training on a Saturday, they were unable to fit another Monday session in. Between May and August 2017 classes grew steadily but were still small. Whilst we continued to do marketing, we realised that the best marketing we could do was in delivering excellent classes to our students every session, whether it be to one or 10 students on the tatami and to have a genuine care and interest in their progress, not only at karate but also in other aspects of their lives.
This part of the ‘job’ is probably the hardest, but as I learned at Zetsurin Otley it's the ‘secret ingredient’ to a great club. Teaching a kata or a new move that we’ve done more than a few hundred times or more to a beginner is easy, treating each student as an individual and engaging wholeheartedly with them, that’s the part that if you’re doing it right, should leave you exhausted after each session and awake at night worrying about a student’s progress, lack thereof or upcoming grading.
Today about 20 months after setting up our club we have over 30 students from age 3.5yrs plus. We have students that are aspiring Olympians and students that would just like to work on their confidence because of bullying at school, or adults that want a more interesting and fun way to get fit. We aim to give each of these students the same care and attention as the next but ensure that its specific to them, that they are made to feel an individual.
Has starting a club been hard? Yes!
Have there been times when I thought I might give up? Yes, we all have doubts!
Has it been worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
I can only talk for myself, but I’ve learned probably more about myself and dealing with other people in the last 20 months than I think I ever have. It’s been hard, its been challenging, it’s been tiring and sometimes frustrating, but every time I see a student make progress or achieve a goal, I’m reminded of the reasons we do it and that it's all worth it! Although I may end up grey a few years ahead of schedule!