Every Community Needs a Dojo

A Dojo is a unique place in today’s world. It’s almost as if as you bow and cross the threshold, you enter a different world, where you have a chance to create yourself anew each day you show up to train. Back in 2015, after spending six months remodeling a part-time rented yoga studio into our newly-leased full-time Quantum Dojo now known as the Dragon Room, I wrote a piece about the powerful transformative energy of the Dojo. Have a read here.

There are many types of dojos. Since a dojo can be any place where art is pursued, a dojo can also be a name for an art studio or a music conservatory. Every ballet academy, ceramics studio, soccer field, baseball diamond, or drum circle could be considered a dojo of sorts. I created the Quantum Dojo as a place that inspired me to pursue martial arts, that is to say, pursue myself. In that pursuit of myself and my healing, I knew I did not want my art to be fear-based, so I took a different path from the traditional function of modern martial arts—self-defense—which relies on the threat of being attacked. For me, creating an open, welcoming community space, offering martial arts training for free to anyone who asks, and surrounding myself with others seeking a similar path was the way to pursue my healing and my art. The Quantum Dojo is the Place of that Way. 

Most broadly, ‘Dojo’ is a term used to describe a place where the martial arts are pursued. There are two basic ways to approach the martial arts—a style is either geared toward combat or toward self-improvement. The combat approach can include aspects of a deeper development of self, just as those that dive deeper into self-mastery can also include elements of combat. These two approaches, while not entirely mutually exclusive, are the starting point for defining the Dojo itself, and its relationship to the greater communities that they serve. To me, the concept of self-improvement through community building as a Dojo was the model that aligned with my path in life.

Combat-oriented dojos can include those focused on self-defense, tournaments, or prize fights. Many of these training centers do not refer to themselves as dojos, instead preferring the concept of a gym. They call their instructors “coaches,” often do not wear uniforms, and shun many of the trappings found inside of a traditional dojo. The recent popularization of mixed martial arts (MMA) is a great example of a combat sport that you would find in a gym. This doesn’t mean that every member of these gyms actually wants to step into the ring, but it colors the training that every patron receives. Similarly, Krav Maga is an Israeli form of self-defense that emerged following the Jewish persecution during WWII. As such, it is purely articulated to teach street survival to its practitioners under the most severe of conditions. This doesn’t mean that a Krav Maga Institute doesn’t create some of the same community cohesiveness found in a dojo, it’s just not a part of their stated purpose. Again, this impacts everything from the techniques used and studied to how the community finds ways to stand together—and they do not refer to their training centers as “dojos.”

Further, Tae Kwon Do is an Olympic sport that is focused on fighting and winning matches under Olympic rules; but they also profess to be a martial art and teach aspects of character development, forms, and self-defense. There usually are traditional elements of a Dojo at a TKD school, and they most often call themselves a Dojang, the Korean term for a martial arts school. However, all avenues of their training are built around the idea of competing and prevailing in a sporting event, and this axiom of their style permeates the student’s experience at every level.

If a martial arts training center makes combat the central feature of their art, then fear is a constant presence in the classroom. Even when talking about the minutiae of streamlining a specific technique, that fear becomes a part of the ongoing conversation, and hence is a building block of the art or style itself. When fear is part and parcel of your martial arts, then all tools developed in the laboratory of the classroom will be stamped with that emotional connection. 

This is one of the main things making the Quantum style different from other martial arts. Our training encourages the practitioner to develop their martial arts outside the realm of fear. Through encouraging a concept of strength, students develop skills upon a platform that is not reinforced with fear as one of its many pillars. If the stated purpose of a style is to conquer fear, then fear cannot be a part of the process by which it is dismantled. Quantum mirrors this fearless approach in everything with which we interact. From the style of teaching the classes to the business plan for the future of the Dojo—this fearlessness is embodied in the Quantum approach. This is what allowed us to adapt, grow, and thrive during the pandemic, continuing to serve our community with the concept of the Dojo as our rock. 

At Quantum we approach the development of strength as a virtue best practiced in the presence of the community, and our culture has been nurtured to support that ideal. The concept of courtesy is one that encourages the development of consciousness; becoming aware of how your actions affect others allows the practitioner to develop a seamless way of interacting with the community, and provides lubrication to social situations. But it also provides the central tenet to our training, one that can easily replace the idea of self-defense or winning a prize fight. Make no mistake; the Quantum style is an effective self-defense system, for form follows function and it must be functional. If you are able to keep track of your opponent, the self-defense part becomes a lot easier. Be present. Cultivate knowledge, understanding, and awareness—not the fear of being attacked… or of losing.

Commercial Dojos rely on revenue for services rendered to function and grow. Like any business, they must find ways to pay their staff, provide insurance, pay their rent and utilities, purchase new training equipment and maintain the Dojo—all while providing access to their students, staffing their classes, and scheduling outside activities like tournaments or seminars. They use a variety of methods to do this, and like many businesses, these costs are often passed to the consumer and mostly hidden until they come up during the course of a student’s training. These extra costs include testing fees (which can range from $25 to as much as $5,000), tournament fees, extra sparring gear or weapons, required new uniforms or classes upon reaching different levels of advancement, or initiation fees. These businesses also need to find ways to contractually obligate members to pay the Dojo every month—some of these contracts can range from 1 to 3 years or more. 

I see a Dojo not only as a place of learning and self-development, but also as a place to gather as a community with other like-minded people. A Dojo needs to work for the surrounding community in its actions, and demonstrate a commitment to service in its approach to business and welfare. This is where the non-profit business model aligns well with our goals, and allows the Quantum Dojo to have a great impact on all who have a chance to interact with the organization and its members. I often think about how our kids bring the Quantum culture back to school with them, exposing others to this fearless ideal of strength, leadership, and unwavering courtesy. When I consider our adult students, they are also living examples of our commitment to walking with peace, strength, and confidence. The simple act of standing up straight can lead others toward seeking their own deeper, more committed sense of self. By creating a business model based upon donations and fitting to each family’s budget needs, we’ve further refined our student body to reflect those values. Every person in the class wants to be there; no one is coerced to attend. Discipline is not imposed upon the practitioner; rather we instill the concept by creating opportunities for each member to find their own reason for cultivating self-control, and then provide a safe space to pursue it.

This process creates a never-ending flow of priceless gifts to all who come into our sphere of influence. Whether a student stays for a day, a month, a year, or a decade, these gifts continue to flow long after the end of their training on the mat. Through combining the concepts of a non-profit business model coupled with a commitment to self-improvement, the Quantum Dojo is a unique animal in the world of the martial arts. As long as the Dojo continues to partner with our neighborhood, it will have a lasting effect as our students venture forth into the world.

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