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Caring for Your Dojo…er…Studio

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Building a welcoming, peaceful studio has many faces. Some are obvious, and others…a little more subtle.

There is a financial one, which in our case has been a semi-transparent process as we have had a crowdfunding campaign which outlined our budget and scope, and is being tracked quite publicly via our web page. There is the physical transformation of the space, which has been very transparent through our photos shared in online albums and through volunteers personally showing up to lend their energies and see it change before their very eyes. There is an emotional one, which I feel I have been somewhat open about, to the degree that I want to be joyous about our accomplishments, convey my deep gratitude to everyone who has contributed to our project, and various expressions that I am taking things very seriously (hence the ZOMGMINDBLOWINGSTRESS posts sometimes ­čśë )

And then there is…the administrative aspects. Which isn’t really something that easy to see from the outside. It’s all about the little things. As a Virgo, I have a life-long appreciation for order and reliability–the “little” things. I try to make sure this shines through in every communication and encounter I have with my students and collaborators (and lord knows I am not perfect), but man…herding cats is tough! And I just invited a dump-truck load of fresh, feral cats into my life with opening a studio. Setting up the studio with the right philosophies, policies, clearest communication, and general readiness for all that may come down the pike…that is a full time job in itself.

In all my business planning and list-making, I have been trying to keep space for research and reflection into the more intangible aspects of owning a studio. Today, as I head into my first week of classes as we launch with a humble soft-opening tomorrow, I am meditating a bit on every kind of space I have been to which made me feel…well..good. Not just dance studios, but businesses, homes and any building that has invited me into it and how it made me feel.

One such space that stands out in my mind was an Aikido studio I used to attend for Taiko drumming lessons. It was a spare wooden warehouse, painted in stark whites as the only contrast to the blank grey-beige of the tatami. There was almost nothing you would call art or decoration in the entire space. Visually speaking, it was largely the opposite of everything I am drawn to–texture, color, vibrancy! Yet entering this space would immediately center me. The ritual practice of bowing to the mat as you enter and leave it–even though I was just going to walk across it to reach the side of the room the drums were on–instilled a sense of reverence for the building itself from the moment you walk in. I learned that in Aikido, the students are expected to participate in care and upkeep of the studio as part of their holistic practice–something that is common in martial arts, but is apparently highly emphasized in Aikido in particular in the concept of Misogi, or purification of the mind, body, and spirit:

“Misogi can be achieved through many different ways. The most obvious is through our Aikido training. Misogi can also be obtained through meditation, caring and doing things for others, and by performing chores such as cleaning and painting the dojo.”
– Calvin Koshiyama of Aikido North

As I would admire the pristine space each week on coming in, I could imagine how the many hands of the students and staff working in tandem managed to imbue this space with the spirit, somehow, of all who came. It was filled with the energy of those who cared about it, who were invested in it, and you could feel it seeping from the walls.

More recently, I rented studio space at the beautiful m’illumino, and found a similar sense of calm and reverence permeated that space. As I came to know the owner, Bridget, I learned why: she was an avid Aikido practitioner and was applying the principles of her studies in her own space. While her space had a tad more color, including vivid artwork hung here and there, there was a sense of invitation and belonging that Bridget built into that space through her attitude toward it, and the people she chose to work within its walls. I am certain she has her own stories about renters who were less than invested or careful with her property, her open heart and expectation of care for the space as a communal responsibility imbued a sense of ownership in me and all who rented there. We were inspired to care for it, to nurture it, because it was special and in so many ways “ours” as much as it was Bridget’s.

This is the kind of loving care and collective responsibility I am hoping to bring into our space at Studio Deep Roots. Not because I want to shirk my duties as owner or unload it onto others, but because I know how connected it made me feel to be a renter or a student in these spaces when I was handed that opportunity to participate. Lending my energy wasn’t always easy or joyful, yet the net result was feeling truly at home whenever I walked through the doors. Those spaces were like living beings I was asked to help feed and water and bathe, and in return I got so much more than I would have from any other place I may have taught or studied.

The Serene Front Lobby

In the past month plus, I and my students have most definitely been practicing our own Misogi–cleaning, painting, sawing, decorating, offering food and support to one another while we sweat it out, you name it. Each volunteer has already begun to imbue the space with their energy, and I have to admit, I can feel it. And I can tell everyone else is really feeling it, too! Every person who has toured the space, from the very first week we walked in there to start work, has commented on how special the place feels and how confident they are in our future success. I sure hope they are right! I can say with confidence that if we do make this crazy thing work, then it is thanks to all the many hands–in the past few weeks and in the coming weeks, months, and years–who have touched every aspect of this space and lent their personal energy and good juju to the mix. I couldn’t be more humble or grateful in the face of such enthusiasm and trust.

I thought I would share some links to some Aikido studio articles I was reading recently as inspiration for my own approach to studio ownership. Only time will tell if this model will make sense for our new home, but I think it’s worth a shot. I would like to think that I can somehow continue or further the traditions of studios I have known and loved, honoring that which I have enjoyed in my own life, and instill that same sense of ownership and invitation in all those who walk through our doors.

Running an Aikido Dojo by Stefan Stenudd

“Don’t hesitate to let your members sweat both on the tatami and off it. Involve them in the work. Let them feel like pioneers, since that is essentially what they are. They don’t need to be spoiled – quite the contrary. They want to feel involved and essential in the forming process of the dojo.

Those who can’t take the heat you don’t want as members, anyway. Anybody who expects just to pay the fee and then be served is not fit to join a dojo. On the other hand, people who contribute to the dojo work with smiling faces, they are fit even if they have two left feet and never learn the difference between┬áomote┬áand┬áura.”

Dojo Etiquette by Matt Fluty Sensei of The Aikido Center

Throughout the year, the students and faculty engage in an extended cleaning of the dojo. These events are usually held on Saturdays. Please join in as we bring love and attention to taking care of the dojo.

 

The dojo is maintained not only by the efforts of the sensei, but by the entire student body and faculty. Everyone combines their talents in order to better the dojo. Your assistance helps to maintain and further the manifestation of the dojoÔÇÖs vision and purpose. If you wish to offer your own unique and special service to the dojo, please contact Sensei.

Studio Deep Roots is having a soft opening and holding its very first class Tuesday September 12th, Skills n’ Drills at 7pm. We will open class with a moving meditation, and then follow class with a toast to the new space, social, and open jam. Register for a six-week session of Skill’s n Drills now, or drop-in for a one-night-only discount of $10. Just wanna jam and socialize? Throw $5 for the jam in the basket when you arrive! Feel free to bring a potluck drink or snack to share. All the details at our Facebook Event page.

 

Shay
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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

Shay
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