Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Death of a Dojo

Sad news friends. The temple dojo once known as KyuRyu Aikibudo Dojo in South Austin has passed on. On Sunday we were forced to strip it of the mats and artifacts that made it our home for so many years.

Our group started in fall of 2005. I had not found a dojo that I wanted to train at since I had returned from Japan. I was very poor, and could not afford the large membership fees other groups in town demanded. In my search I even considered doing a different art form. Eventually I decided to start a group. I knew I was not ready or worthy to start one, but I had no choice, I needed to train. My one car garage was set up nicely and we began training. A few people came and we were off. I had a dojo, God help us.

Eventually my old friend Glenn dropped in for a training session. He was quickly hooked. As the fates would have it he was in the middle of a break up and the pottery studio behind his house was being vacated by his ex. Although I am sure the lady was not to happy with me, within days of her moving out I had replaced the ceiling with reed mats, repaired and painted the walls and began hanging art. Thus the room was born.

Building a proper mat is a tremendous undertaking. We probably built 6 versions over the years. The first version was a simple carpet unrolled on some carpet padding. It was a humble beginning but we had a room, something to fall on, a few students and a half ass teacher.

I was proud of the little group that was coming together. I had the authority to do some kyu grading in Daito Ryu, so it was a start. I decided to get plugged back into the larger martial arts community so I could get the higher level teachers in to play. I wrote several martial arts teachers. Only one responded. It was my first aikido teacher, Russell Waddell, who was in retirement at that time. With a bit of begging I got him to come down and do a few gradings for us and to help us solve a few problems. I am eternally grateful that he accepted, and he is largely to blame for the Austin Tomiki group taking root. I brought him out of retirement, he expanded our horizons.

By 2006 we were rolling. We quickly hit our peak membership of 14 people at this time. That is a lot of people for a little space. Waddell Sensei donated some canvas that had covered his mats in Lewisville Texas. We raided the local carpet shop dumpsters and neatly stacked the carpet pieces in three layers and stretched the canvas over them. This gave us some decent mats for a time, but they slowly shifted giving us little peaks and valleys. I loved that crappy mat.

By the end of 2006 the dojo had become the center of my creative life. A crew of us dojo guys went out to Burning Man and built an art piece together under the leadership of Garreth. On October 28th 2006 I was married in front of the dojo.

For the wedding I had a very special guest. One of my best friends from my time in Japan came in for the wedding. We arrived to Japan together, we wrote our first kanji together at a JET program orientation. While in Japan I pursued the martial arts, he chose the path of the brush. We spent many nights up late drinking beer, wielding the brush, meditating to the rhythms of English dance music and contemplating the process of Zen. I love that man.

The calligraphy society that he eventually joined was called KyuRyu - which means to study the dragon. When he came to visit, I told him I wanted to name the dojo in honor of the time we trained together. I called our little room KyuRyu AikiBudo Dojo.

The next couple years ran eventfully. Waddell Sensei continued to run seminars and train. Parker Sensei joined us too. A few dynamic personalities bounced in and out of our dojo lives in this time. A few members of the online FA community joined us, and a few members of the Burn community did as well. Some stuck around, some went on their merry ways and we were all the richer for the time spent together.

Probably the most important connection we made at this time was with the American Tomiki Aikido Association. Jeff and Cleghorn Sensei were happy to recruit us. We are happy and love our growing aikido extended family.

2009 was a major transition year for us. I had made a New Years resolution to find some more teachers to play with. I had read that Nick Lowry had gone independent, and I wrote him asking about some aikido and judo stuff. We became quick friends, and he told me to look up Matl Sensei who is in the area. Matl Sensei sent me to Hussey Sensei - so eventually that one connection led me to three new teachers and great friends. Waddell Sensei told me everything was about to change in my practice, and he was right.

In 2009 we hosted Nick Lowry for the first time. I graduated my first two shodans that year, Scooter and Michael. They continue to be the backbone of my practice and my best friends. Nick brought his crew. The great men Greg Ables and Kyle Sloan entered our lives.

2010 was dominated by rethinking our practice, and a whole lot of filming. Hussey Sensei and Matl Sensei redefined the practice with us and they highlighted problems that we had to solve. Our dojos grew closer. I began studying judo at deeper levels that I had before. Waddell and Lowry continued to be a presence.

But alas 2011 brings the death toll for our little room. First we learned that it was no longer permissible to share names with our shodo brothers. Then our energies split into two groups and the numbers dwindled. Scooter took the reigns since February. Finally on Sunday, we went in to train and there was a bed in the middle of the dojo. Someone was living in the dojo. Apparently the landlord is not a communicator and rented out the room without informing us. Its cool, time to play in another playground.

The spirit was dead in there. The dragons had all left.

We tore up the mats, grabbed our art and headed out. It was a good run. Good times and good friends. Alas the room is just a vessel not the contents. Already the practice is growing at the new dojo. New fresh faces are pouring in and the same ole' ugly ones too. I was pretty gutted for the past few days. But like a phoenix from the ashes...hmm maybe a new dojo name is in there somewhere.


  1. Sorry to hear the death of the dojo. But good luck in the new one! Just like a pheonix.

  2. Sorry to hear it. When I offer my sympathies, it's in the real meaning of the word, having gone through, and continuing to go through, the same thing.



  3. Best of luck in your new location!