Contributed by Wes Bailey, November 2006
Recently, something very unique and noteworthy happened for martial arts in the Southeastern U.S. For the past 2 ½ years, members of the Kyushinkan Dojo, an aikido association in a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, have watched and waited as the construction of their new training facility inched its way from idea to reality.
Now, in November of 2006, the project is complete and, at last, the dojo is open for training. The kickoff event was held October 14 through 17 when the new 11,000 square foot facility hosted Andrew Sato Sensei, 6th Dan and head of the Aikido World Alliance, for the First Annual AWA Yudanshakai and Fall Camp. The event was attended by over 120 aikidoka from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and was a great success.
The Roswell Budokan bills itself as offering "traditional training in a progressive environment". Classes are now in full session and an expanded selection of arts and disciplines are being offered to members.
$2 Million Multi-arts non-profit Center takes vision and hard work
At the previous dojo location, training included Aikido, Iaido, Judo, Karate and Tai Chi, with periodic special events such as Calligraphy with Hiroshi Tajiri Sensei. At the new center, Ju Jitsu has been added to the lineup, as have fine arts programs in Calligraphy, Origami, Ikebana and Japanese language, plus wellness programs including classes in Pilates, Aerobics, and Yoga. Chiropractic and Massage therapy are offered by expert practitioners.
The roots of the Roswell Budokan stretch back over a decade. In 1995, the Aikido Association of Atlanta was created by Ginny Whitelaw Sensei, 5th Dan, and at that time Chief Instructor of the Kyushinkan dojo. As a Zen priest, Whitelaw Sensei's vision of the dojo was a spiritual undertaking. She conceived it as a place that would benefit the community through transmission of the arts. Though no longer affiliated with the dojo, her vision has been maintained by current Dojo-cho, Paul Domanski, 4th Dan, and a dedicated group of teachers.
Visitors to the Roswell Budokan are routinely surprised to learn that, from the beginning, the organization has held non-profit status, that there are no enrollment contracts, and there is no requirement or pressure to test accompanied by high fees. How is it possible then that this two million dollar facility was conceived and realized? The answer lies in the vision of a few, and the teamwork of many.
Two years in the making, a healthy business model
It all started in the spring of 2004 when two members of the Kyushinkan dojo began looking for a new location for their growing Aikido school. Bob Hodge and Mike Goodman quickly became disillusioned with the prospects. After visiting a number of potential sites, they found that many had similar drawbacks. Spaces with the 3000 square foot size they wanted were often located in industrial parks, which were typically commercial and warehouse areas. Better locations were prohibitively expensive. It became apparent that, in order for the dojo to be financially viable, the space would have to be large enough to house more than just Aikido. An even larger space would be needed, increasing the cost even more. Finally, Mike proposed that it would probably be just as cheap in the long run to simply buy some land and build a dojo that satisfied all of these needs. So the plan for the Roswell Budokan, a martial arts and cultural center, was conceived and set into motion.
When Goodman and Hodge began exploring the possibilities of building a dojo, they had some advantages. Bob Hodge was a realtor and developer, and knew the business of land acquisition and construction. Mike Goodman was an attorney, and provided legal counsel throughout. They both donated their services for the entire project.
The first step was to seek other dojo members who were willing and able to make substantial investment of money required to get the ball rolling. An LLC, Bokken Investment Group, was established and seven investors raised the initial capital required.
The plan they conceived is for the dojo to generate revenues that cover its operating costs and, at some point, an additional amount that will be paid into the building fund established by the investors. Over time, this fund will grow to a point that it can be used by the non-profit as a down payment on financing to buy the building from the investment group at a below-market rate. The long-term plan for these investors is not to make a killing, but to make a modest return in 10 - 15 years. The principal motivation was to give back to the organization in a way that would benefit others.
Once the money was in place, the next step was to acquire land and begin the design, permitting and construction process. Finding the right location was crucial, and the group selected a site that was conveniently located in an established, upscale area not far from the dojo's previous location. Bob Hodge deserves major credit for this segment, locating and negotiating the land purchase, and later acting as general contractor for the duration of the construction, again at no charge. It turned out to be quite an ordeal.
Land acquisition, setbacks, and dedicated volunteers
Bob spent endless hours dealing with city and county governmental red tape, municipal engineers, approval committees and easements. The review process delayed the project by months, and resulted in a totally unexpected problem. By the time construction was ready to begin, hurricane Katrina had destroyed the gulf coast, and construction materials saw a spike in cost of 25 - 50%. Increases to materials costs in the HVAC system alone totaled over $25,000. And the effects were felt in everything from copper pipe to concrete, steel and transportation. Just when it seemed that nothing else could go wrong, county regulators changed the approved location of a critical water vault. The dollar cost was dramatic, and the delays mounted. In the end, overall construction headaches held up completion of the dojo by 6 - 7 months.
Not all news was bad though. The dojo was fortunate to have a very deep pool of talent that was willing to become involved in the project in a very hands-on way. Construction professionals donated time to build fixtures and assist in the process. One notable team-building project occurred when over 30 dojo members, adults and kids, came in one Saturday and worked all day to install a special flooring system in the tatami area. The floor consists of two layers of ¾" thick plywood set on special rubber feet, similar to that found in professional sports arenas.
Other dojo members who are IT, data and telecom professionals worked to coordinate computer systems, phones and video. Many meetings were held, and multiple committees were formed to distribute the tasks needed to operate the facility once it opened. Advertising and Marketing, Building Maintenance, Membership, Retail. And on, and on. Now, at long last, the construction phase of the Roswell Budokan is complete, and the next, most important phase begins - operating and growing a first class martial arts, cultural and learning center.
Bright present and future, aikido and more
Future plans include expansion of both adult and kids classes, as well as offering after school programs. As a non-profit, the Roswell Budokan is able to receive grant money for approved programs benefiting youth, and the community at large. Upcoming events include an AWA Summer Camp with Andy Sato Sensei in July 2007 and a seminar with Haruyoshi Horikoshi Sensei, 7th Dan Aikikai in the spring of 2007.
When it was first conceived, the idea of building a new dojo was to have a top notch place to train in Aikido and other arts. But as it has grown, the idea of the Roswell Budokan has become something much more. It is a cultural center offering a variety of activities that community members can participate in to improve themselves. Fine arts and wellness courses offer avenues for those not wishing to train in martial arts.
The important, Aikido-inspired goal is to offer a harmonious, non-competitive environment where people can feel safe and welcome. It's the kind of place where they can come to challenge themselves, find their own path to self-improvement, and hopefully make a few new friends along the way.