/u/RokasLeo I fallowed your "martial arts journey" for a while now. You seemed like an asshole to me and i heavily disliked you at some point (point where you tried "fixing" aikido- a thing i have a very hard stance against)- this is because i was heavily biased against aikidoka in general (you will understand why if you read my post). I had an impression you were just complimenting other martial arts and pretending you are open to change to get the reciprocal praise back to aikido and/or viewers.
I realized recently i may have been wrong, and you actually reminded me of my own "journey". And with this news of you closing your dojo i completely sympathize with you- i know the exact feeling. I hope this post offers you some support, and maybe of my experience provides you insight and maybe even helps you out.
To give some context- About my background:
I trained judo my entire life (full 25 years in a month time now).
In the meantime i trained aikido (a style called real aikido to be precise- combination of some judo techniques, jiu-jitsu and aikido) for ~10 years too. By that i mean it started out by using the mats during aikido classes with a judoka friend of mine that did aikido too to do extra judo. Long story short- they sucked me in to get belts in aikido as well (which in start didn't require a lot of training for me already having years of experience in judo, so i did it). I viewed aikido as useful for me, because i could use locks and control on the ground effectively because my judo throws and just grappling experience complimented it a lot.
5 years later i was free of paying membership and i was helping (warm-ups, being uke all the time for demonstrations, going around class pointing out mistakes and demonstrating) multiple aikido classes at one location. 2 years later i was a back belt aikido instructor, having a full pay for teaching classes on my own at 3 locations (really a record time to get a black belt at the time in that school, but it was easier for me because it was 2nd in a row for me at this point). I remained an instructor inside this huge school (some 600+ students) for 2 more years.
During those 9 years i did a lot of other martial arts too. Boxing, wrestling, mma (had amateur and semi-pro fights in it) for years, i also tried out many other martial arts. In short i became a somewhat competent martial artist. The problem arose when i realized- while i was doing great, my friends and students (who i got very attached to by that point) really tanked with only aikido (this is how i realized how bad of a system of training it is when trained solo). During my last 2 years as an instructor in that school i felt free (this was officially the schools stance) that i can include my own teaching, techniques i knew and philosophy alone. Problem was i included too much of non-aikido techniques (i advocated knee on belly and kesa gatame if you lose a wristlock in aikido on the ground, before re-establishing it… you can imagine LOL, just the idea a wristlock can be lost because the partner ACTUALLY RESISTED fully was a ridiculous notion for older black belts). Anyways i was often berated by the owner and older black belts (for just crosstraining in the first place, and it became extreme when i tried teaching what i know to students), and even excluded from teaching some classes at one point- and this was the last straw.
I just quit aikido completely, and i fucking hated everything about it. (yeah i told you i was biased)
Did more training (judo/wrestling/kickboxing) than i ever did in my life for 2 years (we are talking 5 hours per day 6 days a week of just those 3). Several of my instructor friends (young guys like me) also left the old aikido dojo during that time and opened up their places (taking a lot of students with them from the locations they worked at). I visited my old initial dojo to see what's up because i heard a lot of rumors. It turned into a complete bullshit money making scheme full mcDojo, this was the only place my friends didn't pull students from, most of my old students just quit on their own by that point. The few that remained there actually already had black belts on their own, and 1 student had a brown belt (coincidentally my favorite student of all time). When i literally saw this one old big-bellied asshole explaining how he focuses his energy and some utter bullshit i snapped.
I literally grabbed few guys by hand, pulled them out and told them "this shit ends now, this is complete bullshit, fuck are you doing here?".
I opened my own "aikido" dojo after a while. My goal was to re-educate like 7 people total that went with me (that 1 brown belt i liked, 1 new guy that joined us and 5 black belts). Spent the next year doing mma half the time and aikido half time preparing my favorite brown belt student to get her black belt since she wanted it (she got it, was the best examination the exam panel remembered). I held 2 more years of "MMA". General MMA class as per usual, and then tailored some classes for my friends specifically (some wanted wrestling only, some wanted bjj, and my now favorite bb wanted kick-boxing), all full contact no bullshit whatsoever, we also hit the weight as a team occasionally, and did hard strength and conditioning all the way. I also brought in specialist friends to help me train them as well at various points and i had a lot of drop-ins from the other places i trained at.
The goal i set for us was "We will all train for 2 years more and then close this. I plan to make you able to properly defend yourselves, and when we close this you will feel as a wanted member in any other martial art you pursue after this.".
It was amazing 3 years, it made me stop feeling the guilt i felt for making some people committed to the old dojo by being an instructor there in the first place. My favorite bb trains kickboxing with me since then for years, it's going great. Others went on doing their thing, but the 3 years were super positive for them for sure.
I actually made great friends with an "traditional" aikido instructor i met (owner of the gym i was renting out for my classes, he used to do a lot of martial arts too including boxing for years, he's very clear what his aikido is, and encourages his students to crosstrain) and sometimes i go to his aikido class for relaxation and social stuff. And i stopped hating aikido as a martial art (i just hate most of it's practitioners because of the characteristics they possess too often- you can guess which from the text above).
I came "full circle" as you called it.
Now for the actual advice i can offer you from my experience of going through this (and this one may totally not apply to you at all, i don't know your situation or the situation with your students that well, i'll type it out anyways):
1) I felt like shit for years for leaving my students behind. I still feel bad for not trying to open up my own place the moment i quit and "reeducating" as much people as i could before they quit. My friends that left and opened up their place straight away after leaving, tanked a lot in terms of personal training, and their students tanked too over the years later on. But nowdays they started changing very slowly what they are doing (i help out when i can) towards more aliveness, contact and crosstraining.
It's basically a choice between personal development (which i went 100% for when i had a choice), and trying to keep the group together (which they chose 100%). Both me and them realized going fully either way has huge drawbacks and we retraced steps as much as we could.
What you can do is try finding the middle ground. You probably explained your situation and thoughts to your students in detail already. But have you tried finding a solution where you can somehow make them tag along you on your journey if they choose to? Perhaps train what you train alone together in your dojo? Bring in instructors for your class sometimes instead just going out alone?
2) I think you are already on the good road to understand this, but i'll mention it because even with my determination and knowing this on a rational level i had huge periods of doubt and depression due to feeling like i lost my identity as an "instructor".
It may sound silly now, but you will probably experience it (i'm pretty sure). It's a title, it's something you identified as for a long time, no matter your mindset you will feel like you lost a huge part of yourself at times (holy shit how subtle change from being introduced with "yeah this is my friend he is also an instructor" to "we used to train together" hurt, it sounds silly until you find yourself in that position). If (when) it happens to you try thinking along the lines of how this is an upgrade. You are actually building a new, even better identity of a competent martial arts practitioner. On top of it, if you come full circle one day you can be an instructor of multiple martial arts, and that beats just being an aikido instructor every time. Again already reflected upon this in the thread i linked at the start.
Last words: congrats on fully breaking out of "only aikido", or "aikido first" shell. This is awesome man. It's a hard thing to do, people have no idea. Wish you all the luck.
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