Monday, June 7, 2010

I Have a Dream

And by this I mean, more or less literally, a dream. Not something I'm actively working toward or ever expect to make happen, just something that I like to daydream about sometimes and which is probably neither practical or necessarily even completely desirable. It's one of those "if I could have things just how I wanted them and everything worked out perfectly" sort of dreams.

I've written more about the martial arts lately since my family and I started practicing again in February. But even when I wasn't actively training, I would still often imagine such a place.

Some martial arts schools are sleek and modern or traditional and elegant, and some are just wherever the teacher could find an affordable place to train. They all work. On the website for Sensei Barb Cruz's dojo, she quotes Goju Ryu founder Chojun Miyagi about the practice of the martial arts:

  • A large space is not required.
  • It may be practiced alone
 Still, there's nothing wrong with having a really nice place to train. Even better, wouldn't it be nice to have a unifying space that brought together avid practitioners of different styles? Wouldn't it be nice to have a large space and to practice with others who shared your enthusiasm?

So that's what I've envisioned - a martial arts academy designed specifically to give various martial arts schools in the Syracuse are a customized, dedicated, ideal place to train.

First, the architectural style: I see the structure as being strong and yet graceful - like the Martial Arts themselves. It would be built to reflect a blend of Asian architecture - Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Thai, Korean - but with materials practical to the study and training of martial arts in the Central New York climate. Better still, make it "green" in its construction, its materials and its use of energy - let the structure have its own balance, its own harmony.

Next the external layout: It should have one or more tall "towers" that are visible for a long distance and proclaim to those who see it only from a distance its Asian influences and traditional nature. I picture the ornate towers with the flared roofs that you see so often in images from places like China and Malaysia. An outer wall of stone or thick trees (or both) would help maintain a quiet space inside the academy for training and meditation away from the distractions of the modern world. Those entering the facility would pass symbolic gates reflecting entry into a place of tradition, respect and courtesy. Outside features (aside from a parking lot and other mundane necessities that I don't usually dwell on in my daydreaming) would include a jogging trail (because many schools include running in their training, especially for upper-belts) and - I like this part a lot - one or more level, grassy swards where instructors could choose to practice outdoors (weather permitting).

Finally, the internal layout: I've never quite made up my mind whether the iconic tower would be functional (perhaps a bell to chime the hours?) or just decorative. But I see the interior as having three distinct sorts of spaces:

The first sort of space would be somewhat mundane - you'd need an information desk where students and prospective members could get assistance (and where UPS can drop stuff off, etc.). You'd need a few offices for the (hopefully minimal) administrative staff - the people who operate the facility. A large conference room for the governing council to meet. To keep the individual "training halls" focused on their art, I'd envision a single retail outlet stocked with clothing and equipment common to most martial arts, as well as any specific items that individual head instructors wanted sold - a particular style, color or brand of uniform, for instance, or certain models of sparring gear suitable for their training. Traditional weapons, a selection of personal fitness equipment (hand targets and such) and probably some memorabilia like T-shirts that let people show their love of their art(s) and the academy.

Also in this initial space, I'd envision things like locker rooms and common areas so people could get around the academy. I often go back and forth about a fitness center, but usually I decide that having a place to do basic physical conditioning separate from their martial arts lessons probably would make sense for a lot of members, so I include such a facility as well. As my dreams get more grand, I often embrace the idea of a sports-focused physician on staff, someone to help in the case of training emergencies and with whom members could consult about training-related injuries. It's a dream, remember - I don't actually have to find a way to pay for this thing. Lastly, in my wilder imaginings there's a restaurant (Asian, presumably) where students could go to eat and socialize after class and where guests for larger events could be refreshed without having to leave the facility. Lastly, a library and small reading room would collect books, videos and other materials relating to the study of the martial arts.

The second type of space would be, naturally, the individual dojos. Each school operating at the academy would have a custom space suitable to their art's needs. If the instructor prefers hardwood floors to train on, then hardwood floors it is. If they need padded tatami mats such as for Aikido or Judo, then they'll have it. If they'd rather have modern interlocking foam pads on the floor, then let it be so. Likewise, the shape, layout, and decor of each space would suit the style that trains there. The walls and floors could and would be festooned with weapons racks, equipment storage, placards displaying the key tenets and values of the style, and whatever else the instructor wished (probably limited only by some aesthetic guidelines). I usually picture most of the dojos looking like the space from the classic kung-fu battle in "The Matrix" or Hai Fat's dojo in the James Bond Film "The Man with the Golden Gun" - very elegant, very traditional, with space for plenty of students but still suitable for small classes. There would be galleries for spectators, spaces for students to warm-up before and cool down after class, and somewhere, tucked away, offices for the dojo's senior staff. And lots of drinking fountains, because I get thirsty when I train.

There would naturally be more of these dojo spaces at any given time than would actually be in use. This would allow a particular dojo the option to move to a different, bigger space if their needs changed, or possibly to expand into a nearby space if applicable. It would also mean that small, less well-established dojos would have spaces where they could practice short-term if they were so inclined. These non-dedicated spaces would be available to the martial arts community, ensuring that instructors just starting out on their own or moving to the area from elsewhere would have an appropriate, if not customized, space.

The third and final type of space would be large indeed. Sometimes I envision it occupying the center of the academy, with the dojos arranged around its periphery. Other times I see it more off by itself. Either way, it's a large event hall suitable for holding demonstrations, tournaments, ceremonies (like dojo "class" graduations), and anything else where a very large space and seating for a few thousand people would be appropriate. Size, lighting, floor surfacing and such would all be customizable, and in the same aesthetic style as the rest of the facility, as much as possible. And good acoustics - nobody likes sitting at such an event and not being able to hear what's going on.

It's a great place, and I can see it in my mind as clearly as if I'd been there. What's a little less clear is the operation of the academy, probably because it's not as exciting and my daydreams bog down when they start to get boring. There'd need to be some equitable way for the instructors and their staffs to get paid and for students to get charged - the operation of the overall facility and the individual dojos would cost money, no matter how charitable everyone is feeling. I usually end up with some sort of "overall membership" system, where students join the Academy and then have their choice of where to train, adding on additional training sessions at an additional cost, perhaps. If one or more parents train, then the kids ought to be able to train at a considerable discount - both to promote whole-family fitness and because I don't think kids ought to be martial-arts cash cows.

The other place I bog down a bit is in the allocation of the dojo spaces and the "purity" of the Academy. How to decide that a particular Sensei should or should not be invited to add their school to the academy? How do you avoid the "McDojos" and the "Faux-jo" operations and ensure that every school at the academy has a high degree of integrity both in how it treats its students and in how it practices its art. I usually end up envisioning a sort of "governing council" of the Academy's senior instructors (with me, as the operations manager, carrying a powerful vote that ensures those senior instructors don't just play favorites or block somebody they don't care for without reason) who would evaluate and even actively recruit new dojos to join the academy. The ideal, in my mind, would be to have superlative representatives of a wide variety of different styles, such as Karate, Judo, Kung-fu, Muay-Thai, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do, and so on, all together under one roof. All representing the finest in martial arts training. All reflecting a long tradition and rich history of self-discipline, strength, flexibility, energy and balance.

It would grow to a world-renowned facility, where people would come from all over the country and the Earth for seminars, symposiums, competitions and just to train. It would serve as a focal point for martial arts thought, philosophy, and training - allowing for growth and understanding of these ancient disciplines.

It's entirely impractical. It's implausible even - especially in Syracuse, NY. That's why it's just a dream, but it's a good dream, I think. It's a place I can go to in my mind and visit, sometimes, and imagine what if it was real.


  1. Check out Tokyo or Naha Budokan...

  2. And before I forget... It sounds amazing!

  3. Oh yeah! The Tokyo/Nippon Budokan just looks like a big stadium to me (despite its original purpose), but the Naha Budokan in Okinawa is gorgeous!

  4. I usually dream of chocolate. And sometimes cupcakes. But your dream sounds nice too.