Grinders, Minders, and Finders--The Aiki Way

I touched upon the concept of Finders, Minders, and Grinders in my previous post about social media marketing for Aikido dojos, and wanted to go in depth with it here as to how they apply to Aikido (and really, any martial art) dojos. It's a very applicable and tangible type of organizational idea, and one we've had to continuously adapt as our understanding of how an organization is best run matures. I hope you find it as helpful as I did.

Keep in mind, unless you literally don't sleep, you can't be all three. You can possibly, depending on how much work there is to be done, be maybe one and a quarter, but even then you won't be able to do your job well. Each of these groups can be further broken down to the Grinders, Minders, and Finders within them, but we're not going inception level deep.

Defining The Grinders, Minders, and Finders in Your Dojo:

The Dojo Grinder  

Grinders are the base (and therefore largest population) of the organizational pyramid, the ones who do the day to day work of generating your product. In the martial arts dojo, it is your teaching staff. Your instructors are your front line, who, like clockwork, show up at the dojo to impart the art to the students. They are the most treasured, precious asset your dojo has to offer. If you find yourself treating your teaching positions as "an honor" to be given out as a prize to whoever can kiss your behind the most, you're doing something wrong. Playing keep-away is a toxic cultural aspect of any organization, regardless of business type and should be guarded against. You should value Grinders because they are the very foundation of your school, and allows you to not only offer your students a wide range of experiences to different styles, but lets you to grow your school larger while reducing your workload.

First, let's talk about a very uncomfortable thing for many dojo-cho's--losing control. This is something that I fought tooth and nail with my husband for in the first few years we were operating the dojo together. I cried, bargained, walked away a few times, everything under the sun to get us to where we are today. I had a very different idea of how to operate an organization than he did and that created a lot of friction until we found a good balance.

A huge pitfall of a lot of people who own dojos is not wanting to give up the control of teaching most or all of the classes. Aside from the obvious issues of having no established teaching staff to cover class (as teaching is a skill that needs to be practiced as well) in the event of illnesses, special holidays (find me a wife who isn't going to be pissed you have to teach on her birthday), or vacations (including seminars), it means that they don't have the time or energy for the marketing aspect. If you find yourself or your relationship (and eventually the dojo itself) suffering from being chained down to the dojo basically every waking hour, this is something you should consider. A ceiling exists for how large an organization can grow with only a Grinder leading it.

A personal example for us was that, in the past, other than Wednesdays and Fridays, Adam taught all the classes (because he was, in many ways, a control freak who was terrified of what if scenarios that ultimately didn't come to pass), which was scheduled for weeknights and mornings on weekends. As we shifted classes to a dedicated teaching staff, the option to open up morning classes and therefore provide more value to our students and allows us to continue to grow.

That's not to say everyone who wants to teach (or has the skill level) should teach--standards for how you decide on your Grinders should exist, but they should exist on the merit of who they are and their potential. We offer classes to blackbelts who are reliable and who have good communication skills, not only in how they teach students but how they interact with everyone else. They're required to take a few classes every month with either the head instructor or the dojo-cho, just so standardization exists and provide the opportunity to communicate face to face if they've run into any issues they haven't been able to talk to us about.

Even if someone is an amazing martial artist, but doesn't have the ability to be scheduled reliably, or is consistently late or flaky, cancelling at the last minute or not following up on the things they say they will do, we don't ask. If a customer or potential customer arrives to your door and the instructor is late, you risk losing them. This is not a risk we are willing to take. Rarely, issues do happen but since they are few and far in between, it doesn't have a large negative affect on student impressions.

If we have to baby someone's feelings and worry about talking to them about the direction of where we want the organization to go because they take offense or respond poorly to requests, we don't ask. We don't want niches and cliques to be created within the dojo as that will inevitably end badly.

Ultimately, how you decide who teaches (if you decide) is your choice, but I recommend putting aside intangible desires in favor of how tangibly healthy it is for the dojo. No one ultimately gets along with everyone 100% of the time, recognizing our own biases allows us to step outside our own feelings to objectively solve issues that will pop up.

It comes down to an issue of trust, and having trust and faith in your core group of instructors is the very pulse of your dojo.

In order to keep it organized, you can use mass messaging/group messaging so that not only is it easy to schedule people to cover/sub, you can keep track of any hiccups that might pop up between them.

The Dojo Minder

These are the people that do the organizational, administrative, and managerial tasks of an organization. For an Aikido dojo, this is the person who is collecting dues, deciding on the direction the school is going, purchasing the things the dojo needs, communicating with the head organization, scheduling teachers, sending out memos, etc.

Your minders keep the cogs of your school running smooth and "Grind" in their own way. On top of that, they have the ability to make their own decisions in regards to hiccups, and certain things are at their discretion. They decide which way the school is going--more traditional, more modern, what cultural aspects to keep, what to throw away. They work closely with both the Grinders and the Finders to make the dreams of what the dojo should be into reality. A little differently than perhaps other businesses is that for a dojo, the Minder is often the person who owns it, although a dedicated front desk/administrator fall into this category too.

A Minder is oftentimes underappreciated, since the only occasion where you and anyone else usually approach them is if some problem has occurred, so they often get a lot of flak, but not enough praise--it can be disheartening for a Minder if they desire positive reinforcement, since the day in and day out aspects are tedious.

They should be reliable, have excellent organizational skills, and good follow up and communication. They should be able to not take problems personally and be able to keep order within the community. They should also have a vision for the future of the organization and know how to keep on track.

Be aware, if you don't fall into the category of the Minder but run the school, to give your Minder support. Without them, your school may very well fall apart.

The Dojo Finder

The Finder, as you probably guessed, is the "sales" of your organization. For an Aikido dojo, it means the person who is generating interaction with prospects. This can range from social media managing, front desk and reception, answering phone calls and queries, gathering and sending out promotional material--whatever it is to drum up interest within your existing student base, your past student base, and your prospective student base.

While a dojo can exist, if finances and student base is stable, without a Finder, it is very difficult to grow. Aikido and other martial arts schools are often membership based, which contrasts with one time product purchases, so the need for a Finder might not seem that important at the outset. However, feeling the desperation for one often creeps up slowly until it's too late, so it's important to identify Finders early on.

Finders need to be creative, adaptive, consistent, and have good people skills, thick skin, and an eye for what type of content to market. Recognizing opportunity is the first step to seizing it. However, they sometimes need to be reigned in by the Minders, due to the fact that their ideas can spread them out too thin. They thrive on results and positive reinforcement, and should work closely with Minders to keep on track as to the goals of your school.

Sometimes your Finders may come up with an idea that you might not be too comfortable with. Examine this discomfort. If it puts the school at a tangible risk, then don't do it. However, if it's a personal discomfort, such as you fear criticism when you market your content, recognize that the Finder is (and should be) there to buffer you from most backlash. You will need to find a balance between keeping them on track and nurturing their creative side, which sometimes means letting them pursue and praising them for pet projects, even if you don't understand it fully.

The Finder often runs into red tape when it comes to what kind of content to put out. It is important to trust your Finder that they understand what the general population desires to see better than you do. However, they should be able to give you measurable successes in their tasks.

Finders, while they can easily take criticisms from prospects, do not take well to having their ideas stifled by the organization they are trying to help. Be prepared for them to give up and lose interest in being a Finder if you nay-say their ideas too often. 

Who Am I In My Organization?

At the Long Island Aikikai, I am the Finder and a quarter of the Minder. I push out all of the promotional materials, marketing content, and usually before anything goes out, it's run by me first in order to maintain consistency and for me to catch any issues. I play a smaller role in how the organization is structured, and the direction and decisions that directly affect the client base, both existing and prospective, of the organization.

Adam is three quarters the Minder, and half of the Grinder. As a Minder, he deals with the administrative and day to day running of the dojo, paperwork, collecting dues, scheduling instructors, maintaining communication with the USAF etc. He decides what direction he'd like the dojo to go in, and works with me on figuring out how to make those goals a reality. As a Grinder, he also teaches and takes classes (both within and outside of Aikido, and with our other instructors) in order to keep his skill level sharp. He travels for seminars and works hard on teaching and engaging students in his class. He also often does the repairs and renovations in the dojo himself.

The last half of our Grinders are our wonderful teaching staff. They're scheduled in rotation and provide our students with different perspectives. Adam just recently had a breakthrough in Howard Weitzman-sensei's class, despite having practiced for longer and outranking him. It is the perfect example that there is something to learn from everyone.

So I'm curious--Who are you in your dojo, and how did you come to that conclusion?



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