Skip to main content
belt test

Community Development…At the Dojo?

By Randy Cantrell, PhD, Faculty Member and State Specialist in Housing & Community Development, University of Florida IFAS Extension
 Reviewed by Mike Spranger, PhD, Faculty Member and State Specialist in Community Development, University of Florida IFAS Extension

One evening not too long ago, I was sitting back admiring my daughter as she received a new color of belt after passing a martial arts exam. As I was taking the entire event in, I began to sense an awareness of community development taking place. (I guess it’s hard for me to separate work from family time!) I let the chief instructor know about my realization and desire to write about it. I figured the best place to start the process was by blogging about what occurred that evening.

What is Community Development?

What do we mean when we talk about “community development”? How is it relevant to your life and mine? Traditionally, community development is thought of as a planned effort by residents to improve their quality of lives by building assets in their communities. However, it can also happen in a more small-scale, informal way. When enough of these small-scale community-building events happen, they can really strengthen a whole area. In this case, the martial arts studio—a so-called “community of interest,” because members come together to share a common interest—has grown to impact a “community of place”—my small town.

A Real-life, Informal Example

A little more than nine years ago, the chief instructor opened this facility in our town’s historic district. He has about 22 years of experience at his art, and each member of his family has reached the black-belt level. On this particular night, his youngest child earned her black belt in front of a packed house of family members from throughout the community. The chief instructor was so emotionally moved by the event that he shed a tear or two. After the belt-awarding ceremony, the students all relaxed and enjoyed hugs and kisses from their proud family members. Meanwhile family members all mixed with other family members.

As I could clearly see, our community was being developed, without anyone formally realizing it but me. I just stood back and took the whole scene in — kids playing, adults chatting – as if church had just let out. The real community development that had occurred is that these students, ranging in age from 6 years old to 18, were living the motto of their training: pride, humility, courtesy, courage, and discipline. This is so important in communities because of the tendency for youth to sometimes go unnoticed in their behavior and habits until corrections are required.

Community Development in Action

None of these martial-arts students is perfect by any means, but the chief instructor requires them to report their grades from school and their behavior and tidiness from home. This is an added way for youth to be held accountable for actions that may affect their community. Further, if they misuse what they learn in class, they can be demoted from the belt rank they’ve achieved. This causes them to think twice before reacting to physical altercations when away from the training facility.

What’s more, the chief instructor also connects the parents of the students together as a community. He asks parents to explain what they do professionally so that parents can call on one another when in need of a service or advice.

When I signed my daughter up for this training, I simply wanted her to learn how to defend herself while also becoming more confident and disciplined. Now that I understand the broader role that this organization and training provide in our community’s development, I am even a stronger supporter of it.

Your own town or city probably has communities of interest like my daughter’s martial arts studio. Especially in smaller towns that may lack resources or funding, these organizations or groups may be really vital to helping your area thrive. Keep an eye out for groups or places like these that are assisting your community in its growth and development.

(Photo credit: Belt Test by Sally. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Cropped.)


Green, G.P. & Haines, A. (2012).  Asset Building and Community Development, 3rd Edition.  Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

2 Comments on “Community Development…At the Dojo?

  1. You raise a nice set of points there and maybe I can help expand them. I’ve studied for a long time, and one thing that is earned in training is a sense of community developing from common goals and collective perseverance. It is struggling together. It is setting unattainable goals, but then getting to them. “Special training” sessions are weekends of intense training that is awful. But you survive it and come out stronger. Nobody is a star. We’re reminded that we can always do better and strive for perfection. You are always a student and learning, even when you’re teaching. Those are some of the best lessons that can be learned and why kids should be involved in martial arts.

    • I appreciate and agree with your comments, Kevin. Martial Arts are a special way to develop special talents that have gone by the wayside because we are too busy to slow down and realize that past practices, in many instances, still work well in our modern society — especially with youth.