A Brief History of the Piper's Dojo

dojo history Jan 27, 2024

When I was young, my brother and I did Karate at a local studio. Even though I was gifted at birth with a set of bagpipes in my hands (this is a running joke that's not actually true), with Karate I was not so gifted.

But, I will say that the Karate Dojo learning environment intrigued me. Players of all different levels came in, and worked as a small community during classes. Depending on who was there, different content and teaching strategies were deployed that would benefit each person there.

Additionally, the general message of Karate resonated with me. Karate isn't about learning how to do violence - it's a means of creative expression (and exploration of Self) with the very useful byproduct of learning to defend yourself if ever necessary.

In the year or so after moving back to New York after my time with the SFU Pipe Band, I spent a lot of time in the car with Donald Lindsay (my long time teacher, mentor and friend) traveling to various teaching gigs and Oran Mor Pipe Band performances. We would often discuss how I liked the Karate model quite a bit, and how I hypothesized it would be an addictive, highly effective way to teach students.

In the way Donald does so well, he encouraged me to just go for it! And, of course, not to be remotely shy about what I was intending to do - "call it the Piper's Dojo" he said.

And I did.

For the next two years or so we ran a local "Piper's Dojo" in a physical location upstairs at St. Andrew's Church in Albany, New York. Students would pay a monthly fee to drop in for lessons any afternoon they wished. And, we ran the studio just like a Dojo. Donald would join me most days, and it was a great thing for a while!

Donald (standing at blackboard) and Andrew (red shirt, top right) teaching a "Moto-Dojo" workshop in Rochester, NY 2009.

Eventually, the local program sort of fizzled out - it was a big time commitment for myself and for Donald, and was a bit frustrating to operate on days when just one or two students would make it in to sessions.

But, the Piper's Dojo name was to live on, because I had also expanded my business to sell bagpipe supplies locally to pipers in need of the basics. I was able to supplement my income (and avoid having to go back to my customer service phone-rep job) by selling hemp, bags, reeds, and even the occasional set of bagpipes.

By 2010, my little supplies shop migrated to a primitive e-commerce store, where I started to develop a customer base throughout the USA. I was even dabbling a little bit in online lessons...

The Honeymoon Epiphany

My wife and I were married in October of 2010, and early in 2011 we were on our honeymoon in Playa del Carmen. It was there, in the pool, where an idea came to me:

"What if you could run a piping school entirely online?"

I told my wife the basic premise, and she said "Ok babe, whatever you say."

And I said "yeah, needs a bit more thought..."

And then we ordered some more frozen beverages.

The Shove That Became Dojo University

I had been working part time for St. Andrew's Church as an administrator during 2010, to save money for our wedding and our honeymoon.

The first day back from my honeymoon, I was promptly fired! They said I had "not done any of the work needed" before I left for my honeymoon. I say, someone must have done something with the 3 giant stacks of bulletins I had made for the several services to be held the week I was away... because they were all primed and ready to go before I left...

But, let's face it - I'm not the church administrator type. So it all worked out for the best.

When I got home that day, I sat down and started writing a business plan that would become a vastly expanded Piper's Dojo online store, and the first ever online piping school; "Dojo University."

Built into the business plan was the need for a Chief Operations Officer, and I only made one phone call to fill that position. With a little bit of persuading, Carl Donley came on board straight out of college.

We opened the "official" business in May of 2011, and things have been going well ever since.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Piper's Dojo and of Dojo University.

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