If this gets enough conversation, I may split this into a seperate thread, but I wanted to tie a comment Harlan made to the discussion Jim and Max are having on dojos.
Harlan's post (and please correct me if I'm wrong, Harlan), point to something I've noticed in some of my fellow students and in others I have talke to on line and off....
practicing MA is certainly intended to be for self defense. While other things may play a factor, that is the point of a MARTIAL art.
That said, that is often not the main reason for students going in to a dojo. Or at least not as many on these boards speak. It is good and well to know techniques to defend yourself, should the need arise.
But from a perspective that MIGHT be more for females, but I suspect is across the board today, the defense is not wholly physical. Many people may be walking in because of situations that happened in the near/far past where they were abused, ridiculed or simply scared out of thier wits. They may approach MA as a way to strengthen thier inner combat plane as much as the physical. So, as long as they are making progress on thier inner battleground, they may not be seeking to advance to a black belt, advance to thier highest potential, or push themselves as hard as they can.
I won't address whether that is good/bad, as that is a matter of opinion and can be hotly debated later.
What I WILL say, is that the inner battleground is just as scary and tricky and challenging for some, and it should not be discounted. I believe, from my own personal experiences, that you have to conquer this battleground before you can be truly effective outside.
Now, I also think that many martial art programs are reliant on gyms and such to attract students. In that scenario, you are going to get folks who are just trying things on, think it might be fun, or are sincerely interested. I think, becuase it's often included in teh cost of the gym membership, that you are more likely to get shoppers. Hopefully, you will get a few students who are truly worthwhile.
The problem, in this scenario, is that people can't or don't renew their gym memberships (in today's economy, it can be as simple and basic as affordability). Also, people have competing priorities...do they need the stress relief they find in yoga over the stress release of a good sparring session in the dojo? And...i find this sad as it relates to that inner battlefield I mentioned above...some folks give up because it's just too darn hard. In effect, they are giving up on themselves. I think a lot of folks will do that if they are not motivated (internally or externally) to push through that envelope. Part of this is the fault of the teacher, and a larger part of this is the fault of the student.
My own group recently had to switch venues, and we've lost membership due to cost, family issues, etc. It happens, and it's unfortunate. It's also, sadly, part of having a non-profit group associated with a gym.
So, economy, personal issues, and what the students are actually seeking, could all be part of the decline in dojos.
I'm sorry to hear things are tough in your area Maxwell. I don't think it's just your area.
Sadly, a lot of what's going on, has nothing to do with the quality of the teacher, and everything to do with our economy and our culture.