The balance between tradition and digitalisation

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UOB FinLab understands that any form of change, such as digitalisation, may be a daunting task for any long standing business. Legacy systems and traditional ways of working have been one of the key barriers stopping SMEs in Singapore from reaching greater business efficiency. Change is often seen in a negative light as it has a false perception of removing the history and tradition of a business. Preserving traditions and pursuing modernisation are two contradictory paths for most people and companies. There is a perception that implementing modern tools, including digitalisation, will often remove the essence of tradition and custom. People often lament the loss of soul, history and custom in face of modernisation. UOB FinLab recognises that preserving tradition is crucial to maintain the identity and history of a business – but at the same time, it is crucial to keep up with the latest technological trends to ensure business continuity in a rapidly changing world. The balance between tradition and modernity can be tricky to get right. However, when it is achieved, it is an unmatched combination that can propel a business into new heights. One successful SME  that implemented modern digitalisation while retaining its rich traditional history, essence and legacy is UOB customer, Aikido Shinju-Kai. Aikido Shinju-Kai is a martial arts gym with over 60 dojos and over 10,000 members in Singapore and the APAC region.

Creating a legacy

Aikido Shinju-Kai was founded by Phillip Lee in 1988. Before the dojo’s inception, Phillip was a full-time architect and taught Aikido as a hobby on the side. His passion for the martial art and his desire to teach attracted members from all walks of life to train in Aikido and incorporate its philosophy of staying calm into daily life. Word of mouth recommendations eventually reached members of the Singapore Police Force who gave Phillip a contract to train over 300 active police personnel in 1999.

Seeing the effectiveness of Aikido, its philosophy and Phillip’s coaching style, the Singapore Armed Forces soon requested Aikido Shinju-Kai to train hundreds of soldiers in Singapore.

This big break enabled Phillip to quit his job and teach Aikido full time. While Aikido Shinju-Kai grew and expanded its footprint across Singapore, Phillip ensured that his children practised Aikido to instil discipline, confidence and the philosophies learnt from martial arts that guided him throughout his life. Little did he know that through his teachings, his two sons, Alexander and Aloyseus, will eventually help him take his business to the next level.

Preserving tradition in an digital world

Although Aikido Shinju-Kai grew exponentially through word of mouth, Alexander and Aloyseus saw that their father’s business had immense potential to grow even further and deepen engagement with the community.

The two sons initially wanted to pursue other career paths. However, their passion for Aikido steered them back to helping their father as second generation leaders in the business.

One of the strategies was to leverage digital tools to enhance everyday business operations while preserving the essence of Aikido during the lessons. Preserving the martial art’s legacy and quality of teaching came as a priority, and every tactic that was implemented was aimed to achieve that objective.

There were two main challenges that Alexander and Aloyseus saw in growing the business.

The first was how to deepen community engagement. By 2016, Aikido Shinju-Kai had close to 40 dojos with hundreds of members around Singapore and it was increasingly difficult to connect with every member. To address this, Alexander implemented Aikido Shinju-Kai’s first social media page on Facebook and Instagram to bring the community together and share their takeaways with each other. The platform also allowed members to engage with prominent Aikido masters from overseas and invite them to Singapore for seminars. 

Fast forward to today, sharing content, knowledge and techniques on social media enabled members and trainers to become advocates and online influencers – allowing the dojo to reach a wider network of aspiring martial artists. To date, the gym has over 100k followers across Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.

The second challenge was streamlining business operations and class scheduling. As the dojos grew in numbers, the demographic of members grew with it. Members required greater clarity on which classes they should attend based on age and experience. To address this, Aloyseus first segregated the class based on age group and experience level, then digitised the entire booking process.

Before the implementation, class attendance was tracked by ticking off someone’s name when they entered the dojo. Membership payments were made in cash and online transfers. This added a layer of complexity when it came to identifying students with active or expired memberships. Determined to streamline this process, Aloyseus implemented an integrated app for payments and bookings where members could book and pay directly.

While the business experienced increased efficiency and growth, they were soon hit by an event that impacted the entire world: COVID-19

Overcoming adversity

The circuit breaker lockdowns and restricted social gatherings put a massive strain on Aikido Shinju-Kai as no one was allowed to train at their respective dojos. This created frustration as members wanted to practise their art form. Going back to their strategy of using digital tools to compliment the legacy of Aikido, Phillip, Alexander and Aloyseus collectively developed an Aikido online learning curriculum to help members train during extended periods of lockdowns. They became the first Aikido studio in Southeast Asia to develop an online training programme. The online curriculum that was broadcast on Facebook was divided into different techniques ranging from weapons training, solo drills and conditioning. This enabled Aikido Shinju-Kai to remain relevant and prevent a business collapse by creating a strong digital community where members could practise Aikido during the pandemic until the restrictions were lifted. Aikido Shinju-Kai is a fine example of balancing tradition with digitalisation. At UOB FinLab, we believe that digital tools are made to compliment businesses across all industries. We understand that every business has different goals and developed programmes catered specifically to guide SMEs’ end-to-end quest to digitalise their business successfully. An example is UOB FinLab’s Digitalisation Programmes where participants can leverage tools, resources and network to future proof their business and remain competitive. Find out more about UOB FinLab and its digitalisation programmes here.

Online programme

Start Smart Programme

Designed for business owners to enhance their digital capabilities through practical learning, this programme takes businesses to the next level.

Online programme

Start Smart Programme

Designed for business owners to enhance their digital capabilities through practical learning, this programme takes businesses to the next level.

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