We are all familiar with the term dojo. Its literal translation from Japanese is ‘place of the way’. It’s the place where we go to train a couple of times a week. For many of us, like me, it is a sports hall at a leisure centre, while for others it is a customised venue dedicated to martial arts training. We bow when we go in and out and we refer to it as the dojo, but generally, most of us don’t think about it beyond that. I didn’t think much about the dojo until I read ‘IN THE DOJO’ by renowned martial arts scholar Dave Lowry. It’s a very interesting book for anyone interested in martial arts and it provided me with a few additional insights into the dojo that I will share here.
For example, traditionally the door where you enter the dojo is on the back wall, referred to as the lower seat or ‘shimoza’. The wall you face as you enter is the upper seat, or the ‘kamiza’. It is on the kamiza that you will find the dojo shrine or ‘kamidana’ in a traditional dojo. The kamidana is sometimes also referred to as the kamiza. Students line up and train facing the kamiza.
In his book, Dave Lowry gives 3 reasons for this arrangement. The first is that the sensei will be afforded maximum protection should there be an intruder into the dojo. The second is that the sensei’s methods will be shielded from view from any onlookers. The third reason is based on the religious traditions that were prominent through Japan’s history. Today, of course, the dojo is unlikely to have to deal with intruders, and being able to see what the sensei is doing may be a crucial advertising strategy for some more commercially minded dojos. Most people I train with don’t know anything about Japanese culture or religious history, and so there is little practical use in the traditional dojo arrangement today. However, traditions are important in martial arts and are part of the ethos we buy in to and adopt.
As you enter the dojo and face the kamiza, the wall to your right-hand side is called the ‘joseki’, and to your left is the ‘shimoseki’. At the start of a lesson, students will line up in order of seniority starting at the joseki progressively towards the shimoseki and then in further ranks towards the back wall or shimoza. Traditionally senior students assemble at the joseki, with junior students assembling at the shimoseki. What was especially interesting about this arrangement to me was that being on the joseki was less of a privilege than it was a responsibility. The senior students were traditionally expected to compromise their own training to bring the junior students forward. The philosophy here is that without new students committing to the art, the senior students are practising without any way of passing on what they have learnt.
The centre of the dojo where the training takes place is called the embu-jo. As Dave Lowry comments, the embu-jo is not a place for talk or excuses. Nothing matters except for what is done or not done. It is where egos will be damaged and false pretensions destroyed and you are left with the truth of your training. I really respect this philosophy. In my mind when you train you want to leave everything on the embu-jo. Analysis and reflection can come later and elsewhere, but you need to be honest with your training if it is to mean anything.
So, in a nutshell, this is the mojo of the dojo. Students take note, I will be asking questions.
Find out more about ‘IN THE DOJO’ by Dave Lowry in the link below..