The Place for the Way….Dojo

I would often ask Sensei for updates about so and so’s training, abroad.  Sensei would look at me with a sense of sadness and resignation and say…” Well, he is training…but he’s picked a dojo, conveniently near his house where after training, he and the “blokes” go out for a drink. You know… the atmosphere is casual and fun, like a club.”

Sensei’s look was enough for me to understand. He was teaching me, warning me, and rightfully so. Here in sunny California, the casual style is part and parcel of our identity. you know…flip flops, shorts, maybe a T-shirt… Oh no, I’m not kidding!  Just think about it…you don’t see signs warning people “no shirt, no shoes, no service” in the UK, or the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world? So it is an unexaggerated reality.

Admittedly, while there is a comfort and ease to being casual, there’s also a lurking danger with being too casual. It is the natural danger of being lulled into complacency.

The separation of ways must be made in some place. A place where  paths diverge from one’s norm. It may be a church, it may be a temple, or a mosque. Equally so, by its definition it must be the dojo. “Do” meaning the way, and “Jo” meaning the place of, suggests  a place, not of destination, but of travel. A place for the way. A place for the way (dojo) suggest one is pursuing change, betterment, enlightenment. Otherwise we’d call it a gym or studio, or a club, and Sensei would be called, God forbid, a coach or a trainer.

We take measures to ensure that “the way” is enforced. We remove our shoes, we wear our dogi (again the term “do”), and we perform zazen. All these are changes from our norm, prompting us to pursue the “do”.

If one lacks this understanding, and continues the usual casualness, one has lacked the fundamental premise of why they are doing karate-do, even before they have stepped foot in the dojo! Lacking a respect and understanding for the dojo and its way, means believing one has no need for a way, presumably because one already believes they are all that and a bag of chips! For such people, the only way… is the way out. Leave. Find the exit. you’ll be doing yourself a favor by not wasting your time.

Camaraderie may be a by product of the dojo, not the reason for going to the dojo. Camaraderie  comes after the dojo, outside the dojo. In the dojo it’s all about formality, and seriousness and introversion. Even those who train to get a “good workout” at the dojo, have completely missed the point. One comes to the dojo to submit oneself and one’s ego to the way of karate with the help of their sensei, for the betterment of one’s character; therefore, if all you’ve satisfied is a physical workout, you’ve lost.

I encourage myself first, and then all karateka to be mindful and aware of the sanctity of the dojo. From the very moment you wear your dogi you should feel as if something has changed. when you  bow to enter the dojo, feel as if you have entered a different realm, and feel that a way with tremendous depth is about to be presented to you. Follow what your sensei teaches, and submit to the way.

This latter statement will be the topic of my next blog, namely the need for a skill called emotional intelligence. Stay tuned!


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