The Martial Arts Dojo
Martial arts training is usually done in a dojo. Dojo is a Japanese word, pronounced doe-joe or doh-joh, which means place of doing and learning. It has the same meaning as the English word studio, as in dance studio. The words studio, study and student have the same root. If you associate these words to dojo you have a clear idea of what a dojo means.
Today the popular concept of dojo is that of a karate training hall. Some dojos are quite elaborate, with a big sign in front, an office where the curious can ask for information and regular students make payments, and an open space where students sit to listen or perform their exercises. But not all dojos are like this.
When Gichin Funakoshi started learning karate in Okinawa, he trained in the backyard of his master. He wrote in his book, Karate-Do My Way of Life, "Night after night, often in the backyard of the Azato house as the master looked on, I would practice a kata ("formal exercise") time and again, week after week, sometimes month after month, until I had mastered it to my teacher's satisfaction." When Funakoshi left Okinawa and went to Japan in 1921 to demonstrate karate, there were no karate dojos. He wrote, "I moved into the Meisei Juku, a dormitory for students from Okinawa (located in the Suidobata area of Tokyo), where I was permitted to use the lecture hall of the dormitory as my temporary dojo when it was not being used by the students."
Today many dojos are sophisticated. Some have elaborate facilities like weight room, video room, and bathrooms with shower, all funded by student tuition and money from sponsors. But it was different when Funakoshi was trying to establish the first karate dojo in Japan. He wrote, "Money was a critical problem: I had none of my own, my family in Okinawa was quite unable to send me any, and I could not at that time attract any sponsors, since karate was still virtually unknown."
A dojo is usually owned and managed by the instructor. A teacher saves enough money, or borrow money, or partners with someone who has the facility or money to set up one. Some teachers start a dojo by renting a space in a mall. Some use a room or the backyard in their home, and some convert their garage into a dojo.
Some dojos are not owned by the instructor. They may be owned by a church, a school, an organization like YMCA, or a corporation that has several dojos and many instructors.
In many schools, martial arts is being taught as a physical education subject. The dojo may be the school gym or a room in the PE department. Instead of dedicating one room as karate dojo, that same room could be the dojo for judo, jujitsu, tae-kwon-do, or aikido.
A new form of martial arts training is evolving in health and fitness centers. That center where you find treadmills and stationary bicycles could be the same place where you can find a certified personal trainer with an advanced degree in karate. Aside from teaching you the mechanics of punching and kicking, the trainer also teaches you how to use the various equipment to improve your fitness.
A dojo, however, is more than a place where you learn self-defense. Members of a dojo form a special bond that tend to last a lifetime. The dojo instructor does not just explain movement and yell commands. He studies each student. He observes each student's attitude, behavior and performances.
This is because martial arts is not simply about war, it's how a warrior should live in peace. It's a delicate balance between preparedness for war and harmonious living between wars. That war may be just for a few seconds between two persons or a prolonged fight. Your attitude and performance in that fight will determine the kind of life you live after that fight. Likewise, the way you live daily will determine your performance in a fight.
The application of martial arts discipline goes beyond self-defense and winning over an opponent. Some fights are internal, like the fight over lethargy, laziness, or complacency. Some fights are fought within, like overcoming doubt and fear. Some fights are for embracing continuous improvement and overcoming a timid spirit. A dojo provides a small universe where, once you enter it, you agree to be influenced by the positive behavior of others, and you assume responsibility for effecting good attitude and conduct in others.
For example, the dojo of Christian Samurai in Fort Worth, Texas, is made possible by the Meadowbrook United Methodist Church. The program, however, is owned by Richard Morris Karate and the chief instructor is Robert Kinkel, student of Richard Morris. Membership in Christian Samurai is like being in family where responsibility to one's self and community is considered seriously.
Promotion day is a meaningful ritual in this dojo. A promoted student gets a new belt or an additional stripe, and a certificate from Grandmaster Richard Morris. After Instructor Robert Kinkel had given all the awards, he reminds everyone that the skills they learn are for good purpose only, and that "anybody who gets into a fight and hurts someone for no good reason, will be demoted one rank."
I recently met a medical surgeon in a Shizen-na Karate dojo in Texas. He is already a 4th degree black belt in karate and he still comes every week. When I asked how long he has known the instructor, he said, "Richard Morris and I have been friends for 24 years, and that's how long we've been doing martial arts together."
A dojo is not just a place. It is a relationship.
Brown Belt, Shizen-na Karate under Richard Morris
- What is Martial Arts?
- The First Reason to Study Martial Arts
- How Martial Arts Reduce Your Fear
- The Martial Arts Dojo
- Introduction to Martial Arts Ranks and Belts