Friday, February 12, 2010

The Dojo

(Training Hall)

It is vitally important that every student understand the true purpose of a Karate training hall (dojo). You may think that the dojo exists in order for you to lean the art. If you think this, you are wrong. There is one major fact that you must keep in clearly in mind; a traditional dojo is not there just to teach. The prime objective is to perpetuate and disseminate the art of Karate. It is to the style and it’s progenitors that your Sensei has given his loyalty. In order to preserve the style he is obligated to teach the art to someone else, but exactly who it will be is left up to him. He has not the moral or ethical obligation to teach you in particular.
Take a look around the dojo and you will see that the membership is comparatively low to that of other dojo. This isn’t because this is an unsuccessful school, it is because the instructor really does not want more students than he can teach properly. He actually wants low numbers. This is a concept that commercial schools can never come to terms with.

If the dojo has been established for any length of time the vast majority of students will be seniors, possibly all of black belt ranking. The instructor may well have already chosen his successor, along with several back-ups, so he doesn’t need any new students. The fact that a new student wants to study with the style really does not concern the Sensei at all. As stated before, his duty is to the style.

The traditional dojo is not a commercial school. The money collected goes into the running of the dojo, producing first class journals, and paying for the senior’s to go meet the style’s masters or to bring the masters to the students. This is an enormous financial burden for a private group. All the instructor gets from the deal is the satisfaction of seeing the students progress. As it happens, this is a great deal to him, and he treasures the success of his students as they progress through the grades. It is little wonder then, that the teacher is not always enthusiastic about newcomers. Some instructors even have a policy of putting off students requiring that they "Come back next month." just to make sure they are serious. Most, however, will be able to make up their mind about the new applicant within the first few seconds of the initial meeting. No matter what the art, the mental image of a "proper student" tends to be very similar. The instructor is looking for a strong personality, someone sincere with enthusiasm, determination and considerable courtesy. This person must be prepared to train hard, learn and remember.
The relationship between the traditional instructor and his student is closer than that of commercial schools. The Sensei looks upon his students as his personal family. Clearly, he will be looking for someone to whom he can relate and to whom he feels some affinity. Questions may be encouraged, but the student should be wary not to fall into the trap of asking questions about what will be done in class or how long does it take to learn. The student just does what he is told to do. What the student wants to do, has absolutely no bearing on the program. An uninformed student may ask how long it takes to learn the style and be told, "The rest of your life. Which will not last long enough to complete the task."
In actuality, things are not as bad as they sound. Most Sensei realize that their ways are somewhat strange to outsiders and are willing to pretend they do not notice all but the most glaring of insults. These principles of etiquette are Ryukyuan (Okinawan) rather than Japanese. Today Ryukyu is part of Japan, but there are still fundamental differences. The Japanese etiquette tends to be very militaristic, and very precise when approaching budo. The Ryukyuans, on the other hand, demand total commitment but tend to be more gentle in their approach. The training will still be very, very hard but there is a compassion and understanding within the Ryukyuan tradition oriented Sensei. This may all seem very strange to a Westerner, even ridiculous to many. This is the point. Those who feel that it is ridiculous have no business in a traditional dojo. The instructor of such a dojo isn’t satisfied with having you like the place and stay. He is looking for love at first sight because he knows that if you truly join a dojo you in a sense marry it. This requires a major spiritual commitment that is too much for most potential students.
So if you are going to train in a traditional dojo, don’t expect it to adjust to it’s customs to fit your wishes and philosophy, after all, they were there first!