What is a dojo?

The word Dojo means "training hall".  Do means way, jo means learn, so dojo means the place where we go to learn the way.

A dojo is basically a place.
Because the word is Japanese, it is appropriate to mention that it was originally a place devoted to the practice of Zen, which was eventually adopted by practitioners of Budo. 

A dojo is a place of learning.
People gather for a common purpose in a dojo.  They are interacting together in friendship and harmony; a rare enough but much to be admired situation in today's world. This coming together creates a lasting feeling of commonality, tolerance and cooperation that these people carry into their daily lives.

A dojo is a place of community.
Obviously, this definition is not sufficient, for a dojo like any structure, cannot exist by itself. Even viewed simply as a building, it is clear that a dojo must be supported in terms of time, money, and good management lest it fall into disrepair from neglect or incompetence. After all, an operating dojo is a place of business and must be treated as one at all times. Even from its inception, a great deal of investment risk is required. True, a dojo can be just a space rented from a disinterested landlord, but without ongoing support it will certainly fail. Moreover, a well-trained, devoted, and professional instructor is essential. And of equal importance are enthusiastic, motivated students committed to practice; willing to give of their time and money. These ingredients give the dojo a purpose. They give it life. And so we delve deeper into the meaning of the word.

A dojo is a place of commitment.
Like all living things, a dojo must be nurtured and loved in order to thrive, and must have definite goals as well. Primarily, it must persevere and grow, but ultimately it must have a loftier aim. Its spirit must be carried beyond the constraints of its four walls and into the world outside. If this latter goal is achieved, the dojo will have meaning. Perhaps an old Zen saying puts it best: "Hobo kore dojo". Your life is your dojo. It follows, therefore, that your dojo is your life.

A dojo is alive.
It is obvious then that a dojo is not so easily defined. Far more than a "training hall" of traditional design, it offers learning, it is community, it is total commitment, it has life. With good reason indeed do we bow when entering and leaving this "place of the Way". Like enlightenment itself, only with time will the fullest meaning of the word become clear.

What does the layout of the dojo mean?
The most important part of the dojo is the mat or training area.  The mat is usually called tatami and may be made of several different types of materials.  Before beginning a training session, the senior student should look over the mat for any unsafe areas.  If any are found, he should fix them immediately.

The term dojo can refer to an entire building, or just the specific training area within the building.  When outside the building, the entire structure is referred to as the dojo.  However when inside, the training area is called the dojo or dojo hall.  Newsletters and the such are usually referring to the building when they talk about the dojo.  Instructors, in a class though, usually are talking about the dojo hall. 

Every training area has four walls or areas that have special representation.   At the front of the dojo is the kamiza while the shimoza is the rear area.  

The Kamiza is the focal point of any dojo. It often contains a portrait of O'Sensei and/or a sample of philosophical calligraphy. It is reserved for instructors, honored guests and dojo officers during special meetings.

The Shimoza is where students assemble before, during and after class, facing "Sensei", the instructor. They should line up by order of rank or seniority, with the most senior student near the Joseki.

The Joseki is a place of honor, where the important guests may take place.

It may contain seating for visitors and spectators. Yudansha sit on this side during testing.

The Shimoseki is usually reserved for a Tokonoma for display of revered artifacts. 

The Shimoseki may also contain spectator seating. Students sit on this side when testing.

A dojo should be a quiet place.  The walls should have soft colors and there should be no obstacles near or on the mats.

Why do people bow?
We are a Japanese traditional martial art school. Traditional means we are following many teachings that have been given down from different Japanese masters. In Japan it's a custom to bow, when you greet someone, just as shaking hands is a custom in Occident. All Kata begin and end with a bow so even though it may be tempting for some to eliminate the bow, it's like trying to change the essence of Karate, so this has not been done in traditional karate groups.

Do I have to bow?
Yes, if you are planning to train. But this question is a bit irrelevant once you consider the question, it's like asking "Will I have to shake hands if I choose to live in New York (Paris, London, Santiago, etc)? Of course, it would be very rude to do otherwise. Do not forget it's a greeting, a "hand shake", with no religious significance what-so-ever, so don't be shy.

What is a Sensei?
Sen means "before", Sei means "life, birth, living or lived". Thus a Sensei is someone who has experienced something before you. He has walked the path you are planning to follow before you, he can tell you what to do. In more general terms, it's a teacher, normally the head instructor of the Dojo you are attending and nobody else there.

Who is the Sempai?
The person in charge of the groups training other than the Sensei could be considered the Sempai, but in Japanese culture Sempai is a mentor.

Who is the Kohai?
The kohai is the junior man in the sempai/kohai relationship.

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