Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What is a dojo?

The place where a martial art is formally taught is called a dojo ( dojang, wat, kwoon, heya, sasaran), the term dojo is translated from the Sanskrit bodhi-manda which is translated as "seat of wisdom". The  word dojo is itself a Japanese term that literally means " place of the way" or " place of enlightenment".

It differs from a gym in that it is a place for perfecting the spirit. This is not to say that the perfection of spirit cannot occur in a gym, but that is not the focus of gyms. You don't go to a dojo to get a good sweat on, or to see how many reps you can pump out today. That is not the purpose of the dojo. The dojo, as a sacred place is where you go to confront yourself. The emphasis is always on improving the essence of self and aspiring towards the perfection of character. The pledge that is made is towards the collective good for the group, the community and the world.

You may think that by the above definition that  a dojo is a room and you would be right and wrong. It is not just a room. It is not a particular style, or even centered around  a particular group of people. The dojo while it can exist as a fixed place in time is also highly subjective. For example we can say the dojo is going to the park or beach this weekend to train, which does not mean we are moving our building to these respective sites.
 So what does it mean?
If we take the above definition of a place to confront and improve yourself, then a dojo can be anywhere. It is an agreed upon place either by yourself or with a group consensus that serves the purpose for training, discipline, introspection, and the perfection of character. We bow in the dojo because we respect the location and what it provides us. It is a matter of respect. The same way we maintain and clean the dojo, not necessarily because the space is dirty, but because it is part of our training and it is manifestation of respect towards the space, ourselves and those who may train with us.

The next time  you enter your dojo take a moment to really appreciate the space you are in whether it be an actual building or in the park. Remember to show gratitude and respect.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Keeping your sword sharp

One of the things that samurai in the past focused on, among the many things they were responsible for, was to always have a sharp sword. They knew that in any encounter they had a one in three chance of victory, one in three of being maimed or seriously injured and one in three of death. With those odds they were very careful not to draw their swords frivolously.

 Even so because the stakes were so high they took great pains to keep their swords sharp.  Why would they do this if they rarely drew their weapons?  It was a matter of being mentally and physically ready. The act of sharpening the sword focused the will of the samurai. Then like now violence could visit at any time, and when it does you will not have time to practice the techniques that should be ingrained within your body. You will not have time to polish your defense or work on your fitness.

 Although the art of kendo and kenjutsu still exist today, many of us do not roam the streets with swords strapped to our sides. However for those of us that practice a martial art we do have a sword to keep sharp. It starts(and ends) with our basic techniques, which sadly suffer the most as one advances through the ranks.  It means that those that have a practice must make the time to delve deeper into what they have learned, make and effort to reverse engineer it(bunkai) and truly comprehend what the technique and applications are.

Too many times I have witnessed high ranking students do poorly with some techniques because they have focused on one aspect of their training, neglecting the other aspects. What occurs over time is the creation of a  myopic practitioner  that has dull techniques- a dull sword. We cannot allow ourselves to carry a dull sword, to have techniques or kata we are unsure of because we have not practiced them in a long time.

We must strive to always keep our swords sharp, because if we are ever called upon to use the knowledge we possess to defend ourselves or our loved ones we must possess a weapon with a keen edge sharp enough to make a decisive cut.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando