The meaning of "dojo" is derived from 2 word: "DO" or "the way", a discipline or an art, such as "KenDO" (the way/art of the sword); and "JO", or "a place". Therefore, together it mean, "a place to practise the way".
When entering the dojo, you will face the front of the room known as the "KAMIZA", or "upper seat". To your right, will be the "JOSEKI" where the senior members will congregate, and to your left, the "SHIMOSEKI" is where beginners and kyu-grade members will be. The opposite side of the KAMIZA is the "SHIMOZA".
The entrance to our dojo at the Rivonia Kendo Club (RKC) is in the far left corner of the room, that borders both the SHIMOZA and the SHIMOSEKI. Although there is a double-swing door to the dojo that leads straight from the passage way, it will be blocked, therefore forcing all members to enter and exit via the left door. However, since our dojo is a hall within a community centre, it only becomes a "dojo" when we are in session and when our shomen is up. It is during this time that all the formalities should be followed.
This is what most students would perceive as the dojo's rituals or rules that they must follow by becoming a RKC member.
However, there is a much deeper and philosophical meaning for these rituals.
In his book, "In The Dojo", author Dave Lowry gives a fascinating explaination of the dojo's layout, based on the teachings of both Buddhism and Taoism.
If we think of the KAMIZA as north, then the SHOMIZA is then south. According to Taoist cosmology, south is associated with the element of "fire", which in turn is associated to human intellect and etiquette. It is our intellect that will lead us to seek answers and fuel a desire to learn. Hence, this is where the entrance to the dojo is situated - in a position where the seeker can find his/her answers. It is at the dojo entrance where one must also shed any preconceived ideas and personal opinions, and be prepared to learn.
The JOSEKI is at the far right, or east side, of the dojo. This corresponds to the element of "wood", which symbolises virtue and charity. This space is where the senior members of the dojo will be. "Senior" may imply dan rank, but could also be because they have been at he dojo for a while and know the "ins-and-outs" of the dojo's rituals. As seniors, they have an obligation and responsibility to help the newer students become acquainted with these rituals, as well as help them along their martial arts journey. This side should not be seen as an exclusive clique of members who permeate arrogance or ego. Rather, it should be characterised by the solomnness of the budoka as they have committed to their martial arts journey more seriously.
The KAMIZA is on the north side of the dojo and is associated with "water". Sagacity, or the traits of solid judgement or intelligent decisioning, is associated to this "upper seat" area, and contributes significantly to the morale and "personality" of the dojo. This would be the area where the sensei's will sit and conduct the lessons from. Water can be interpreted as the "life-giving" substance that promotes growth. From this "upper seat" position, they need to ensure the safety of all the budoka in the dojo, as well as ensure the dojo's sustainability and its members' development.
The left side of the dojo, or SHIMOSEKI, is represented by the element of "metal", and the characteristics of rectitude or "morally correct behaviour or thinking". It is in this area where newer members will be conducting most of their activities initially. The expectation then is that the newer members will train as diligently and as correctly as possible, under the supervision of the seniors.
Lastly, the centre of the dojo is that of "earth" and implies that of "being practical". This is the space where budoka of all levels will meet, engage and train together. It is in this centre where the practitioner is expected to give their greatest focus and best efforts in EVERY session.
"In The Dojo" goes into greater detail and offers far more fascinating explanations that this blog could ever do, so it would be recommended that the more serious budoka get a copy of this book for themselves and study it well.
Finally, here is an extract from the book that should spark further interest in the subject:
...The two "faces" of Japanese behaviour: tatemae and honne... Japanese art and other aspects of its traditional culture have many similar examples of what is on the "outside" and what lies hidden beneath on the inside. These are referred to ... as omote and ura...
Fig 1: RKC Dojo Layout
Fig 2: RKC Layout Legend
Fig 3: View of the dojo
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The Rivonia Kendo Club (RKC) trains Kendo and Iaido, Japanese sword-based martial arts that encourages the cultivation of the human character.
The RKC also now offers, Jodo, the art of the short staff, which is the final martial arts that is under the auspices of the International Kendo Federation (FIK).
We are back training LIVE at our dojo, but online training still continues! Check out our website for more details!