The Nikkô Dôjô
The process of becoming a martial artist is very similar to forging a sword. The raw material is heated, pounded, and shaped producing something of terrible beauty; refined, very sharp, graceful, polished, and deadly. Then it is hidden from the view of others and only exposed when absolutely necessary. The Dôjô acts as such a forge for the student.
The term "Dôjô" literally translates into English as "Way place" and refers to the training hall of a martial artist. More specifically, it is a place for the development of the trainee. It is not a studio or gymnasium, but more akin to a special club, the purpose of which is to take an untrained person and transform them into a polished black belt. A Dôjô transmits the heart of the various martial arts taught there, not just the shells, and requires the students to attempt to realize the ultimate reality of their chosen art. It is inflexible, not making any concessions to suit any individual, but instead demands that the student surrender their ego to something of much greater value and do all the adapting. Students training in such a place will do similar things as those who train in a studio or gymnasium, but in a way, which is significantly different.
One of the first "different things" you will notice is all the bowing. A bow has nothing to do with subservience or worship, but may best be thought of as similar to a salute in the military and as a sign of respect. You will also hear students say "Os", which is a vocal acknowledgment of an instructor or instruction. Both the bow and vocalization are used to teach the student discipline.
Another item unique to the Dôjô is what we call the "Shinza". The Shinza represents the "front" of the mat area much as the teacher's desk in a school designates the front of the classroom. It may be made up of various items including calligraphy, flowers, rocks, shells, etc. The physical content is not as important as the idea behind it, keeping the students focused upon their training instead of their personal concerns. Every square inch of a Dôjô has rank, with the kamidana (the little wooden house on the upper shelf at the front) acting as THE focal point and having the highest seniority.
It should be noted that bowing and the shinza have nothing to do with religion, religion being considered a personal endeavor unto itself. The students do not worship at a Dôjô, nor do they become subservient to any individual. They do, however, subjugate themselves to the will of the instructor. This attitude is necessary to penetrate the depths of any martial art and is known as "Nyûnanshin", which loosely translates as "pliable spirit." This is the student's way of saying, "Here I am, do what you will and make me into a polished object of beauty."
Students in a traditional Dôjô do not compete with each other or against others at tournaments. This simply creates a large ego rather than a well-rounded, virtuous individual. As the student advances and develops through their martial art abilities, the techniques become subtle vehicles for self-improvement, producing a practitioner who has a whole new understanding of themself and continues to develop the many virtues to be found in the martial arts.
Japanese Budô offers self-improvement and personal fulfillment. The student will follow a strict regimen of physical and mental exercises to gain understanding of his own body. Budô is not for everyone. It requires an intense dedication and a lifetime of devoted study and hard work. It is not for the immature, for a student must be willing to surrender his ego to something of greater value.