Dojo-A Place of the Way

Looking up the definition of “dojo” in a translation dictionary, one may find “place for practice or tournament (martial arts).”  The literal translation has been “do”=”way or path” and “jo”=”place”.  “Place of the Way/Path”  In all the arts that have “do” at the end: Aikido, Kyudo, Jodo, Kendo, Iaido, Judo,…. there is a differentiation between the “technical” or “justu” and the elevated, transcendent, lifelong, “do”.  One could be proficient in Iaijutsu, but miss the higher, unexplainable Iaido.  This differentiation is the essential component of a dojo.

The path is a solo journey.  There may be others near by, but the path is an individual’s to take.  There will be times when there are many people around and going in the same direction, but there will also be those times when there is no one to be found, except ourselves.  It is ourselves that we must confront. It is ourselves that we must accept. It is ourselves that we must inspire and love.  And it is ourselves that we must transcend.  This is the “way”, “path”, or “do”.

A dojo is a place for the practice of that journey so that when we confront the world we can accept the problems, inspire solutions, love the work, and transcend.

The teacher’s role in a dojo is not to just teach the jutsu, it is also to create an experience that invites the student to walk the path.  It is not idle, friendly chit-chat.  Creating the experience can be direct instruction, observation, and/or modeling.  It is never empty.

The student’s role in a dojo is to steal as much as possible.  Squeeze as much knowledge out of every moment.  Analyze every movement, word, and intent; then do it again to interpret it from another perspective, then another, and another.  To be a student is to never stop thinking about the lessons so that learning is infinite.  Then, the world is the dojo.  O’ negai shimasu?



One of my students has a sword that was forged from what we suspect was a bell like this one at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto.  It is pictured below.  It is a beautiful sword and Furuya Sensei indicated that its smith, Masataka was one of the well known modern smiths who had studied under the two top smiths of the Showa period, Kasama Shigetsu and Takahashi Sadatsugu.  The sword was made using metal from the main hall of the Narita Shrine in Narita.

It’s amazing how a material like metal can be reforged to make something completely different.  Intense heat, and the pounding out of impurities, tempering, and polishing are all labor, time intensive skills.  It makes me think how each one of us can reforge ourselves through training.  O’negai shimasu.

Beginning Again

Recently, many of my more advanced students have been out for one reason or another.  Health, career, family, pets, vacation are all valid reasons to miss training.  We need to go out into the world to come back refreshed and attack our training with new vigor.  I think this is the reason for so many of Furuya Sensei’s words connected to beginner’s mind.  We can all remember the infatuation we had at the beginning of something almost to the point of obsession.  This fades quickly as the day-to-day reality begins to sink in and we begin to see things we don’t like.  The key is to try to maintain an openness for discovery.  I have only been training in Iaido for eighteen years, so I discover something new nearly every time I train or teach.

Because the students who are further down the path are away, I am able to focus on our beginners more closely and work on the fundamentals.  Already I see them developing their bases for cutting and developing extension, and discovering their centers and working on maintaining their stability.  It is a gift to be able to watch them discover and it made me wish all my students were there so they could revisit their beginner’s mind.  I will just have to be patient and wait for them to be back in the dojo.  O’negai shimasu.


Reflecting on the past is what allows us to move forward in an informed way.  Much of culture operates from traditions.  In our training, we must be mindful and make sure that we are carrying the traditions of the past and bringing them forward into the world with honor and respect.  Tradition happens for a reason.  It worked.  We must study why it worked and then bring that function forward into our art, not try to press our art into the tradition.  Can you understand?

Ready To Learn

There are so many obstacles one must navigate in order to train.  I think about the distance to the dojo, the traffic, the outside obligations that must be fulfilled, the body’s readiness, and mental attitude.  Making training a priority is at times a challenge.  Izawa Sensei reminds us of a hierarchy from time to time when we miss class:  Health is number one, followed by family, then career/job, then training.  Training of course can have a very positive effect on our overall health, so number one and training are connected.  For Furuya Sensei, his dojo was his family after the passing of his parents, and he was a full-time Aikido and Iaido teacher, and, sadly, all of those things combined, eventually, cost him his health.  The dojo became his everything.  He put his students and their growth before everything.  This dedication to his students is very admirable and was palpable.

I remember on several occasions turning around and going home an hour in traffic after sitting an hour in traffic to get to the dojo if I knew I was going to be late to class.  I didn’t want to disrespect Sensei and the other students by arriving late.  Sensei was serious, and I wanted to make sure he knew I was serious as well.  What I didn’t know is that he would have rather had me come and train even if I was a little late than to have me miss.  It was my shame of being late that prevented me from training, but slowly I got over that shame and realized that any amount of time spent training, was time spent that would move me closer to the ultimate me.  If my heart was in the right place and an unavoidable obstacle was in the way, Sensei would understand.  I remember a student once cut into the trim on the bottom of the second floor with his sword and Sensei said nothing because the student’s heart was apologetic.

What he did not understand was people who habitually arrived late, or arrived with a laissez-faire attitude, or arrived late to an early morning weekend intensive practice.  He knew there wasn’t any traffic between 5-6am on a Saturday morning.  He knew that the student had been out late, or over slept, or had been drinking the night before and was too hung over for practice.  These things were inexcusable to Sensei, because the heart was not in the right place, and the scoldings Sensei unleashed for that were epic and unforgettable.

Every teacher is lucky who has one student who is eager and ready to learn.  O’negai shimasu.

The Customer Celebrity

To live a life that is disconnected from technology is very difficult.  Author Daniel Quinn discusses how it is our nature to develop air conditioning and computers and all the screen time, after all, technology can be employed by a primate that uses a stick as an eating implement; as the ants walk up it, the primate eats the ants off the stick.

I recently had a very strange experience.  It is probably very common today.  My wife and I decide to buy a car.  We have purchased several cars before, but this experience was totally different.  For those of you who have purchased a new car recently, it might not be that shocking, but for me it was unique.  We went to a dealer after some initial comparisons and research.  A salesperson greeted us in the typical “Sharks in the Water” method, but he was respectful of the distance I required to feel comfortable, he showed us a car, got the key, and turned on the car so I could hear it and see the engine running.  He offered and encouraged a test drive, but we didn’t have the time, and we left after a handshake, exchange of a business card, and I articulated that I would return.

Pretty normal so far, right?  I returned to the dealership when I told him I would, but he was busy with another customer and a hand off was made so that we could take the test drives we needed to make a more informed decision.  It was good that we did, because we were able to settle on one of the models because of the test drive.  Typical back in the showroom to look at the numbers and negotiate, but we knew we would not be buying a car that day in spite of the sales team’s efforts to have us sign then and there.  I like to think about things and do a little more investigation after I’ve done my initial research.  I like to sleep on it and see what my dreams tell me(nothing exciting.)  The next morning I woke up, and, over coffee, my wife and I discussed the price and purchase options and strategies for negotiation.  I did a little more research and searched what people in the area were paying for the model we were considering.  Within an hour I had been contacted by two dealerships and the original dealership asking me for my business and trying to beat each other’s prices.  It felt like a feeding frenzy!  I was the chum, and the sharks were attacking, but I also felt like some type of celebrity.  Emails, phone calls, quotes, incentives, there were so many from which to choose.  I felt so important.

I suppose a water buffalo that has two lions on its hind quarters and one on its back could feel important and desired, of course, the result of that is probably not very positive for the water buffalo.  I think it is seductive to be desired.  We all want to be admired and wanted, but this is not the path.  The path is work.  My desire for the learning is what keeps me bowing in and training, not so that I can be called Sensei or feel strong and use my skill and knowledge to subjugate others to my will.  Instead, I am happy to have a few students and teach traditional Iaido.  I don’t run after and chase my customer celebrities.  It is quite the opposite, I practically run them off!  They are students, not customers.

We train because we must; it is the way.  O’negai shimasu.


This temple/shrine in Shinjuku is on the way to Hombu Dojo.  I passed it every morning on my way to train in 2011, and I made a little meander there this past winter.  It is one of the most peaceful places, and, yet, it is surrounded by one of the most populated areas in the world.  There are many temples and shrines all over Tokyo, it just takes a little walk off beaten paths to find them.  That’s the first step.  We get away from what everyone else is doing, and then look around.  Then we have to climb the steps, wash our hands and mouths to purify, and then we are ready.

It is the same in the dojo.  Learning requires effort.  Learning requires the preparation of our bodies for the actions we will perform, and our minds for the thoughts we will confront.  This is one of the things that turn “jutsu” to “do”.  O’negai shimasu.


A Little Grooming

The Snow Monkeys in the Yamanochi region are really something else.  The first time I saw them was in a film, Baraka.  It was very calming to watch the monkeys soaking in hot springs.  The hot springs, as it turns out, were built by the Japanese of the region for the monkeys to keep the monkeys out of their fields and from raiding food stores.  The Japanese decided to feed the monkeys near the hot springs and the relationship was formed.  In the United States, ranchers and farmers usually hunt and destroy the pests that would pick on their livestock/crops, but in Japan they created and support a space for the monkeys.  Now, the Snow Monkeys are a tourist attraction in the Winter, and subject of documentaries.

One of the behaviors that I observed was in the grooming habits of the monkeys.  The monkeys groom each other without concern to social structure.  There are relationships within the monkey group, and a social hierarchy, but the alpha male will groom any and will be groomed by any.  They don’t view the task as being burdensome nor as beneath themselves.

There is a social hierarchy in the dojo, but I have seen Izawa Sensei down on the mats wiping and cleaning just like everyone else.  The chores in the dojo are a part of everyone’s tasks, not just white belts.  The tasks in the dojo are just as much a part of the training as suburi, or tenkan exercise, and they create a community of mutual respect.

Bushido to Mogido-Furuya Sensei repost

originally posted on April 14, 2002

Bushido to Mogido: Bushido means the “way of the Warrior,” or the samurai who stood for courage, duty, patience and loyalty. It was these qualities which made the warrior what he was and it was these qualities which made him a great martial artist as well. Nowadays, we do not talk about the “Way of the Warrior” or Bushido. Nowadays, we are follow Mogido, “The Way of No Shame.” Occasionally, such as the other day, I meet old friends who still aspire to the Samurai and it makes me feel good. Perhaps, these ideas may seem dated and outmoded to most and may be they are not relevant in today’s world. Yet, I find great comfort in these qualities and still I want to see them in my students. Indeed, another name for the way of the warrior is the “way of humanity.” And ultimately, it is through the way of the warrior that we become true humans in the world.

The other day someone quoted one of my Furuya’s Law: Great potential equals great hardship equals great achievement. Even today, I still find it so true.

The Ego’s Defense

We were training some years ago and Furuya Sensei said something like, “Don’t drop the tip,” to a fellow student, and the student’s response was, “I am?”  Sensei’s response was not aggressive, or frustrated, but it was matter-of-fact, “Duh, I wouldn’t have said it if you weren’t doing it.”

When the teacher corrects us, we need to implement the correction immediately, yet many times we have an automatic response, physical, vocal, or mental that indicates that our mind is not on the training.  This particular student’s ego thought it was doing the technique correctly and uttered the comment in line with its discord.  His response required Sensei to say that he was, indeed, dropping the tip.  This is a second correction on the same moment.  This is inefficient in training, but it happens very frequently.

The goal of the teacher is to get the student to learn the content, and when the ego is an obstacle, it must be addressed.  Though the response was not indignant, it did require a follow-up.

In batto, the right hand follows the line of the sword so that sword and saya may work together.  The right hand should never cross the center line over to the left side of the body.  This movement creates an opening for attack and puts the sword in an inefficient position creating a reduplication of movement.  Reduplications create gaps in timing that a trained opponent will exploit.

I was teaching someone how to do the initial batto as part of our noto practice, and I told him and showed him how to do it, and then he tried to do it, moving his right hand to the left side of the body and he said, “Like this?”  I said, “No, like this,” and showed him how to do it again; he tried again and said, “Like this?” again taking the right hand to the left side of the body.  I said, “No.  Like this.”  I again showed him how to perform the movement and added, “The right hand follows the line of the sword and never crosses your centerline to left side of the body.  He tried again, “Like this?” again crossing the right hand to the left side of the body.  “No, like this.”  This interaction continued in a similar fashion and I am sad to say that I’m not really sure if the student ever got it right because his mind and body were not connected.  His mind/ego, was too busy focused on getting affirmed, with his repeated, “Like this?”  He was looking for me to say, “Yes, very good,” so that he could feel good about himself instead of thinking about doing it correctly.  When the body and the mind are disconnected there is no point in training.  Mindless exercise is not the purpose of a Do.  Had I confronted his ego, I might have gotten him to learn it then.  This is a failure of mine as a teacher, just as much as it is a failure of his as a student.

Somehow we must get past the ego’s defenses so that we may learn together.  O’Negai Shimasu>