There are a lot of gyms out there. I think there are even some martial arts that market themselves as a sort of gym. A gym is where there are weights and equipment that any member can use as long as that member puts them back. There are even some gyms that have people to clean the used equipment so that the members don’t have to bother themselves with such a task. The management of the gym doesn’t care how often its members come or if they are getting more or less fit as long as membership remains high and people pay their fees. It’s probably better for them the more people they have on automatic withdrawal who don’t show up; then there is less for them to clean!
A dojo is not like this. It is a “place of the way”. “The way” is a path of self-development and enlightenment, and it is not bound by a specific location. The goal is to where every moment is in the dojo. Many people treat the dojo like a gym. They want to come in and have idle chit-chat so they can fulfill their social interaction quota, or they want to come in and sweat and get their heart rates up so they can meet their fitness goals. A dojo is not like this.
Dues in the dojo go to cover the overhead of the space. The dues cover insurance, air conditioning, the cost of mats, electricity, and the rent/mortgage. Dues go to supporting the travel and lodging of guest instructors. They do not go to the lavish lifestyle of Sensei. Furuya Sensei slept in a recliner for the last thirteen years of his life. He didn’t even have health insurance. O’Sensei lived in even more meager conditions and his family suffered so that he may pursue Aikido and its development. Dues are just paid to cover costs.
A dojo requires its members to pay dues, but it also requires them to pay attention. If the teacher is showing something, the student should copy it exactly the way the teacher shows it. Timing, spacing, extension, posture, balance,…everything the teacher shows should be copied so that the student may internalize the movement and learn. The teacher does not come in willy nilly and think, “Hmm, how am I going to fill all the time we have today?” This is a waste! No, the teacher is trying to figure out how to get the technique to manifest itself accurately through someone else’s body. A student of a martial art must be able to see the technique one time and be able to catch it, steal it, copy it, repeat it, and master it. How many times did a samurai get to see his opponents’ techniques? Once. The opponent either died because the samurai’s technique was better (probably because he paid attention to his teacher!), or the opponent killed the samurai. A dead samurai cannot see anyone’s technique, he is dead!
I remember Furuya Sensei scolding a few students one day because they repeatedly cut the inside of their sayas and continued to train. He made a rhetorical comment asking them that if their lungs made that sound would they go see doctor. He wasn’t upset about them cutting their sayas once, anyone can make a mistake, it was the repetition. The students weren’t paying attention. The students hung their heads and gave the abashed look, but Sensei didn’t stop there. He pointed out another student and asked them to watch. The students watched. Then Sensei spoke, “Do you see how __________ uses and moves his saya?” They nodded. “No one taught him that. He watched and copied. He is paying attention to the movement.”
This is the same in Japan. No one talks in the dojo. The teacher demonstrates, and the students practice and try to copy. Please, pay attention when you are training and try to copy the technique exactly as your teacher shows you. If you don’t, you are disrespecting your teacher and dismissing what is trying to be communicated. Instead, what is communicated is that you know better and that you don’t need the teacher. This is very bad. This behavior does not belong in a dojo. I am actually not sure where that willful behavior belongs, maybe when trying to lift weights.