The Traditional Dojo by Walther von Krenner

In O-Sensei’s lectures, as many have seen in my previous writings, the circle is an important component. I remember the old Hombu Dojo in Shinjuku having a bronze mirror in the Tokonoma of the Kamiza. The round mirror represents the circle on the outside and the great void on its surface. It is present in Shinto, as well as Buddhism, and the Sanskrit name of this mirror is Adarsa or Kagami in Japanese. It is one of the three sacred treasures of Japan along with the Sword (Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi) and the Tama, a comma shaped jewel.

The mirror symbolizes the image of the Void, for it reflects all the factors of the phenomenal world but deprives them of substance. The phenomenal world is thus exactly symbolized or illustrated for all substance is illusory, everything is no more than a subjective idea one has of it. This mirror illustrates the fact that no transitory factor of existence has any more self-reality then the reflection which it presents in the mirror. It represents the notion of the evanescence of material illusion, that which is idea as contrasted to that which is phenomena.

While I am on the subject of the dojo, I would like to talk a bit about the tradition and background of such a traditional dojo. The old Hombu was such a dojo, but the new Hombu dojo has given way to modern fashion and the expediency of doing business without any consideration to budo and its ancient traditions. It is a shame in a way that we forget the kodo, the ancient ways and have nothing to replace them with. A certain amount of beauty is always lost with the giving up of traditions.

Is not budo itself an ancient tradition, as a martial fighting art, in our time nothing but a ancient, outdated way of doing things? Should it perhaps be replaced by more efficient Budo, such as guns and tanks? Of course not, but should we then not keep some of the outward traditions alive also? We are wearing ancient clothes such as gi and hakama but have no problem discarding things that are not convenient or we are simply not aware of it. Yes, I realize it would be very difficult in our day and age to have such a space, especially outside of Japan, but some things can be kept alive if we are aware of them and not choose to ignore them.

We enter a traditional dojo opposite the Kamiza at the Shimosa. It is our intellect, our conscious desire to learn, that brings us to the entrance of the dojo. This is the first barrier. This is where we have to leave our intellect. Beginners who appear at the Shimosa full of preconceptions are unlikely to progress unless they leave their opinions and ideas behind and offer themselves empty to the teachings of the art.

Entering the Shimosa, the beginners will find that their initial experiences are mostly cerebral, even if they set their preconceptions aside. They stumble and are lost unable to do anything instinctively or intuitive. It is at the Shimosa that the novice begins to learn Reishiki (manners) that allows them to conduct themselves with dignity in the dojo, to practice safely in a hazardous atmosphere, and develop consideration for others. The all-important feature of Reishiki must originate at the dojo door and continue beyond it into the outside world after leaving the dojo.

The Joseki of the dojo is at the right (of the Kamiza) and symbolizes virtue and charity. The Joseki is the place occupied by the teachers and the sempai (seniors) when they sit or during practice. The Joseki should remind us that the future of the art depends on successive generations and seniors have the responsibility to care for the lower ranks, their Kohai. The virtue and charity of the Joseki is a responsibility, not a privilege. Budoka with too much ego and arrogance should contemplate the true meaning of their position in the dojo.

The Shomen (front) where the Kamiza is located is where the dojo deities or spirits of the art are thought to reside. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the Kamiza is the spiritual center of any traditional Dojo. The Tokonoma is an alcove or shrine in the Kamiza, this is where you will find a picture of the Founder and a scroll with writing pertaining to the art or the teaching. A focal point such as the Kamiza should elevate the importance of what goes on in front of it and assist in directing the student to the spiritual part of the art.

The Shimoseki side of the dojo (opposite the Shimosa) is where new students concentrate their activities. The principal quality a new student must have is a sense of moral appropriateness of what they are doing. They must know that their seniors wish only the best for them and that their seniors expect them to do their best in return to achieve this goal. Therefore, morality and integrity are the dominant components of the Shimoseki.

Is the Shimoseki less important than the Joseki? I do not think so. The Joseki is always under examination, consciously and subconsciously, by the Shimoseki Kohai. Juniors watch and evaluate their Sempai; are the Sempai’s actions and lifestyle in accordance with their teaching and the highest ideals of the art? Do the seniors demand more of the new students then they can or are willing to do? The Shimoseki, with its emphasis on integrity, is the perfect location from which to spot hypocrisy or pretentiousness on the other side, the Joseki.Wise novices use it this way, a perspective to evaluate the ideals of the art and their Sempai.

The Embujo is the center, it is the place where all trainees meet. This is where conflict is initiated, engaged, and resolved. Here rationalization, however clever and well-reasoned, is insufficient. Here, at the center, students must do their best and make no excuses. While this sounds easy in the abstract, the temptation to protect one’s ego is almost overwhelming at times. Protecting our sense of self (the ego self, not the true self), we resort to all sorts of explanations and excuses, silently and aloud to others. Yet, at the heart of the dojo all are superfluous. All that matters here is what we do or fail to do. No excuse or explanation is necessary or could make any difference. This center of the Dojo, the actual training space, is the Embujo. It should be no surprise that the Embujo corresponds to the earth element in O-Sensei’s teachings and is identified with the quality of honesty and sincerity.

Walther G. von Krenner, Shidosha

Sandokan Aikido


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