Practicing classical Japanese karate in a safe and collegial setting.

What’s all that stuff at the front of the Dojo?

A traditional dojo is jammed packed with imagery and symbolism and the Charles Fink Karate Dojo is no exception. Everything in the Dojo has a function – sometimes practical, sometimes metaphorical – and there is always a reason for its existence. Some of the most noteworthy items are housed in the shinden, or shrine, at the front of the dojo. The significance of these items is explored here.

A tokonoma is a recessed space built into the wall.  One can be found in many Japanese homes and usually houses some decorative items such as flowers, pictures, or nice calligraphy (among other things).  This custom has made its way into the dojo.  The tokonoma houses the shinden and the items found within.  The Charles Fink Karate Dojo does not (yet) have the luxury of a recessed space so a shelf fixed to the wall above the mirrors at the front of the dojo (shomen) serves this purpose.

The gentlemen whose pictures hang in the Charles Fink Karate Dojo shinden are Masters Gogen Yamaguchi and Shuji Tasaki. They are credited with organizing the school of karate that the Dojo belongs to and for establishing the curriculum we follow. They have passed away so we honour them here (it’s not appropriate to put pictures of living people in the shinden).

The Japanese katana is regarded as the symbol of excellence in Japanese martial arts. Its presence reminds us to train hard and to seek perfection in our technique and our character. In practical terms, the katana was kept in the dojo so that it could be used to defend the dojo against would-be invaders during feudal times in Japan. Those days are behind us but the symbol remains. Notice that the katana is displayed with the hilt to the left, indicating that we are in a time of peace.

The taiko drum is a remnant of the old days when it was a student’s job to beat the drum and maintain a rhythm for training drills – a sort of karaterobics or cardio kick exercises. In a modern dojo, the drum is replaced with a smart device with a good playlist plugged into a sound system. A drum remains in some dojos as a reminder of the old days. The drum in the Charles Fink Karate Dojo is purely ornamental and used for educational purposes; we use an iPod to shuffle tunes.

The Japanese term hanakotoba refers to the language of flowers and is a central theme in ikebana – flower arranging. In the same spirit that flowers have meaning in North-American society (red roses for love on Valentine’s day), each flower has a special meaning in Japan as well – they speak, and tell a story. The pink rose in the Charles Fink Karate Dojo expresses trust and confidence – sentiments that are central to our karate training.

The Japanese flag is a nod to the roots of our art. However, the Canadian flag reminds us that we train in Canada and that generally accepted Canadian values of courtesy, protocol, respect, and etiquette are not to be forgotten.

Everything in the Dojo has a function – sometimes practical, sometimes metaphorical…

The bonsai tree represents growth – but not just any kind of wild, undirected growth. As it matures, a bonsai is guided and molded into fabulous works of art. The same can be said of a karate student. As students progress through the curriculum they not only grow in strength and precision in their techniques but also in their character, polish, and sophistication.

The armour, or yoroi, displayed in our shinden is purely ornamental since it is not used in karate training. However, many of our customs and rituals are inherited from the samurai and since most schools of swordsmanship had a yoroi in the dojo (presumably because the sensei’s wife didn’t want it in the living room), we do too. The yoroi at the Charles Fink Karate Dojo is a miniature because we are not prepared to pay the thousands of dollars it would cost to purchase a real one simply for decoration.

Thing of Beauty:
The okimono, or objet d’art, is one of the few items in the dojo that has no purpose besides it’s ability to bring joy. It is simply there for its loveliness or sentimental meaning. My okimono is a fan that I received as a gift. It bears old Chinese characters that refer to the poem of the willow and the oak (hard and soft, go and ju, in and , or yin and yang) that I feel represents our training in Goju Ryu very well. A bit of driftwood shaped like a person kicking also adorns the shinden. This, also, was a lovely gift I hold dear.

Shinto Shrine:
The little wooden box hanging on the wall is a Shinto shrine or kamidana (deity-shelf). In the same way one would find a crucifix in a hockey rink in rural Canada, one would find a Shinto shrine in a Japanese dojo. It has nothing to do with the activity taking place but a reflection of the people who practice it. In olden days Japan, the majority of dojo members were Shintoists so it made sense to have a shrine in the dojo. However, since the Charles Fink Karate Dojo is a secular dojo, there is no reason to display this except for educational purposes. One will note that the doors of the shrine are closed so we do not acknowledge the gods (kami).

Club Creed:
The Dojo Kun, or Club Creed, is a set of guidelines and principles that underpin the training philosophy of the dojo. More than a simple set of rules, it is a collection of ideologies or values that are important to our karate community. At the Charles Fink Karate Dojo, the Dojo Kun is printed on a patch of gi that was worn by a celebrated local karate champion.

Do you ever wonder why something appears in the Dojo?  Or, is something missing?  If you have questions, please ask… or better yet, do some of your own research and share your finding with the class.  We look forward to having that discussion with you.

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