Feature Article of the Quarter


By: C. Bruce Heilman (IKKF President)

Recently a young student was heard speaking to another younger student .."you didn't 'pray' when you left the floor". Laughingly, he was corrected on his mispronunciation (pray for rei), but in truth, most martial artists are unaware of the origins of "Dojo Reishiki" or the proper etiquette.

Where does all this bowing come from? Is in necessary to dojo practice or is it an outmoted form of obedience to the head teacher? What about that "alter" in the front of the dojo? Does this imply some kind of idol worship? Do we "pray" when we "rei"?

First and foremost it must be stated that Eastern religions did NOT begin as forms of worship. They were philosophical formats for dealing with life. They often embodied practices that conditioned the body or the mind to prepare a warrior for battle. Over the centuries the common people began to honor the founders of these philosophies, turning them into deities and the philosophies into doctrine. Some historical examples of this include: Lao Tsu, Bautama, or Confucius, as the originators of Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism.

We should remember that true martial arts are designed for warfare even though they adopted daily habits of living that people used, i.e.: having a family center where ones ancestors were respected (kamiza). They showed their respect for the family heritage (the kami) and for each other by lowering the head (rei). It is a custom, NOT a religious act.

Forest Morgan in "Living the Martial Way" states that ..." 'Kami' means spirit, an attitude, a sense of awe. Each member of a traditional dojo carries that spirit, that kami, in their heart, but there is a focal point in the dojo toward which members express their respect for the kami of their art." The focus of this respect is the "Kamiza". The term "kamiza" means "spirit seat", the place where students direct their feelings toward the spirit of their art and respect toward their teachers before them. It often holds objects of meaning for the head instructor, such as a treasured sword or a gift from a now deceased student or teacher.

In terms of "ceremonies" or "rituals" that are performed, we must look to mythology for answers. Joseph Campbell was perhaps the greatest authority on ancient practices the modern world has seen. Delving into the past he drew parallels between cultures and found common meaning in most of them. One of his favorites, the Warrior Archetype, was studied closely also by Carl Jung, the great theorist of psychology.

Jung believed all people shared a common, deep unconscious. Within this reservoir lay vital impulses, biological in nature, that come to the surface and were given names: King, Queen, Warrior, Warrioress, Magician, and Lover. They were then projected outward in the form of god/goddess, Zeus, Hera, Ares, Athena, etc. Common people evoked these memories in their life or events, for example - war. In order to prepare for battle, soldiers went to a particular place to try and assume the characteristics of these archetypes. By way of certain ceremonies the warriors adopted the characteristics of their favored hero/heroine so that they would fight fiercely for their cause. In Celtic times they became inflamed with the heat of battle and the transformed person was called a "berserker" from which comes our word "berserk".

The words "ritual" and "transformation" as well as "sacred site" are important. Frederick Lovrett, the Bugei Master explained the meaning of "dojo" most eloquently: ..."the goal of the dojo is to transform the person into something new. A school teaches how to kill; a dojo teaches how to die." The traditional dojo is a place of transformation. As we leave our daily worries at the door, we "rei in" as a sign that we are now adopting the warriors garb, mental as well as physical. Forest Morgan in "Living the Martial Way" states: ..."A Japanese training hall is called a 'dojo' or 'way place' and training there involves much more that learning physical techniques. Studying in a traditional dojo involves a spiritual transformation that is more a process of becoming that one of learning".

For whatever reason we desire to don the guise of a Warrior, we find ourselves adhering to old customs used for their transformative effects in order to learn more efficiently and adopt the characteristics of our deep-seated urges. In martial arts, old and in many cases current practices are adopted for their historical significance. To become the Warrior/ Warrioress we perform the acts that will pull us into line with the ideals we want to adopt - they help us with our transformation to a martial artist. An overview of some of the specific ceremonies used in a traditional dojo are presented below.

Dojo Reishiki (ceremony) is important to the creation of a formal and traditional atmosphere in the Dojo. There are many occasions in the day-to-day operations of a Dojo that require some form of ceremony. Some of the more common ones are:

The exact level of formality used during any of the above events will vary from dojo to dojo. Also there exists no standardized rules for such ceremonies, although some basis level of similarities exist in most traditional martial arts schools regardless of the art practiced (Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Aikido, etc.). The following discussion outlines a general set of Dojo Reishiki applicable to most dojos.

The very first aspect of Dojo Reishiki is the concept of "physical dojo seniority". By this we mean that each part of the Dojo has a definite seniority. The most senior side of the practice area is called the "Kamiza" (Upper Seat). This end of the dojo is for the Head Instructor and the Dojo Shrine. The Kamiza is located in a manner to be out of the normal traffic pattern of the dojo. The side of the dojo opposite the Kamiza is called the "Shimoza" (Lower Seat). This is the normal sitting and practice area for the Kyu-ranked students called the "Mudansha". To the right of the Shimoza is the "Joseki" (Upper Side). The Joseki is normally reserved for the Black Belts called "Yudansha". Opposite the Joseki is the "Shimoseki" (Lower Side).

Rank seniority in the dojo starts at the Kamiza and proceeds clockwise around the dojo to the Shimoseki. An important point to remember is that a junior student must never sit in a position that is higher in rank that where his/her senior is sitting.

The dojo shrine is called the "Shinza". It should be noted that the term "shrine" is not used in a religious manner, but rather merely to denote is as the focal point or place of honor of the dojo. The students bowing to the shrine are showing their respect to the concept / spirit of the dojo and the art they are practicing, nothing more. As the center and spirit of the dojo, the Shinza is considered one notch higher in rank than the Sensei or any visiting Instructor.

As stated earlier in this article, there is no one way or method of Dojo Reishiki used in each and every dojo. Dojo Reishiki is a personal touch which may vary from dojo to dojo, organization to organization and from system to system. The point of the article is to give the reader an introduction to a general set of ceremony guidelines suitable for most traditional schools. The focus here is not to transform American martial arts schools into Japanese clones, but rather to add a touch of class to the day-to-day operations of our schools. The extent to which each school will implement a set of Dojo Reishiki will depend upon the orientation of the Instructor.

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NOTE: Mrs. H. invites your comments on our feature article or other IKKF related topics. You can send them via Email. The idea is to establish a "IKKF Discussion Group" via Email. In future updates to the Web Page we intent to set up a Discussion Group Bulletin Board.

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