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Please keep the shoes neat and orderly

Toshishun4genkanThe foyer of a traditional Japanese dojo or home is called the genkan (玄関).  This area should be kept especially clean and neat. When students come into the dojo, they should take off their shoes and arrange them neatly with the toes pointing out.  If there is no more space left, they should put them in the geta-bako (下駄箱) or shoe rack with the toes facing in.

If a guest comes, a space and path should be created for their shoes so that they can easily slip them on and walk out.  It is the job of the students to take care of the shoes and their arrangement.

Sensei used to stand at the door and monitor the shoes whenever we would host groups of children.  He would jokingly chide them about making their shoes straight or if they mixed up the left and right.

In the old days, the first thing any prospective monk in training would look at was the genkan.   If the genkan was neat and orderly they knew that the school had discipline and they would go in.  If the genkan was dirty or the shoes were disorderly then they knew the school had no discipline and they would keep going.

Please make sure to take care of the shoes on your way in and especially on your way out.  This little thing says so much about your training and level of ability.

Be aware

Hasten to Do Good (Zen wa isoge), The Long and Short of It (Nagashi mijikashi), from the series One Hundred Pictures by Kyôsai (Kyôsai hyakuzu) In the dojo, one of the things we stress is that the students be aware of themselves at all times.  This awareness creates a sense of responsibility.  When we see a piece of paper on the ground, "we have to" pick it up.  The meaning behind "we have to" is the responsibility that is born out of awareness.  Since we see something, we must act on it.  There is a Japanese proverb that goes, "zen wa isoge" or that good deeds should be done quickly without hesitation. 

A good student is one who has balance, both physically and mentally.  Aikido is a martial art and thus because its techniques can be lethal, it requires a certain amount of personal responsibility.  In order to be responsible, one must be aware first.  As the old saying goes, "One has to know there is a problem before they can act on it."

If one is taught to be self-aware and notice things and be responsible for them in the dojo then they might be able to carry that over into their daily lives.  If they can see it, then they can act on it and, hopefully when they do, it will be a natural act that is done quickly at the exact right moment and done with good character.  To be unaware of oneself is to act without character and to be irresponsible.  All martial arts teach responsibility because responsibility is the virtue that ensures that when we do act that we will act accordingly.


The way of carpentry

Our old dojo was built by Sensei with help from a Japanese carpenter.  Not until after the old dojo was demolished was I able to see the true craftsmanship.  They used local woods that some might grade inferior and turned it into a pieces of beauty.  One of the interesting things was that the floors were made with wood one might use on a outside fence, but you would have never known it by looking at it or touching it.  They must have used a Japanese plane to create the finish because in the 17 years I was there I can't recall us ever "re-staining" the floors.  If they would have used sandpaper and stain to create the finish, we would have had to re-do it after a couple of years.  You can see this now as the new floors need to be re-stained. I found this video documentary below.  It is quite interesting even if one isn't interested in carpentry because they discuss the Japanese mindset and philosophy as it pertains to carpentry.  One of the hallmarks of Japanese culture is to live in harmony with nature and you can see it reflected in how these people build things.  Miyamoto Musashi said, "To know one way is to know all ways" and so we can understand our own way as we learn about other ones.

Sessa takuma





Sessa takuma is a Japanese idiom or yojijukugo which roughly translates to mean "to improve together through friendly rivalry by encouraging each other."

Setsu (切) and sa (磋) together mean to cut or scrape something in reference to something hard in order to change its shape and taku (琢) and ma (魔) mean to polish something in order to bring out its natural beauty.

The dojo is supposed to be a place of community where we all work together to improve one another.  It is supposed to be a place of sessa takuma.

When we perform the techniques on our partners, we should try and do the techniques to our fullest ability and not hold back.  This will enable us to grasp the understanding of how to fully use our power and it will give our partner the opportunity to learn how to fully receive the technique.

However, this doesn't mean that we do it with the intention that we hurt our partners.  We do it fully with the intention to make them better.  If our technique is too strong, they will have to work harder to take better ukemi.  If we hold back our technique, they will never grow or improve.  You might be thinking, "What if they get hurt or get mad?"  This can happen.  If it does, first check your intention and make sure your intention wasn't to hurt them.  Secondly, if they do get hurt or upset then you should apologize.  Also if you see your partner struggling, you should quietly with hushed tones explain or help them with their ukemi.  This is sessa takuma.

We have to remember that our uke is giving up their body for our benefit so that we may improve - which is a compassionate act.  Knowing this, we must use this opportunity with the best intention and do our best to not waste their sacrifice.  Of course, we cannot abuse them either.

If we can put our emotions and intentions in check then we can push ourselves and our partners to be the best they can be and insure that our dojo is a community which is trying to foster "sessa takuma" or a place where we make each other better.