Coffee break article

Our dojo was established in 2013 and it had to close over the past two yers for the first time in its history. Since its been such a challenging two years with COVID, I thought it was a good opportunity to reset and reconsider the purpose of training in the dojo.

In this article I have shared sentiments from Mori Michiharu Shihan. Please note though that the ideas conveyed in this article are not solely my own, I have adapted them to our context.

A fresh start

One of the best places in which to train one’s body physically is a gym as it offers physical exercise with its main purposes of developing muscle strength and/or gaining cardio-vascular fitness. On the other hand, a dojo (martial arts school) is generally regarded as the place to train martial arts, and in doing so train one’s physical body as well as to discipline one’s mind. So, the difference between a gym and a dojo is the training of one’s mind. For instance, no one would bow to their weights or barbells with gratitude before they use them in a gym, while we teach our adult students and children to bow to any weapons upon taking them to use in order to show one’s respect.

Why do we pay such respect to inanimate objects as if they have a spirit, a life, a consciousness? We know that the weapon is just a piece of timber, not even human, but we learn the mindset of being grateful to use that piece of wood since we cannot learn certain techniques without it. We also pay the same respect and gratitude to the dojo itself, the hall where we need to carry on training. Obviously there is no need to mention the gratitude we also pay to our training partners, but we are thankful to inanimate objects, which are vital and essential to learn Aikido both physically and spiritually.

Furthermore, in a dojo we acknowledge and pay homage to the memory of our many teachers who have passed. Our teachers have graciously given us the opportunity to train in our lifetime through their diligence and discipline over many centuries, all the while carrying on the traditions in which we part-take still today. One of the ways we do this is through voicing our respect and appreciation using the term “OSU”. Despite the literal meaning “to force oneself to persevere, “OSU” is the special term used in the Japanese budo world to show a sense of respect and gratitude whenever it is said. Its funny you know, without thinking I often find myself saying “OSU” in other contexts and I have to catch myself so that I don’t seem too weird or make another person feel uncomfortable. Anyway, I guess being overly respectful yet contextually inappropriate is better than being disrespectful altogether

You probably have heard of a famous samurai, Tesshu Yamaoka, who lived about two hundred years ago. He was an expert swordsmanship as well as a politician, a Zen master, an enlightened thinker and a calligrapher. He was also called “a last Samurai” which is an expression Japanese people use to admire a great man. He left an interesting message about Budō training, “Even in training, there is no other path to seek. Only sweep away the dust of our minds.” When the dust piles up in the mind, the eyes get clouded, preventing the ability to see things clearly and therefore one makes mistakes, poor decisions or misjudges. But this interpretation is just one aspect. Mori Sensei believes that he sought a way to perfect his human spirit, not simply a master of swordsmanship. Well, Mori Sensei says that he can relate this thinking a lot to his teaching as it teaches about the mind’s dust. And I have to agree whole heartedly. Dust is something minute and light and it is easy to clean. Yet, if we leave it for a time without cleaning, then it piles up. Once it’s piled up, it gets stuck and stains, which cannot be cleaned easily any longer. Some examples of our mind’s dust are such things as miserliness, want, hatred, self-love, self-indulgence, grudge-bearing, anger, greed, arrogance. Sensei believes himself to not be a great person like Tesshu Yamaoka, but he too says that finds himself “cleaning dust from my mind whenever I am standing in the dojo, sweeping away my faults, especially anger and arrogance. This cleaning procedure also helps me maintain a peaceful relationship with my loving wife.” Here we can see yet another example of how the dojo and the teacher (the ‘sensei’: simply one who goes before you – ‘sei’ – and leads the way – ‘sen’) offer such rich opportunities to discipline the mind, not simply the body.

The significance of the dojo’s existence is definitely different from other sports. Through hard physical training in the dojo, in Aikido in our case, we discipline our body and mind, learn the mind of respect and gratitude, and clean dust from our consciousness which has accumulated daily at work or school or home. In our dojo, all the students arrive at the counter firstly where they greet and put their membership card out before they move on to the changing rooms. Although it is only a few minutes at the counter, I can see that you bring in with you feelings from both good and bad experiences throughout the day; happiness, excitement, sadness, irritation, anger, stress, etc…The great thing is seeing a student come in troubled, moody or depressed and leave the dojo with a beautiful smile, refreshed with a happy and appreciative “OSU” upon exit after the class, ready to pick up the baggage again of the outside world with a revigorated spirit. At this moment, my full satisfaction and joy in running a traditional dojo fills my heart. I am happy knowing this student’s heart and mind was cleansed to a certain extent and therefore he/she can go home in a better state. I enjoy this feeling immensely; it enriches my work and it makes it extremely fulfilling.

Well, in this uncertain time, I must be honest… I have felt unsure of whether the Sunshine Coast Dojo would withstand the challenge presented by Covid-19 in 2020/21. That said, I can’t predict what is to come in the months ahead (or perhaps years with this virus); after all, we don’t live in the future, we live now at this time, at this moment. So, I see this challenge now to be a great opportunity to restart the dojo with a refreshed mind in 2022, a determination and a devotion to the significance of the dojo at this moment. To all the Sunshine Coast Dojo’s students, let’s support each other in continuing to build a worthy and fulfilling place together today. Then, tomorrow will take care of itself!

 OSU!              

Ryan Slavin

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