By Richard Strozzi-Heckler
Aikido practice happens in the dojo. Dojo is a Japanese word that refers to the place to “train in the Way”. The origin of the word is from the ancient Sanskrit, Bodhimandha, which means place of awakening. Place of Awakening! How extraordinary this is! Ever since human beings have spoken about what is important to them they have attributed great importance to a place in which people can gather to wake up! The Buddha sat under a bodhi tree when he was Awakened. Perhaps this tree was one of the first dojos.
But the physical structures of wood, paint, sheetrock, windows, ceremonial objects, or even the subjects and rituals being taught, do not necessarily make a dojo, nor a place of awakening. The objects and materials have meaning only in relationship to the story we have about them. A dojo is a place of commitment in which people practice waking up. What we declare a dojo is a dojo. I have a friend who bows to any place that she feels learning, a commitment to practice, and a conversation with the Divine has taken place. This has included hotel rooms, friend’s houses, even a jail cell where she was held for a while. A dojo can be the space in which you have conversations with your children or spouse or business partner. It is a useful distinction in framing a conversation or set of actions; as in, “this is a dojo conversation” and all those participating can then orient around a learning experience, one of training and practice, a time to turn up the awareness, a time to be quiet inside and prepared to act on the outside.
The Japanese kanji, or script, for “Do” as in “Dojo” or “Aikido is composed of two parts. One depicts a person walking on a road. The other is the human throat, which surrounds the jugular vein, representing the very core and pulse of our life. In other words, a person walking towards life. Life towards Life. The Way is a theme of awakening to life. The dojo is place where we awaken our senses, grow the self, and unite with Spirit through rigorous and compassionate life-inquiry. In aikido practice we do this in movement with others. To have someone come forward to grab you is an extraordinary environment in which to wake up and, furthermore, to have your actions instantly reflect your level of wakefulness. It is both an invigorating, affirming experience, and at the same time, deeply humbling. Aikido practice asks that your awareness be informed by principles that are larger than the self and in that larger energy flow there is an intelligence that moves towards coherence and harmony. In the aikido dojo we are waking up to the wisdom of aiki: the energy of wholeness, harmony, unity.
My teacher once tapped me on the chest and said, “Jiri shin kore dojo”. He was reminding me that the dojo ultimately lives within us, in our hearts, speech, thoughts, and actions. The dojo exists because of the meaning we give it. This meaning can never be lost from its place in the world because it itself, is that place. The dojo is where we declare it to be. Each moment can be a place of awakening, of learning, of walking toward life.
What dojo do you train in?
What is awakening in you?
Are you walking toward life?
What is life presenting?