by Steve Coleman, Shidoin

So what’s going on? what’s this thing that’s so foreign that you want to get involved with? Dojo culture isn’t usually what most people expect. It’s normally quite the opposite. It’s a really friendly place, so come on in...

Being new to a dojo is for most people a really daunting prospect. To make things worse most people seem to have ‘a friend who...’ or have heard anecdotes about shouty & angry* sensei’s who smash people around seemingly without remorse and because of this have been put starting a martial art.

When you actually get in touch with a sensei yourself and visit their dojo you’re then faced with something seemingly completely foreign and everyone else there seems completely fluent. Lets face it-you feel like a fish out of water. But here’s the thing, everyone there has been exactly where you are now-same feelings and same thoughts same emotional rollercoaster. Very few people have grown up in the dojo life. The hard bit was stepping foot inside the dojo in the first place and you did that bit on your own!

*(Some Sensei's DO get angry and shouty at times, it’s because we’re passionate. As for the smashing people around, that’s up to those who do it and those who hang around to have it done to them. That’s certainly not how we do things here).

It’s your first time in a dojo, or your first lesson and people are busying themselves setting things up and you feel a bit like a spare wheel. Most people have said hello but you can see they’re busy. Soon enough someone turns up who talks with you and puts you at rest a little. They explain what to expect during the session. They then tell you that when the class starts, simply copy the person to your right, but let’s be honest you’re still feeling nervous. Suddenly someone shouts something you’ve never heard before and everyone knows exactly what to do and responds promptly. Before you know it everyone is kneeling in a line and someone is pointing at the end telling you to kneel down in the same way that all the other students have done.

You join the line, the person to your right bows and claps and so you copy as best as you can, and then the class begins. We cover some basic movements including using the Bokuta and the Jo, dojo etiquette and safety. Before you know it we’re lining up to close the class and things have gone pretty much as was outlined at the start of the class. It won’t take long for you to learn and to feel at ease with the dojo etiquette. So what’s going on? Humility is what’s going on. The first lesson, whatever your grade happens to be, is to stay humble and continue to do the best you can. Without humility there’s no morality, without morality there’s no self control, without self control you can’t be responsible enough to learn what we do.

The teacher can open the door but you have to be the one to let yourself in.