I gave a talk to my teen class students a couple of weeks ago. It was sparked by feedback I had received from parents regarding comments they had heard while in the dojo – teens talking about other teens. We’re talking about the kind of comments that have no other purpose but to hurt and degrade others. This discovery was more than a little disappointing. I’m not under any delusion, I know my kids aren’t perfect but the framework within which the dojo operates makes these sorts of comments unacceptable. My kids know this but every once in a while they need a reminder.
I asked the students quietly lined up in seiza where we were at that moment. Everyone agreed we were in the dojo. I then asked them what the term “dojo” means. The standard definition was given – place of the way. So I asked them, what “way” exactly? Again, an answer came pretty quickly – Aikido …
In our dojo, we practice Aikido – this is our Way. Aikido can be translated as the “Way of the Harmonious Spirit”. We aim to harmonize with our attacker’s energy (spirit) and if we are successful, we have protected ourselves and our attacker. Our Way is harmony but what’s the purpose? Why do we need a dojo anyway? I believe it’s all about self-improvement or to put a finer point on it, the perfection of one’s character. We are in the dojo in order to perfect our character and the way we do that is with a harmonious spirit.
This is an incredibly challenging endeavor – a lifetime’s effort, for sure. To help guide us on the path, training in the dojo comes with certain rules – the Principles of Practice. This discussion revolves around the third principle – “I will protect the safety of others at all times”. At first glance, most of us would agree this point speaks to physical safety. Interestingly though, it’s not just physical protection that is implied by this rule. Our words can be just as damaging as our fists when applied with harmful intent. The third principle guides us to protect others in any way we can.
There is little room in the dojo for those who are not following the Principles of Practice. There is room for mistakes, of course, but not for the continued degradation of others. We all have the same responsibility of upholding the high standards of our Way. It’s rarely easy. The Principles of Practice guide us but it takes more than that, it also takes courage. I challenge all students to stand up for one another. I challenge all students to reject statements about others that are meant only to harm. Whether inside the dojo or out, be the example others can follow – patient, compassionate and tolerant.
Chief Instructor, BigRock Aikikai