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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
True martial arts in a true dojo?

I was sent this link earlier today: http://www.shinyokai.com/Essays_PCSConditioning.htm by Andy Shipton.

It is a very good article by Toby Threadgill (Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin ryu) on “Psycho-Stress Conditioning in Budo” and I feel it will strike a cord with many of those here. Well worth reading!

The following quotation of Yuiyoshi Takamura from the article is very interesting:

Toby Threadgill wrote:
When I hear such naiveté provided as fact I am reminded of the harsh wisdom of sensei Yuiyoshi Takamura when he said:

"Remember that most people who call themselves martial artists are nothing of the sort. Most dojos are not martial arts dojos either. They are glorified social clubs thriving in an environment of emotional stimulation which is heightened by a false or extremely limited perception of danger. When real danger shows itself in such a dojo, the participants run for cover. In a real dojo the participants run towards the conflict."

For a vast majority of budo practitioners, even experienced ones, to effectively apply technique during an actual violent encounter requires familiarity with the onset and debilitating effects of PCS. Without such experience, the technical syllabus one has spent years perfecting in the dojo is simply unavailable. It is like a box of valuable tools locked behind closed doors without a key.

I’m pretty sure that most here would totally agree with the general sentiment. However, it could be very interesting to consider what people feel a true “martial artist” is? What a true “dojo” is? What differentiates a true “dojo” from a “glorified social club”?

All the best,


Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

What differentiates a true “dojo” from a “glorified social club”?

The level of challenge.  We train in a school hall - nothing like our Honbu dojo - but the unifying thing is a high degree of effort from the serious students.  Having said that we have a laugh and a social side and I wouldn't have it any other way.



Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

It could be very interesting to consider what people feel a true “martial artist” is? What a true “dojo” is? What differentiates a true “dojo” from a “glorified social club”?

For me, A true Martial Artist is one, who gives maximum effort into all that they do. It is about having the right frame of mind and then having good technique. Whether they are good at that technique or not, is irrelevant when it comes to a "true" martial artists. Its that they understand that they need the mental strenght before physical & techincal strength. Funakoshi summed it for me when he said :

"One whose spirit and mental strength have been strengthened by sparring with a never-say-die attitude should find no challenge too great to handle. One who has undergone long years of physical pain and mental agony to learn one punch, one kick should be able to face any task, no matter how difficult, and carry it through to the end.  A person like this can truly be said to have learned karate."

The bit in bold is probably what I am aiming to get across. I think a "good" martial arts should have a high skill level, but I believe a beginner that understands and puts into practise the bolded part, is as much a true martial artist as a 1st Dan with the same attitude. Equally I think you can have a skillful fighter, but is not a true martial artist. I will leave it their, to stay on track.

Secondly I think a True Dojo. Is a dojo where the sensei can have a laugh and not be so formal, because the students will work hard anyway. (teaching children is different usually) but for adults who turn up because they want too, a true dojo for me, would not bbe ordering them around like soilders or monkey, but having a friendly relaxed environment, where the students put maximum effort into the task at hand.

Hope I made Sense!

Bridgwater Wado
Bridgwater Wado's picture

What is a martial artist or Dojo?

Not an easy question to answer and no doubt there will be plenty of opinions on this subject. If you look on the web for a definition of a “martial artist” its quite hard to find one, there are many references to Martial Arts but not that many definitions of what is a martial artist. Dojo is simply a training place but a true Dojo is another matter altogether.

I like most people practice a martial art but I could not describe myself as a martial artist in the true sense of the phrase. For example I doubt that I will ever have to fight for my life on a daily basis or defend my family, abode or homeland. These are just some of the reasons why martial arts had evolved in the fist place. I am not talking about new martial arts systems that have developed for commercial reasons where you can fight for money or trophies, I am on the whole talking about traditional arts. (I have nothing against MMA before anyone reaches for their keyboard)

I often hear people using the phrase “he/she is a fantastic martial artist” and I think it is a term that very few can wear comfortably, if anyone can at all. I believe that the most we can say about each other is that we are proficient in our own art, system style whatever.

My club has about seventy students of all ages, abilities and more to the point interest levels. Within the club I have some excellent Karateka but I can honestly say none of us are true martial artists. We are either doing full time jobs or still at school and our reasons for training are far removed from the reasons our art was intended. On the whole if you ran a pole on the reason why people started martial arts most would say they wanted to keep fit, learn some self defence, or were simply bored on Tuesday night and thought they would give it a go. There will be some who have started martial arts to become a good fighter or to train for competitions be it sport or professional fighting and that’s fine. However, because your club or Dojo offers more to its students than teaching them to ground opponents into the ground at every opportunity it does not make it a bad club or social Dojo.

I have students that are happy to turn up each week train and go home. Some are not interested in grades or competitions they simply enjoy training and the social aspect of meeting people. I have others that are driven and are dripping with sweat within five minutes of the first bow; these are the Karateka I give my time and respect to.

What makes a true Dojo? Most days it’s my kitchen or living room much to my wife’s annoyance and my dogs delight. A Dojo I feel should be safe and bound by the values of the martial art you are practicing. We have a Dojo Kun hung inside the Dojo and it states the traditional values we are all bound by when we decide to learn karate (we teach Wado Ryu) I feel these values are completely lost with some martial arts practitioners and systems today. As an instructor I am in a privileged and trusted position to be able to pass on what little skill I have to my students. I also feel it is my duty to instil the values stated in our Dojo Kun. If my students fail to understand or follow these rules then I have failed as an instructor just as much if I am teaching bad training methods or techniques. A true Dojo for me should be a place of learning and testing not punishment to weed out the weak as some would use it. After all it is the weak who need our help as instructors the most. Why some instructors still feel  the need to force students to quit to prove that they have tough Dojo’s is beyond me, maybe it’s their lack of ability as an instructor to build a good student from scratch. Not all students will be able to fight to the death or even have the internal nerve to defend themselves in a fight; but maybe my being in a Dojo several times a week helps them through their school or work day in some way.  

To sum up finally I think the term martial artist is widely misunderstood and used in praise incorrectly and far too often. As for a true Dojo I really have no idea, I guess it would be the ones you are happy to send your kids to, the ones you can trust, the ones with the correct values instilled in its instructors’.


Andrew Daly

Gavin Mulholland
Gavin Mulholland's picture

I really don't know the answer to that one.

However, I can still get an adrenalin drop when I walk into a 'true' dojo. Something about the atmosphere - the noises and smells I guess.

I think there is an element of fear in a true dojo.  I'm not talking about being scared as such, but on some level, there is an element of fear present.

Neil Cook
Neil Cook's picture

 I think it maybe easier to answer what a "true dojo" is than a "true martial artist".

I know what Gavin means, but i wouldn't say fear more 'menace'. The feeling like you need to prove yourself to be there. For me though that feeling is usually only the first few minutes wheni realise i'm there to prove anything i'm there to train/learn. Which brings me to "true dojo", i think it's just another word for school. When you went to school were taught to read/write, mathematics ect but you often didn't really use those skills in school, they were tests to check your understanding and improvement. Now think about when you left school and had to get a job, now the skill you learnt in school were being used. A school is judged by the quality of it's students, some schools get reputations for being good/bad and everyone wants their kids to go to a good school so they get good grades and a better chance a good career.

To bring that back to the dojo, i feel a true dojo is where students come to better themselves although maybe without realising why at the time. Take me for example, i was very shy as a lad and looking back if feel that karate has played a big part in who i am today.  I was also bullied (but how much of that was because i was the shy boy who didn't stand up for himself) it didn't take long for the bullying to stop, i didn't into any fights or heroically beat up the bully, i was just more confident. Without realising i had learnt another skill, from a teacher, that i use everyday.

Maybe a true martial artist isn't so much about how deadly they are or how many fights they have been in, that is just a good fighter. When we are in the dojo we try our hardest, the classic "never say die" attitude, maybe a martial artist is someone who puts those skill into their entire life not just for an hour on wedsendays.

p.s having said all that, being able to dek someone helps.

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

Martial Artist.

Martial = it has to be about fighting

Artist = It must be more than just technique, it must be Art which includes self-expression of the artist.

This is regardless of skill level or knowledge of a variety of techniques.