The dōjō is unlike any other place used for sports practice.
A dōjō (道場) is a Japanese term which literally means “place of the Way”. It is a special place (“jo”) where we study the Way (“do”). A place dedicated to not only our improvement in Karate, but the Way of life in general.
A martial arts dōjō is considered special and is well cared for by its users. Shoes are not worn in a dōjō. In many styles it is traditional to conduct a ritual cleaning (sōji) of the dōjō at the beginning and/or end of each training session. Besides the obvious hygienic benefits of regular cleaning it also serves to reinforce the fact that dōjō is supposed to be supported and managed by the student body.
Initially, dōjōs were adjunct to temples, so a respectful attitude is expected to be applied while in the dōjō.
The front of the dōjō is called the shomen. Japanese tradition holds that places, and even certain objects, should be respected. This is the case for such a place as a dōjō – and the shomen is the focal point of that respect. This is where important symbols are placed. Sometimes a kamidana is also present at the shomen. This is a shinto altar (shinto is the native religion of Japan), however, as we may not all be Japanese and have no such religious affiliation, there may be no kamidana . Instead other items of respect may be displayed.
The items at the shomen are unique to each martial art and each dōjō . Typically, a national flag may be hung or a photo of Sensei’s instructor or a scroll of the martial arts style.
The place for studying the Way requires the utmost respect. We bow when we enter and exit the dōjō and toward the shomen at the beginning and end of class to show our respect to the art, its history, and the contributions made by masters of the art – both past and present.
Because Karate begins and ends with respect.
Just like life.