Since the early inception of Karate in Okinawa, Japan, Karate has changed quite a lot.
There are now many different styles and federations linked to Karate spread throughout the globe.
Karate is now recognized as an official Olympic sport and it continues to grow and become more popular, thanks to modern movies and more.
There are however a number of aspects of Karate that remain traditional and unchanged, where Karate is practiced is one of these things.
Karate students gather with their Senseis in specific spaces to continue to learn and develop their Karate skills. These spaces are called Dojos.
In this piece, we look at the history of the sacred Dojo in Karate.
The First Dojo
Karate was initially founded by Funakoshi Gichin. Gichin’s ancestors had been samurais and so martial arts and combat were in his blood.
When he initially founded Karate there was no physical Dojo, students would meet in an outdoor space and learn about the modern practice of Karate.
Practicing and learning in an outdoor space followed the history of Samurai training where warriors would gather in an outdoor, open space to practice fighting and train. It wasn’t until later years when a Dojo became a building.
Gichin was invited to Tokyo by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1922 as they wanted him to give a Karate demonstration.
Two years later the first Karate Dojo was built on the grounds of Keio University.
Ten years after Gichin’s demonstration in Tokyo all major Japanese universities had built Dojos on their grounds and karate clubs had been formed.
The word Dojo was originally used in Japan for temples or private religious gatherings.
The name was then given to the space where Karate would be practiced as this was seen as a respectful and sacred Japanese martial art.
In 1955 a Dojo was built in Tokyo and this was the first Dojo that also acted as a headquarters. It was the headquarters of the Japan Karate Association.
Since this Dojo has been built there are now thousands of Dojos spread across the world, in major cities, and in small localities across Europe, Asia, and America.
Most early Dojo buildings were built in a similar fashion, they were a large open space with space to store equipment, such as sparring apparatus, and training gear. This equipment would usually be hung on the back wall.
The Dojo was maintained by students and rituals were introduced to give respect to the space such as cleaning rituals, bowing when entering and leaving the space, and being respectful and disciplined when in the Dojo.
Doorway entries were also assigned to certain individuals to create more respect in the space.
Students would enter from the left corner of the space while the Sensei would enter from the upper right corner.
There were also Shinto shrines built in the early Karate Dojos. These shrines would be bowed to and acknowledged before and after training sessions and would be filled with artifacts at the front and center of the shrine.
There would also be artifacts related to Karate and the father, or creator, of the specific style that was practiced at each particular Dojo or artifacts related to a specific federation, such as the logo and rule book.
Dojos are institutes that represent the history of Karate and command a certain level of admiration from the students that are learning.
Less formal training sessions do still take place outside the Dojo in many places and the Dojo is used for more formal events, such as gradings or team training.
Modern Dojos differ slightly from earlier versions as most Karate clubs do not have the funds or the capability of building their own specific Dojo.
Outside of Japan sports halls are often used as Dojos but respect is still given to the space through bowing and the use of artifacts.
In Okinawa alone, there are nearly 400 Karate Dojos and Karate is practiced in nearly 192 countries around the world.
There are over 75 different styles of Karate and many different federations and so the number of total Dojos in modern times is not known.
Entering a Dojo still remains an experience as the silence and the respect the space commands is truly something that many people are left shocked by.
Dojos that have a roof are filled with energy during training sessions and many people feel almost cleansed after training sessions, leaving negative energy in the Dojo space which is why cleaning rituals still maintain a part of Dojo life in modern times.
How students and Senseis treat a Dojo space is seen to be a reflection of the respect they have for Karate as an art form, their peers, and themselves.
Upon entering a Dojo a difference can be recognized between those who are serious and faithful to their Karate studies and those who are still learning how to properly show and give respect.
As interests in martial arts continue to grow, so too does the number of people studying Karate.
This global art form will continue to teach people how to practice self-control while also teaching them about respect.
Karate Dojos will continue to be a space that, regardless of whether it was built many years ago or if it is a sports hall, will always command respect and hold significance in the hearts of Karate practitioners around the world.
The most famous Karate Dojo is the Dojo that was built on the grounds of Takushoku University.
Many students have passed through this Dojo, including two different Karate style fathers, and nearly thirty-one famous martial artists.
Many serious martial artists who have studied Karate will go to visit this modest Dojo simply to be close to those that have passed through before.
There is still an active University Karate club that uses this space and often training sessions are open to the public, meaning people can go and watch current Karate students as they take part in a lesson.