The Dojo

道 場

The place in which the Japanese martial arts are practiced is usually referred to as a Dojo. This word is made up of two kanji characters:

“Do” which means a path, road, or "way".

“Jo” and meaning a place.

Therefore “Dojo” literally means “a place of the way”

During the time of the Samurai, the estates of the Daimyo (feudal Lord) often contained Buddhist temples. These were called Dojo, a “place” where the monks followed the “way” of the Buddha.
After the end of feudalism and the abolition of the samurai class in Japan, the warriors sought a better use of their martial skills. They used their training and practice instead of ways of waging war, but as ways to concentrate their minds into perfection of their characters, so started to use the suffix “do” after their arts.
So some martial arts, or bujutsu as they were called (武 Bu – martial or millitary; Jutsu – arts / techniques), became martial ways (武 道 - Budo).
The places where these budo were carried out also came to be called, dojo, places where the ways of war could be practiced.

Following is a guide to the set up of a traditional Dojo (please note, that due to the constraints placed upon the area used as the dojo, this layout may not be possible, but where practicable most of what follows should be how one finds the place in which the martial arts of Japan are practiced:

When you enter the dojo, the door through which you enter should be directly opposite the Kamiza (higher seat), sometimes called Shomen (the front). It is here where one might find a shelf upon which sits a shrine (the Kamidana) with its associated accoutrements (see below). It is at the kamiza one usually finds pictures of the founder of the martial art practiced at the dojo. Aslo sometimes one will see a hanging scroll (called a kakemono) displaying calligraphy meant to inspire the students practicing there.
It is at the kamiza that the teachers will place themselves and toward which the students will face during the formal proceedings that take place during a training session. On entering and leaving the dojo, it is towards the kamiza that one must always bow to.

When facing towards the kamiza, the wall behind you in the Shimoza (the lower seat). In some dojo, it is on the shimoza wall that one would find the Nafuda Kake, a board holding wooden tags displaying the name and rank of the dojo members. In dojo without changing rooms, it is on this wall that might be found pegs to hang clothing and it is against this wall that kit bags etc should be placed tidily, if no storage facilities are available at that dojo.

Facing the kamiza, with ones back to the shimoza, to your right is the Joseki (seki is another way of saying seat), and to your left is the Shimoseki. It is against these wall one might find Dogu kake, racks for weapons that might be used in practice at the dojo, and if it’s a karate dojo, it is here where one might find the Makiwara (striking posts).

When one lines up after the command of “Seiritsu” (“line up”), the class will line up with the class facing kamiza, with the most senior grade at the far right (at the joseki) and the lowest grade on the left (at the shimoseki). Incidentally, the floor that you will be standing on is called the Taijo (unless it is marked out with lines for competetion, then it is called a Shiaijo).

Dojo Reigi

道場 礼儀

Reigi comes from two Japanese words:

“REI” which is defined as: bow, salutation, salute, courtesy, propriety, ceremony, thanks and appreciation.

“GI” which is defined as: ceremony, rite or function. Combined, the term “Reigi” can translate as: Ceremonial manners - Etiquette.

Proper observance of etiquette is as much a part of your martial arts training as is learning the techniques of your system.

“Karate begins and ends with courtesy” – Gichin Funakoshi

Reigi is an extremely important part of martial arts training and is steeped in the highly ritualised social practices of Japan. Some of these practices as carried out in the dojo have their origins in the religious methodologies of Japan (and in the case of the some carried out in The East London Goju Ryu Dojo, specifically to the practices of Shinto), but this should not deter one from observing these rites, irrespective of ones personal religious beliefs. For example, part of the formal bowing ceremony carried out at the start and end of each session includes the term “Shin Zen ni Taishte, Rei” which literally translates as “bow to all spirits” and comes from the Shinto belief that all things in nature have an innate “spirit” that should be honoured (not worshipped). Paying observance to this act, does not infer “worshiping false gods” (an anathema to most religions, and to those with no religious beliefs at all), but rather to acknowledge respect for all things.

One has to bear in mind, that the practice of the martial arts in the East is inherently bound to the religious practices upon which it formed (in fact, almost every system claims an ancient link to the Buddhist teachings of Tao Mo (Bodidharma) and the Shaolin Temple). Indeed, the very name “dojo” comes from the halls in which Buddhist rites were practiced.

It should be stated that religious connotations play only a small part of reigi. It is manners and correct behaviour that forms the bulk of the practices associated with it. Understandably, many affectations would have evolved in the mannerisms of the warrior classes (in the case of Japan, the samurai), to ensure that no offence was felt by one or other which may have led to armed, possibly fatal conflict. Therefore, they behaved in a way that showed courteousness and mutual respect for each other so that the risk of misunderstanding and therefore violence was avoided. This “thoughtfulness” is equally necessary in today’s martial arts practice (though of course not because of the possibility of lethal combat) but because correct behaviour will reduce the risk of injury (especially when training with weapons). Also the practice of good manners and mutual respect is conducive to effective common practice.

At the East London Goju Ryu Karate Club, at the beginning and end of each training session, we carrying out the following as part of our reigi:

When it is time for the class to begin, the senior student present calls "SEIRITSU" calling the class to line up.

After the Instructor kneels to face the Kamiza in the formal kneeling position called "SEIZA", the senior student present says:

ZEN SEIZA (“zen” = all). Whole class kneels.

"MOKUSO" (meditation, eyes closed)

"MOKUSO NAOTE" (stop meditation, open eyes)

"SHOMEN NI, RE"I (“shomen” = the front of the dojo, “ni” = to. “rei” = bow. shomen ni rei = bow to the front).


(“shin” = spirits – from Shinto, “zen” = all, “ni” = to, “taishite” = towards, “rei” = bow. “shin zen ni taishite, rei” = bow towards all “spirits” – show respect to nature).


(“hanshi” = master, title usually given to 8th Dan and above, ““zen hanshi ni taishite, rei” = bow towards all masters – show respect to all the masters that went before us, and handed down to us the techniques, kata etc).

The Instructor then turns to face the students

Again the senior student present speaks:

"SENSEI NI, REI" (“sensei” = teacher), bow to teacher.

When performing the bow, all the students say:

"ONEGAI SHIMASU". (“onegai shimasu” = if you please, the polite expression used when asking for something, in this case asking to be taught or to practice).

The senior student again speaks:

"OTAGAI NI, REI" (“otagai” = all together / as one. Show respect to all in the dojo).

When performing the bow again everyone says:


The teacher turns again to face the kamiza and then stands

The senior student then says:

"ZEN KIRITSU" (all stand).

At the end of a training session, the same words and actions are carried out with the exception being the words "Onegai shimasu" are substituted with the words "
DOMO ARIGATO GOZEIMASHITA" (the polite expression used to say thank you for something, in this case for being taught).