Thursday, 11 December 2014

Traditional Karate Do Dojo Layout (Part 1)

(Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo Kumamoto, Japan, 2010)
A number of Karate Do Sensei I know are beginning to ask interesting questions and requesting that I include the information in this blog. Recently, I was asked about the layout of the dojo, more specifically where the 神棚 Kamidanai, a Family Alter that is commonly found in traditional Japanese dojo (see photo below), and where photos should be hung. I discuss this in detail in the book that I am working on, but I have decided to include some of this information in this post. Hope the information provided will help you as well.

(Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo Kumamoto, Japan, 2013)
As we can see from the photo, The Kamidana is placed at a high position on the front wall with nothing over it and the photo of 初代宗家 Sho Dai Soke, the First Generation Soke and founder of Chito-Ryu Karate Do, Chitose Tsuyoshi Sensei (O Sensei) is hung on the right hand side of the Kamidana as we look at the wall. Keeping this image in mind I would like to describe the layout of the dojo to you as well as provide you with some background information that may help you better understand where and why things are positioned as they are. I will make reference to the Chito-Ryu Honbu Dojo as the model by which to follow. Another very good source of information to reference for things such as this and other related information is Richard Rowell's book Budo theory Exploring Martial Arts Principles and his website, Rowell has extensive experience on this subject and has presented the information accurately and in a fashion that is very easy to understand.
I have said in previous posts that a working knowledge of cultural aspects of Japanese social structures, linguistic proficiency, and technical ability are the three most important things needed to take our karate do training to the next level. I stand by this statement and, although it may be difficult to access and develop our proficiency in these three areas, making efforts to do so is essential in raising our levels of awareness as to why things are done in a specific way as opposed to some other way of doing it.
From the floor, to the walls, to the ceiling, everything has a special purpose and therefore, a special meaning. Deepening our knowledge and understanding of these meanings is what I hope to do in this blog post. But first, it should be noted that photos serve different purposes in North American culture and Asian cultures. Individual research should be conducted on this subject.
You may notice, if you look at the above photo of the 正面 Shou Men, Front Wall of the Chito-Ryu Honbu Dojo that there is only one picture on the wall, a picture of the founder of the style O Sensei who passed away in 1984. No other photos of Sensei living or deceased are on that wall. There are photos of other Sensei up in the dojo but, they are hung on the wall of the 下席 Shimo Seki, the Lower place usually located on the Western wall (see the photo below). The photos hung on this wall are the Okinawan Sensei significant to this style, i.e, those Sensei whom O Sensei trained under or with. Perhaps only by coincidence, these Sensei are also all deceased. In Japan, photos are generally only hung or displayed after someone has passed away. In Canada, however, many photos are displayed as a sign of affection and respect. Therefore, the question of where and in which order  the photos of Sensei significant to the style as well as to the dojo should be hung. 
(Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo Kumamoto, Japan, 2013)
In order to understand where things should be positioned, I would like to present the floor plan of the dojo and explain the areas of the dojo and their significance.


  1. You seem to be describing features of traditional Japanese budo dojo. Did the Okinawan dojo of the 1900's normally have these attributes? I'm wondering how old this "traditional" karate dojo format actually is.

  2. We have to remember, Shaw Sensei, that originally there really were no Dojo in Okinawa. Those who were knowledgable in the way of 'Te' taught only a very select few who were mostly family members or very close to the family. They were taught, mostly in secret by accounts, in the back yards of these Masters. I am not sure of the specific dates but, relatively speaking, the Dojo that we know today could be considered "modern." One of the very first Dojo, as we know today was the "Shotokan" created by Funakoshi Gichin Sensei and his University Students, but I am sure you already know that story. The layout descirbed in this post and the upcoming follow up post is in keeping with tradition and has its roots in Okinawan Tode, but everything is relative. As always, you have a great eye for the details.