A Dojo in the mind

For ZenHG and Shinzen Nelson

A Dojo is not a church, monastery or mosque in the sense that all who go there share a common belief that may or may not transcend their differences. Yet a Dojo may appear to have all the trappings, codes, protocols of conduct, and rituals that invite comparisons.

(Right off the bat I must clarify that I believe that in the best and broadest sense of the word, a Dojo is where a sensei, or school of martial arts, has decided to practice its art, and to impart the learning of that art to others.)

The fact that for the most part the martial arts had their origins in societies with philosophies closely linked to Zen Buddhist, Confucian or like systems of social and moral comportment meant that Dojos would reflect these in their organization, codes, and methods of teaching.

The practice of an art could seem to be like the practice of a religion, and there was a time when this divide did not exist: art was in the service of a faith. Art and religion use similar strategies still, the break was not as incisive as the one that came between religion and science where the boundaries are clearly and boldly drawn, where everything beyond the theoretical explanations of science becomes the proverbial “leap of faith.”

Ask any practitioner to speak of his or her art and the answer may seem like the words of a “religious zealot.” That close is Art and Religion in their effects on the practitioner. And herein lies the rub. It just sounds religious. When I talk of karate and poetry I “sound” religious because the transfigurative effects of their practice partake of similar vocabulary, symbolic and evocative. In other words, practice or do anything long enough and it is going to become a religion, an act of faith, a view of the world.

Of course, REALITY is the eternal party pooper. No dojo fits the ideal of the Dojo in the mind. No zen is as fluid and perfect as ZEN. And, of course, some will say that even this is Zen.

I practice karate, Okinawa Goju-Ryu, as seen through the eyes of Seikichi Toguchi, interpreted by Kimo Wall and Kow Loon Ong, and taught to me by their students: Gusi González, Jaime Acosta, Dionisio Pérez, etc. The specificity is important. Teachers, styles, time play a part. Influence and context.

The Las Cumbres Dojo (my last) was a dojo in the real world and yet ethereal in its evocations to what was lived before and after me. It was religious and earthly, noble and venal, honest and hypocritical. It was experience.

And experience, lived intensely, can seem religious too. But is it? No.

Despite the inevitable trappings of any art, religious and aesthetical, it must be learned and practiced in the rough and tumble system of trial and error. It is a “zigzaggedness” whose pattern can only be discerned, at best, as a belated afterthought.

And I say this fervently, almost religiously.

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