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Why the Dojo is Different

March 29, 2018

 When you walk into a dojo, it’s a truism to say you’ve enter a different world and a special space. But, if it’s a commonplace sentiment, it’s also an important observation. For contemporary Westerners and Americans walking the martial path, our training has implications for our lives. And, from my perspective, the rigorous pursuit of the Martial Way is decidedly contrarian—it bucks many of the trends and expectations of modern consumer culture. Consider:




1. The Dojo is Not Burger King

Modern consumer culture is oriented toward satisfying individual cravings. These desires are often ephemeral and inconsequential, but they are portrayed as urgent and important nonetheless. And, since the customer is always right, you get to choose what you want. Burger King, with its “have it your way” approach was an early pioneer of what is known in the digital age as “unbundling”—providing consumers with the option to mix and match features to suit their whims.



Contrast this with the dojo. Any traditional or modern orthodox system presents students with the opportunity to apprentice themselves to a learning experience that is designed to take them through an experience that stresses conformity in technical elements and a fidelity to a code and method of learning that is imposed on students. There is no opportunity to pick and choose in the dojo. You can’t get it your way. As a matter of fact, it is the Dojo Way or the highway.


2. The Dojo is Not Amazon

In a consumer culture, there is strong emphasis on self-satisfaction and immediate gratification. The end is prized. And the more quickly the end can be achieved, the better. Thinking about point #1, it becomes obvious why Burger King is categorized as “fast” food. The contemporary drive to get things and to get them quick is most breathtakingly illustrated by the remarkable growth of Amazon. It is not simply the presentation of a digital marketplace with an ever-expanding roster of goods that makes Amazon so seductive, it is also the remarkable efficiency with which the company has developed its distribution and fulfillment capabilities. As a result, you can identify something you want and, in many cases, have it delivered to your door within hours or days.


In the dojo, journey and destination are inextricably linked. And too much focus on the desired end-result means that you neglect the absolutely vital experience that is a necessary precondition for any achievement. Time, effort, and consistency are fundamental elements to operating in the dojo. There are no shortcuts. No guarantee of next day delivery. People looking for the shortest route to a dan rank will inevitably fail to persevere in training long enough to get anywhere close to their goal.


3. It’s Not a Safe Space

Although probably exaggerated, a lack of emotional resilience and insistence on a highly subjective worldview that brooks no external challenges appears to be a troublesome feature of modern life. It’s often associated with elite liberal arts institutions of higher learning. But a general cultural drift toward the snowflake end of the spectrum is out there no matter your politics. The right is just as bad. The remarkable dumbing down of discourse in the country is, in many ways, a feature of the right-wing echo chamber. A disdain for inconvenient facts, and even the suggestion that facts and science are suspect constructs, is an insult to us all. If science is fake, how come my car starts every morning?


Once again, I blame consumer culture. If you’re supposed to get what you want all the time, that would seem to imply that the world needs to conform to your desires and preconceived notions. Anything else is no