What is a Dojang?
To many it is the venue you go for your two weekly classes of Taekwondo where you dress up, go exercise, learn how to kick and punch, struggle to remember patterns, and spar with opponents.
One of the early interpretations I've come across is that a dojang is a meditation hall. It is a place where you contemplate your journey along the way or your study of '道'. 道 is not an academic subject - it is an inner journey which you embark on. Thus it can be an activity steeped in tea, or Japanese chess, or playing the shamisen, or practicing the way of the sword, or engaging in some form of mudo like Taekwondo.
The venue of the dojang is really any place designated for you to immerse yourself in mental, physical, or spiritual contemplation. It could be that secluded wooden structure in some idyllic woods, or a basketball court in some gym, or even a garage in Western Australia.
When I talk about Taekwondo, I take an older and quite unfortunate definition, and paraphrase it to say 'tae is to kick with the feet, kwon means to smash with the hand, and do means to train with the mind.' 道 in this case of course does not transliterate to "train with the mind" but this does hint at the mental state which is valued by those on the path.
Do ultimately creates layers of its own definition whilst the individual is pursuing some form of introspection. It may take on a spiritual context, but really it is a pilgrimage with an indeterminate end point. The purpose is to submerge yourself in the journey to simply see how it unfolds, to discover its rewards by using its trials for self-improvement.
The martial arts dojang is a nurturing and safe place. It has to be preserved as a safe place through the tenet of self-control. There are two ends of this spectrum of self control. One is that practice can be dangerous and lethal. So we study techniques with 'the safety on' and we do want to ensure the wellness of all student practitioners within a controlled environment.
At the other end of the 'self-control spectrum', the dojang is also a place which challenges each student at every turn. This is in order that practitioners to focus and eventually perform feats they were not capable of when they started. We gradually desensitise student practitioners to physical intimidation, proximity, and pain (within reason). Superficially, these challenges are physical, but the truth is there are mental and spiritual challenges that they will need to push through in order to reap the benefit of martial art training.
As the student encounters these obstacles and pushes past them, they grow as practitioners and as individuals. The ascension through these events occur at similar points for each student, though individuals may experience them in their own time frame.
Go past your fears. Win the day. Become a stronger person. Or retreat. Quit.
Taekwondo is not for everyone. Many cannot even think to join the dojang for fear of the rigorous training and their own inadequacy. Embark on the way, have your weaknesses exposed like a raw nerve, then quit, and maybe feel worse than worthless. In truth, no one will think less of you either in the dojang or outside either way - unless you decide to betray your own fears and your misgivings.
For parents who are concerned for their children, we invite you to understand more of these issues. To answer the question Should Children Get Struck in Practice. But if you are uncomfortable with this manner of training, please do not bring your child to Joong Do Kwan. There are many institutions in Perth which provide adequate child care facilities; that has never been our mission.
|It is an interesting relationship between those who are young in the path and those more experienced. Juniors are depending on their guidance, yet the guidance may come in a form you are not exactly expecting. The trainee may then form an impression of this senior based on some 'real world' or 'civilian' measure which is inappropriate for the practice of Taekwondo. In this photo, guest instructor Colin Wee teaches at Kidokwan Perth. He has taken a fellow black belt down to the ground and is in the process of applying an elbow lock or some strike whilst the opponent is unable to counter. At the same time, you can see that he has held the opponent up so that the resulting impact with the ground would not be dangerous, and his knees are hovering above the opponent's ribs, not smashing into them - it is important to maintain Training Safety! These two sides of the coin are what characterises the dojang - and should be something all practitioners need to reflect on as they nurture themselves and others on the way.|
The path may follow you out of the dojang! To let it weigh you down, or to use it to raise yourself up ... how you interpret the phenomenological world is entirely up to you. As an instructor, I can help you along the way, but your journey is yours to travel.
Some of the questions you may contemplate after this article:
- What are your fears, and how do you manage them? Do you avoid them? Have you confronted your fears? Can you see a time where you have dealt with a fear and moved on?
- Have you met a person who exudes a different 'energy', a quiet confidence, or has an unexplained presence about them? How do you think this can be achieved?
- What do you think you need to do to earn your black belt one day? Or if you are already a student practitioner, what do you need to do to become a master of your art?
An expanded version of this article was submitted to Totally Tae Kwon Do Magazine. Please also read Tenets of Taekwondo and Dojang Etiquette.
- Martial Art Parables
- Etiquette Guidelines
- 1967 Choi Hong Hi meets up with Mas Oyama
- The Way, The Zone, stress testing and hope for a better person
- What role does Taekwondo have in a post 9/11 world?
- Do children need to get struck in practice?
- Deliberately losing your sparring match, but not your game.
- Self Control, Aggression, and Deescalation of Violence
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