A Parent's Guide to the Martial Arts  p. 5  

Lovret goes on to say, "A dōjō is much, much more than just a school.  A school is merely a place where the staff attempt to impart knowledge and physical skills.  A dōjō, however, is more a state of mind than a place." (Lovret, 4, 7)  A traditional dōjō doesn't just teach; it makes a concerted effort to create an entirely new and better person.  "There is something about training in a proper dōjō that brings out the best in a person.  It doesn't just make you do more than you thought you could do; it makes you do more than you ever dreamed you could do.  The dōjō, just by its existence, sets a standard, a standard that forces everyone in it to strive for perfection." (Lovret, 3, 27)    

So how do we determine if the school is a true dōjō?  Donn Draeger, in his book Classical Budō, describes a dōjō this way: "The dōjō is austere, a humble place of natural and quiet dignity.  It may be a specially constructed, spacious hall or simply a small but suitable indoor area.  Always cleanliness and order predominate." (Draeger, 2, 43)  He goes on to say, "It follows that the dōjō must contain nothing ostentatious to distract the mind, for not only would this run contrary to the element of spirituality in the dōjō, but it is patent that no really serious training can be pursued in a training area that contains all sorts of ornamentation." (Draeger, 2, 46)

The next consideration in finding a high quality school is by far the most important and is usually the least researched when choosing a martial arts school.  What is the most important consideration you ask?  The most important consideration is 'finding a good and qualified instructor.'  So how do you determine if the instructor you’re looking at is a good instructor?  I can give you some guidelines to follow but in addition to the instructor's qualifications, the instructor's personality and how he conducts the class should also factor into your decision.

First, let's talk about qualifications to look for.  The first questions that you need to ask are: "What is the rank of the instructor?", "How long has he or she been training?", and "How long has he or she been teaching?"  Teaching and rank requirements may vary from organization to organization,  so in order to understand what answers we need to look for let's look at the traditional standards set forth in Japan.  In the traditional Japanese martial arts, usually the minimum rank necessary to teach is yondan (4th degree black belt).  What is so special about yondan?  Well, in most schools, sandan (3rd degree black belt) is the rank that separates junior yudansha (black belt) from senior yudansha.  This means that 1st and 2nd degree black belts are considered junior black belt grades.  And a junior black belt is a student, not a teacher.  Moreover, if you don’t have enough discipline to stick with a legitimate school long enough to earn a sandan or yondan, then you don’t have enough discipline to run a dōjō. (Lovret, 3, 2) (Lovret, 12, 16-17)    

Most people, and many martial artists, however, believe that once you earn your black belt you are capable of teaching.  The confusion lies in the misconception in the West that a black belt is an expert.  Earning a first-degree black belt, however, only means that a student has just begun to learn.  In Japan, a first-degree black belt is called a shodan, which means first level.  In a traditional school this indicates about three years of training and it is at this time that a person is considered to be a serious student.  In addition, it is at the black belt level that the student will have demonstrated proficiency in the shoden, or “beginning teachings.”

The shoden are one-third of a three-layer teaching structure found in a typical ryu.  This three layer system is composed of shoden, chūden, and hiden.  The shoden or “beginning teachings” is what a student is taught when he first begins training.  After he is capable of executing all of these techniques properly, he is allowed to advance to the chūden or “middle teachings.”  A student can spend years or even decades mastering these techniques before he is introduced to the hiden or “secret teachings.”  This is the source of a lot of confusion in the West.  Many students and instructors never really master the chūden let alone reach the hiden level, if they are even aware of such a thing, and therefore never learn all of teachings of their particular ryu. (Lovret, 5, 20)  And a teacher must have a thorough knowledge of the subject he teaches.




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