Originally, the word “Dojo“, inherited from Chinese Buddhist tradition, was used to indicate the place where Buddha achieved enlightenment and as a consequence all places for religuous practice in Buddhist temples. The term was later adopted by the military and for Bujutsu practice, which during the Tokugawa period was influenced by Zen tradition, therfore widespread today in the world of martial arts.
In Budo the dojo is the place for training, but it is also a symbol of the relationship between the practioner and the martial art. In Aikido dojos we find altars called kamiza (where Gods seat), not referred to divinity but to the memory of the Founder. The dojo is the place for meditation, concentration, learning, friendship, and respect. It is the symbol of the Path in martial arts.
In Western countries the word Dojo has been improperly translated as gym and intended for training space only, while in Eastern culture it is the place where to reach, by following the Path, the perfect psycho-physical balance, the highest self-realization. The dojo is the school of the Sensei (teacher): he or she represents the top and his/hers are the school’s rules and regulations; additional teachers may be Sensei’s oldest students like the Senpai (the most expert students) who have a very important role. Their daily behaviour is an example for other practitioners; when a senpai does not behave it may damage the entire school.
What you learn in a Dojo helps facing everyday’s struggle. One must always bow when entering or leaving the Dojo. The traditional bow of Budo is grounded on respect for ancestors and for anything above us. This is important for the spirit of Budo. It develops humbleness in the general attitude towards life. One must leave his/her own Ego outside the door. Such an atmosphere ensures a better learning process. With the attitude we usually have upon entering a gym to do some sport we can’t appreciate this. This is just to discharge some tension, to strengthen our bodies or meet some new people. The Dojo is a place for self-perfectioning. The most important fight that takes place in there, is the fight against ourselves, against our own Ego.