There is a major difference between a dôjô and a western fitness centre. Dôjô (Japanes: 道場) can be translated as “place where you practice the way”. It derives from the name for the meditation room of a Buddhist monk, a name that defined the place where “martial arts” or budô (Japanes: 武道) used to be practiced.
It is interesting to know that the teaching of budô was usually reserved to the caste of samurai as well as warriors (bushi, Japanese: 武士) who served a lord (daimyô, Japanese: 大名). It was not possible for everyone to join a dôjô. It was not unusual to sign a document which bound the signatory to secrecy and ban him from training in other dôjôs. In other cases the new member had to prove humility and patience by cleaning the dôjô for a certain period of time. This qualifying period varied according to the individual and afterwards the new member was allowed to join his fellow students in training. There was also a completely different approach for testing new students: The master could decided the new student to be the opponent, meaning that he would be punched, kicked and thrown to the edge of consciousness before being introduced to any technique (this happened to Takamatsu sensei).
A proverb says: “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” Finding a ture master (sensei, Japanese: 先生) does not necessarily mean to be accepted by him. It depends on one’s own intentions and expectations. If you enter a dôjô with an attitude of expectation to learn only what you want and thus ignore your master and his teaching, you will be disappointed because you will never understand what your teacher trys to convey.
Or the master would only pass on a fundament and indicate the right path by showing henka (variations, Japanese: 変化) which merge in higher level techniques. This is called isshin denshin (transmission heart to heart). According to shuhari (copy, change, surmount, Japanese: 守破離) this is the traditional Japanese way of teaching.
In order to learn this way it is of utmost importance to be humble and to respect your teacher. As soon as the master gained the right over life and death of his student, and the student tried to test his master, he would risk his own life by doing so.
Even a true master was a student once, and by being a normal human he is capable of making mistakes, just like any other man. What sometimes seems to be his own fault, is, in fact, a way of testing the student. The rest has to be composed of kyojitsu tenkan hou (the interchange of right and wrong, Japanese: 虚実転換法); what is true, what is false? What is reality?
By entering a dôjô in which real budô is practised the student should expect not only exhaustion but also pain during practice. Pain as a means to growth is very important – with the exception of some particular cases – because you have to learn to accept and endure all sorts of pain, whether physical, mental or spiritual. It will grant you some advantage in life because you will be able to surpass your limitations.
This pain will affect your companions since you have to rely on them, as a teacher and in life. It means becoming “martial friends” (buyu, Japanese: 武友). This kind of friendship differs from other sorts of friendship to such an extent that the dôjô is associated with family where the older student, senpai (Japanese: 先輩), helps the younger student, kouhai (Japanese: 後輩), who, in return, shows him his respect.
Furthermore, the dôjô is a place to overcome differences, like gender, skin colour, culture, and other prejudices, by keeping those problems away from the dôjô. Thus these problems, rather than being ignored, are overcome in a natural manner. Because you cannot discriminate if you do not think about it. However, it is wrong to assume that democracy runs the dôjô. The master might listen to his pupil if the latter knows the right time to speak. At the end of every training session it is up to the students to clean the dôjô and put away training weapons as well as equipment. This behaviour originates from the military aspect of early times: If you do not take care of your weapons and the cleaning, the battle field becomes a mess, due to disease and decay of weapons and equipment.