“The NEW Atlanta Gi Yu Dojo”
By: W.S. Bumgarner
Dojo-cho Atlanta Gi Yu Dojo
I have had some recent changes in my life that caused me to move which created some opportunities in my training. Our former place for training was a community recreation center that was adequate but lacked the freedom and environment to help all of us fully explore the art. With my move I ended up being able to finish off a space in my basement for our training area. It is not large or flashy but it is ours and we can use it as we see fit. We no longer have to worry about having a “home”. We were able to christen the dojo officially when Sensei Sandhu, Todd, Mike and Britney visited for the spring workshop.
At the workshop, Sensei Sandhu presented the dojo with several banners, pieces of artwork and writings that are displayed on the walls of the new dojo. Todd, Mike and Britney worked all afternoon to get the room ready for training. I owe them all a great deal. The first time my students and I trained in basement it was a far cry from the dojo it came to be. On that very first day there were no solid walls, no finished ceiling, no bathroom and only one 60 watt light bulb to light our way. We have come a long way (but still no bathroom, yet). Sensei Sandhu and the others left way too soon and we were left to train and enjoy what had been accomplished. Standing in the dojo after everyone left a few things came to mind. Everything here has meaning. Most of my daily life, and I would suspect most all of us, fill our lives with things that don’t really matter. Now these things still have to be done to live but they neither add nor subtract anything of great value. Buying toothpaste, paying taxes, driving to work- no one ever received an award for these activities. And no one’s tombstone will ever be etched with an post script about these mundane chores. No, the meaning I am talking about comes from all of the new items - the weapons racks, the banners, the kamidana - that now decorate the dojo. Honestly, the word “decorate” is not correct. That word would indicate something that is pleasant to look at but effectively unnecessary. But in a koryu dojo all of the fixtures are not only necessary but ultimately the reason why our art is worthy of study. They each represent something unique about the art.
When you look at the walls of the Atlanta dojo (and the Dayton dojo) a visitor should immediately know that this place is different. You are part of a lineage, a history, a tradition that stretches beyond governments, ethnicity, gender, age…etc. Visitors should know exactly who and what we are when they see the dojo. The one piece that has made the biggest effect on me is a small framed artwork that Sensei had drawn and given me years ago. I had never had a place that seemed appropriate to hang up until now. It is hanging on the inside wall of the dojo as you enter the dojo and is only really visible when you exit the room. It is a small, rectangular banner, nondescript, handwritten in kanji of the seven virtues of the samurai – Gi (Justice), Yu (Courage), Jin (Benevolence), Rei (Respect), Makoto (Honesty), Meiyo (Honor), and Chugi (Loyalty).
I have looked at that artwork many times and am more and more impressed with its elegant simplicity. These items are so basic and fundamental. They are universal. Even though they may be associated closest with the Japanese samurai, I don’t know of any culture alive today or in the past that would encourage their citizens to repudiate any of these virtues. They appeal to that which is best in each of us. In fact, I believe that most of the problems we encounter in the world today can be traced back to some lack or deficiency in one of the virtues. I have never heard anyone say, “You know what I need is to be less respectful” or “My life would be so much better if I could be more dishonest.” There is no point/counterpoint discussion. These virtues are the building blocks of a worthwhile life and community. It is akin to the golden rule or the Ten Commandments. Actually, it is more straightforward than any religion. There is no burden to prove its veracity. It does not have to convince anyone that it is correct, it just is correct. It is like the color blue; it just is, you can’t argue.
Unlike many training halls that have a history dating back to last Thursday, our history is intact and well known. There is no responsibility on us to prove its effectiveness or worth; those who came before us have already done that. I guess it is human nature to want to create and invent something new but many things in our lives that we take for granted were once things in someone’s head. For instance, I didn’t invent the spoon, and I don’t know who did, but its effectiveness and use are clear and I see no reason to boycott its use until a better, “newer” model can replace it. Why can’t we just put our egos aside and accept that there could be a society who developed a lifestyle and culture based partly on the study of warfare that could enable common, everyday people to evolve themselves to a much deeper and thoughtful level by realizing that the only way to insure peace is to study and fully understand its opposite. I cannot stop violence by hoping it doesn’t happen. I can only stop it by knowing what it is and how it works and where it is weak. Just like a doctor fighting a fierce disease, he can only be successful once he knows as much about the illness as he can. Otherwise, it is like driving at night without the headlights on; you can do it but the rate of failure is high and anything good that comes from it is pure luck.
If you have spent any amount of time in training you learn quickly that the Koryu dojo demands more of its students than other dojos. Our training is not for fools or the thoughtless and to succeed it may take more than you’ve got. It can be a place unlike anything else in our lives. But at times it feels like true comprehension of the art is something that will elude all of us. There are so many cultural and historical factors in the formation of the art that are forever lost to men and women who live in the 21 Century. But, standing in the new dojo, what I see gives me hope; hope that with diligence and hard work, and with the new dojo at the center, we can bind the past with the present and preserve what we learn for the future generations. And, hopefully, if we do our jobs well enough it won’t matter where the next dojo is – Georgia, Ohio or Mars, or at what point in the future – next week or next millennium –a small, rectangular, nondescript banner handwritten in kanji will hang on the inside wall for all to see.