Soji – Cleaning the Dojo

From the very beginning of my training all the way to the current days I can remember sweeping, dusting, mopping and cleaning the dojo. It was ingrained into Karate as much as any punch, kick or Kata are. The tradition of Soji, cleaning the dojo, is very important in terms of proper character development in the student but in the last few years I have watched with disdain how some people act when it comes time to help out with it. My displeasure comes from kyu ranks all the way to senior black belts so it is a character flaw in society as I see it. Let me explain…

A solid week of classes get over and the dojo is needing spruced up and ready for the next week. Everyone loves having a beautiful dojo, heated during the winter and air conditioned during the summer. They love having bathrooms, decorations and changing rooms. What they don’t love is helping to keep the dojo beautiful BUT that is PART of your training, not a just little part but rather a HUGE part. The last class of the week ends and Sensei says let’s sweep, mop, dust and clean the dojo. It always seems to be the same students each week that stick around to help out and the majority of them just rush out the door as if their Sensei is not watching.

In the years I have been teaching I have actually had adult students refuse to clean because they don’t feel they need to. I have had parents of kids complain because they don’t think their child should have to. Both the adults and the parents are very wrong in this matter. The parents that complain want us to teach their kids to keep their rooms clean and take pride in what they do yet we can’t have them clean the dojo? What better lesson to teach those than to clean the dojo! The adults that rush out trying to avoid it get mad when they are told it is their turn to clean so they do a crappy job just to get it done yet they are in Karate to learn patience, discipline and respect…all three traits thrown to the wind when they have to clean.

Cleaning the dojo is every student’s responsibility just as helping to grow it through talking to people about it is. When I walk around my dojo and watch a student ignore trash dropped on the floor I get upset. When I see a student destroy my bathroom or miss the toilet I get upset. I clean my dojo more than any of my students do during the week so I hold all of them accountable for picking up after themselves. This trait gets ingrained and become common habit outside of the dojo leading to a much nicer home, clean bedroom and many other valuable traits. Cleanliness is very important today with all of the bacteria and other viruses floating around. Learning it in the dojo leads to a more healthy lifestyle outside of the dojo as well.

Then I have my students who make black belt and think they no longer have to help around the dojo, as if it were below their “status”. Let me tell you that type of arrogance is NOT what being a black belt is about at all and gets quickly nipped in the butt at my dojo. I remember that attitude when it comes time to determine who gets taught certain things and who gets considered to move up in rank. Thinking anything is beneath you once you earn a black belt is pathetic traits that were not part of being a black belt to begin with. When in doubt be the white belt trying to become a black belt and you will quickly remember what it means to be humble and do your duty.

The other alternative is for your Sensei to hire a person to clean the school. That means more money that has to come from somewhere and no one wants to see an increase in their tuition right? Remember that and help out at the dojo. Inside the dojo it is a Symbian circle. Everything you do effects everyone else and vice versa. We all clean equally, we all train equally and we all help the dojo equally. Those that do not get ignored or asked to leave the dojo as I see it. You can buy a black belt anywhere but truly earning on and becoming a good one takes character, not just memorizing some curriculum.

When I was a young boy in the dojo I was told a story about how a Sensei would never ask for a student to help out. The student should step up and help out on their own. Today, in our society, this is lacking and that is very disturbing. People only step up when there is something in it for them to gain…that is not good character, it is selfish character. I have a Sensei. I have seniors that are higher than me in our system. I don’t wait to be asked to help them I just do it because I am a true black belt, a true student and a true karateka…there is no other way to be if you want to proclaim to be a black belt.

3 thoughts on “Soji – Cleaning the Dojo

  1. Soji is the first step in leaning humility. The phrase heard inn really old school dojo is ” learning the value of ‘meaningless’ work”. Soji teaches us, no good work it’s meaningless. No one is excused until the deck is washed and dried after workout. No one. I don’t care what excuse is used. And this is done in the traditional way, on hands and knees, with a towel. This extends to cleaning the changing room and toilets if there are enough students.

    I use this time to compliment parents on their child’s progress or indicate what they should do at home to support their child’s progress.

    I clean the Shinden or kamidana, the photos of deceased seniors or Master. When finished, Then and only then are the lined up to bow out. The whole process takes five minutes.

    If patents complain, I explain that to have patience with small things, teaches us patience with the larger more difficult problems of life.


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