DANTE’S ISSHO – DOJO (The Lifetime Dojo Of Dante’s Hell)

7 Feb
As with the other articles in this category, the following need not be confined to Karate-Do or even the martial arts for that matter. A practitioner of any art form, sport or hobby may wish to consider their field of personal endeavor within the following ideology. Additionally, anyone may wish to reflect upon their life’s journey within the context of the following.

I call this martial ideology “Dante’s Dojo“. The ideology involves contemplating your Karate-Do training (or life) in light of Dante’s journey through the gates of Hell as escorted by the poet Virgil.

 Dante Aligheri as depicted in a fresco on the Dome Of Florence

This ideology calls forth a contemplation of your journey, as escorted by your Sensei, into the “Way-place of Hell” and the rewards of having entered such a place of woe. Anyone who has either trained at my Dojo or attended one of my seminars will recall the various signs that I hang to motivate and invigorate students and seminar attendees. I am especially fond of displaying the following excerpt taken from The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Though me you enter the woeful city, through me you enter eternal grief, Through me you enter among the lost. Justice moved my high maker: The Divine Power made me, the Supreme Wisdom and the Primal love. Before me, nothing was created, if not eternal and eternal I endure, Abandon every hope, You who enter. These words of obscure color I saw inscribed over a portal; wherein I said: “Master, their meaning is hard for me.” and he to me as one who understands, “Here let all cowardice be dead….” and when he placed his hand on mine, with a cheerful look from which I took comfort, HE LED ME AMONG THE SECRET THINGS. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto III, (Emphasis Added).

Even the most informal reader of Dante is familiar with the last sentence of the above Canto, specifically, “Abandon Every Hope, You Who Enter.” To be sure, there is much insight to be found within the dynamic expression of the gates of Hell as expressed in the Canto; however, for purposes of this article, the significance of the placard to Hell is to be found in the combination of that infamous passage with the last sentence where Dante observes “. . . He led me among the secret things.” I submit that it is in that combination that the true essence of a (traditional) Karate-Do Dojo is to be found. By extension, I submit that concept of Dante’s Dojo applies to anyone who embarks upon a journey of learning the secret teaching of any art.
The placard to Hell speaks in terms of abandoning hope. Within the sphere of Dante’s Dojo, hope is a metaphor for an abandonment of a pre-conceived notion of self. Upon entering the Dojo (or commencing the study of any art form) a new initiate is stripped of all forms of self-proclaimed “status”. Thus, the initiate is liberated from the bounds that contain the human spirit within the confines of an artificial sense of “self“. By way of example, an initiate who is successful in financial matters (and thus “rich“), may be an utter failure in matters concerning relationships or emotional well-being (thus, emotionally and spiritually “poor”). The initiate, by way of the pre-conception of success, is utterly unaware of, or chooses to ignore),those areas wherein he has failed. Such blissful ignorance is derived from one’s spiritual and emotional filters that are designed to deter suicidal attacks upon one’s ego.
It is the mission of the Sensei to actively nudge the initiate along the journey of knowledge while passively guiding the initiate through the pitfalls (physical and particularly emotional) encountered during the Karate-Do journey. In this manner the initiate is physically, spiritually and emotionally broken down to the most fundamental level of self-awareness.
 Sodello Da Goito, Salvatore Dali (1904-1989)
 
 Within the Dojo the process of stripping the initiate of the preconceived sense of self and self-worth is accomplished on external and internal plains. Externally, the process of stripping the initiate e to the fundamental level of self-awareness involves inserting the initiate into a outwardly homogenous Dojo group. This is accomplished in several ways, including, though not limited to the following:  
 
 1. The initiate is stripped of his clothes of normalcy and dons a plain white uniform (a “Gi”) that is indistinguishable from the uniform of any other student (save for a colored belt or “Obi” which is discussed later);
2. As to the Gi, there is only but one purpose for wearing it as clothing. It is not necessarily comfortable, provides little warmth and some may say is not fashionable. The sole purpose of wearing a Gi is to train in the martial arts;
3. The initiate must train in bare feet (thus, the initiate is reduced to the status of primitive man, who trod the dirt shoeless);
4. There is no indicia of external status. The initiate, like all other students, is prohibited from wearing jewelry, watches and any other indicia of status (even the fragrance of the initiate’s expensive cologne or perfume is quickly replaced by the odor of the initiate’s sweat);

To be sure, there are reasons and traditions associated with the above, for purposes of this article, I am addressing the above solely as a means of stripping away external factors that outwardly define one’s status as “self”. The above external regime also serves to internally strip the initiate of his spiritual and emotional pre-conception of self. Examples of the internal mechanics of this process include:

1. The concept that one’s ego is left at the door of the Dojo. The sole distinguishing attribute that separates the initiate from the homogenous group is the initiate’s ability. Within the Dojo, the initiate’s ability is a direct result of the initiate’s devotion and determination as filtered by a pure heart and open mind. Notwithstanding the different colored Obi as a symbol of “status”, ithe determinate factor is always ability. To be sure there are times when a “lowly” student of white belt grade will out perform a student of “higher” grade. As Sensei Thomas DeFelice, Ku-Dan, Menkyo-Kaiden (Goshin-Do Karate-Do), would say, “The man makes the Obi, not the reverse.”;

2. The pervading rule of any Dojo is that “All start at the bottom”. Regardless of one’s position outside the Dojo, all enter at an entry level position. Unlike the corporate world, no-one skips upward to middle or higher management.

3. The result of the above is the ideology that “Nothing is for free.“ All knowledge and thus all sense of self-awareness must be earned. Period.

Once the initiate is reduced to this most fundamental state of awareness, a primordial sense of spiritual and emotional ooze, the journey amongst the secret things begins to have significance. Karate-Do involves a testing of one physically which gives rise to a test of one’s spirit. The same is true of other endeavors such as painting, music and sport. How many times have we heard that an artist “suffered for his art?” The difference is that within Karate-Do there are direct and immediate consequences. An example would be getting punched in the mouth during a moment of carelessness. There is also spiritual and emotional discomfort. For example, in a traditional Dojo (one that does not contractually obligate a student to train) the notion instilled in the initiate that he is free to leave the Dojo and thus quit the process of self-discovery – forever to bear the stain of “failure”. Through this process, ultimately the secret thing to be discovered is an authentic self-defined sense of self and how one’s self interacts with the worldly environment and the universal arena that the drama of life plays out upon. Again, though the process is explored herein within the context of Karate-Do, by extension, it can be applied to any art or life in general.

The ideology of Dante’s Dojo is a continuum. Once one has abandoned the pre-conceived, emotionally filtered sense of self, one obtains the pure, empirical understanding of who one is. This understanding is the secret thing of Dante’s Dojo. It must be understood that the attainment of the secret thing is always transitory. Due to the frailty of the human condition, the attainment of a pure sense of self is always susceptible to the prostitution of its pureness by the ego. The process of contemplation of your Karate-Do training, other art form, or even life itself, within the confines of Dante’s Dojo is a continuing abandonment of any pre-conception of self together with an awareness of the secret things that lie before each and every one of us. To be sure, we are all susceptible to succumbing to the self-defining comfortable notion of who we perceive ourselves to be. Again, this comfort notion of perception is conceived within our emotional filters that are designed to protect ourselves from suicidal attacks upon our ego. It is therefore necessary to continually re-examinine and redefine oneself as “self” in as pure and empirical a setting as possible. For me, the setting for this process is Karate-Do which is euphemistically contained within the “Dojo”. It is important to understand that one need not train within a physical Dojo. One must carry the Dojo within by way of continuous active training and thus, continuous self-examination. It is only when one engages in the regular, oft times Hellish routine of Karate-Do training (and self-evaluation) that the continuum of abandoning preconception is realized. Only then can one continue to evolve and awaken to the secret things of this plain of existence. This is the realm of Dante’s Dojo.

 Hell as depicted in the center panel of a Triptch entitled “Final Judgement” by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)

It is upon the foundation of “Dante’s Dojo”, that my ideology of Jiriki Kata-Do (The Way of (attaining) Inner Salvation Through Kata) as represented, inter alia, by the Sanchin Kata, was built. On a higher plain of human understanding , intuition and in a new contextual paradigm, the secret things become the secret of not only a sense of self, but a sense of self belonging and synchronization with the universal environment and consciousness. Such a journey though ultimately rewarding and enlightening, often takes nightmarish turns. Thus, one truly passes through the portal (or perhaps a Torii) to Hell.

Within your own training in any art, whether a Martial Art such as Karate-Do (or its ancestral arts of Kung-Fu and Kalaripayat), or a meditative art such as the various forms of Zazen (seated meditation), or Pranayama, or within the confines of your life, consider Dante‘s Dojo. In considering this point, I would suggest that you take a moment and view the “Memorial Page” of this Blogsite and specifically read the quotation of Ernest Hemingway. Now consider how far has your teacher pushed you out to where no-one can help you AND just how far are you willing to go into heretofore undiscovered territory and paradigms. I know the journey I have embarked into the heretofore undiscovered contextual paradigm of Jiriki Kata-Do. The question for you, the reader, is do you know your present journey and comprehend the ramifications associated with how far out you are willing to go where no one may help you – the point where you abandon all hope and dwell in the realm of secret things.

I have recently obtained the above beautiful digital Hanko seal. It will be used to formalize and seal all future submissions on this Blogsite and my website. I highly recommend such a digital Hanko seal. Anyone interested in either a traditional or digital Hanko seal or other unique Japanese product should visit WWW.TheJapaneseConnection.Com

The impact of my having entered Dante’s Dojo is codified in my exploration of the Sanchin Kata as disclosed in my new, innovative (and some may say controversial) new book entitled The Dynamic Meditation Rite Of Sanchin: Gateway To The Three Battles To The Plateau Of Human Serenity. Please see the “Sanchin Book” page of this Blogsite for more information.

The Sanchin Kata is the initial and premier Kata of my ideology and methodology of Jiriki Kata-Do. You may find additional information on Jiriki Kata-Do, by reading my article herein dated December 15 , 2009. Entitled “Kata evolves into a methodology and ideology …” You may also visit my website at WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com

For those readers that have a burning interest in the various works of Dante Alighieri, I would highly recommend the following:

1. For additional biographical, historical and literary information you can visit the following website WWW.GreatDante.Net.  It is an excellent resource center and includes the original Italian language version of Dante’s works and English translations. In other words, it is Molto Benne.

2. For an excellent murder mystery that takes place during the time of the first American translation of The Divine Comedy by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes (who are all major characters in the book) I would recommend The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. WWW.MatthewPearl.Com

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