by Patrick Augé Sensei
The meaning of Dojo is a "place to study the way". The Dojo is a kind of a laboratory of human behavior where you can test with sincerity new patterns of behavior that you want to practice in order to improve the quality of your life. When you enter the dojo, remember that the other people who are there too came for the same reasons as you, so you must show respect to them, to the teachers who are present and to their teachers as well.
Usually the entrance to the dojo is placed directly opposite to the shomen, so when you enter you are in a position to bow (the shomen is at the front of the dojo where there are pictures of the teacher and sometimes a little altar with flowers). When you enter, you bow to the people inside and if nobody is inside, you must still bow. But you are not bowing to an empty dojo, you are bowing to the spirit of those who may be away right now or who are coming. This demonstrates respect, a proper mindset, and a proper attitude. Bowing is your way of expressing your respect to others.
We bow when we leave the mat and when we get on the mat again as a form of respect. But bowing is also a form of meditation of sorts, you must have presence in bowing, you must be present in the time, in the moment. If it is done in sincerity, it is correct. If it is done absent-mindedly, it is incorrect. It is a good thing even if you have to rush to the bathroom to bow sincerely because it trains you in the right attitude and to keep your composure even in case of an emergency.
Seiza Mokuso: breathing meditation
The bowing ceremony at the beginning of class is really a meditation period where we sit in the proper posture in order to clear our mind of distractions and prepare for a good practice. Mokuso and the meditation are based on concentrating and focusing your mind on your breath. As you breathe in through your nose, you notice that the fresh air is cool and when you exhale from your mouth you may notice how it warms your lips. This exercise has the effect of putting your mind in a neutral state, just like putting an auto transmission in neutral and as a result of doing this, your mind becomes like a screen filtering out previous thoughts leaving you ready to absorb whatever lessons that come next. This technique works outside the dojo just as well. When the daily grind takes its toll and you notice that your state of mind is turning negative, try going through a brief breathing meditation period. This should put your state of mind back into neutral and allow you to start concentrating on positive things. At the beginning it may take several seconds or even a couple of minutes to get into this neutral state but eventually you will be able to do this in just a breath or two.
When you are angry at someone or something, or if you are placed in a dangerous situation, your emotions are at a heightened state. These are situations where you need to be able to recognize what is going on around you and react accordingly. A perfect time for your breathing techniques. The difference between the trained person and the non trained person is that the trained person is able to notice his emotions, do whatever is necessary to control them and change these emotions into something positive. Our training enables us to clear our head and control our emotions in order to react to a given situation in an orderly fashion.
Patrick Augé Sensei