The dojang is the training space of the school. Classes, testing and promotion occur here. The dojang is the heart and essence of the martial arts.
Entering a dojang, one senses a difference in atmosphere almost immediately noticeable. Students enter this room barefoot and bow on the way in. It gives the student a moment to close out the outside world and really focus on what happens within that space.
When the instructor enters, the senior student typically calls everyone to attention. The students bow to the instructor and line up in rows and rank order, then come to attention for class to begin.
Most dojangs are fairly spartan in decor, making the main foci the instructor and what they teach. Often there are flags in the front of the room that the students will bow to as a sign of respect as class starts. Often, the flags in the front represent the country the art comes from (in my case, Korea), the school and the country in which the students are training.
When I first started training, the dojang was just another room. If I’d had a bad day, the bad day came in with me. If it were an awesome day, my joy bounced off the walls. It took a friend and senior student to really explain to me the idea of checking any and all emotions at the door. Sometimes it’s really hard. On days when it’s harder, I try to remember to really clear my head once I’m inside the room. I quite often sit in the back and meditate for a few minutes, and perhaps at times, wait to tie my belt on inside the room.
The dojang is hardly the place for “bad days” to be worked out in class. Prior to or after class on the punching bag is much better. It is far too easy to lose control and hurt oneself or another student in absent-minded daydreaming or outright anger. Sometimes, if there’s just too much going on emotionally, people will even just sit on the side and watch class.
I think of a passage in a book I read called Ten Indians, by Madison Smartt Bell: “ ‘It’s a sanctuary,’ Devlin said. ‘It’s not like the rest of the world. It’s a place where things make sense. Everything happens for reasons you know, or if you don’t know, you can learn them, and if there’s a problem, there’s a way to solve it. You don’t have to bring any trouble in and you don’t have to take any out. That’s what it is. Sanctuary.’”
So drop your life on the way in and step into a new world each class. Like anything in martial arts training, that doesn’t happen overnight. But it is necessary for survival in the dojang.