“Open dojo” is a term we use that I define and a time of self-directed practice with support. This is an outcropping of our understanding of how the Okinawan dojo works. The first time we traveled to Okinawa we were informed we were not going for class, we were going to experience the training environment. Our job would be to go the building, change into our Gi, get on the floor and start practicing (something/ anything). If we were left alone that could mean one of two things; one was we were doing well and did not require assistance. The other was a bit more subjective but basically we had done something wrong. Basically as long as we were not standing around someone would stop by and offer assistance. The effort comes from within as a way of showing the students strengths and areas they need help. What we did with the assistance is what determined the result. If we set to work on it and integrated the new information we may get more attention. Students who did not would get passed over on future rounds. Now the most frustrating part of this was not always being able to perform the correction the way the senior wanted to see it. The good thing is they “grade” on effort not on being perfect. My first and very memorable experience with this idea was when I was lucky enough to be in the Jundokan dojo at at time it was not very busy. The ladies of our group had gone to a dancing class others went for a walk to the beach. I went to the dojo, put on my uniform, got on the floor and began practicing Shisochin kata. After about 30 minutes of working by myself, Iha Koshin Sensei walked by. We had seen him perform in a large public demonstration of persons designated as cultural living treasures a few days before and had met him on the street later with one of our seniors. I was aware he was in the building but had not seen him more than to know he was there. As he walked by He stopped and looked at me for a moment watching me practice. He made an adjustment to my kata, watched me do it a couple times and walked away leaving me to integrate this information. I continued to work for a while by myself until I was ready to go. Every time I get to that part of the kata I remember this adjustment and hope I am making him proud.
Contrast this with the following: My asking a friend to show me a kata I did not yet know in exchange for one I knew but he did not. His response was basically “Sensei will show us when we are ready”. Or maybe my asking one of my seniors to help with some exercises where his response was “Did Sensei show you that?” Senior students should not be “teaching” new things.
Our first Instructor would make us recite our “Karate Oath” which follows “Karate is my Art, Peace is my Way, Perfection is my Goal” Perfection is a goal. If any of us were perfect there would be no reason to continue. At one point I trained with a guy who suggested in his dojo of origin you could earn your next rank by beating the person who was higher than you. That is one way to advance but it values only certain attributes. For example: if Mike Tyson (dated reference I know) were there he would be the senior unless you wanted to try him out. Each person brings something special to the dojo, all are valued. The role of Sensei is to provide drills that help all students develop skills, become their best and achieve the goals they set. The students’ job is to put in the effort and integrate the information not become “perfect”.