Dojo, Academy, Club, School… What Do These Names Really Mean?

Karate is taught under many different banners. Some of these are “schools” or “academies,”  while others are called “dojos” or “clubs.”

I am sure that there are other names, too. Is there really a difference?

bb at nakazato dojo croppedI’ve delivered karate instructions under two of these names, and I believe the answer is “no.”

Someone once told me that unless you teach in a place that you pay rent or a mortgage, pay utilities, and all of the other expenses, you are only a club. Not only that, you’re not really a professional teacher.

When I began teaching karate, it was at my church.  Because the church was happy to have a new activity in their facility, I was lucky and was not charged rent for use of the space. I decided to call what I was doing a “club” as the name of my business.

When I moved into my own rented store, I dropped “club” from the name. Did I become a better teacher by renting a space and dropping club from the name? I don’t think so. Was I more professional in how I ran my dojo because I rented space? No, not that either.

The traits that formed me as a professional teacher are not that I paid rent or utilities or other expenses. I became a professional teacher by adopting best practices given to me by those whom I respect in the martial arts, by continuing my own training, by attending workshops and seminars. I have always been willing to modify my teaching methods as my student population changed while still keeping a high standard of excellence. And of course, by caring deeply for my students.

Over the course of the last 20+ years I have come to know many martial arts instructors from around the USA, and the world.  I learned something from all of them, even the bad instructors. Some of the teachers that I hold in the highest regard teach in recreation centers, churches, and other non-traditional settings. They consistently produce outstanding martial artists. These are not just students who can kick and punch, but who become fine citizens.

To me, that is the definition of a quality and professional martial arts program. The name is just that… a name.

I look forward to continuing to teach everyone in our new arrangement, and to enjoy the mutual progress we all make, and the striving to be better and to learn more in each and every class. Our new space is… spacious!… compared to the the retail space we just left. That means we can have students do a wider variety of things in the class, and it also means that students have a place to gather before class to warm up or practice without interrupting the class that’s in progress.

We’re still a dojo no matter where we are at the time. Any time or place where we learn “the way” of karate (that’s what dojo means) is our dojo. Let’s make the most of our new location, and be the best karateka we can be!