One of the turning points in a budoka’s lifetime is when he or she is given teaching responsibilities. This is not a sudden thing of-course, and they are expected to continue study under their sensei (and sempai) for years to come. Eventually the budoka becomes a senior teacher and may either take over their sensei’s position or even leave to start a new group. This is of-course an orthodox/ideal path. Some people are suddenly found – for no reason other than chance – that they have to become a leader of a group, or – for more personal reasons – decide to start a group earlier than expected*.
When a new group is started one of the first things to decide is what you call yourselves. Unfortunately, in the Japanese budo community today (across many martial arts) there are some strange names in use. Usually this is through no fault of their own, but simply a lack of Japanese language skills. In the internet age it should be easier to do some research into whats-good-and-whats-strange, and with more people coming to Japan to study budo (and the language) I imagine group-naming will improve.
Personally I have been involved in inheriting a group suddenly, have created my own group, and have been involved in advising people on what to call their new groups over the past few years. Although I cannot tell you what to name your own group, hopefully this small article can help you choose a name – if you choose to use something Japanese – that won’t cause potential awkwardness in the future (believe me, I’ve seen it!).
Note that I’ve used ‘group’ throughout the introduction, the reason for which will become clear below.
* You cannot open a new group under the auspice of the Osaka kendo federation unless you are nanadan
Before we even start to talk about what to call your group, the easiest thing to determine is which SUFFIX you should use. Budo groups in Japan follow some pretty standard rules, so lets have a look at some good examples to explain what I mean:
Mid 19th century-pre-war schools:
tobuKAN (Ozawa Torakichi. Built 1874.)
shumpuKAN (Yamaoka Tesshu. Built 1882.)
museiDO (dai-yon kotogakko bujutsu dojo. Built 1887)
meishinKAN (Takano Sasaburo. Built 1890.)
Waseda daigaku gekkikenBU (Naito Takaharu. Founded 1897)
butokuDEN (Butokukai. Built 1899.)
shudogakuIN (Takano Sasaburo. Built 1918.)
Noma DOJO (Noma Seiji. Built 1925.)
Modern kendo/iaido/etc schools and spaces (I’ve used those that I am involved in):
Suffixes are split into two types, depending on your relationship to your physical structure/keiko space:
- 1. Physical structures
The kanji 館 (kan) refers to a hall or building, usually of large size. Originally it referred to a guesthouse/eatery. KAN is used in everyday Japanese in words like bujitsuKAN/hakubutsuKAN (art/history museum), toshoKAN (library), bunkaKAN (cultural centre), etc etc.
Budo-wise, if you are using KAN then you should be referring to a solid, unmoving building, probably – but not necessarily – large. Inside this structure you could have a single keiko space, or many; multiple groups (with different names) could be using it.
The kanji 院 originally designated a larged fenced structure but has over time come to means something that is connected with the state (including schools and hospitals), and includes religion. In everyday Japanese you can see this in byoIN (hospital), daigakuIN (graduate university), and the names of scores of temples, e.g. byodoIN in Kyoto.
Budo-wise its similar to KAN above but has a more spiritual or educational sounding quality to it. Perhaps it is connected to a religious facility or/and also offers education classes of some sort.
DEN / TO
Den 殿 and TO(DO) 堂 also refer to specific halls or structures, but nowhere as large as KAN or IN above. TO has basically no other meaning than “hall” but DEN can refer to military barracks.
Budo-wise these suffixes are the least used, especially nowadays.
The meaning of dojo 道場 has a few connotations in the English language now and has its own usage that is different from Japanese, which makes explanation here difficult. Let me try and explain it from an ex-pat living in Japans view.
The original term is said to have come from Buddhist terminology (translated from Sanskrit to Chinese), and refers to the location where Shakyamuni reached enlightenment. After that it was used in China for a period to refer to temples and from there eventually came into Japan via Buddhism.
The use of the term in the budo community is said to have started only in the Meiji period (1868+), before then places to keiko were simply called keiko-BA (場) or keiko-location/spot. There was no mysterious or psychological connotations in the BA usage, so whomever decided to first use the term DOJO probably had a more esoteric goal in sight. Its important to note that the JO in doJO and the BA in keiko-BA are the same kanji.
In Japan nowadays, a dojo is used to refer to a place where some sort of study is taking part. Like using the verb KEIKO (稽古 practise of something that requires a ‘more’ ascetic training) instead of RENSHU (練習 physical or mental practise of something), saying your are going to do “yoga KEIKO at the DOJO” sounds more esoteric and cool… almost like you are putting in more effort. There are even English conversation dojo’s nowadays.
So, budo-wise, a dojo has come to mean a physical location where you practise (keiko) your art (or follow your “way”). However, almost no group calls themselves “X-DOJO” unless its a physically location privately owned by an individual or a family, e.g. Noma Dojo or the nickname for Chiba Shusaku’s Genbukan, Chiba dojo.
A large structure (i.e. a KAN or an IN) may have multiple dojo inside it with different names. Large sports centres in Japan (and many schools/universities) often have 1 or 2 dojo built in, usually called “Number 1 dojo” and “Number 2 dojo” (or “big” and “small”) or sometimes “kendo-JO,” “judo-JO,” or “budo-JO” (the only difference usually being if tatami is down or not).
As you can see here, there are 2 things happening here: a) a ‘dojo’ as a physical unmoving space, and b) a ‘dojo’ as some sort of conceptual place to practise a ‘way.’ Its my believe that the latter is a very modern construct, perhaps born out of the fact that many groups no longer own their own space now.
Anyway, even if you don’t own your practise space, its still common to call it a dojo but you wouldn’t call your group that.
- 2. Groups
Unless you practise kendo in a privately owned physically location then you fall into this category.
Almost every group who practices a martial art in Japan but that doesn’t own their practise space calls their group x-KAI (会). Its by far and away the most common suffix in use for not only budo clubs, but many many other types of association or even one-of assemblies (e.g. taiKAI). Its also relatively common in Japan to use the term クラブ (club) to refer to a group. There is absolutely no difference in the terms KAI and CLUB.
KAI’s often practise in physical keiko spaces as described above, but also school or sport centre kendo-JO’s, gymnasiums etc.
Popular variations on KAI are x-KEN-YU-KAI (x剣友会) and x-KEIKO-KAI (x稽古会). KEN is obviously, the YU portion is the kanji for friend. Keikokai have a more friendly, relaxed feel to it… like a group of friends who get together without for a bash (with no instruction).
If you have a group (KAI/CLUB) that teaches, for example, both kendo and iaido then you may have an umbrella KAI-name for your group, and then a kendo-BU and iaido-BU under that (see below).
The kanji 部 simply means “department” or “club/team” and is almost always used to refer to groups in schools, universities, and business. e.g. Panasonic kendo-BU or Tokyo University kendo-BU. They may or may not practise in a fixed physical location. e.g. The Imperial guards kendo-BU in Tokyo practise in SaineiKAN, but the Sogo-keibi-kendo-BU (a well known security guards team) in Osaka rotate around different sports centres, some dojo called “Number 1” and others with names.
KYOSHITSU / JUKU
Kyoshitsu (教室) is a basic term that means “class(room).” Although not as popular as KAI you do see x-kendo-kyoshitsu now and then, and it usual infers teaching children.
Juku (塾) is another seldom used term that insinuates some sort of coaching going on. In daily Japanese it simply refers to the cram schools that students commonly go to after school.
Suffix done, what about the rest?
Ok, so thats the easy bit done: you’ve decided on x-KAI or whatever, but what do you put before that? When thinking of a name, many groups naturally want to use Japanese. Thats great but it can be fraught with difficulties. The best bet is to ask an experienced Japanese teacher for some naming possibilities or ask someone who is fluent in Japanese to do some research. Remember individual kanji can have multiple meanings as well as readings, and its always best to check that the meaning in Japanese AND Chinese is ok, as they don’t always match. What you pick is ultimately your decision, so choose wisely.
The first situation where I was involved in name-choosing was when I (suddenly and unexpectedly) inherited what was to become Edinburgh Kendo Club. The current name of the club was a nice Japanese one, but after searching on the internet I found quite a few places (across different martial arts) with the same name. So – after some research and chatting to my Japanese kendo friends – I renamed the club simply to “Edinburgh Kendo Club.” In Japanese I simply changed the CLUB to KAI… which I probably didn’t need to! The club name now did exactly what it says on the tin. Another group I named is Eikenkai (the 英 taking the double meaning of me being British and also that many members speak English). Over the years I’ve helped in the naming of a few groups, and I almost always suggest something plain, easily understandable, and vetted for accuracy.
Please note that these are guidelines – what you choose to call your group is up to you, but if you use Japanese please take some time to research the ‘correctness’ of it. There are also exceptions to these guidelines even in Japan itself. Anyway, I hope this article was of use!