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Dustin's picture
Torii Gates in the Dojo

Just wondering what everyone's thoughts are on having Torii Gates put up in a dojo? Some say they are disrespectful while others say they are fitting for the dojo.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Can’t say I know that much about the Shinto religion, but my understanding is that the Torii gates are there to mark off a space deemed sacred i.e. temples, shrines, etc. It would therefore strike me as odd to have them at the entrance to a western dojo, if the gate was being used in its traditional sense, because Shinto is not the dominant religion and the dojo is not deemed a sacred space. That said, here is the west the Torii gates are deemed aesthetically “Japanese” so they could be used to provide a “Japanese look” and not in their original religious way. I’m not sure how Shinto practitioners would feel about that, but I would understand if it was deemed disrespectful.

One step away from the religious style gate would be to avoid the colour red (main colour for Torii gates) and copying verbatim the traditional design. You could have something that shares the aesthetic, but to the educated eye was clearly not a Torii gate in the religious sense.

I could be wrong here, but I recall that people are not supposed to walk through the gate at the mid point? I believe that point of the gate is reserved for the gods. Humans are therefore supposed to walk through the gate to one side or the other. A set up that demands people walk thought the middle (i.e. used as a door frame at the entrance to the dojo) is therefore not something you’d ever see on such a gate in Japan.

Personally, it’s not something I would do; even if the traditional colours and design was avoided. The reason being is that I don’t want people of other religions feeling uncomfortable. While less likely in the west, I’d also don’t want to take the risk of upsetting followers of Shinto because of my cultural ignorance. In my view, karate is for practitioners of all religions and none. I’d therefore avoid anything that would erode that by introducing anything that could be deemed as being religious or “spiritual” in nature.

All the best,


Anf's picture

For what it's worth, as a student, I am only interested in being taught some of whatever martial art they teach at the school I'm visiting / attending.

If I want to learn about Japanese culture or religion, I'll read books, and maybe save up my pennies to go to Japan. A bit of pseudo-oriental culture is of course to be expected in the dojo. It provides a convenient mechanism to nurture the respect that is essential in a hall full of people that are learning to hurt other humans, should the need arise. Things like bowing to the instructor, bowing in and out etc all help develop the attitude that we treat the hall and our fellow students and teachers with respect and care. It helps us to not get careless and hurt as a result.

Beyond that however, given the very limited time most of us have to train, I'd like to be sure that in that limited time, I'm getting the best martial arts training I can. If the hall starts to feature too much in the way of symbolism and ornamentation, I must admit I would start to wonder if I'm being taught practical martial art or something else.

Dustin's picture

Thanks. I visited a dojo that had one up, at first thought it was pretty neat looking until I started looking up exactly what they are. I agree with you Iain that I could definitely understand how someone could take offense at it even if you changed the color and tweaked the design.

Josh Pittman
Josh Pittman's picture

The "bit of pseudo-oriental culture" that was strictly enforced in my previous federation drove me crazy. Why are we Americans (there are no other nationalities represented, to my knowledge) pretending to be partially Korean, I would ask myself. The partial nature of the culutral appropriation makes it even more senseless. We only emulated certain parts of the culture, and for no very good reason. Why should I want to know the Korean names for techniques, for example, when they really and literally just describe the technique (front kick, low block, etc.)?

I gather that some really enjoy the cultural exposure and the aesthetic and that some Japanese practicioners learn a lot of the art from the names of techniques. But in my mind a lot of martial arts aesthetic corresponds to thoughtlessness and tastelessness. A rather postmodern Western thoughtlessness, perhaps.