Shamefully Naked Kamiza
Here’s a trivial note for friends with martial arts schools that feature a Japanese-style kamiza “spirit focal point” shelf on the main wall of their training space.
As described in the book Enlightened Self Protection, a kamiza can be compared to the family mantelpiece tradition familiar to American and European homes. As the mantel holds special pictures, artifacts, and memories of our family history, the kamiza serves as a reminder of the historic al and cultural legacy that stretches out behind the teachings embodied in our martial art today.
The items on the kamidana “spirit shelf” are Japanese in origin, but they are equally relevant to us in the West as reminders of our connection to the forces of nature, our gratitude to our teachers – even those teachers we have never met – for handing the knowledge down to us, and our personal responsibility for discovering the keys to actualizing our potential in ways that will carry our legacy on to new generations.
- Tomyo candles symbolize the light we carry in our hearts
- The kagami mirror symbolizes a stainless heart, pure in its reflection of “what is”
- A dish of salt symbolizes willingness to sacrifice and gift others in order to grow
- The shinden wooden house-like structure contains a small ofuda plank talisman as symbol of the ancient spirit that guides our training (concealed behind the doors behind the mirror, so not visible in photo below)
- Sakaki greenery reminds us of our place in the richness of nature
- Photos of living people usually do not go on the shrine shelf, but may be displayed beside the shelf in a martial arts dojo
(For a sense of size perspective, check the photo in my birthday party post)
When I was living in Japan in the 1970s to train at the house dojo of my ninja teacher, my job during each weekly dojo clean-up was to replace the water in the sakaki vases. I was “the tall guy” in those days, and my reach allowed me to get to those vases of greens without having to drag out a step ladder.
Today, most of us in the West use artificial greens since fresh branches from sakaki plants are very hard to come by or grow in most of the USA and Europe. Sakaki (cleyera japonica) is a low-spreading, medium-sized evergreen tree of the plant family which also includes tea and camellia.
Even if you cannot get sakaki, you can get bountiful boughs of greenery for your kamiza – holly or any other waxy green leafed shrubs – or at least tasteful artificial ones.
And here’s the point: be sure your kamiza has those boughs. I have seen a lot of photos of various dojo kamiza on internet sites of martial arts schools in America and Europe, and more often than not, there for all to see are a lot of pitiful naked kamiza shelves. Avoid that. Celebrate your tradition with lots of rich green.
Avoid scraggly wisps reminiscent of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Avoid little potted plants with roots.
Avoid avoiding greenery altogether.
If you are going for a traditional look in your dojo, be sure that you fully understand the tradition. And avoid ignorant “tradition for tradition’s sake”, just as you would avoid pointlessly odd technique in your curriculum if you are teaching useful methods as opposed to mere museum-like cultural imitation.