Most martial art schools perform a cleaning ritual after training called, soji. Soji translates to "cleaning" and is a very important part of training and yet some schools do not practice this tradition despite its far-reaching application.
For me, soji demonstrates a sense of pride in my dojo, as well as respect for "place of the Way" (dojo) and the instructor, who, by the way, is not the custodian. Furthermore, and just as important as showing respect for the dojo, is the sense of humbleness that soji instills in martial art practitioners.
Each participant of the International Karate Association & College of the Martial Arts is expected to strive to live by a set of maxims, which include character, etiquette, effort, sincerity, and self-control. These maxims are not taught just through the teachings during training time, but also through specific rituals that teach respect such as bowing in and out of class, bowing before stepping onto the dojo floor, bowing to a partner and, soji. Are we not bowing during the practice of soji? It's all about respect.
In teaching and maintaining a sense of humbleness, we must look at how the trait fits into traditional martial arts. The definition of humble is, "having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance." With the advancement of rank in martial arts, it is easy for a student's ego to cloud the true meaning behind their training. Through rituals such as soji, we keep our ego in check, for an inflated ego in a dojo is like a snake using mock strikes as a way to intimidate any perceived threat. An embellished ego does not belong in a dojo. Soji is a ritual reminding us that we are no better, or worse, than any other martial art practitioner in the dojo. Each student should respect their fellow student for where they are in their personal journey, each student should respect instructors and the direction they provide, and each student should respect the dojo where they train.
In Japan, soji is taken seriously and is very much a part of life's teachings. The following bits are from Japanese articles, which emphasize the tradition of soji, or sojido, as some may call it and other important aspects of having a clean environment.
"Many people are likely to be familiar with Japanese words such as Bushido (literally, “the way of the warrior”) and judo (literally, “gentle way”). But what about sojido, or “the way of cleaning?" asks Satoru Imamura, head of the Nihon Soji Kyokai (Japan Cleaning Association)
Imamura goes on to say, “People can only truly change through action. We believe the programming of a brain changes when someone takes positive action and moves their hands, mouth and feet. Sojido is a type of training that helps define you as a person.”
Kaori Shoji, a Japanese writer, states, "A lot of things baffled me when I attended a Japanese school for the first time at the age of 14. Lot’s of things baffled me, but the custom of soji — or cleaning — of the classroom and school buildings every day after the last bell, seemed outrageous."
"Each student had his or her own zokin (washrag), hand-stitched by themselves, hanging from little hooks at the back of the classroom and used to wipe the desks and windows. Mops, buckets and brooms were kept in the corner for polishing the floors." Shoji goes on to say "Why didn’t the school have janitors (or vacuum cleaners) for these tasks, I would ask, while wringing a cold, dirty zokin in a concrete sink. I mean, shouldn’t we like, get paid for our labor? But in vain. No one questioned the chores — they were part of our education. We were supposed to feel rewarded for acquiring the skills and virtues of seiketsu (cleanliness)."
From the above excerpts, we see that soji is so much more than just wiping down the floor, it is about being responsible, it is about being humble, it is about respect, and it is part of learning, as well as growing as a person.
In closing, the next time you are in line, ready to begin soji, try to recall the following Japanese proverb, "work of self, obtainment of self", meaning, your work is your own soul reward. Hajime! -- ichi! ni! ichi! ni....