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The Shomen

The Shomen is the most special part of the traditional karate dojo. The Shomen is located in the front of the dojo and literally means “front”. The Shomen itself simply relates to that area of the dojo. For most traditional practitioners this is a special, almost sacred space. Many Showmen have a place especially set aside for something like a Shinto shrine. This is called a kamidana.

The kamidana will vary from dojo to dojo. Some are very simple. Others are very extravagant. My Shomen is a very old Japanese table. It is set very low to the floor. Japanese people would usually sit on the floor or on cushions to eat. This table actually has four stool – type seats. There are intricate carvings on both the table and the stools. On the top are three women dressed in kimono with fans and wigs. Mother Of Pearl is used in them and there is a glass tabletop to cover and protect them.

There are two framed photos on the table. One is Master Kenwa Mabuni, the creator of Shito-Ryu. The other is his son, Kenzo Mabuni, the creator of Seito Shito-Ryu. Between the photos is a blue and white oriental vase which contains flowers and greenery. There are a couple of other small vase-like containers on the table, three candles in wooden holders, and an incense burner. I keep a small cushion in front of the Shomen. Behind it is a wooden oriental screen. There are paper screens on each side of that. They make a great separating wall to keep my office area private. If you go to the dojo’s website and take a look at the Birthdays link, there is a photo of a baby girl in a high chair. Directly behind her is a pretty good view of our Shomen.

Of course that is my Shomen. Others can be much more extravagant. I remember teaching classes out of an aerobics room at a local gym for a while. I still had the photos and incense burner but the table itself was an old rolling tv table that I kept covered with a piece of purple cloth.

Many people get the idea that when we bow to the Shomen (and we bow to it a lot) that there is some kind of religious connotation involved. Of course there is not any such thing. We are simply showing honor and respect to the founders of our style. Typically a student will bow to the showmen a total of six times during a regular class. You bow to it when you enter the dojo. You bow to it when you step on to the training area. You bow to it at the beginning and end of class. You bow to it when you exit the floor. Finally, you bow to it as you exit the dojo as a last sign of respect. Instead of religion what the student is learning on a very base level by bowing to the Shomen is quite simply respect.

As I said, our Shomen is a place which we have the highest regard. Students in our dojo are not allowed to touch the Shomen and are cautioned on a crowded night to use extreme caution if they are practicing in an area even close to it.

I know a few dojos that do not even have a Shomen. In our modern world many consider such things outdated and not necessary. I suppose that is their right and their opinion. I cannot understand it personally. Karate is a means of learning such things as etiquette and respect. Not having a Shomen is something I can’t fathom. Having a Shomen and not being required to bow to it is the same as not honoring or having respect for the dojo itself for the Shomen represents the very thing that the dojo is.

A Simple Aikido Shomen

A More Extravagent Shomen


Shomen At Our Dojo

  1. February 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Honor and respect are always proper and correct. The Shomen at your dojo serves to remind of this necessary ingredient in a useful, compassionate life. I have a bedroom prayer altar that serves much the same purpose for me when I awake each morning. Honor and respect for the founders of your tradition seems just essential to me. Thank you for this teaching and these helpful photos.

  2. February 16, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Thank you, granbee. I’m going to try to get a good photo of our Shomen and get it on here as well.

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