is the Zen Guitar Dojo?
The Zen Guitar Dojo is a place to be.
Based on the spirit and principles of the Japanese dojo, it
is a participatory community that seeks to elevate the human
spirit through music. Part artist's collective, part magazine,
part radio station, part TV network, part record label, part
rehearsal studio, the Zen Guitar Dojo is a gathering place
for artists who want to explore the possibilities of cyberspace
under the umbrella of the Zen Guitar philosophy. Whether you
bookmark this site and find it worth returning to again and
again depends in large part on how interesting a place you,
and we collectively, decide to make it.
Dojo (calligraphy at left) is a Japanese word usually translated
as "school" or "training hall," but literally
means "Place of the Way"--the great Way of life
that governs the universe. As such, the term has a spiritual
connotation. It is through participation in the dojo that
one follows the Way.
What makes a dojo special is not its location or physical
characteristics, but one's behavior in it. A dojo can be anywhere,
even cyberspace. What's essential is a group of participants
willing to work in the spirit of self- and mutual respect.
we seek to establish a dojo on the Internet. With your participation,
we can create a place of vibrant content,
where your work can get noticed and we can learn from each
other. Membership in the dojo is free. All you need do is
make the site work for you. Sound good?
Ellington used to say, "If it sounds good, it
the Zen Guitar Plan
Excerpted from the introduction to Zen
Guitar, a book published
by Philip Toshio Sudo.
Welcome to the Zen Guitar Dojo. Please leave the door open.
My name is Philip Toshio Sudo, and I have established this
dojo for anyone who wants to make music. It makes no difference
to me whether you're a musician or not. You're welcome here
if you're of the spirit to make a sound.
I began playing the guitar as a child in Japan, the land of
my ancestors, and have continued playing in the United States,
my homeland. Over the years I've learned from many different
teachers, both Japanese and American. As the product of these
two cultures, I've sought a way to blend the wisdom of East
and West into a universal philosophy of life.
The way I've found is Zen Guitar.
Zen Guitar is nothing more than playing the song we're all
born with inside--the one that makes us human. Any one of us
can do it. The music is waiting there to be unlocked.
This dojo will give you the key.
My intention here is to share what I've learned in the hope
it might encourage you to strum a new song in the world.
As the name implies, Zen Guitar is based largely on the principles
of zen philosophy. Zen is most easily understood as a common-sense
approach to all things. Some people come to know zen through
meditation, others through the martial arts, or archery,
or flower arranging. All these are paths to the same wisdom.
Here we seek to know zen through music.
is the Zen Guitar Dojo?
I named this the Zen Guitar Dojo because it is a place
of work and contemplation. Dojo is a Japanese word
meaning, literally, "Place
of the Way"--the ultimate Way of life and death that
governs nature and the universe. It is through our endeavors
in the dojo that we discover the Way.
A good dojo is like a school, practice hall, and temple rolled
into one. The aim is to train body, mind, and spirit together,
at the same time.
You can make a dojo anywhere. Just as a believer does not need
a house of worship to pray, a student of music needs no special
place to play Zen Guitar. A bedroom, basement, garage, porch,
or street corner will serve just fine. All that's required
to make a dojo is the proper frame of mind.
will I learn?
My approach to the guitar brings in various teachings from
the zen arts of Asia: martial arts such as karate and aikido,
brush-style calligraphy, samurai swordsmanship, and the Japanese
tea ceremony. As in the tradition of these great arts, I
believe that learning to play the guitar is inseparable from
to harmonize body, mind, and spirit. To truly play from your
soul, you must have all aspects of yourself working together
as one. As you develop this harmony, it will carry through
to everything you do. In other words, what you learn in this
dojo will apply to your work, school, athletics, relationships,
home life--how you think, see, feel, and hear all day long.
Because ultimately, the path of Zen Guitar is the path of life
much musical experience do I need?
This dojo is for beginners and advanced students alike. I
make no distinction between age or past experience. Anyone
who wants to train here, regardless of ability, starts at the
same point: wearing the white belt, just as one would in studying
a martial art. Even a black belt in karate, for example, must
put on a white belt when beginning the study of another martial
art like judo. It is no different here, no matter how long
you've been playing or who your other teachers have been.
Donning the white belt does not mean you are a novice, though
there is no shame in being one. In fact, in many ways, novices
have an advantage over those who come from other schools
and may have to unlearn certain ways of thinking. Wearing
the white belt merely signifies that you are willing to learn
the Way of Zen Guitar.
kind of instruction is it?
know from the beginning that Zen Guitar is not a conventional "how-to" program of instruction. It
is "alternative," meaning it requires a do-it-yourself
spirit. There are no chords or tunings or music theory in this
dojo; you won't find lessons on how to read music, play the
blues, fingerpick, or copy "Stairway to Heaven." All
of that is information. Information is something you can get
from a gamut of sources--magazines, books, classes, friends,
videos, computer networks. The world is swimming in information.
Any student with enough dedication knows how to acquire information.
But information alone cannot teach you what you need to know
to play your song. At the Zen Guitar Dojo, our aim is not
to acquire information, but wisdom. The idea here is to train
and to experience; it is only through the experience of our
senses that we truly gain wisdom. One cannot learn Zen Guitar
simply by reading. Just as no words can teach us how to ride
a bicycle, the only way we learn to play our song is through
the direct experience of our bodies. To learn through experience--that
is the path of Zen Guitar. There is a zen saying, "Paths
cannot be taught, they can only be taken." So it is
with Zen Guitar.
will I learn?
here will be to act as your guide. I do so in the spirit
of the Japanese sensei--not "teacher," as
the word is commonly translated, but literally, "one who
has gone before." I do not claim to know all the answers.
But what I have learned, I'll gladly share with those who wish
to make a similar journey. If I can inspire you to follow your
own path, this dojo will have served its purpose.
Those who train here I regard not as students, but unsui. In
Japanese, unsui means traveling monk or truth-seeker. Literally,
it translates as "cloud and water." To be an unsui
is to embody the spirit of Zen Guitar--floating, flowing,
at once with and without form. If you learn to view yourself
in this way, your journey on the path of Zen Guitar will
have no end.
long will it take me to learn?
students often ask, "How long will it take
me to learn the Way of Zen Guitar?" My answer is, as long
as you live--that short. Your playing may progress enough to
impress your friends in a year's time, perform onstage in two
years, or turn professional in three. But if those are the
ends you seek, your concern is not Zen Guitar. The Way of Zen
Guitar is learned day by day, minute by minute, second by second,
now, to eternity. There is no faster way.
Beginning students also commonly ask, "How long until
I get my black belt?" To them I say, you'll never earn
a black belt so long as you ask that question. To be obsessed
with the destination is to remove the focus from where you
are. The only way to progress in Zen Guitar is to put everything
into this step, right now.
will I progress?
While it's true that in some schools a student formally graduates
from one belt level to the next, in the Zen Guitar Dojo, there
is no such graduation. Students here receive one belt and one
belt only: the white belt. Those who put in the time, training,
and effort will find their belt getting so soiled that eventually
it turns black of its own accord. Only then will they have
achieved black belt status.
In Zen Guitar, the black belt is not a goal or an
end. At other
schools, the black belt may signify ultimate achievement,
but in Zen Guitar, it is only a point along the path. I have
great respect for those who reach the black belt level; it
takes sincere commitment. But the true Way of Zen Guitar
asks black belt players to redouble their training until
their belt becomes so worn and frayed it begins to lose color
and returns to white. Only through completion of that circle--white
to black, black to white--can one know the depth of the Way.
Path of Zen Guitar
I have divided the teaching into five stages, each signifying
progression along the path of Zen Guitar.
White Belt: Beginner's Mind
stage, White Belt, establishes the proper
mindset for starting out on the path--a mindset the student
every step thereafter. This is what's called the "beginner's
White Belt to Black Belt: Practice
The second stage, White Belt to Black Belt, describes the
kind of training and discipline needed to progress along the
path. This is the work ethic one must maintain through all
stages of growth. In this section I also warn of some common
missteps that can lead one astray no matter how hard the training.
Black Belt: Responsibility
The third stage, Black Belt, explains the standard required
for excellence, as well as the responsibilities. It describes
the kind of thinking, feeling, and attitude required of a black
belt. This is the level where body, mind, and spirit begin
to fuse together.
Black Belt to White Belt: Barrier
The fourth stage, Black Belt to White Belt, explores the barrier
that lies beyond technical excellence and leads to a deeper
understanding of the Way.
White Belt: The Way of Zen Guitar
The last stage, White Belt, reveals the true Way of Zen Guitar.
encourage students to think of these stages as broadly as
possible. You may be a novice in the world of sound, but
you're not a novice in life. Most likely, you're a black
belt in some other area--carpentry, law, cooking, computer
programming, skiing, whatever. Use that knowledge to understand
the Way of Zen Guitar, and your training in Zen Guitar will
take your existing skills to an even higher level.
you already skilled in music can benefit from training here
as well. I hear many guitarists with talent who seem to
lack direction, who can't articulate a reason for doing what
they do. The Way of Zen Guitar gives those players a sense
of purpose. Not only that, it provides a framework from which
to tackle any new task. Once you learn the principles of Zen
Guitar, you can apply them to any endeavor outside of music.
Follow the samurai maxim that says, "From one thing, know
ten thousand things." Music can teach you everything you
need to know.
If you're wondering when the discussion will turn to zen philosophy,
don't concern yourself. Put your entire focus into playing
the guitar. If you do that, in time, your questions will
For anyone who now wants to leave, thank you for your interest.
You are always welcome to return--there is never
a time when you cannot begin. The door to this dojo is always
those of you who choose to stay, please put on the white
belt. You have taken the first step on the path.