Where does the name Shinju Dojo come from?
by Heather Gawlick
Ah, yes. The famous question. Well, there's a story behind that...
When I first opened the dojo, I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the day to go down and get my business license, but I still had not come up with a proper name for the school.
I was competing with the Teenage Mutant Ninjas who actually had a school near me and I wanted something a little less boring than "Albuquerque Aikido," although that would have put me at the top of the Yellow Pages listing.
So, back I went to my little used Japanese language traveler's dictionary. (This was 1999 and the Internet was just starting to take off. People still used paper books for reference.)
I was looking for something like Zen, tranquility, peace... All I kept finding were words that were way too complicated for me to figure out how to pronounce or words that either sounded like Spanish, or had the same spelling. There are a lot of people living in Albuquerque who are very fluent in Spanish. I had to be careful about that. I was getting frustrated.
Finally, I came across "shinju," meaning "pearl." Well, at least it wasn't offensive and met the criteria. I like pearls. Every girl does. So there it was. Pearl Dojo.
I got my business license, set up the web site, printed business cards, got a location, and off I went on my merry little way.
One day, years later I was at one of my favorite hangouts - the used bookstore. In big, bold letters sat a book with the name "Shinju." Of course I had to read it.
To my horror, I discovered a new meaning for the word shinju. Apparently, the Japanese use it to mean double suicide. Like Romeo and Juliette, but with more drama and a very negative connotation. Oh no!
Could this be the reason I was having a hard time getting students?... Please tell me it isn't true!
So, I started scouring the Internet hoping to find some new meaning.
A-ha! There it was! I found kanji (Japanese characters) translating shinju to mean self-defense. I was rescued. Whew, that was close!
New business cards were purchased. A new logo designed, featuring the kanji to make sure all Japanese people would know I didn't mean joining my dojo would require suicidal or homicidal acts. T-shirts were made up.
One day at work, a lady stopped me in the hall and commented on my t-shirt with kanji. She said she was Japanese and thought it was "interesting." My heart stopped as I asked her to translate it for me. She said, "protect yourself." Whew! I finally had it right.
I was all set to go.
Ten years or so later, another instructor was visiting from out of town. His wife is Japanese and teaches it to us dumb English speakers. Being a very nice lady, she politely asked why we would choose shinju as the name of our dojo.
"Ummmmm... It means self-defense?..."
She looked at me funny.
"Ummmmm... I also heard it means pearl?..."
"Ah, yes," she said. "That makes much more sense! You don't have the bar over the 'u.' Because, with the bar over the 'u,' it means..."
"Yeah, I know. Double suicide."
I told her the story and asked her about the self-defense kanji. As it turns out, that kanji doesn't mean self-defense in the martial arts sort of way, more like in a political/hostile sort of way. Not at all what I was hoping for.
So, back to pearl we go. New logo has been set up. New web site configured. New business cards are on the way.
My husband says maybe a new name in English would be simpler. I know he's right. (Yes, dear, I admitted you're right. In print. In public. Stop gloating already!)
But, then we wouldn't have the funny story to go with our name. What can I say? It's grown on me and I'm not ready to give it up.
A friend of ours reminded us that our pearl is the love we share for one another in the dojo and that is the real gem. He's right, too.
Someday, maybe I can get my other friend to tell you about how his dojo got the name "Frog School..."
Heather and Roy Gawlick love Aikido and have a passion for sharing it with others. They hope you'll catch the Aikido bug, too!
Shinju Dojo Aikido Martial Arts School in Longview / Kelso, Washington