Dojo Etiquette

In aikido, as well as all other forms of martial arts, there are certain forms of etiquette that are important to follow. The purpose of these "rituals" is to show respect, not only for your instructors and fellow students, but also to show your commitment to the path that you have decided to follow, the path of aikido. Although some of these Japanese forms may be unfamiliar at first they will, over time, become comfortable expressions of courtesy and help each student to reach a higher level of understanding.

It is important to realize that there are likely to be slight variations on these forms in each dojo, but the following is an overview of the most common forms of etiquette that should be observed. If you are new to your dojo, or travelling to another part of the country or world, you will be fine as long as you pay close attention and observe what the other people around you are doing.

  • The most important form of Japanese etiquette is the bow. This is the most basic form of respect and gratitude, whether it is directed towards an individual or an object. There are a number of times in practice when you should bow in aikido and the first is upon entering (and leaving) the dojo. At this time make a standing bow towards the picture of O'Sensei, which is located at the front of the practice mat. This shows your respect to the founder of aikido.
  • Before moving into the dojo take off your shoes at the door and place them on the shoe rack if one is provided, if not, place them to the side of the door so that they are out of the way of those entering behind you.
  • Out of respect to your fellow students make sure that your training clothes are freshly laundered for each session. If you are attending a seminar remember to bring along several changes of dogi. Also, remove all jewelry and make sure that your fingernails and toenails are kept short and well manicured.
  • When stepping on and off the mat, always make a bow from seiza toward the picture of O'Sensei; again, this is a show of respect and confirms your commitment to your studies. In some dojo a standing bow is made.
  • Always try to arrive early so that you can be ready and waiting on the mat, about 5 minutes before the scheduled beginning of practice. This will allow you to sit and meditate and clear your mind of the distractions of the outside world and prepare for your training. It is important to be completely focused on your studies, as this is the only way to fully absorb all that you are being taught.
  • Once the class is ready to start you should be sitting with your fellow students in seiza in a straight line. Follow the custom of your dojo or host dojo with regard to possible ranked seating. It is important never to sit with your back to the shomen, or pass between the shomen and instructor.
  • The bowing-in ceremony will then take place, usually consisting of a bow, two handclaps, a second bow, and a mutual bow between the instructor and the students. This ceremony can vary from dojo to dojo so always follow the example of the instructor and other students.
  • The correct way to be seated on the mat is in seiza. A cross-legged tailor's position is acceptable if seiza is impossible due to injury.
  • If for some unavoidable reason you are late, do not immediately join the practice session. Instead sit in seiza on the edge of the mat until acknowledged by the instructor, and then perform a seated bow toward the shomen. Wait until an appropriate time to find a partner and then join in the training. Once you have entered onto the mat, it is important to clear your mind of the outside world. Without this it can be difficult to concentrate on your studies.
  • When the instructor is demonstrating a technique you should sit in seiza and listen and watch attentively. Once the demonstration is completed, bow to the instructor and your partner, and then begin to practice. During the demonstration of a technique, no one should enter or leave the mat.
  • Talking should be kept to a minimum - learn through experience. If neither you nor your partner understand a technique, sit in seiza and watch the other students or wait until you are offered assistance by the instructor. Never call out for assistance.
  • Remember to follow the instructor's directions quickly and precisely. Injuries can occur with hesitation or delay.
  • If the instructor is personally instructing students nearby, sit and watch in order to allow enough room for the technique to be demonstrated effectively and safely. If the technique is being demonstrated to you and your partner, bow to the instructor before resuming practice.
  • Mutual respect is a keystone of training. Respect those more experienced than you and learn from them. Respect those less experienced than you and learn from them. Do not press your ideas on others.
  • The most important thing to remember is to enjoy what you are learning. All of your experiences and knowledge can be used outside of the dojo to make your life, and the lives of those you touch, more rewarding and fulfilling.

(from Bu Jin Design)



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