Dojo Etiquette

While our founder Kobayashi-Sensei was not a strict disciplinarian, there are certain forms of etiquette he tried to maintain within our dōjō. Often he left it up to the senior instructors and students to clue the newer students in on how to act in the dojo and on the mat. As a result, the dojo was a harmonious place in which to train. There was a relaxed atmosphere and a fun, spirited camaraderie between students and instructors. While training was taken very seriously, there was also always lots of laughter in the dojo during practice. As an assist to students however, Kobayashi-Sensei did put some etiquette guidelines in writing for students to follow.

Dojo means ‘the place to practice the Way.’ When you enter the dojo, remind yourself that you are studying Aikido, the way of harmony with nature. Your attitude and actions in the dojo should reflect the Aiki you are trying to develop within yourself. Be sincere, earnest, and realistic in your practice.

All arts of self-defense begin and end with respect: to the principles you are studying, to your teacher, to your fellow students, and to everything surrounding you. Only through a respectful attitude will we be able to harmonize with the world in which we live. We indicate respect by bowing. When you bow, look directly at the object or person and bow sincerely. It is customary to bow at the following times:

•  When entering or leaving the mat area, bow toward the Shomen, the main wall where O-Sensei’s picture is hanging.
•  To open class, the instructor and students first bow toward the Shomen and then to each other saying, “Onegai shimasu.” This means, please practice with me, please teach me, etc.
•  Partners bow to one another before engaging in practice; they bow again afterwards.
•  To close a class, the instructor and students bow together toward the Shomen and then thank each other saying, “Arigato gozaimashita.”
•  After class, before leaving the mat area, thank each individual for the harmonious practice. When you wish to thank someone who is sitting, you should likewise sit down and exchange bows.
•  On the mat, bowing to each other sitting is considered most courteous. Standing up in front of people who wish to bow sitting is considered impolite. If the individual is already standing, you may stand up and exchange bows.
•  To remain sitting in front of another who is already standing and insist on bowing while the other is sitting could put the other person in an awkward position.
•  Remember, even bowing should be done in moderation. Overdoing it will put others in an uncomfortable position, which may cause negative results.

When you attend class, be prompt. Do not make a habit of being late. If you are late, wait for an appropriate moment to join the class. Bow to the Shomen, apologize to the instructor for your late arrival, and then join the class activities. If you must leave early, let the instructor know beforehand and then pick an unobtrusive moment to leave. Avoid walking between the instructor and the Shomen or the class while the instructor is talking to the class.

Your actions in the dojo reflect your attitude. When sitting, be attentive. Always sit seiza when possible for it is the posture of calm readiness. If at times you have difficulty sitting seiza, you may sit cross-legged with your back straight. Always sit seiza before the opening and closing of class. Your time at the dojo is a time for concentrating or making Aikido a part of yourself. At all times strive to maintain a calm, alert and harmonious attitude. If you are earnest and sincere in your training at the dojo, the Aiki you develop will extend to your activities outside the dojo.

Bowing to the Shomen

Sometimes visitors ask, “Why do you bow facing the front wall?” “Does it have some religious significance?” It’s been a tradition in all budos to bow to the shomen to show respect for the place of practice and the shihandai where the shihan sat during the practice. Particularly in Aikido, it is to develop the attitude to respect everything around us. There is no aiki without respect. If we are to harmonize with nature, we must first learn to respect all things. Because we respect others, we are capable of getting off the line of force or keeping out of the attacker’s range of effectiveness. The bowing at the beginning and the end of a class in Seidokan Aikido is to develop mutual respect.

The deeper the understanding, the lower your head bows.

Bow & Practice

It has been the tradition in Japan that the teacher demonstrates the art and then the students bow and practice without questioning. The students are to practice the art over and over until the teacher stops the class for the next lesson. The old tradition of following the teacher blindly was broken when I was training under Tohei-Sensei. I always went up to him, if he did not use me for ukemi, and asked him to throw me. He always smiled and threw me several times to let me feel the art. I was not attempting to set a tradition but a few other students followed me to learn the art’s feeling. My quest for a further understanding of Aikido continued even after the classes were over. If necessary, I always asked Tohei-Sensei after class to verify my understanding of the arts, which was not the traditional thing to do after lessons were over.

When you bow to others, you must mean it from your heart. It must not be executed just because it is the tradition. Bowing should be done in moderation, as excessive bowing can sometimes cause inconvenience and embarrassment to others.