What is so important about dojo etiquette? Why should I have to bow? I wouldn’t bow to anyone! What is the difference if I act a specific way or not, I am peaceful or, am respectful or not? Should it mean I am unable to defend myself? If I don’t bow lower than my senior – does that mean I will not be able to kick his / her butt anyway? And, why is it that we have ranks anyway. If I can tap out a blue belt, why aren’t I a black belt?
These are typically common types of questions in the western world. The American mind has been brought up in a society that challenges authority, have been told everyone can be great or famous, and balks at the concept of discipline. We have a society that believes everybody is equal, and “I’m OK, You’re OK". Basically we are living in an “I don’t have to do it if I don’t wish to do it" society. We delegate someone to do important issues, which require action and decision to gray areas. We really do not like Black and White, Right and Wrong. We feel more comfortable with “politically correct" and “socially acceptable". We talk about difficulty with our youngsters rather than teaching our children. We’d rather be buddies than leaders. At the same time, many live under the delusion that they possess leadership qualities. This is what leads to the statements stated in the first paragraph – which I have heard continuously in various martial arts school settings. So just why should we practice a specific etiquette inside the martial arts school, and what are those etiquettes? I can answer the most important question in a single word; Samurai. Samurai is an adverb that has become a noun. The term Samurai means, “to serve". They have the same connotation as those that “serve" in today’s military services. They pursue a higher cause, recognize superior authority, and act selflessly in defense of our nation. The Samurai did the same for his feudal lord. Among all of those who “Serve", whether or not the military, law enforcement, fire prevention, or any other volunteer services, there’s a standard code of conduct. This code of conduct is based from necessity. An individual must conduct oneself in a certain manner to continue being part of the group; in order to “serve" an authority; in order to interact with each other; and in order to have interaction with the higher authority, and those who are enemies of said authority. With all the Samurai, that code was called Bushido, or the Ways of the Warrior. These codes of conduct – or etiquette pass on with all the warrior methods themselves. There are clear reasons for this. Warrior methods are methods of war, killing, and defense. Comprehension of such dangerous means demand serious controls on the conduct of those who possess such knowledge. There is an additional level of etiquette relating to warrior groups. These are actions essential to gain entrance, maintain acceptance, establish place, and gain respect within the warrior group. This is common among all warrior groups, whether those of the Samurai, the martial-art dojo or the armed forces. First is recognition that you want to gain entrance in to a special closed group of very dangerous individuals. These people have spent years spending so much time to maintain their place in this group, and now have experienced enormous amounts of pain and hardship that allows you to stay in this group. From all this work, they may have gained nothing more than camaraderie, silent recognition, and self-confidence. Some groups give medals or trophies. But concurrently, these warriors realize these tokens are meaningless. It is only in battle that what they have learned matters. Their survival is their only meaningful trophy. The next phase is to maintain your newly earned acceptance. Even when you are in the group – you’re not part of the group for a long time. You have to prove yourself. You have to show the proper respect, acknowledge the skill and knowledge of seniors, and train very, very hard. For those who have done that for years, you’ll gain a place in that group. It will not be a senior place – nevertheless, you will be part of the clan. Worth spending time with, worth defending in battle, an asset more than a liability. It is at this point that acting in the correct manner is most important. A breach reflects upon the seniors as well as their lack of leadership. Their seniors will come down very, very hard on them. With many years of hard work and perfect conduct – you may gain respect in the warrior group. There are traditional etiquettes that have existed in the Japanese martial arts for centuries. Each originated from the importance to maintain safety, hierarchy, battlefield competence, an excellent training structure, and proper attitude toward seniors. This last one is of utmost importance, because it was the seniors who made life and death decisions for the group in battle. Inside the dojo, these seniors still make life and death decisions. They do know when you are about to do something dangerous to yourself or other people. They know how you can get you out of trouble. They already have several years of experience. Listening and following their commands (okay, we’ll call them suggestions) can make or break a real self-defense situation. Here are the basic etiquettes that needs to be followed, accepted, and embraced… There are seniors and then there are juniors. Not anyone is equal in the dojo. 2. If there’s no Sensei, there would be no group, she or he is the glue that holds the group together and sets the general tone. He or she sets the training schedule. He or she has gone through all of the challenges the student has gone through or will go through. Thus, all etiquettes concentration on the Sensei, as well as their Sensei 3. The dojo will be the “way-place". This is the room or the building or perhaps the place where the knowledge is passed from one generation to the next. This place will definitely be special. It is a place where life changes take place. This means that the place itself deserves reverence. THUS: Remove your shoes outside the dojo. You will spend a lot of the time on the mats, often with your own face being ground into it. You don’t want to have the bacteria, dirt, etc. the fact that your shoes have stepped in during the day, to now be on the mat, and thus on you. Bow to the Kamiza and Sensei (if he or she is in the dojo when you enter). With this bow, say Onegashimasu (pronounced Oh-nay-gah-shee-mahs). This roughly means, “Please teach me". This instantly confirms your place in the group. You’ve acknowledged your instructor and his ability to teach you something you didn’t fully understand. You actually acknowledge individuals who spent their lives teaching your teacher. Thus you acknowledged the warrior spirit, which has passed through the generations to you personally. Clean the dojo. After class Ends, it is the student’s responsibility to make sure their very own training hall is dust free. Dust the walls, the pictures, the charts, etc. Then dust the mats. Again the practical purpose is to remove dust you may well be breathing and any dirt or dust from the mats before you work on them. Why does each student have to do this and not the owner of the actual dojo? Service. You’re serving. You are serving the dojo, making sure its longevity. You are serving your fellow students, giving them a clean environment. Again, you’re establishing your place in the group. If someone more senior than you is definitely cleaning up – insist upon taking over the cleaning from him or her. They already have spent months or years cleaning up, and establishing their place – now the junior must also do so. As long as you show care for your dojo and concern for all the people in the group, will you actually be accepted. Make sure your training uniform is clean before every class. Hygiene in a place where our sweaty bodies are in constant contact is very important. Viral, bacterial and fungal diseases are often spread. Be sure your belt is tied tightly and correctly. Seniors look for attention to detail. Whenever you show an absence of attention to detail, seniors will think you will also ignore detail in technique. That might cause injury in class, or death of oneself or your own dojo partner in battle. Bowing during class follows this methodology. Sensei will lead opening bows towards the kamiza and instructors. Student bows must be slightly longer than those they bow toward. Bowing is a sign of respect. Everyone wants to receive respect. The fastest way to obtaining respect is to give respect with conviction. After Sensei gives instruction, a short bow is recommended. This thanks him/her for the instruction, and also signals clear understanding of his training directions. One then bows to their own partner. This acknowledges ones acceptance that you and your partner are just about to take part in a dangerous activity. Each knows the other could mistakenly hurt them. Each knows the other could hurt them deliberately. Thus a symbol of mutual respect is important to set the proper tone in training. When you’re finished working with a partner, you should bow as being a sign of respectful thanks that you’re chosen partner didn’t hurt or injure you. During training, one must suspect that possibly they are under constant surveillance. Which, needless to say, they are. Sensei and/or Sempai are always watching. Watching your progression, technically and mentally. Watching your attitude and etiquette. They’re looking to find any flaw that tells them you should not be a trusted or respected member of their group. Remember this. I have personally and more than once thought to myself “I am not teaching that technique to that individual, because they lack the mental control to implement it safely." You are under scrutiny. Even more so in a dojo that is run by a traditional Sensei who will be not concerned with generating a certain amount of money, or running a business. This person selects and chooses who trains and who does not really train. Student population is not of importance. Training very hard and with accuracy and conviction shows the students and Sensei you’re an asset to the warrior group. Laziness and sloppy training tells them you’re a liability. Someday their very own life could be in your hands. They bear that in mind always. Which tells them who should stay as well as who goes. Probably the most challenging part of dojo etiquette is letting go of the ego. It is hard, in the event you may be a doctor, or a police chief, or a captain in the armed service, to come to a dojo and relinquish control. It is difficult to accept other authority – when in other parts in your life you are the authority. Even though you do not hold a higher place in society or a certain social group, it’s difficult to accept that you’re now under the authority of 1000 years of warrior ship. Your Sensei is a vessel of this authority. Therefore you must accept this. With training, and work, and understanding, and skill, you also may someday be a Sensei. This, of course, never releases you from the on (debt) you owe your instructor; as well as doesn’t ever make you equal. Your students will be in precisely the same boat.