As in many types of formal practice in Japan, Aikido training includes rules of etiquette which all students must follow. Aikido is of Japanese origin so many of these concepts can be confusing and misunderstood. In the West, we sometimes may feel a sense of separation, especially from nature. This subject/object type of relationship that we have with nature appears in our lack of respect for our planet, our fellow man, our oceans and forests, and the life giving forces in general. At the Shoubu Dojo we learn that we are the essence and movement of the Universe contained in one form. These ideals are reflected in our reishiki (dojo etiquette). As in any formal practice, Aikido includes rules of politeness and etiquette which is vital when you study an art that mitigates the forces of life and death. Reishiki is a way to show mutual respect and gratitude, while staying alert to possible attack at any moment. It is a matrix that not only held the ancient Japanese civilization together even though death was a possibility at any moment, but it allowed the samurai warrior a glimpse of hope and peace in a time of war. Through Aikido inspired with reishiki we absorb the life enhancing attitudes that will enable us to co-create a more beautiful world and navigate the fine line that separates life and death. The following is a list of reishiki which will allow all aikidoka to feel more comfortable in their Aikido dojo:
Whenever possible, it’s appropriate to be on the mat ready to train at least 10 minutes prior to class time.
It is each aikidoka’s responsibility to pay fees in a timely manner. If there is some difficulty, feel free to speak with Sensei. Mat fees do not buy training. In the traditional way of thinking you are learning and practicing the invaluable! Mat fees help to cover dojo expenses and provide an opportunity to enhance one’s own personal development.
Each student should treat the dojo with the respect and reverence it deserves. This means if you see trash outside the dojo, you pick it up for disposal. If you see dust in the corner, you wipe it up. If you see the outside slippers are misaligned, you straiten them. If there something amiss, you fix it.
Cleaning the dojo can be an active prayer of gratitude. It is every aikidoka’s responsibility to assist in cleaning their dojo and in doing so, cleanse and purify his or her own body and spirit. It should be done silently. The mat should be swept and cleaned daily after training and before if needed.
When changing into your dogi (practice uniform), make sure that your undergarments are not too flashy of color and do not show past the lengths of your dogi sleeves or pants. Any heavy makeup should be removed. All students should remove any jewelry before training to prevent possible injury to self, others or the tatami mats.
The top of the dogi should be folded with the right-hand side on the inside and the left-hand side covering the right-hand side. This Japanese custom is reversed only when a person is being prepared for burial. The obi (belt) should be tied at the hara (couple inches below your belly button) with the ends being of equal length. This final action should be an action of further awareness and focus on training.
As you enter the mat area you should first bow towards the Shomen, the front wall with the Kamidana, the Shinto shelf, and then offer a greeting to Sensei of “Hello Sensei” or “Good evening, Sensei” etc. in a clear tone. Be careful to avoid inappropriate slang in your speech like “Hey Sensei” or “What’s up Sensei?”. Sensei spent an incredibly long time in rigorous training in Japan and to speak to him on that level is disrespectful. He is not your friend; he is your teacher. It is a formal relationship style that has been cultivated for hundreds of years. In a Zen temple a monk has a daily interview with the headmaster. At that time, he strikes a bell to announce his presence. The headmaster, hearing the tone of the bell, is said to immediately know the state of mental/physical integration of the monk. In the same spirit, the Aikido deshi (student/disciple) announces his presence when first entering the Dojo. With this, the simultaneously existing relationships of fellow aikidoka and teacher/student are reaffirmed in a traditional manner.
Before class has formally started and after you have signed your attendance sheet etc., you may want to enter the mat. Do hakushu (bowing ritual) first. Hakushu should be viewed as the student’s intent on learning Aikido and showing respect and gratitude for this particular path and the changes and growth it allows each individual. If a student happens to be late and is ready to enter the mat space when class hakushu has already begun, it is best to wait until after the class hakushu has been finished and warm-up exercises (aiki taiso) have begun. Also, if the student is late, he should have the awareness to not enter the dojo when either this ritual is being performed, or if Sensei is instructing in front of the class. If you are late it is best to wait outside as to not disturb the class until either the Sensei is done speaking, or the hakushu is finished. The student can then enter the Dojo, do hakushu by himself on the edge of the mat, and join the class. If the aiki taiso is finished when you arrive, be sure to do at least the hakushu and torifune undo exercises before you start practicing. These exercises, also known as chinkon, and they help settle the spirit. O’sensei said that only after calming the spirit and returning to the source should the practice of aikido commence.
Once having entered the mat area, many students like to stretch and warm up, practice basic techniques or meditate. This is an excellent idea for preparing the mind and body for a training session. Idleness and talking should be kept to a minimum. Sitting quietly can be done in seiza or by sitting cross-legged. When practicing, if the space is available, it is important to keep an area in front of the Shomen clear, exhibiting the Japanese awareness and showing respect for the Spirit of the Dojo.
During training, there may be times when your dogi becomes disheveled or your belt becomes undone. It is impolite to to fix your dogi while facing the Shomen. If you need to make adjustments, you should turn away from the Shomen to fix your dogi.
When working with a partner, always begin with a seated bow and the Japanese phrase “onegai shimasu”. This acknowledges each person’s responsibility for positive and safe training. When finished with your training partner, always perform a seated bow and say thank you “arigatou gozaimashita”.
Traditionally, once training has begun, students were not allowed to leave the mat. However, classes at our Dojo are not that strict, but it is a good idea to remember why you are there studying. Taking the occasional trip to restroom is necessity. Excusing yourself to only get a sip of water is a lack of discipline.
Training wear should be clean and everyone should practice personal hygiene out of respect for everyone else. This includes cutting your nails for a safer training environment, having good hygiene, keeping your odor fairly neutral and especially keeping your hands and feet clean. Never come to class with dirty feet. When using the rest room, because the dojo is a shoe free environment, it is important to use the bathroom shoes and not step using your bare feet in the bathroom.
During class, it is best to sit in seiza. If you have an injury or are not sufficiently limber to sit in seiza without a lot of pain, then sitting cross-legged is acceptable. It is best not to sit with your legs sticking out, or with your feet carelessly facing the Shomen.
As the student’s training advances, he or she may have been taught to use a bokuto (wooden sword) or jo (staff) by sensei. If that is the case, you may want to use one before class to warm up and practice basic movements. It is inappropriate to use someone’s training equipment without permission.
When training, Sensei may come around to correct you or show you a better way of moving with a technique. Quietly pay close attention and when he is finished, be sure to say “Arigatou Gozaimashita” while performing a bow, usually seated.
When Sensei is speaking either to you, your partner, or to the class as a whole, do not interrupt, keep quiet, and keep your comments to yourself. Interrupting Sensei with comments as careless as “I know”, “but I was trying to…” or “yeah…” only shows your lack of skill, discipline and manners. Keeping true to etiquette would be replying with acceptable answers like “Yes sir”, “Thank you”, or “wakarimashita” (I understand). Everyone wants to make the most of the little time they have in class so keep your comments to yourself. If you find that Sensei doesn’t correct your technique very much, your poor etiquette may be to blame. When you are accepted as a student at Shoubu Dojo, you are welcomed into an ancient Japanese ritual and relationship. Your faith and respect for your own study in the martial arts should give you the honor to remember this, and pay your mat fee on time. Don’t be confused about what this money is. It is to support your school. Your dues are not paying for your instruction. This is not the Western business concept of supply and demand. Your dues are paid by your teacher’s belief in you, as well as by the respect you show for your seniors, your fellow students, your training area, and your diligent study at the Shoubu Dojo.
Do not show Shoubu Dojo technique to anyone. What we do is sacred. You do not train long and hard at Shoubu Dojo techniques just to give them to someone else who has not earned the right to see them. It is a lack of self control and a lack of respect for your teacher, your dojo, and also yourself to do so.