It is important that we follow the traditions of our style and we incorporate these in the way we conduct ourselves in the dojo. By living these traditions we also ensure that when we go to Okinawa or other dojos we conduct ourselves in the right manner!
We bow to show respect for a number of things in Karate. We bow to our partners and to show respect to those who have gone before us. Bowing is pretty straightforward… stand with your heels together, feet pointing slightly outward (like a “V”). Keep knees straight; elbows straight and relaxed; hands open and at the seams of your pants (the outside of your legs); fingers together. Bend at the waist, about 20 degrees forward. Unbend. The whole bow takes about a breath’s length.
To open and finish the training, we sit in a position called seiza. This is not religious, simply a way of opening and closing the training. Movement, like all movements in Karate should be done smoothly. To move into seiza, place left knee on the floor directly below your line, by moving your left foot behind you; then right knee and then sit down on your feet. Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Rest your left hand (hand open, fingers together) on your left thigh and your right hand on your right thigh, so that fingers point inward.
Bowing in seiza
Slide the left hand from the thigh to the floor immediately in front of the left knee (not too far in front, i.e., left elbow shouldn’t touch the floor). Do the same with the right hand, so that the right hand motion is slightly behind (in time) the left hand motion. Palms should touch the floor to show deep respect. Bow at the waist, taking a little longer than for a standing bow (forehead comes close to the floor, but does not touch it). Slide your hands back up to their initial position on the thighs, this time with the left hand slightly behind the right hand.
Entering and exiting the dojo
Bow, standing at the entrance, facing the dojo or towards the front of the dojo, whether you are entering or exiting the dojo. This is important as it shows respect to those in the dojo. In some dojos you will then be invited to enter the dojo by the most senior member in the dojo. Only do this when invited so as not to disturb those training.
Being late happens, you are always welcome to join late rather than miss a chance to train..
If you are late, bow in, then quietly kneel near the entrance. Wait until the instructor acknowledges you. Then bow kneeling, get up, and quickly join the group, it is traditional to join at the most junior section of the class if you arrive late.
When the class is called together, there is generally a ranking order. Depending on the dojo this may vary but it will be explained to beginners as the class lines up. Then the most senior member of the dojo (not the Sensei) will call “Seiza!”: when they do, sit down in seiza, so that knees are aligned with the person on your right. You will then hear “Mokuso!”: quiet meditation – so close your eyes, relax, and breathe. “Mokuso yame!”: means stop. “Shomen ni rei!”: Bow to the front of the room (this signifies bowing to the institution of karate and to the line of instructors who brought it to your instructor). “Sensei ni rei!”: Bow to the instructor. When you’re bowing, you can say “onegaishimasu,” which, roughly translated, means “Please,” i.e., please teach me, please help me, please hold class, etc. .
This is generally the same as the opening sequence, except that after mokuso, there is a recitation of the dojo kun. Repeat after the senior student, loudly (but not so loud that your voice stands out) and in unison. During the final bow to the instructor, you can say “arigatou gozaimashita,” which means “Thank you.” At the end, the instructor will get up. Wait until the person on your left bows and gets up before you do the same.
After this, you will turn to your class and bow to the class to thank them for their effort and respect.
Taking breaks and water during class
If you are struggling with the pace of the class, need a break or are not feeling well, it is of course OK to let the Sensei know and to take some time to recover. However, it is not good etiquette to leave the class for water breaks if not told to do so by the instructor. When you are sitting watching others train this is especially true.
General Etiquette Guidelines During Training
- Most importantly, the moment class starts, your mind should be on karate and on trying to improve your own technique. Concentrate, give spirited kiai, don’t talk unnecessarily, and practice hard! (This is under “etiquette” because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to the instructor, as well as to yourself, both of who have bothered to come.)
- Don’t wear jewelry, watches, etc.
- Don’t chew gum.
- Whenever you’re told to move from one part of the room to another, do it quickly (i.e., run or trot, at least). Also, don’t pass in front of anyone – go behind and around.
- Whenever you’re asked to stand back or sit back and watch, do so in a normal standing or kneeling position, silently, without leaning on walls or distracting others. If you’re ever in a kneeling position and you’re uncomfortable, it’s okay to bow and then switch to sitting cross-legged. It is not good etiquette to sit with your legs straight as someone might fall over them and injure you/them. It is also bad manners to show the soles of your feet to the ‘shomen’.
- Whenever you stand from a sitting position, switch to kneeling, bow, then stand.
- If you ever need to leave a class early, let the instructor know beforehand.
- Every time you get a new partner for any exercise, bow. Every time you’re about to switch partners, bow to your old partner before moving on to the next.
- Don’t make overt displays of how tired you are, no matter how tired you are.
- If you’re ever asked to count, count in whatever language you feel comfortable with, but make the counts short, sharp, and spirited. Make sure to count before doing the exercise.
- New joiners to the class should be made welcome by more experienced dojo members, we were all beginners at one stage.
- Finally, these aren’t strict rules followed by every dojo. Some don’t follow them exactly, in which case, you should start off erring on the side of being overly courteous but avoid doing anything to stand out, since that in itself can be interpreted as rudeness.
Other things you should know
- Don’t say any words when you kiai. “Kiai” itself, being a Japanese word should NOT be a kiai. Common kiai include “Ya!” and “Ei!”
- Don’t be afraid to kiai! If you have a strong kiai, it will often spur others to work harder, as well. The overall tone of a class is set by the level of spirit of the class, which can be raised with better kiai. On the other hand, if your spirit is poor or your kiai weak, you might bring down the class spirit.
- Do not hesitate to ask senior students and instructors for help before or after class. Time permitting, you should try to learn kata outside of class so that during class, the instructor can spend more time making comments about your technique rather than what move comes next.