Out in the world, there isn’t much we can do to combat rudeness, the little moments of disrespect that we often encounter. Others seem to have a skewed idea of exactly what it means to be respectful, nevermind disciplined or compassionate! Maybe that’s why the moments in the dojo are so precious to dedicated martial arts practitioners.
Modern life encourages an individual to act without thinking, to treat others carelessly, to feed the ego. By contrast, etiquette, discipline, and a respect for others is at the heart of Aikido.
Philosophy Behind Dojo Etiquette in Aikido
In the practice of Aikido, we create a space where we can enrich our bodies and cleanse our minds of negativity. When you step inside a dojo, you should notice a feeling of discipline and peace. This is purposeful. We develop and nurture an environment where respect is paramount. All of this relates to the art of connection that is established in an Aikido dojo.
Etiquette is not simply a matter of tradition, nor is it a matter of “being polite.” It is at the heart of teaching and learning. Thus, the following norms of behavior can be found in any Aikido dojo around the nation:
General Dojo Rules
- Make sure you are clean and well-groomed. Your feet should be clean when you step onto the mat, and your nails should be trimmed to avoid scratching your opponents.
- Remove all jewelry before you begin your practice. Do not wear sandals or street shoes on the mat. Remember: the way you look and present yourself shows respect for yourself, as well as your peers and your Sensei.
- Do not eat or drink in the dojo. Alcohol, cigarettes, and chewing gum are not allowed. You should not bring anything into the dojo that can hinder performance.
- Do not leave your gi at the dojo. Take it home with you to wash or air out. Do not leave personal items behind. Make sure you leave the dojo as clean as it was when you entered it.
- Move and talk quietly in the dojo so you do not disturb a learning session or group practice.
- Treat training equipment with respect. Keep training weapons in good condition and in their proper place. This rule is for personal safety as well as a well-maintained dojo.
Notes on Dojo Etiquette at Shin-Gane Aikido
Training begins when you step into the dojo; respect should begin there, too. Dojo etiquette shows respect for others. Therefore, we instruct our practitioners to bow when they enter the dojo and leave the cluttered thoughts of the outside world behind. We also practice the following habits to demonstrate our respect and our gratitude …
(1) Addressing your instructor and your fellow practitioners:
Address your instructor as “Sensei,” Japanese for teacher, unless otherwise instructed. All students, regardless of rank, train with each other. This is by design so that beginner students can learn from advanced students. Advanced students should be supportive and encouraging. Sensei Mike recommends that senior students pay attention to their juniors as well, because through observation, senior students will be reminded of the basics of Aikido.
(2) The opening and closing ceremony:
The opening and closing ceremony of each class includes a moment of meditation and a formal bow. This symbolizes respect for Aikido principles and allows practitioners to begin with a right mind and spirit.
Why do we bow? Bows symbolize mutual gratitude and humility. While Aikido is not a religion, it could be considered a refinement of the spirit. Gestures of respect are meant to infuse dignity into the teacher-student relationship and demonstrate awareness of the importance of the practice. Thus, when we bow in aikido practice, it is a gesture of respect rather than of worship. We are acknowledging the same spirit of creative intelligence within us all.
(3) During training:
It is important to be on time. However, if you cannot be there at the beginning, be seated quietly in folded leg position (seiza) and wait for your sensei to give you instructions. If your uniform becomes disarranged during training, you should bow to your partner, and then face away from the Shomen to arrange it. When you are ready, bow to your partner again and resume training.
Unless you are injured or ill, you should remain in the mat area while a class is in session. While the instructor is demonstrating or explaining a lesson, sit quietly and attentively in seiza. Keep your conversations on the mat to a minimum during training; remember that Aikido training is meant to be a meditative experience.
(4) While in the Dojo:
If you are not training, do not simply stand idle; sit in seiza by the wall. Because we seek to maintain a calm, productive environment, you should never shout at the instructor from across the dojo. If you need help, raise your hand or go to the instructor and bow before asking a question. Do not interrupt another student’s instruction; wait until your teacher is ready to address you.
(5) Represent Shin-Gane:
When guests visit the dojo, greet them with courtesy and respect. It should be every student’s responsibility to educate one another regarding the etiquette and policies of Shin-Gane.
A final word …
Mutual respect means a lot of things: You respect yourself enough to conduct yourself responsibly – with self-awareness and self-control – you respect your practice enough to listen with your mind and heart to Sensei, and you respect your partners who make you better at your practice. To experience the feeling of meditative control that Aikido offers, we invite you to visit our dojo or talk to some of our dedicated students.