Dojo Etiquette

The word dojo literally means “Place of the Way”. The dojo is a place of learning. It is a place to respect, to keep clean and to care for. The dojo is a place to be made special for practising a special art. In an Aiki-dojo, the observation of basic forms of etiquette is integral to the creation of a respectful and attentive atmosphere conducive to
learning.

The following are a few simple rules that enable us to train together in the spirit of Aikido.

Dress and cleanliness:

  • The dojo should be kept spotless. If you see something that indicates otherwise, for example, rubbish or dirt on the floor, don’t wait for someone else to correct it. This is part of your training.
  • Mats should be wiped clean at the end of every lesson. This is the responsibility of every student and is a fundamental aspect of forging a strong, respectable character.
  • Always see that toilets, showers, and dressing areas are kept clean.
  • Treat your training tools with respect. Your dogi should always be cleaned and mended. Your bokken, jo and tanto should be in good condition and in their appropriate place when not in use.
  • Your body, and in particular your feet, must be very clean before you step onto the mat. Therefore, when going to the toilet, you should wear a pair of shoes.
  • Keep fingernails and toenails trimmed.
  • T-shirts and singlets are too flimsy and casual for formal Aikido training. Beginning students may wear stronger, long-sleeved tops with comfortable exercise pants.
  • Students are encouraged to purchase dogi (Aikido uniforms). Only female students are allowed to wear a white t-shirt or singlet under their dogi.
  • Rings, watches and jewellery of any kind can cause injury to their wearers and others. They must be removed before practice.
  • Do not wear heavily scented perfume or cologne in the dojo, although a deodorant might be appreciated by your fellow students.

Bowing:

  • Bowing is an appropriate way of showing gratitude and humility, while at the same time placing one’s mind in a state of non-dissension, which is necessary for the right training.
  • Bow when entering or leaving the dojo. The dojo is a sacred place – imagine the door to be a portal into a dimension of respect and learning.
  • Bow when stepping on and off the training mat.
  • At the beginning of each training session, the class lines up and bows to kamiza (Higher seat) and then to the instructor, saying onegai shimasu, which translates as “please teach me”. The instructor also says this to the students, but here the meaning is “Please learn with me.”
  • When pausing for a drink break, we bow out quickly and say “Arigato gozaimasu.” This means “I am grateful.” At the end of each training session, bow again to kamiza then to the instructor, saying “Arigato gozaimashita” – “I was grateful.”
  • When an instructor teaches you or your partner personally, remain quiet until the instructor has finished, and then bow. Even if you are a black belt and have heard the advice a thousand times, to bow shows that you still have an open mind to learning and are ready for more!
  • After the instructor demonstrates a technique, bow to him/her, choose a partner quickly, bow and begin to practise.
  • When the instructor claps or signals the end of practice, stop immediately, bow to your partner(s) and line up in seiza (formal kneeling position) for further instruction.
  • At the end of class, go around and thank all the people with whom you trained. Walk on your knees and do a seated bow, saying “Arigato gozaimashita.”

 

During class:

  • The dojo is a place of camaraderie and respect for others. Upon entering the dojo, make sure that you greet Sensei and the class. It creates a welcoming atmosphere if you also greet people when they come in.
  • If you are late for class, wait at the rear side of the mat until the instructor signals that you may join the class. Then bow, apologise for being late and enter the mat. Aikido is a Japanese art and coming late is taken very seriously. You might like to tell the Sensei during the break why you were late, if you have a strong reason. Then, do your best to avoid that situation again.
  • All participants should be sitting in seiza with quiet attentiveness when the instructor steps onto the mat to begin class. Stay in seiza throughout the formal bowing-in and bowing-out ceremonies.
  • The dojo is a place to train in an atmosphere of calm and serenity. Aikido training requires total concentration. Adult students expect and enjoy the “get away from it all” feeling during practice. As children and pets are disruptive during adult classes, it would be appropriate if alternative arrangements could be made for the care of children and pets.
  • The formal sitting position on the mat is seiza. Sitting with legs outstretched, leaning against posts or walls, or lying down during class is unsafe and shows lack of alertness
  • If sitting is seiza becomes too uncomfortable or painful, it is permissible to change to a cross-legged position, but you must bow towards the instructor before doing so. Do this even if the teacher is not teaching you. If instruction of the class is in progress, do your best to stay in seiza or change positions quietly. You should never overdo things, as it is always better to avoid injury to yourself and remain able to practise.
  • Do not leave the mat during class without first obtaining the permission of the instructor.
  • Never interrupt the class to question unnecessarily. Learn as much as possible through intent observation and concentrated practice. If you ask a question, wait for an appropriate moment.
  • Do not call out or interrupt the instructor while he or she is teaching.
  • There should never be conversation of any kind while the instructor is demonstrating. When training with your partner, speak only when it is necessary. Times for socialisation are before and after class.
  • For reasons of safety, respect and courtesy, it is essential that the instructions of the teacher be followed exactly. Many techniques are dangerous if not practised properly.
  • Never argue about a technique. If there is a problem that cannot be resolved, ask the instructor for help.
  • It is inappropriate for a student (including a black belt) to offer instruction during class unless he or she has been specifically requested to assist by the instructor.
  • Never be idle during practice. You should be training or, if necessary, seated formally awaiting your turn.

Your attitude:

  • Always enter the dojo with a mind ready to learn and with positive Ki. If you think you know already, it is difficult for you to learn.
  • Never come to train when you have ingested any type of drug or alcohol.
  • It is part of your training to use positive language in the dojo and in daily life. Swearing and rough behaviour is quite inappropriate for the aiki-dojo. During training, use your best manners and you will find that your control will come out in smoother techniques and stronger Ki flow. You will always have willing partners, too.
  • Any negative feeling you might be harbouring must be left outside the dojo. There is no place for them inside.
  • Always arrive at the dojo with plenty of time to set up the dojo, change into your dogi, and enter the mat area at least ten to fifteen minutes beforehand.

The Sensei:

  • The instructor is referred to as Sensei during class and it is best to refer to them this way outside of class, as well. In Japan, anyone referred to as ‘Sensei’ is treated with respect at all times by their students – especially in the martial arts.
  • Treat instructors with respect at all times. If you are enjoying your practice, then your instructor might be teaching you for many years!  Teachers tend to teach best when they feel recognised and appreciated. Students learn best under the same conditions.
  • Never compare an instructor with another. Every Sensei has something unique to offer – your job is to discover it.
  • A Sensei should never have to fold his or her own hakama after class. As long as you know how to fold one correctly, it shows a fine attitude to promptly ask Sensei if you may fold their hakama, a sign that you are serious about your development and ready to learn as much as they can impart to you.