Basic Aikido Dojo Etiquette
Aikido is a martial art that evolved in the context of Japanese culture, and it retains many attitudes and traditions that are not always common sense to American students. The following is a list of some basic rules, loosely termed “etiquette,” intended to explain both particular behaviors and the attitudes they exemplify.
Physical Preparation for Class
In order to create a safe environment for our training, there are a few important physical preparations to take care of before stepping onto the mat.
– Training uniform (gi and/or hakama) should be clean, mended, and neat. Gi and hakama should be neatly folded after class to avoid wrinkling.
– All jewelry should be removed prior to training to prevent possible injury to our partners or ourselves.
– Any cuts, scratches, etc. that may begin to bleed in the course of training should be securely covered before class begins.
– Soles of both feet should be clean, especially in the summer when many of us wear sandals.
– Make sure all your finger and toenails have been cut and/or filed, again to prevent possible injury
Ritual Related to Class and the Training Space
Much of our behavior in the training space (dojo) is informed by an attitude of respect and seriousness toward the training we do here.
– When entering or leaving the dojo, take a moment to put your feet together and do a simple bow at the waist in the direction of the front of the mat (shomen). This will help bring your mind to the moment and focus it on the training done in this space.
– Shoes should be removed in the area near the door to the dojo, and left on the shoe rack.
– Do a simple bow again before stepping on or off the actual training mat.
– If possible, endeavor to be on the mat fully dressed and ready to train five minutes prior to class time. When it’s time for class to begin, be aware of this fact and prepared to line up for bow in.
– Class begins with a formal bow in ceremony (a bow, two claps, another bow), after which the instructor will bow to the line of students and invite them to train (onegaishimas) and the students will bow in return and ask to be taught (again, onegaishimas).
– It is important to be on time for class. If you arrive late and miss bow in, do not get on the mat without invitation from the instructor. Sit quietly at the edge of the mat with your feet tucked under you (in seiza) and wait for the instructor to signal you to join the class. When you are acknowledged, bow to the teacher as you enter the mat, and do a quiet seated bow-in on the edge of the mat.
– After bowing in the class, the instructor will usually lead a series of warm-ups. In addition to preparing our bodies to train, this can be an opportunity to prepare our minds and spirits to accept the teaching about to be offered. It is recommended and encouraged that you arrive a few minutes prior to class to stretch and warm your body up before class begins, as the instructor will not always perform warm-up every class.
– When the instructor is ready to begin demonstrating technique, move quickly and quietly to the nearest open space in line. If possible, sit in seiza. If you have injuries that prevent sitting in this position, sitting cross-legged is acceptable. Never sit with your legs out or the bottoms of your feet facing the shomen, and sit with the best posture you can maintain.
– When a technique is being demonstrated, students should sit quietly and pay attention, absorbing as much detail as possible. There should be no talking while in line unless the instructor asks you a question.
– When the demonstration is finished, bow to a person near you and ask them to train with you (onegai shimasu).
– At the end of class when the instructor asks the students to line up, take a moment to turn your back to the shomen and straighten your gi. Then quickly sit in line to bow out.
– Class ends with a formal bowing out ceremony, identical to the bow in except that instead of onegai shimasu both instructor and students bow to and thank each other for the training (domo arigato gozaimashita).
– After class there is usually a seated circle in front of the shomen. Any announcements relating to the dojo or training can be made at this time. At the end of this circle, it is customary to thank and bow to the instructor and each of our training partners.
Interpersonal Interaction on the Mat
There are some basic rules of etiquette around interacting with the instructor during class. These traditions are in essence ways of recognizing and respecting the years of training experience your teacher is offering. In addition, there are a few basic traditions around training partner interaction.
– If you are asked to attack the instructor (take ukemi) in front of the class, give a focused and serious attack and to the best of your ability allow the energy of your attack to be redirected. Avoid any behavior that may distract the students’ attention from the instructor. Always do a seated bow and thank the instructor before beginning to train.
– In ASU (Aikido Schools of Ueshiba) dojos, it is common practice for the higher ranking partner to do the technique first. If you don’t know your partner’s rank, assume s/he outranks you.
– Respect those more experienced. Never argue about technique. It is never appropriate to give instruction to or criticize a student of higher rank.
– Respect those less experienced. Do not impose your ideas on others.
– If you are injured in a way that affects your movement, it is your responsibility to inform each of your partners of this limitation. Conversely, if your partner informs you of injury, it is then your responsibility to work within your partner’s abilities to prevent further injury.
– There is only one teacher on the mat during a class. Students should refrain from teaching their partners during class time, and talking should be kept to a minimum. If there is confusion that can’t be resolved with physical gestures, sit in seiza and politely wait for the instructor to acknowledge you.
– Generally it is not appropriate to leave the mat during class, except in case of injury or illness. If you must get water or use the restroom, do so quickly and without disturbing the class or instructor (be aware that in many dojo it is not acceptable to leave the mat without permission, this is an exception we make here because of the climate). If you have to leave the mat during class due to injury or illness inform, or ask someone else to inform, the instructor.
– It is not appropriate to get on or off the mat while the instructor is demonstrating. Instead wait until he/she is finished demonstrating, and students are practicing together.
– If you are offered individual feedback during class, it is most respectful to sit in seiza unless your physical participation is requested. Even if the feedback is not being directed to you, you should watch and listen carefully to the instruction being given to your partner.
– When the feedback is over, the correct response is “Thank you, Sensei”, followed by a seated bow. This is not the time to engage in dialogue unless you sincerely don’t understand the feedback.
– The head instructor should be called Sensei. It is not appropriate to refer to Sensei by his first name inside the dojo.
– Students should always endeavor, to the best of their ability, to practice the technique as it was demonstrated. The best way to receive the gift of your instructor’s time and energy is to have an open mind and replicate as closely as possible the movement that was demonstrated.
– Cleaning the dojo (sogi) after class is the responsibility of the students. The more of yourself you invest in your training and in the dojo, the greater the return will be. Bear in mind that senior students often give to the dojo in ways you may not see, such as teaching. If you see someone who outranks you cleaning, offering to finish the task for them as a gesture of respect is an excellent way to cultivate a sense of community in the dojo.
This may seem at first like a lot to remember, but it will be second nature before long. When in doubt about matters of etiquette, you can seldom go wrong if you act with humility and respect.
In his book Principles of Aikido, Saotome Sensei talks about aikido training as budo, which he translates literally as “the way of stopping a spear”. Budo can also be defined as a spirit of loving protection toward all living things, and is widely understood to be the correct goal and deeper meaning of all aikido training.
Saotome Sensei says, “The mission of the students of budo, the modern samurai, is not the indiscriminate use of military strength but the forging of the world into one family. We must walk on the thin edge of disaster with pure hearts and courage, devoted to this single purpose…Once I asked O Sensei ‘What is the most important thing for one’s training in budo?’. His reply was ‘The one essential element is the observance in daily life of courtesy and proper etiquette’. The courtesy and etiquette that O Sensei spoke of are more than mere politeness. It is more than just not making enemies. Reigi (etiquette or decorum), written with alternative kanji, also means “spirit”. Our attitude, and its expression through our actions, shows our real spiritual quality. Those who have difficulty conforming to etiquette will also have difficulty learning the way of the spirit. Unless you have self-respect, proper etiquette will not come easily to you. Courtesy toward others shows your belief in your own spiritual quality. Condescension or rudeness toward others lowers the value of your own character.”