Training and Etiquette by Gregory Temkin

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What is the right way to purport oneself in an Aikido dojo? Every one joining the Aikido community wants to learn about the etiquette. This information is scarce, while etiquette rules may vary considerably from dojo to dojo, even within Takemusu schools. Certain etiquette stipulations, observed strictly in other schools, may not be emphasized at our dojo, yet it is helpful to be aware of them.

Respect and sincerity constitute the core of requirements universal for all Aikido practitioners.

Etiquette hones the mind and helps putting it in the mode that would be optimal for learning the Art.  Hopefully fellow Aikidokas will find reading this synopsis of the Takemusu (Iwama) Aikido etiquette as useful as I did when researching it.  

 

AIKIDO TAKEMUSU DOJO ETIQUETTE – REIHO

Etiquette is not simply a dead tradition or custom: it is a living method of training in itself. Observe it mindfully.

 

  1. SENSEI – The Teacher

 

Your sensei, your teacher, is someone with whom you have entered into a relationship of mutual trust. You trust your sensei to teach you the art of Aikido to the best of his or her ability. In turn, your sensei is trusting you to practice safely and diligently, to learn wholeheartedly, and to conduct yourself in a manner that reflects favorably on Aikido.

“Sensei” literally means “one who is born before.” This does not refer to age; your sensei may in fact be younger than you. “Born before” means that your sensei entered the path of Aikido training before you, and has already passed where you are going. Your sensei is a guide. You do not owe blind allegiance to him or her, but you do owe respect, patience and commitment.  Your sensei is someone who with his or her own body, possibly at the risk of life and limb, has learned this art and committed to sharing it with others. You sensei is your connection to the lineage of teachers stretching back to O-Sensei and beyond.  Treasure that connection as the valuable thing it is.

When your sensei talks, listen intently. Watch intently. Not everything in Aikido training will be explained verbally to you; it is an unskilled teacher who feels the need to explain every detail of the instruction with words alone. Be patient, and train diligently. As your training progresses, you will gain the satisfaction of discovering for yourself aspects of our art. Once gained, that knowledge is yours. This is the transmission of knowledge isshin den shin, from mind to mind.

Instructors at the dojo and students with the rank of 4th dan and above must be addressed as Sensei. Other students senior to you are traditionally addressed as Sempei (Senior) – this is optional.

 

  1. AIKIDOKA – Students of the Way

 

Treat your sempai (senior students) with respect, and support their efforts to help your sensei. Learn from them, for they also have been where you are headed. Each of them has learned from your sensei according to individual capability, and each may have unique knowledge or variations that others have missed.

Treat your kohai (Junior students) with encouragement and support. They are under your care. They depend on you to learn, and they look up to you, often blindly. Be careful to be worthy of the respect they give you, and do everything in your power to help them in their training. Above all, do not be overbearing, and be wary of their praise: remember your place, and cultivate humility.

 

  1. THE DOJO – A Place of Training

 

The word “dojo” can be translated as “place of the Way” or “place of enlightenment. It is obvious from this that something more than a mere gymnasium or training hall is denoted by the word “dojo”.

A favorite saying of O-Sensei’s was “Masakatsu agatsu” – true victory is self-victory. The dojo is the special place where we train for this victory over self.

 

  1. REIHOBasic Takemusu Aikido Etiquette and rules.

 

  • TALKING during training does not substitute for practice. Unnecessary conversation distracts to the class no matter the intent.
  • RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO INSTRUCT OTHERS. If either yourself or your partner require assistance call the instructor , even if you have to wait a bit, this will ensure the continuity of instruction.
  • LISTEN CAREFULLY TO INSTRUCTION and earnestly practice the forms shown. An instructor not only teaches by verbal and physical demonstration but also through on-going class interaction and feedback. This is heightened by the earnest efforts of all students. 
  • OBSERVE SENIOR STUDENT BEHAVIOR as a functional guide to dojo etiquette.
  • Always stop training and LISTEN WITH UNDIVIDED ATTENTION to the instructor when personally addressed. The instructor will know that he or she has your full attention when you respond appropriately with “Hai“(yes) or “Arigato“(thank you) to the instruction given. 

 

  1. BOWING:

 

  • BOWING WHEN ENTERING OR DEPARTING the dojo is a measure of the value you place on this training.
  • BOWING “ON” AND “OFF” the mat or training area, in a respectful manner, is usual in aikido. 
  • The bow may be standing, kneeling or more traditionally, kneeling with a ritual clapping of hands. These bows are performed facing towards the shomen (designated area or “front” of the mat).
  • A training session in aikido also COMMENCES AND FINISHES WITH A BOW TOWARDS THE SHOMEN or a likeness of the Founder with ritual hand clapping , called a “Shinto bow” – two bows whilst kneeling with the hands palmed together and followed by two sharp claps and a further bow. These rituals are not for religious reasons but as a show of respect and tradition. An exchange of “onegaeshimus” at the beginning and “domo arigato gozaimashita” at the end of a training session takes place when the instructor turns to acknowledge the students. (ONEGAESHIMUS in this instance is Japanese for “please teach” and “please practice” when uttered by the students and instructor respectively. DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASHITA is thank you for “teaching” and “practicing” when uttered by the students and instructor respectively. When students say it, they precede it with the word “sensei”, e.g. “sensei domo arigato gozaimashita”). 
  • Don’t sit with your back close to and facing the shomen. Side-on is fine.
  • Enter and leave the matt DURING A TRAINING SESSION with the customary bows and permission of the instructor. Students late to class should “warm-up” with exercises before commencing training.

 

  1. TRAINING:
  • COMMANDS “ONE LINE” or “SUGI WA” (next) call may be used by the instructor for students to form a line along the edge of the mat, facing the Shomen, in readiness for instruction. A prompt response to these commands improves the efficiency of the class. For similar reasons a student should quickly move to the instructor when called up to be an Uke (attacker) during this instruction. 
  • A student without the guidance or permission of the instructor SHOULD NOT CONTEMPLATE ATTENDING OTHER SCHOOLS FOR “EXTRA TRAINING”. Self-regulation of your training in this way is a psychological dismissal of your instructor and time to go elsewhere.
  • FIGHTING, TRAINING DANGEROUSLY, DISRESPECT TOWARDS THE INSTRUCTOR AND OTHER STUDENTS, OR DISREGARD FOR TEACHING DIRECTIVES AND SAFETY cannot be tolerated. Offending persons who do not change their attitude when requested shall have no place at the dojo.
  • BE A SINCERE UKE. In Japanese there is an expression: shinken shobu. It literally means a fight with live steel swords. It implies a true, serious situation. Your attitude in training must be “shinken shobu”. When your partner attacks you with a wooden knife in practice, you must believe it is a real knife. When you attack your partner in practice, attack truly. In this manner, you both will receive real benefit from the training.
  1. SAFETY AND AWARENESS
    • When you train, remember always the potential for injury that lies within your movements.

    • Be conscious of your openings and gaps in your awareness, and those of your partner.

    • Walk and move with purpose, ready at any time to respond to whatever arises in your daily life and on the mats.

    • Understand deeply that in this life we may die at any moment, and train with this awareness.

    • When throwing be sure your partner doesn’t clash with someone 

    • Train slowly with focus and never beyond the level of your partner 

    • When undertaking jo (staff) or bokken (wooden sword) group training, wait away from the activity line. Keep an adequate distance between yourself and your partner in more rapid weapons partner exercises and always be aware of others who are training nearby. 

    • Treat others as you wish to be treated. Practice always with sensitivity toward your partner’s capabilities and limitations, as well as your own.

 

  1. DUES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

 

  • DUES: It is wrong to think of the dojo as some sort of health club where you pay for your instruction and expect to get as much as you can. You do not pay for your instruction at a dojo: the teachings you will receive, which your sensei has learned with great effort and exertion over many years, are beyond any price. Your dojo fees simply insure that the facility itself can continue to exist viably. Pay your dues on time, without being asked. Do not put your instructor in the uncomfortable position of having to ask you for money. You do not hesitate to pay a doctor or other professional who provides services to you; treat your sensei with the same consideration. Late or negligent payment is a sign of disrespect not only to your teacher, but to the dojo and your fellow students.

  • PREPARING THE DOJO prior to class is also a measure of self-preparation for the coming session. Sweeping the hall and mat and taking other measures to prevent dust and grit getting onto the training surface is mandatory. 

  • PROPER ATTIRE is required for training, however, this may be relaxed where newcomers are involved. A judo or karate gi and a white belt is the usual attire worn at kyu level. The hakama (Traditional Japanese pant) and black belt are worn by Dan ranks. 

  • SMOKING, BEING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS OR ALCOHOL isn’t permitted at the dojo for safety and hygiene reasons. Concerns regarding blood should be taken seriously, and measures adopted to minimise any danger to H.I.V. and Hepatitis strains. An immediate response, careful clean up and disposal of any blood spilt is essential.
  • GOOD PERSONNAL HYGENE in all activities shows appropriate care towards oneself and others. Nails on your fingers and toes must be clipped.

  • JEWELRY may cause injury to yourself or others if worn during training and should be removed and secured before going onto the mat.

  • The dojo is solely for the study of aikido. It is NOT AN OPPORTUNITY for selling, networking, socializing, developing cliques, politicking or for unloading one’s personnel problems

 

  1. INSIDE THE DOJO

 

A typical dojo will have several features you should be aware of. In particular, certain areas of the dojo have meanings that you should know. The following diagram and definitions will be helpful:

1. Kamiza: Literally “god-seat”, the kamiza is the “front” of the dojo, and the direction towards which you will sit and bow at the beginning and end of class. The kamiza in an Aikido dojo will usually have a hanging calligraphic scroll and a photograph of Ueshiba O-Sensei. It may also have a small shrine or kamidana (“god-shelf”) in the Shinto tradition, floral arrangements, or other objects depending on the orientation of the dojo. The kamiza may also be called the “shomen” – the head or center.

2. Shimoza: The shimoza is the “low” wall, opposite the kamiza.

3. Joseki: The joseki is the “high” seat, the right hand side of the dojo as you face the kamiza. When students are lined up formally, they will sit in order of rank or seniority, with higher-ranked students on the Joseki side.

4. Shimoseki: The “low” seat, the shimoseki is the left hand side of the dojo as you face the kamiza. Lower ranked students and beginners will be seated on this side.

5. Tatami: Tatami technically are woven straw mats, the traditional floor covering in Japanese dojo as well as homes. Modem dojo usually use some sort of foam mats, which are easier to maintain and last longer.

 

Compiled and adapted by Gregory Temkin from:

 

Web site of Aikido Takemusu Teachers and Dojos in Melbourne, Australia;

 

AAA Student Manual; “Aikido Dojo Etiquette (Reiho) 10 Points” by Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan, 8th dan

 

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