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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Training and Etiquette
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  • Ric

    I think that is a good blog but some key elements are left out that are very importmant, In the part of uniforms , if one has one it should be clean , meaning if it is white it should be kept washed , white, and in good condition, personal hygiene should also be practiced , it shows respect for oneself , and the othere in the dojo, we all sweat keeping a wash clothe handing is ideal. i have read this in many dojo rules and regulation.

  • Ric

    p.s. sorry for any misspelled words.

  • Kim

    I think we could all benefit from carefully examining each passage and coming to an understanding about what it means to us individually.

    We have a more relaxed training atmosphere than some other dojos—or at least that is how it appears. However, that in itself is a teaching, as the manual points out. What is there to learn from that? Sometimes structure and etiquette are imposed from the outside and produce inner transformation of character over time, and other times the structure is more subtle and relaxed and takes root inside a person and manifests gradually through outward behavior. I think we have the latter at our school. So, when I look at some of these rules, and reflect on my path over the years, it is interesting to see how that process has unfolded.

    Even more interesting is to see it happen in the kids’ class. There are some who say we should be more regimented. But then you look at kids who have been training for a few years and you see how gradually, over time, they have internalized principles of behavior and character, and it flows from the inside out, rather than having it imposed from the beginning externally. Both ways are okay, in my opinion.

    I enjoyed reading this, and will reflect on it more over time. Thank you for compiling it.

  • admin

    For those of you who remember Sugano Sensei, I remember in his classes you just bowed in and bowed out. You might catch one or two people you trained with after class and personally bow to them afterwards. From time to time I would catch him on the side of the mats chatting away with David Reinfeld. (David learned better by talking than by doing). He smiled and let me onto the mats for class with only 5 minutes before the class was over. But someone else tried that trick 5 minutes before and he would not let them on. They didn’t really want to practice, they just wanted to warm up so they could get a good workout for the next class.

    For those who spent some time in Shiohira Sensei’s dojo, our etiquette probably leans more that way. Also, while I never trained in Iwama, I did take a number of seminars with Morihiro Saito Sensei and our etiquette is broadly consistent with his seminars.

    For those who remember AAA, I would have to say Toyoda Sensei’s etiquette did not resemble anything I have ever seen in an Aikido class before. I have seen it in martial arts classes though, and I think he probably imported it.

    When I visited Hoa Sensei’s dojo, I also noticed a significant difference. Everyone lines up in rank order before and after class. Not only do they all get together and bow in a circle at the end, but each person bows to each other person in rank order sort of like a matrix. Then after class every single person formed a team to clean the dojo from top to bottom. Not only did they dust the papers sitting on the table, but they dusted between every sheet. Despite the fact that his etiquette was so different from what I had seen before, even from his seniors, it never occured to me that his approach was wrong. It was just different, and probably very good for the people in his dojo. Etiquette as a form is used to teach Aikido. Many forms are good. I think Gregory got it right when he said the real goal is respect for the practice and sincerity. That will help you learn. It is also why Sugano Sensei would not let that person on the mats with 10 minutes left in class but he let me on with 5.

  • Gregory

    I am glad that this blog caught some attention. And yes, of course it is incomplete. For instance, I failed to find any written etiquette on weapons: when to hold the jo in the right hand, when in the left hand; should the weapon be placed in front of you or on the side when in seiza; how to hold it when bowing or placing on the rack… I have seen various ways at seminars.

  • admin

    I forgot to post the dojo rules from our waiver:

    Dojo Rules (From The Spirit of Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba – the first Doshu):

    The first Doshu’s update
    1) Proper Aikido can never be mastered unless one strictly follows the instructor’s teaching.1
    2) Aikido as a martial art is perfected by being alert to everything going on around us and leaving no vulnerable openings.
    3) Practice becomes joyful and pleasant once one has trained enough not to be bothered by pain.
    4) Do not be satisfied by what has been taught at the dojo. One must constantly digest, experiment, and develop what one has learned.
    5) One should never force things unnaturally or unreasonably during practice. S/he should undertake training suited to his/her body, physical condition and age.
    6) The aim of Aikido is to develop the truly human self. It should not be used to display ego.

    O’Sensei’s original version
    1) Aikido decides life and death in a single strike, so students must carefully follow the instructor’s teaching and not compete to see who is the strongest.1
    2) Aikido is the way that teaches how one can deal with several enemies. Students must train themselves to be alert not just to the front but to all sides and the back.
    3) Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
    4) The instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Its versatile applications must be discovered by each student through incessant practice and training.
    5) In daily practice first begin by moving your body and then progress to more intensive practice. Never force anything unnaturally or unreasonably. If this rule is followed, then even elderly people will not hurt themselves and they can train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
    6) The purpose of Aikido is to train mind and body and to proe sincere, earnest people. Since all techniques are to be transmitted person-to-person, do not randomly reveal them to others, for this might lead their being used by hoodlums.

    Relationship between teacher and student as explained by Sugano Sensei
    (I attended a seminar where Sugano Sensei discussed this issue and I paraphrased his instruction then as well as some other times below)

    When O’Sensei taught classes, he would stand in front of the Kamiza, receive the techniques from his God and proceed to perform them. The key element is that he did not teach what he wanted, but instead the techniques came from his God. We do not need to worship his God. However, rather than teach what we would like, we should respond naturally to the people in class. At that point, when performing the chosen technique the student then has the choice whether to accept the instruction or not. O’Sensei never forced or imposed his ideas upon anyone. He never “trained” the students. He simply performed the techniques as given by his God and allowed each student to decide for themselves whether to accept the teaching or not.

    My personal note – students should feel free to accept the “good” and leave the “bad” in any specific instruction. “Good” and “bad” are not defined as what the student likes or dislikes. In fact, that is a very dangerous approach. Instead, “good” and “bad” are defined in terms of being in accord or discord with the underlying principle of the art. To determine whether an instruction is in accord or not with this principle, the rules above are a good start in such an evaluation process. To further develop one’s understanding of the principle, one should train with and ask questions of someone who has genuinely mastered the art.

    • Gregory

      ON “GOOD” AND “BAD” TECHNIQUES, OR TOOLS IN THE TOOLBOX.

      Indeed, sometimes an Aikidoka may have a feeling that a technique is “not so good for me”. Like most of us, I too came across techniques that seemed either not effective enough or not in accord with my physique. These should not be a reason for dismissing a technique without an earnest attempt to learn it. Only after having practiced it well and patiently, the instinctive self in you can decide whether it is a good choice for you, given the condition of your body, mind and situation, or it would not be your first choice. In fact, choosing a technique willfully when attacked equals failing it and loosing the fight and perhaps your life. One of the goals of training is to have techniques surface by themselves as a reaction to instantly changing fluid circumstances of combat.
      Through training, we are filling our Aikido toolbox with tools, and we should give an earnest effort to keeping these tools honed, oiled and operational. Which one to use in a particular situation, will be decided by our subconscious in a split second at the right instance.

  • admin

    You talk about being patient when studying a technique to be sure your do not just dislike a technique because it makes you feel uncomfortable. You must be very clear that the instinctive self is not simply another version of the thing that does not want to be uncomfortable. You need to know that entity very well.