Dojo Etiquette

Sometime we (Black Belts) take things for granted that we understand but haven’t always shared with the class.  There is a culture of martial arts that becomes a fairly standard dojo etiquette among schools. These are important to know for training at AKJ, but also if you’re visiting other schools.  Here are few:

OSU! The spirit of perseverance

You will hear us say OSU often during class.  What does it mean? Hailing from the realm of Japanese full-contact Kyokushin Karate, says that the term “OSU!” stems from a longer phrase known as “Oshi shinobu”. OSU is a combination of two different kanji (Sino-Japanese characters), namely the verb ‘osu’ which means “to push”, and ‘shinobu’ which means “to endure/suffer” or “to hide”.  Put together, these two kanji form a new compound word, which can symbolize much: “combat spirit”, “the importance of effort” “the necessity to overcome all obstacles by pushing them aside”, “advancing with a steady positive attitude”, “not showing suffering” and “the spirit of perseverance” are some of the commonly cited meanings of this “Osu!” It is pronounced “OSS!”, with a long “O”, and not “Oosh” or “Oos” as is commonly heard outside of Japan.  It is also a greeting and can be used to replace words such as “yes”, “alright”, “good”, “I’ll do it” and “excuse me”. It is also used to mean “hello”, “goodbye”, “have patience with me”, “I’m trying”, “well done!” and just about anything else. When martial training requires extreme amounts of physical conditioning – you are verbally reminding yourself and others to breach your comfort zone by putting your physical/mental limits to the test every time you say “Osu!”

The Bow Respect

You’ll generally perform a bow coming on and off the mat.  Often you’ll see a bow as people walk in and out of the dojo (we do not generally practice this one). Either way, this is respect for our martial art and our dojo.  You’ll always bow to a training partner before and after working out; this is honor and respect for each other.  There are generally 2 (or more) bows at the beginning and ending of class (though we usually do one).  There will be one to the instructor(s) and one to Shomen (the front) as a respect to those who came before us.  You’ll hear the word ‘rei’ for bow or ‘O rei’ for big bow if you’re addressing a grandmaster or the shomen. Quite often you’ll see lower bows for higher ranking marital artists out of respect.  Here is a bit more about bowing if you’re interested:

Uke/ToriBe a good training partner

Uke is the person ‘receiving’ the technique.  Tori is the person ‘giving’ the technique. These are crucially important roles in marital art training. This goes along with what you hear often about being a good training partner.  If you have bad training partners, those who won’t let your practice a technique, then it’s more difficult to further your skill.  Being a good uke and having a good training partners are some of the keys to great martial art training.  Also be helpful and courteous to your partners.  Be the type of partner that people look forward to working with; don’t be the partner people don’t want to get paired up with…. Don’t be ’that guy’.

Teacher’s UkeHelping the class learn

In the martial art world, it’s considered an honor to be used as the uke during class or during a seminar.  Often you’ll see higher ranks used mostly as ukes during classes b/c they know the techniques and can work well with the teacher.  I highly recommend volunteering as uke during seminars.  It’s pleasant for them to have a willing/active participant and it gives you an up-front seat (figuratively speaking of course) to the techniques being taught.  The most important note is that you never, NEVER try to counter or resist the teacher while they are teaching.  You are being a bad training partner, and disrupting the flow of class. This is one of the most disrespectful things you can do in a martial art school.  I have kicked people out for doing this repeatedly.  It is always important to be a good uke, but especially so when being the uke for the instructor.

HygieneNo one like stinky partner

No one likes stinky partner, nor to be scratched by nails…especially toe nails! Keep you and your gi clean and free of odors.  I know some people prefer the natural route to hygiene, but you are still required to use something to keep the funk down.  You can keep your gi from collecting odors by taking it out of the bag at night. Also, keep your nails trimmed to avoid scratches; I suggest keeping nail clippers in your gi bag.  Keep in mind as well if that if you break skin or find yourself bleeding, we want to cover it up and clean the area as well.

Titles – Use them in the right place

I have a few different titles, but go by Shihan [she-hon] in class, which means ‘master instructor’. Other black belts at our dojo will go by Sensei. Not all black belts will be a Sensei.  Sensei is an honorable tittle that is earned, along with other titles like ‘Sempai’ (meaning lead kyu student – ‘kyu’ meaning before non-black belt).  There are other titles like Renchi, Shihan, Hanchi, Kyoshi, Master, Grandmaster, Professor, Guro, and so on. Some people prefer to be called their title outside of the dojo.  I make it easy, ‘Shihan’ at the Dojo, ‘Josh’ anywhere else.  …I also answer to ‘Supreme Ruler.’ Generally if we’re in a BJJ class, I’ll go by ‘Coach’.

Cleaning A job for all of us

This is OUR Dojo and it is up to all of us to keep it clean.  Monday’s and Saturday’s are AKJ’s time to clean the mat after class.  The other schools (Judo and Aikido) have their times they clean the mat as well.  An old-school tradition is to have people clean the mats with towels on their hands and knees.  Partial discipline, partial humbling experience.  As you know, we use swiffers; it’s easier and faster!  However still, cleaning the mat is a sign of respect for our Dojo -our sacred place- and just good hygiene. Part of cleaning is almost making sure that pads are put up neatly after use.

Dating at the Dojo (or seminars) – Approach with caution

This is one of the more unspoken rule at Dojos, but certainly still worth mentioning.  We are adults and when you are around people long enough there may be attractions that form.  Where it becomes problematic is if a person is either 1) trying to date multiple people in the dojo (same time or one after the other) or 2) is constantly giving unwanted advances.  Either of these may end up with that someone being expelled from the Dojo; it creates for a bad learning environment.  Also, it’s usually frowned upon for Black Belts to date Kyu Belts (within the same Dojo) but generally more accepted if Black Belts wish to date each other; it’s an issue dealing with position of power.  Ultimately, if there is an attraction between two people then go for it, but do proceed with caution.

Patches Represent you Dojo

Most schools have their own school patch.  Our AKJ patches are shoulder patches.  These are not required at AKJ, but is encouraged, especially if you are going to travel to seminars.  As you’ve seen, I have many patches that I wear; these are many teachers/organizations that I represent.  It is a little thing I can do to honor my teachers by showing who I am with, especially at seminars.  BTW, they’re only $10 for a pair of AKJ patches!

Sparring or Randori at other Dojos Play by house rules

If you visit another school and are engaging in Kumite or any sort of Randori, it is very important to find out this Dojo’s rules.  At AKJ, we encompass the full gambit of martial arts in our Kumite.  However, if you’re at another karate school (for example) they may only engage in point sparring.  Or, another example, if you’re at a BJJ school, they will not appreciate fingers lock (though you’ll be tempted to do them).  Always be courteous and play by house rules; you don’t want to end up on the ‘black list’ of people not allow back.

Late for class – Be recognized

Some schools have a very strict policy on being late; if you’re not early, you’re late and if you’re late, don’t come.  However, I certainly understand traffic can get crazy in Atlanta and jobs can be demanding.  My rule of thumb is if you’re not more than 30 mins late, come on to class.  However, proper etiquette is to wait on the side of the mat to be recognized by the teacher to join.  It is rude (at any school) to come straight onto the mat during the class.  Always wait to be recognized.  Overall, please try your best to be on time for warm-up’s. Don’t be ‘that guy’ that always misses warm up’s.

Jewelry – Avoid Injuries and losing your jewelry

Earrings, rings, body piercing, necklaces and other jewelry should be removed before class.  This is avoid injuries (i.e. scratches from rings) and keep your jewelry from getting lost or broken on the mat.

Leaving the mat (restroom, water, emergency, etc) – Don’t leave us guessing

We are all adults and you shouldn’t have to ask for permission to go the bathroom or step off the mat.  However, if someone is teaching class and notices a missing body, we don’t know if that person is hurt somewhere or just taking a bathroom break.  Proper etiquette is to let the person running the class know you’re stepping off the mat.  Some years ago, I did have someone disappear from the mat and was passed out in the bathroom; no one knew for almost 15 minutes.  If you’re simply grabbing water, make it quick or wait for a break.  If you’re having to take a phone call (for those of us who are on-call for our day job) or step to the restroom, just let the teacher know you need to step off for a few mins.  If it’s an emergency, let us know and we’ll assist accordingly. If you must leave class early, let the lead instructor know as well.

Rank has privilege

Generally, those with higher rank, especially Black Belts, take the lead.  When paired with someone, the higher rank goes first, or is the tori first.  When doing Kumite or Randori (rolling) where there is not a rotation, it’s considered rude for a lower rank to approach higher belts.  At AKJ, we mostly do rotations so this isn’t a concern; but I want everyone to feel comfortable enough to approach everyone on our mat as a training partner.

Walk behind the class

When entering a dojo if the class is already lined up, always walk behind the class.

Fixing your gi  – do it respectfully

Always turn away from your partners when fixing your gi or turn towards the back of class.

Control and Communication

It’s not how hard you can hit, but how well you can control your hit.  You never go 100% with a training partner; going 100% is how people get injured.  Always have control in your techniques rather it be working with an uki or in Kumite.  Also, not everyone is going to fight at the same intensity.  As you do kumite with everyone you’ll develop a rhythm with your training partners.  Certainly avoid going from 10% to 110% in a second; this is rude and shows lack of control.  Should emotions start to get the best of you, feel free to take a moment off to the side to collect your thoughts.  During Kumite, have clear communication with your partner on how hard, or light, you want to go and if you need to raise or lower the intensity.

Say Goodbye

After class, do not simply change and walk out the door.  It is good etiquette to say goodbye directly to the teacher (whoever ran the class or helped you) after each class.  I think this is true for any school.  Personally, I make it a point to thank my teach after every class.

Visiting other Dojos

Take all of these into account when visiting other schools.  I hope to never hear that anyone from AKJ visiting a dojo and was being disrespectful.  At seminars or visiting other schools, you represent you, AKJ, and me.  I trust you will do it proudly! Also, you must remember that when training at another school, it’s proper to train by their rules (refer to above section on Sparring at other Dojos).  Be the person people love to work with and want to invite you back. Every dojo is going to be a little different and if you’re unsure of any etiquette, it’s ok to ask.