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Aikido Dojo Etiquette

Updated on July 20, 2011


While training in Aikido or any martial art there are certain rules of etiquette to follow. Every dojo is different and some are firmer than others. What is considered acceptable in your dojo may not be in a dojo you are visiting. While visiting a dojo or beginning classes for the first time, ask a higher ranking student what the etiquette is for that dojo. You do not want to be rude to your instructor and fellow students. Here is some basic etiquette that you can follow.

Bowing In

Following the dojos etiquette, before class begins you will line up in Seiza (kneeling position) at a certain time or one of the Sempai (higher ranking student) will call for line up. If you are brand new go to the end of the line and kneel down on both knees with your feet flat and hands on your thighs. Kneel with your back straight and concentration straight ahead towards the Shomen. Shomen means front and in this sense it is the pictures of O-Sensei, the Aikido kanji, and the founder of your specific style. Sensei will come onto the mats, kneel in seiza and bow and the class bows also, he or she will then turn and bow to the class as the class bows in return.

Do not confuse bowing with worshipping. I have been asked before by people if they have to bow because of religious reasons. Bowing in class is a sign of respect to O-Sensei, and your founder. It is as if you are saying “Thank you for creating this art that I can be a part of”. Bowing to sensei is a sign of respect for their dedication and sharing their knowledge with you.

If you come in late change and wait on the side of the mats for sensei to bow to you letting you know you can join class. Do not change and automatically join a group that is already lined up. If you have a certain rank still go to the end of the line do not fit yourself in between people. This is interrupting class and is very rude.

Sensei Says

If you are at a seminar or visiting a dojo and sensei shows you how to do a technique DO IT. Do not say “but at my dojo we do it this way” because you will not have their attention anymore. One of the worst things you can do is ignore what you are taught. This can end up with someone being hurt if it is a more advanced technique or you have just lost any one on one time with a high ranking instructor. You may be ignored or be tossed around until you can’t move anymore if you really angered sensei.

Your sensei may do things differently than others and that is fine. Their sensei may have done techniques a certain way and handled etiquette in different ways too. No one is the same and that is what makes us great. Everyone brings a little something to Aikido. While you are at your dojo follow the etiquette and what your sensei says. When you have a visiting instructor or visit a dojo do what that sensei tells you.

While sensei is talking or demonstrating a technique sit in seiza. Do not bounce around or fidget, give them your undivided attention. If you cannot sit in seiza then bow and sit cross legged do not lie down or stretch your legs out, you could end up tripping someone that is moving around. Always move quickly to and from your starting spots. Stay in kamae (stance) while moving back to your spot and remain focused on uke (person attacking).

A Clean Uniform

While you are training you are going to get sweaty especially in the summer months. Wash your uniform before the next class. Some people (including myself) wear a t-shirt under their Dogi (uniform) jacket to help soak up some of the sweat. As with any clothes if you do not wash them they are going to smell and you do not want that to happen. You should wash your pants and jacket according to the directions and I recommend hang drying versus the dryer. If you put your dogi in the dryer it may shrink and not fit you anymore. Before you leave for class fold it correctly, do not roll it up and throw it into your bag.

Hygiene

Remember what I said about sweating and smelling with your dogi? This happens to people too as we all know. If you have been working and sweating take a shower before you go to class. No one wants to train with you if you smell bad. This could be a new form of self-defense but it is very bad dojo etiquette. Keeping a stick of deodorant in your bag is not a bad idea either. As I said you are going to sweat and if you go out after class you will go out smelling nice.

Have mints or chew a piece of gum before class, remember to get rid of your gum before class begins though. Aikido is a very close martial art and if you ate something with heavy garlic or along those lines it is a good idea to freshen your breath. Again this can be a new way of self-defense but everyone else would prefer mint over garlic. You would not go into a meeting at work with bad breath would you? It is just showing respect for your fellow students.

Keep your finger and toe nails trimmed. Have you ever seen what a nail can do to someone? As I said Aikido is a very close martial art and un-trimmed nails can be sharp and cause injuries. There is a lot of grabbing and moving of the feet while training that can result in cuts. I once saw a person’s foot cut open because of long toenails it was not a pretty sight. Take the time to trim your nails and avoid injuries in class.

Water and Bathroom Breaks

If you need to use the restroom do not leave the mats without permission. You can ask either sensei or if they are occupied ask a sempai. Unless sensei is demonstrating a technique or talking you should not have a problem getting permission. Some dojos have water breaks once or twice during class, when you get a drink of water or use the restroom go and come back do not take your time on your way back to the mats.

Bowing Out

Class ends just as it begins a sempai will call for everyone to line up and sit in seiza. Adjust your dogi so it is not out of place and have your hand on your thighs. Sensei will already be on the mats and up front facing the shomen. When he or she bows then the class will follow and they will again turn and bow to the class and everyone bows too. If you bow and thank everyone as a class wait for sensei to stand up and move off of the mats before anyone else stands up.

If sensei tells you to thank you partners then you still wait for sensei to stand and move off of the mats but you remain in seiza. The student at the front of the line turns to face the student next to them, bows, thanks them and moves down the line. The second student in line follows and so on. You will say “Domo Arigato Gozai Shimasta” to everyone and they will say it to you. After everyone has thanked each other you can then stand up.

If sensei has a Hakama (black pleated pants) offer to fold it if you know how. If you don’t know how to fold a hakama then ask a sempai if you can learn how to fold it. If the mats need to be put away help put them where they belong. If they stay on the floor some dojos clean them after every class, if they do then help out do not sit down and watch.

Dojo etiquette varies from school to school. If you are scared to ask someone remember your manners, be polite, and follow along with everyone else. Some dojos have their rules of etiquette hanging on the wall. That is so someone can come in and know exactly what they should and should not do. This may seem like a lot to remember and to follow but this is a martial art and rules need to be followed.

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