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Dojo Etiquette

One of the curious aspects of studying a Japanese martial art outside of Japan for a "Westerner" is the retention and use of cultural and social aspects of Japanese tradition including the use of Japanese terminology for techniques, methods and concepts.

As in Japan, dojo ettiquette forms an important part of the learning experience at DTA.

dojo etiquette and mat manners

For reference here is what you would expect to know if visiting a Tomiki Aikido Dojo in Japan.

From the very first time you enter any martial arts Dojo, you are expected to show and learn the proper reishiki (etiquette or mat manners). 


One of the very first items of etiquette which the student must learn is when they enter or leave any Dojo, they must perform a Ritsu Rei (standing bow) in and out of the Dojo. This Rei is not just a physical act, but is also a intellectual one where the student acknowledges their arrival at a special place of learning and leaving of issues of the world outside. 

The second time that they are required to Rei is when you are about to enter or leave the mat area. 

The third time you are expected to Rei is before and after working out with a partner. This is done with much respect as you are asking your training partner for the pleasure of working out with you, also you are saying I come with a clear mind, and have no intention of hurting you; in the event I or you should suffer injury, no ill feelings shall exist between us.  The japanese word "Onegaishimasu" is also frequenty said to your practice partner before you practice with them. The word, itself means "Please teach/practice with me". Or "please help/show me" 

Entering the Dojo

So when you are ready to enter the Dojo, you are expected to make a Ritsu-Rei (standing bow) at the entrance of the Dojo hall.  Upon entering you should face the mat area towards the Kamiza (shrine) / Shomen (the wall with the founder's picture), when doing this ritsu rei (standing bow). When you have donned your do-gi (if you change in the training hall) and you are about to step onto the mat area, you will again perform a ritsu rei. After you have gotten on the mat area you should take up a neutral posture (shizentai) or the proper seiza (kneeling-seated) position in the proper place according to your belt rank. You should never sit in a cross legged position or sprawl across the mat area. You should never start any taiso (warm-up exercises) or do any ukemi (falling practice) until the Sensei has formally opened the class.

Opening and Closing of Classes

Before opening or closing of any session, all students and instructors take their proper positions on the mat area according to proper reishiki (protocol). 

The position in front of the Kamiza (shrine) at the Shomen (Front wall) is the highest place of honor in a Dojo. It is the seat of honor reserved for the highest dan grade or chief instructor.  If the sensei wishes he may have any of the black belts sit next to him/her on his left side. 

Just before the start of class, the sempai will call out, "Sei Retsu, onegaishimasu." Which means, please line up in seiza. Everyone will then move into position and sit in seiza quietly until the Sensei enters the dojo.

Shimoza is the lowest ranked area of the Dojo (along the back Wall). All dan grade students should  line up facing the shomen from right to left in order of rank, the highest rank sitting to the right and then down to the lowest rank of the players until the front line is full and then all remaining students in lines behind again in rank order.

All students and Instructors having taken their place sit in a seiza position (kneeling seated).

During normal practices, Sensei will call out commands, but during special seminars and other more formal events, sensei's uchi-deshi or most senior student will make the call.  "Shomen", “Shomen-Ni” or "Shomen-ni-rei", is a preparatory command and everyone will wait until the Sensei or senior student shall give the command of “REI”. When this command is given all those sitting on the mat area shall simultaneously make a correct ZAREI (kneeling bow) towards the Shomen.

The next command should come after another slight pause of a few seconds. The senior student will again give the preparatory command of “Sensei ni” or "Sensei-ni-rei", at which time all students turn to face the Sensei. Once the command “REI” is issued all students bow and say the word "Onegaishimasu". At the end of the class they will repeat the process, but with “Sensei Ni, Rei” and then with “Shomen Ni -Rei” closing the class. Note: it is improper for the students to stand before the instructor stands. All students would be expected to thank the Sensei for their instruction by saying "arigatou gozaimashita"  after the  “Sensei Ni, Rei” command at closing of class.

(The command "Mokuso" may also be called, which indicates that students should close their eyes, clear their minds, until instructed to stop.)

Correct Sitting While in a Dojo

When in any Dojo you should remain seated in the correct Seiza (kneeling seated) unless the Sensei tells you to sit some other way. The proper way to sit is either the Seiza, or Anza (cross legged). 

When you are seated in a Dojo it is improper to sit with your feet and legs stretched out in front of you, or to lay back on the mat in any manner, unless you are engaged in some kind of special training, or doing a special type of Taiso. It is also improper to lean back with one or both hands on the mat behind you. Avoid sitting with your back close to the Kazima at any time.

The Sensei

The word "Sensei" translates to "teacher". In many Japanese dojo one is not called a Sensei until achieving the rank of godan (5th degree black belt). But as very few western dojo have black belts that have attained the rank of godan it is perfectly acceptable that a shodan rank (first degree black belt) be referred to as Sensei if he/she is the instructor.

Your instructor should always be called Sensei and never by a first name in the dojo. When there is more than one black belt in the Dojo only the senior Instructor would normally be called Sensei. "Shihan" has the same meaning as Sensei except that this title is reserved for persons of great achievement, knowledge and experience in budo (Japanese martial arts). 

In proper reishiki, if your Sensei is speaking with another, and you wish to speak to him, you walk to within 3 or 4 feet, stop, and wait for the Sensei to recognise you. Then Rei and state your business. After you are through, take a step back, Rei and leave. Remember, it is not proper to call a dan grade by their first name in Japan. Always address them formally. Also it is not proper to call a person below the rank of shodan “Sensei”.


There may be minor variations to protocol depending on the martial art you study as well as from dojo to dojo. For example in some dojo students don't always line up in grade order nor are formal commands always called out at the start and end of class. In some dojo visiting sensei and/or higher dan grade students may be seen lining up with their back to the right hand wall of the dojo. There may also be dress codes to observe regarding the wearing of hakama etc.


Some useful Japanese words/phrases include

"shomen"  the front wall of the dojo.
"seiza" the traditional japanese sitting position (kneeling). 
"mokuso" (meditation) to indicate that all students should close their eyes, the purpose of which is to allow each student to focus on the class ahead and eliminate outside world concerns from the mind. 
"mokuso yame"is the signal to stop meditation and open one's eyes.
"Shomen"or "Shomen-ni-rei"signals for all to face forward toward the front of the dojo where a picture of the founder(s) is displayed. 
"Rei"signals for all present to show respect to the founders by bowing.  
"Sensei ni rei" prepare to bow to the teacher 
"otagai ni rei" prepare to bow to fellow students
"Kotai" - swap over,
"onegai shimasuplease (teach me, practice with me)
"Uke"person who does breakfall
"Tori"person applying technique to uke.

standing bow japanStanding Bow

With a standing bow, arms are held straight at the sides and moving forward onto front of thighs during the bow. The back and head should be held in line (not bowed); looking down but forward. If a person bows with their head tucked in, i.e. bent at the neck, then he or she is effectively apologising





martial arts classes Aikido Dublin

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