Every martial art discipline has a set standard of etiquette before you begin training. These are rules enforced during practice, not only to maintain order within the dojo, but also as a reminder for us to value each other. That being said, in Aikido, the bare minimum of showing our sincerity to train is to follow the dojo etiquette. It should be emphasized that the observance of dojo etiquette is as much a part of Aikido training as learning different techniques, if not more so.
CULTURE, REI, and AIKIDO
Aikido is a martial art practiced by thousands upon thousands around the world. People with different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs find themselves on the mats of a dojo to train with each other. Although this may seem interesting, one cannot deny that we each have our own prejudices and biases that cloud our view. The history of the world has shown time and time again that because of the many cultures and belief systems worldwide, people sometimes disagree and conflict with each other.
The philosophy of Aikido aims to go beyond these differences while training together. In order to achieve this, we need a system of conduct that ensures the promotion of a harmonious relationship with each other. This system that we follow is the concept of Rei (礼).
Generally, Rei is understood to be the “expression of gratitude”. In Aikido, this concept translates to how we show respect and gratitude during the course of our everyday training. We practice Rei upon entering the dojo, upon entering the the tatami or mat area, to O’Sensei (shomen), to the sensei, to your partners, even to the the weapons that are to be used.
Budo training values the discipline of one’s behavior through self-control. In Aikido, etiquette is the tool we use so we can be considerate to each other. Practicing this concept is an act of politeness, propriety, gratitude and respect. Harmonious relationship in the dojo can only happen when we are able to manifest the concept of Rei in our training.
It is with fingers crossed, that I hope that each Aikidoka can come to the realization that the sincere desire to respect others can transcend cultural differences or individual points of view.
Each dojo have their own guidelines for dojo etiquette. Ask your sensei for the specifics of these guidelines with regard to your own dojo. I have listed below some of the more generally accepted points in dojo etiquette. Please take time to read each item and actively practice them in your dojo as well:
- A standing bow is appropriate upon entering and leaving the dojo.
- Respect your training equipment:
- Gi should be clean and mended.
- Weapons should be in good condition and in their proper place when not in use.
- Never use someone else’s practice gi or weapons. (!)
- All jewelry and watches must be removed before practice.
- Make sure all fingernails and toenails are trimmed short so as not to cause undue injury to others.
- Always bow when stepping on or off the mat to the direction of the shomen.
- Before the start of the class, you should have already been warmed up and are formally seated in seiza according to rank.
- Be punctual. If you come in late, you must remain formally seated beside the mat until the sensei acknowledges that you may join the class.
- The only proper way to sit on the mat is in seiza (formal sitting position). Never sit with legs outstretched and never lean against walls or posts. Consideration only applies in cases of injury and only sitting cross-legged is appropriate.
- Do not leave the mat during class. In cases of illness, injury or necessity, always ask for the sensei’s permission to leave.
- Sit quietly and attentively in seiza when the sensei demonstrates the technique.
- Never sit between the sensei demonstrating and the shomen, or with your back to the shomen.
- After the demonstration, bow to the instructor, then to your partner and immediately begin to practice.
- When the end of a technique is signaled, stop immediately. Bow to your partner, and quickly line up with the other students.
- Never stand around idly on the mat. You are there to practice.
- Never call the instructor over to you. If you have questions, you should go to him or her.
- Never argue about technique.
- Do not impose your ideas on others. Do not attempt to correct or instruct your training partner unless you are authorized to do so.
- Keep talking on the mat to an absolute minimum. Aikido is the only topic of conversation should you need to speak.
Your dojo is not just a room, a building, a gym, or a sports club. The word dojo is understood as the “place of the Way”. An Aikido Dojo therefore represents not only it’s physical structure but is symbolic of something more.
As for me, after a long time practicing Aikido, I see the dojo as a place where many Aikidokas like myself have spent years and years training in earnest effort. It is in the dojo that they have trained, toiled, despaired, triumphed and found their Way. In respecting the dojo, I acknowledge those who came before me; those who persevere and have kept on persevering, those who have given up, and those that are still to train. For me, the dojo symbolizes the passion and hardwork of these people.
When I dig at the heart of things, practicing the concept of Rei is not only learning how to be considerate of others. It is also the appreciating of what Aikido has stood for over the years. With this in mind, I have come to the belief that our sincerity in practicing Rei is entirely proportional to our appreciation of what it means to study Aikido.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
The world is a big place. Even in the practice of Aikido, there are many ways to train, and many schools of thought. But, amid the diversity, I believe that everyone who studies Aikido are connected by the goal of pursuing peace, love and the harmonious relationship between people. For me, it is in understanding this culture of respect, Rei, that we are able to take the first step to understanding the culture of harmony. As O’Sensei said:
(For beginners please also see:”Fudoshin: The Indomitable Spirit“)