IMA Dojo Etiquette

IMA Dojo Etiquette & Tips on Training and Behaviour

Good etiquette should make for good Karate. It should always play an important part in all styles of training whether its Shotokan Karate, Ju jitsu, Taekwondo, Judo, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Kung-fu or Karate-jitsu just to name a few. One thing that all systems have in place is their own code of conduct which are always built on pure common courtesy and respect, something of which is unfortunately missing from many areas of modern day life. Most etiquette and codes of conduct originate from and are derived from “Bushido”, literally meaning “the way of the warrior” in Japanese which again translates to the life of the Samurai and their concepts of chivalry, honour, martial arts mastery, loyalty, moral codes and principles etc.
 
Bushido is a great and interesting topic into which the student should do a little research for themselves. Dojo etiquette shouldn’t be miss-interpreted or considered as an act of control, demanding subservience or in any way confused with weakness. Mutual respect is as much important in Karate and society today as it always has been and applying the principles of etiquette inside and outside the dojo shouldn’t be such a difficult task for anyone, although, we all know that life can be sometimes a testing experience even for the best of us. A student of Karate who understands and practices the principles of good etiquette will be a credit not only to their self but also to his or her instructor, school, parents and indeed their fellow students.
 
There are numerous styles of Martial Arts and each have their own codes of conduct and the way in which they practice and interpret good etiquette but the bottom line on which it is built on always remains the same. The information kindly written here by our chief Instructor along with all other relative information for the IMA student is aimed to help the individual understand what may seem to be a little strange in the beginning but after a while it should simply be a self propagating expression of oneself which just takes place. As always Karate is more than just learning a variety of many techniques, routines and exercises it requires the student to always try and learn at least a few simple facts and backgrounds on culture, ancient and modern traditions, codes of conduct and relative historical information on where things emanated from.
 
Training comes first; it’s what everyone comes to do. Try to train all the time one way or another while you are there in the dojo to gain the most from the lesson and time spent. Always train hard with “Great Spirit” giving your best all the way to the end of the training session as if your life depends on the techniques and movements being practiced. Train with a strong spirit, good sportsmanship and enthusiasm at all times. Learn to enjoy giving your own personal best regardless of how or what you think someone else is doing.
Always bow to your fellow training partner and instructor before exercises or demonstration. When entering and leaving the dojo or training area all students should take a small bow giving respect to those who are already there and to those who cannot be, this is a simple traditional form of greeting. If the class has started kneel or stand and wait to be invited to join the class by the Sensei or assisting seniors.
 
When lining up at the beginning of the session students should always line up in grade order usually with the highest grade to your left. If a fellow karateka (student) is the same grade then try to line up in the order of the date graded and age with the eldest first. Always make sure that you are not standing ahead of a senior grade and that your lines are straight. You should be standing with your heels touching and toes turned out at a 45 degree angle in an informal attention stance (musubi-dachi) and with your hands by your side.
 
Always ask to leave the class; this is most important for children when needing to go to the toilet for example so that the individual’s time away from the class can be monitored and the individual not be forgotten about when the class or training venue is busy.
 
Always bring your sparring kit, drink of water and safety equipment to class and remember you are responsible for your own equipment. Excellent self control in a student’s training and techniques along with good sportsmanship should always be used and is expected. Please note: safety and sparring equipment is not only for you but also to help look after your partner in practice avoiding unnecessary mishaps. All students are required to have the necessary safety and sparring equipment, please see your instructor for more information.

Look after and respect your training partners and class members and always practice with self control. A student, after training for a while, will be expected to have their own equipment. The training focus, class dynamics and culture will change from club to club but the minimum equipment that a student should look to acquire is hand mitts, shin & instep pads, groin protector, gum & teeth protector and for females a breast protector for sparring. Please see your instructor for more details.
 
When in the Dojo; no chewing gum or eating, remove all jewellery, no outdoor footwear on the training area, keep your finger and toe nails short to avoid unnecessary injury to your partners, do not use telephones unless in an emergency, absolutely no horseplay, if you make a mess clean it up, be courteous, no bad language, pay attention to club/class info or signs and try to come with a clean odour free suit and body. When you train next to, grapple or wrestle with a smelly Karate-ka it is a most unpleasant experience. These things should strike the reader as simple mutually understood rules and are just to be adhered to regardless but unfortunately people sometimes have to be reminded of the simple things.
 
In the Dojo a student should always respond to Sensei as with everyone else they meet in life with manners and respect. If you cannot do this you shouldn’t be there! The correct response for understanding in class should be by one replying with “Oss - Sensei!”, or with the use of Sir or Miss applied respectively. Refer to the instructor as Sensei/Sir/Miss when in class.
 
You don’t need to lavish compliments on the instructor or adhere to a relationship of feeling that you should throw yourself down on your sword or hang on every word spoken, just training regularly, diligently and with respect for the system is one of the best compliments you can give him or her.
 
Always try to keep and maintain that the Dojo respectively remains a place of learning for all and a positive environment, especially for beginners.
 
After training, even for a short time, a student should have come to realise and understand how to conduct themselves in the training environment and a little general respect and simple manners shouldn’t be so difficult to display for any individual. A genuine respect for your teachers, fellow human beings and class or school members should be freely given developing over time between student and teacher and vice versa. Sometimes it’s good to remember and understand that the instructor is just human like you, made from the same, and also needs to enjoy being there. This comes from observing your progress and looking forward to giving a genuine compliment on progress made, by you, the student.
 
Try to avoid talking in class irresponsibly, with disrespect or without the use of simple manners. Sometimes it is necessary to communicate with your fellow training partners and sometimes it is just plain rude. If you have a question you should ask because a lot of the times a good question can be shared and explained to the whole class and everyone can learn more together through it.
 
Try your best to do exactly as you are taught without complaining as sometimes students don’t see the relationships immediately between techniques and routines practiced and how, where, why, when they are applied and for what reasons. Karate is in the physical doing and is a cumulative skill building activity in which after time the thing itself will be revealed little by little with practice.
 
Try to maintain proper form and posture at all times for as long as possible to help build strength, endurance and muscle memory. Do not lean on the wall, furniture or invade another students training space or disrupt another person’s concentration for example. Concentrate on everything that you’re teacher is trying to explain and demonstrate for you with your ears and eyes open - it’s all valuable information usually from their own experiences and should always be given consideration. Watching your seniors practice should always give a good insight and direction and hopefully something to aspire to.
 
It should be one of your primary objectives to always maintain a low, solid strength building stance whilst focussing on what is being taught. Maintain proper form and posture at all times for as long as possible to help build strength, endurance and muscle memory.
 
Once Sensei has given you a command and asked you to execute whilst working with another student, you should not move until next count or command, do not fix your hair, adjust your belt (obi), suit (gi) for example or make any other movement which takes your attention away from the exercise or your opponent/s movement. Always think of safety in the training place.
 
You will never be asked or expected to do anything that you’re not capable of physically or emotionally. Adjustments should always be made to compensate for different body types, age, male or female and level of skill.
 
Always advise your Sensei of any injuries or health problems before class. If you are injured or become ill notify Sensei immediately. Do not leave the floor or Dojo without notifying your Sensei or a senior member, this is most important for children. Your instructor must know when or if you leave the class. This is for the health and safety of the student. A parent, carer or guardian must always strengthen these points with their children.
 
Try to be early for your class to help you get into the correct mindset and loosen the body preparing it for the demands you are about to place upon it especially students approaching the age of realisation. One of the best places to pick up extra information regarding training, sharing ideas, what the next grade is all about or catching up on Kata (pre-arranged form)  practice can be when everyone is waiting for class to start.
 
Be early but if you must be late, come in respectfully, quietly and without making a nuisance of yourself.
 
Please note that if you are constantly late for no particular reason, eventually it will lead to only be viewed as just a simple lack of respect to everyone else who has managed to make it on time including your Sensei and you may not be allowed to train or asked to find another club closer for you to manage your time easier. Please don’t misunderstand we do understand that people will have to be late sometimes and some people are governed by certain time and life constraints which can’t be worked around but sometimes habits can form and people are late on purpose.
 
Parents are asked not to interrupt class unless it is really necessary or an emergency. Let the instructor do his/her job, sometimes things can look quite simple on the outside but within the class it can be difficult to work out and generally this process is different from person to person. If something needs to be taken up with the instructor that is not an immediate problem, or if you have any concerns, please do it before or after the class if possible.
 
If your reason for not training becomes a financial barrier (due to job losses for example) please talk to the teacher before giving up practice. Hopefully a short term amicable arrangement can be agreed especially for the quite advanced student.

Help your junior grades they look up to you and your presence should be a source of enthusiasm, knowledge and inspiration, always. Remember you didn’t get there on your own and you should try to keep the flow of information moving through the lower ranks. Don’t make the often made mistake of taking so much and giving so little and think that your own club is your own club. This will help keep your group strong and standards high.
 
Think what you can do sometimes and maybe put a little something back in to your club or class. This is an area which is often overlooked with the wrong attitude alongside but very much appreciated by all involved.

Be helpful to new students, correct them if necessary but always listen to the instructor and keep focussed on your own training. A higher graded student should always set and maintain a good example and enter into the true spirit of Karate when training for combat. There will always be many imitations but do your best in maintaining and passing on a true Shotokan approach.
 
All higher ranking or senior graded students are expected to, and should always aim to set a good example for the entire class, help maintain discipline and always look towards passing on how a martial arts training environment should operate especially in the areas of behaviour, health and safety, personal and class discipline. You should want to do this for your club after all you are what parents, students and prospective beginners look at first, you are the club.  This is often overlooked and forgotten by senior grades that can let themselves down in this area, usually due a poor attitude towards the importance of this.

It will be frowned upon and dealt with if a student develops a selfish “everyman for him/her self” attitude, this will only aid in bringing a negative experience to the class. The approach which should always be maintained and clearly visible is one that has already been mentioned, all students should be made to feel welcome and part of a group of like minded people, positive in their participation and inclusion of all. The dojo should remain a place of learning and exercise.

Learn to be humble about yourself; everyone has major or minor portions of their technique and character that need improvement. It is usually the worst students who believe they are the best and always struggle to lift themselves up after a physical, technical knock back, or asked to change something about their approach. Please pardon the quote but “get over yourself and just train, learn to train correctly, if it’s wrong and could be done better or with more understanding on advice given, it might just be that it’s wrong”. We have seen many good and skill-full Karate-ka (students) come and go just simply because of poor attitudes and personalities which is a great shame. You can only open the door for someone but you the person have to step inside on your own!

Try to train at the dojo at least twice a week; this should be a minimum for you to make a constant progress. Practice every day if possible at home or work, even if it’s only for a short time. Remember training is physically progressive, cumulative and can be done anywhere with very little available space.
 
A great way to aid and make improvements and gain understanding is to teach or learn to teach the lower grades under supervision from a experienced Instructor. If you would like to help in your clubs classes speak to your Instructor and you will usually find that they will always be very helpful in this area and welcome the help.

Disrespectful and poor behaviour will not be tolerated regardless of where it is directed. Maintain the respect for your fellow class members and teachers and refrain from arguing or try to correct the instructor whoever it is and wherever you are. Do not belittle your family, friends or other students. Along with other things Karate training can be a medium to help develop courtesy and politeness and if you are not capable of this type of discipline any Martial Arts is probably not for you.

If you feel that you no longer have anything to learn or gain from your teacher, style or their classes simply move on and leave that particular class, school or group and find another, this is always understood, respected and a fact of life. You should find a teacher, style, practice methods, attitude towards Karate and principles of training which aids your own understanding, personal beliefs and physical development, follow their teaching and help develop that system and improve it. This is how all systems of combat and martial arts have evolved, improved and lasted over time. If you get something special personally from training and you understand maybe you should consider your own class?
 
Do not try to master techniques or forms that are too advanced for your level but never stop attempting them to advance yourself as long as you keep mindful of where you are in your training. Strenuously and enduringly work on all your basic movements and forms because this will always maintain the system and without them your karate will always be weak and lacking in substance.

Always read and research as much as you can about Karate, other relative martial arts and combat systems, their similarities and relationships with each other are always a lot closer than what you may think. Always aim to find out for yourself if you don’t understand something and never feel that you can’t ask if you don’t know.  The more true knowledge the individual has can only make their training sessions more exiting and inspiring.

Treat every correction you hear in your class as though Sensei is speaking to you specifically. This will aid and increase your learning experience and help build new or improved skills. If you need to you should make the correction, maintain it and continually work to improve it. Correcting your-self only when Sensei is watching or paying lip service won’t be enough. A great thing about Karate form, combat or sparring routines is when you fix a fault in one area generally has a cascade effect and helps strengthen and improve other areas of your practice.

Don’t cheat or con yourself and try to advance through the grades impatiently. If you fail to make a grade try not to take it personally, train harder for the next time. Karate should be a long term endeavour to achieve best results. It will always take different people different time spans for skills to develop and progresses made. An individual usually knows when it’s time to advance.

If you do not know the answer to a question that another student has asked you, find the answer by asking the instructor, a more senior student or by looking it up. Try to avoid making things up as this only compounds a fault or something being wrong and becomes harder to correct.

Always try to give equal practice to the 3 main elements of training; Kihon (basic technique), Kata (pre-arranged practice forms) and Kumite (meeting of hands and technique through different partners, sparring and combat exercises).

Please make your tuition payments on time. Remember that most clubs are independently organised by a group of enthusiastic senior graded students who generally volunteer their time freely and many Karate clubs wouldn’t be able to continue without them. Please be responsible and respect that all training fees (courses, licence, grading etc) are to maintain and keep the club/groups classes in operation and need to be collected. People forget the importance of this and sometimes it can be overlooked especially when your Instructor is busy in class. Even small Karate classes and clubs have their bills and overheads to pay. Simply and respectively put – please make your tuition payments on time.

Please handle personal relationships and situations between yourself and other students in a way that will allow both of you to continue training if the relationship ends. Please keep these relationships private and out of the dojo.

If traditional mokuso is practiced (meditation by deep breathing and emptying the mind) in the dojo where you are training at the end of the lesson and after having performed the warming down exercises the class should come to attention making sure all lines are straight. The instructor will kneel, sit or stand for mokuso first using left knee first followed by the right and each movement must be followed by the class in the same sequence and when the whole class is settled the instructor will say "mokuso" and each student should close their eyes and begin the meditation concentrating first on the lesson just gone by remembering what the objectives were, main points, whole content and focus on what context it was delivered followed by the meditation and emptying of the mind.  This moment at the end of the session involves a series of deep steady breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and after a short time the instructor will say "mokuso yame" (stop meditation) and the most senior grade in the class at that time should say "sensei ni rei" (teacher we bow).  The instructor will bow first to the class by putting his left hand to the floor followed by his right. The class should follow the same sequence after each movement by the instructor and everyone should say "oss" upon bowing.
 
The instructor then rises by first putting his right hand on his right thigh and then his left hand on his left thigh again followed by the class maintaining the same sequence making sure that they do not finish before the instructor. Everyone then gets up and stands in masubi-dachi (informal attention stance) with lines straight. The instructor will bring the lesson to an end with a bow and a spoken “oss” followed by any announcements to be made or information to be remembered regarding training, classes or dates etc.