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Karate and the importance of etiquette

Studying martial arts is different from playing sports. While playing sports teaches teamwork and sportsmanship—both essential and highly valuable skills—martial arts adds an extra layer to this. This layer is called etiquette and it’s a form of good manners.

But, in the dojo, etiquette goes even further than simple good manners. Building this etiquette in children creates a generation of people who treat each other, their surroundings, and their equipment with respect. It builds a generation with the strength of character to do the right thing even when no one is watching. And, when adults in the dojo demonstrate and model this behaviour, children can see this respect being reflected back to them, increasing their own self-esteem and making them less likely to become bullies or to become the victims of bullies.

How we demonstrate etiquette in the dojo

There are a few simple and immediately obvious ways that we demonstrate etiquette in the dojo:

1. Bowing:

  • We bow to the dojo on the way in and on the way out. This is to acknowledge our gratitude for having a space to train in.
  • We bow to our instructors at the beginning and end of class. This is to show that we’re eager to learn and grateful for what we have learned.
  • We bow to our partners before and after working with them. This is to demonstrate our respect for each other, our commitment to taking care of them, and our expectation that they will take care of us.

2. Cleanliness:

  • We keep the dojo tidy. This isn’t just important for safety reasons, although tripping over a misplaced strike shield could cause an unnecessary injury. It’s also important because it’s essential to treat equipment with respect so that it doesn’t break, wear out too soon, or get lost. Everything is always put back in its proper place and, if necessary, cleaned after use.
  • We wear a clean uniform with our belts done up correctly. This shows respect for our partners who don’t want to get up close and personal with someone wearing a dirty, smelly uniform. And it shows respect for our style, Chito-Ryu Karate-do, by wearing the uniform with pride. In turn, this shows that we respect ourselves and how we appear to others.

3. Behaviour:

  • We answer instructors with a loud “hai!” to show we have understood their instructions. This lets the instructor know we are listening and learning.
  • We line up neatly without pushing or talking. This shows that we respect each other’s space and that we’re ready to hear what our instructor will tell us next.

There are also myriad other, less visible ways we demonstrate etiquette in the dojo:

  • When we enter the dojo, we step to the side, kneel down in seiza, and take a moment to compose ourselves before the class begins. We bow to the shomen (front of the dojo) and then we stand up and begin preparing our bodies for the class.
  • When we bow to each other, the junior person is expected to bow lower and longer to show respect for the senior person.
  • When we say “onnegaishimasu” and “arigatougozaimashita”, we say it with a loud and clear voice to let our training partners know that we mean what we say.
  • We say “konnichiwa” (hello) when people walk into the dojo.
  • When a senior instructor walks into the dojo, we all stop what we’re doing to face the instructor and bow as a group to acknowledge their presence and show respect.
  • If the instructor says to go fast, we go as fast as we can, not as fast as we want to.
  • We help each other to learn and provide positive encouragement to each other. We never judge someone for not getting a technique or not understanding what’s required, and we never laugh at others’ mistakes or mishaps.
  • We never walk on the mats with shoes or socks on.
  • We help clean the dojo. If Sensei or senior students are already cleaning, junior students offer to take over the task. Junior students never stand idle while senior students vacuum the floor, clean the mirrors, or do souji (cleaning the floor).
  • We close the windows and doors after training so Sensei doesn’t have to do it.
  • We take on feedback from all training partners, whether they’re senior or junior to us. We are all students on a learning pathway together, and insights can come from any source. Regardless of the feedback, we bow respectfully and thank our partner for putting in the effort to give us feedback.
  • When working together, the junior partner always fetches and returns the equipment, not the senior partner.
  • We don’t grumble when asked to do an exercise we find difficult. We simply say “hai!” and get on with it, doing our best at all times.
  • When partnering with a senior student, we attack to the best of our ability with strong, straight techniques. This shows that we respect the senior student’s ability. Pulling up our attacks or failing to attack properly disrespects the senior student by intimating that they’re not capable of defending against our attacks.

What to do if you can’t remember all the rules

Not to worry; we all make mistakes sometimes. The most important thing is that our heart is in the right place and that we try our best to remember the rules and act accordingly. You’ll be surprised at how many of these rules quickly become second nature.

If you accidentally forget to follow a rule, a senior student will kindly correct you. If you see a junior student forget the rules, you should kindly correct them. Together, we will remember the rules and continue to improve our etiquette.

By showing respect in the dojo, we will all learn to respect ourselves and the people around us in all aspects of our lives. In this way, we can do our small part to reduce the unkindness and anger in the world, creating a safer and more loving environment in which we can all thrive.

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