NV_Rei-gi Saho

The following was published in the ISKF Spotlight newsletter in 1998. Special thanks to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Shotokan Karate Club for hosting it online: http://www.umass.edu/rso/shotokan/dojo.html

Dojo Etiquette By Teruyuki Okazaki

Chief Instructor

International Shotokan Karate Federation

“Karate Begins with Courtesy and Ends with Courtesy”

Now it is time to discuss rei gi saho, or dojo etiquette. As Master Funakoshi states, "Without courtesy you cannot practice Karate-do." This applies not only to our training but to life in general.

The word "dojo" is actually two words. "Do" which means "the way"or "the path" and "jo" which means "the place." When the two words are combined it means "the place where the way is studied." The dojo is the place where we learn to live together as human beings. This is a serious subject and therefore we must always follow dojo etiquette. This is the first step to practicing Karate-do.

Upon entering the doorway of the dojo, face shomen side, [the front of the dojo] and bow. This is called ritsu-rei and shows deep respect to the teachings of Master Funakoshi as well as the seriousness of your study.

Always try to arrive to class 10-15 minutes early so you have time to stretch and practice.

When the instructor says line up, move as fast as possible to form the line. Remember, more than two steps, you must run. 

When making seiza, always go down left knee first, then the right knee. The hands should rest comfortably on the thighs. Sitting in seiza is much more than just kneeling. Historically, the samurai always had to be ready to defend themselves at any time. Since the sword was always carried on the left hip, the left knee went down first so they could draw the sword without injuring themselves. Always keep both balls of the feet in contact with the floor when kneeling down or rising to the standing position. If your posture is not straight and your feet not gripping the floor, then it is almost impossible to effectively defend against an opponent. Try this for yourself.

After making seiza, then you must close your eyes in mokuso. This term means to cleanse or make blank your mind to prepare for training. You have to forget all your thoughts and concentrate on what the instructor is trying to convey by only existing in the moment can you really learn.

After the command mokuso yame, open your eyes. Shomen ni rei - bow to the shomen side. Sensei ni rei, bow to the instructor. Every time you bow, push your ego further down and become as empty as possible. 

Dojo manners, or Reigi-saho, are so important that I feel it is necessary to explain step by step how to behave correctly in class:

  1. Always face the instructor when the instructor is talking. Unless the instructor says to face somewhere else, stop whatever you are doing, stand in shizen-tai (natural stance), and face the instructor.  During my time our instructors almost never gave us technical explanations; so when they spoke, we stopped everything and tried to listen as closely as possible.  It should be the same today.  Show courtesy to the instructor and face him or her directly.  When the instructor gives a command, shout hai (Yes) or osu!
  2. Never talk during class. If you have a question, wait until the end of class and then approach a senior student or the instructor.  Bow before you ask the question and then bow and say thank you after you get the answer. 
  3. Do not jump the count!  Realize that part of your training is to treat the count like you would an opponent and react with proper timing.  If you move too soon, you are “dead” because your movement was too early and your opponent has caught you. 
  4. Always try your best.  Rei-gi-saho during kumite is very simple, but often I see bad manners.  For example, when two black belts face each other both of them try their hardest.  When these same black belts face lower ranks, they become lazy and move slower.  This is wrong.  No matter who you face you must always try your best.  Anyone on the street with a weapon can hurt you and karate teaches us to be ready to defend ourselves at all times, not just when we feel like it.  Even when attacking, you must still think of catching the opponent with a punch or a kick. 

Sometimes the instructor may tell the black belts to slow down and help the lower belts.  This is the only time  when you do not need to move quickly.  Any other time you must try your best or it is bad etiquette.  Remember that this is non-contact.  So long as you exercise good control there should be no problems.  

Seiza at the end of class should last at least ten seconds or ten inhalations.  Breathe through your nose and allow the air to expand your stomach.  Exhale slowly through your mouth.  This is called fukushiki-kokyu, or stomach breathing.  Inhaling and exhaling this way is physically very relaxing and after ten breaths your mind should be very clear.  

When repeating the Dojo Kun (maxims) try hard to pronounce each word clearly and think about how you can apply these principles to your daily life.  When you bow to the instructor say “domo-arigato-gozaimasita-sensei." This is an extremely polite way of thanking the instructor for the lesson. 

All of the manners and etiquette learned in karate training should also be used outside the dojo. Sometimes this is much harder than punching and kicking but it is the only way if we are to live our lives with  a fruitful attitude.

-- Source: Winter and Spring 1998 issues of ISKF Spotlight.

Thanks once again to UMass Shotokan Karate Club for hosting this document at umass.edu.