“Budo Begins and Ends With a Rei”
Good etiquette, or reiho (礼法), is an essential part of any traditional Japanese art, martial or not. It conveys both a humble mindset and focus for the training ahead, as well as respect for your training partners, instructors and the masters who have shaped the style over the years.
Admittedly, to other cultures, the nuances of reiho can appear bewildering at first but without a suitable attitude that is open to learning and understanding yourself, one’s training in any art will be severely limited.
A key part of the etiquette, and probably the most recognised outside of Japan, is the bow or rei (礼) which can be done either standing or kneeling. Kneeling rei are performed with the hands together, laid flat on the on the ground in front. Usually, they are placed down at the same time to show a level of trust towards the person you are bowing to. In kata, however, you expect to fight so less trust is shown by putting the left hand down first, followed by the right.
Etiquette in the Dojo
Before you come along to one of our classes, you may want to familiarise yourself with the basics:
Entering the Dojo
Always rei on entering the dojo, and if any instructor is present you should rei to them as well. If you are late to the class, you should kneel at the edge of the mat until the senior instructor acknowledges you.
If an instructor enters the dojo, you will usually hear a senior student call out “Sensei-ni!”, alerting you of their arrival. Even if you are in the middle of training, you should acknowledge their presence; rei and greet them.
Start of the Class
- Line up facing the front of the dojo, or shomen (正面) in descending grade order from right to left and kneel. In general, follow the senior grade students’ example.
- The instructor or Sensei will turn to face the front. On the command “Shomen ni rei!”, everyone should bow to the front. This is done silently. Typically, shomen would be where a shrine, or pictures of past masters are placed. Not all dojos will have these but bowing is still done out of respect.
- The instructor or Sensei will then face the students. On the command “Sensei ni rei!”, all students should bow to the instructor, saying “Onegai shimasu.” (please).
- Finally, on the command “Otagai ni rei!”, rei to the person either side saying “Onegai shimasu.”
- Before starting kata, kneel and bow to your training partner, saying “Onegai shimasu.” Keep good awareness of your surroundings, or zanshin, during this.
- After kata training, kneel and bow to your training partner, saying “Arigato gozai mashita.” (thank you). The kata is not over until this has been done, so zanshin should be maintained at all times.
End of the Class
- As at the start of the class, the students should line up facing the instructor and kneel down.
- On the command “Shomen ni rei!”, rei to the shrine. Again this is silent and both hands are together.
- On the command “Sensei ni rei!”, rei to the instructor, saying “Arigato gozai mashita.”
- Finally, on the command “Otagai ni rei!”, rei to the person either side saying “Arigato gozai mashita.”
These points above are well formed ways of showing respect and self-control in the dojo. However, this should be continued through your training in how you relate to the other students; mutual respect builds trust and will allow you to progress to more complex (and potentially dangerous) techniques.
Remember that the respectful behaviour shown in the dojo should not stop just because the class has finished. Bringing the lessons learned in the dojo into your daily life outside is just as important as any technique you may have learned.