Every dojo has certain rules of etiquette they follow. Knowing these can challenging at the least, especially for a visiting student. But below are certain “rules” that are the same for most dojos that this writer has gleamed over the year.
Rule No. 1 Always acknowledge the center of the energy in the dojo upon entering and leaving. This can be a shomen or kamizan usually situated at the front of or in an obvious place. A slight bow is enough to show respect. The same is true when leaving the dojo (class).
Rule No. 2 Introduce yourself to the Instructor. Do this after entering the dojo. If you don’t know who is teaching, ask a student and then ask them to introduce you. Make sure you speak your name clearly. Names from other countries can be daunting to ears not used to them. It may take a couple of tries but be patient.
Rule No. 3 If you have a question, ask. This is really simple but not doing this can lead to an embarrassing moment. Simply asking, “What etiquette do you follow here…” This can be regarding how many claps bowing in and out to how many turns occur with each partner practice (a recent dojo where this writer trained it was three rather than the usual four).
Rule No. 4 Observe what is happening around you. For example, at Two Rock Aikido, the circle after class remains until Richard Strozzi-Heckler or the Instructor has left the mat. If a student is not paying attention, they will start moving when the Sensei or Instructor is leaving the mat while all the other students are quietly remaining in the circle.
Rule No. 5 Be humble. Visiting other dojos or even training at your own dojo, don’t insist on showing your training partner(s) your rank. Bow in and be a willing training partner, not an ass. One of the joys of training at Linda Holiday Sensei’s dojo in Santa Cruz (CA) is the willingness of her senior students to bow into you. There is none of this, “I’m a yondan!” or “I’m a ____dan so you need to bow into me!” Training at Santa Cruz Aikido has always been refreshing and welcoming.
Rule No. 6 If the Sensei or Instructor calls you out to demonstrate, follow her or his lead. Don’t try to show off. Recently, at a class this writer attended, a glaring example occurred recently when a visiting student attempted to show off by striking the instructor (a soft blow, but a blow never-the-less) when ukeing. In many dojos, this act of disrespect would have resulted in the student being asked to immediately leave the class.
Rule No. 7 Etiquette works both ways: It is not only for the visiting or new student, but for senior students as well. A firm and fast rule at Two Rock Aikido is that yudansha must seek out and train with visitors (and also white belts).
Rule No. 8 Even if you’re a visitor or a new student, always attempt to bow into the student who was just demonstrating with the Sensei or Instructor. They’ve received a special transmission by being uke and you can be part of that by asking them to train with you.
Rule No. 9 Keep your awareness on the Sensei or Instructor. He or she may wish to give you a suggestion or correction, or may even wish to engage in a short conversation. You should always know where the Sensei or Instructor is on the mat. Always.
Rule No. 10 Have fun! Really, training should be fun too. If it’s not, something is missing from the experience. For example, when with a training partner, smile now and then. The fate of the world isn’t hanging on doing the technique correctly. Lighten up, okay?
Okay, those are some tried and true etiquette rules for being on the mat as a guest, or a student (no matter what your rank is).
All are important but maybe No. 10 is the most important. You look at photographs of O Sensei, you don’t see him frowning or his brow creased with concentration. Often, he’s smiling. We should follow The Founder’s example and smile too.