The protocol we follow during our class is an expression of our interest in upholding Japanese tradition in our karate training.
Bow Each Time You Enter and Exit the Dojo
- Before entering the dojo, we take our shoes off. Upon entering, one must be ready for class (thus, for example, the belt must be put on and all jewelry removed, including watches, necklaces, rings, and earrings, prior to entering the dojo). Removal of jewelry is for safety purposes.
- Any time we enter or leave the dojo, we bow toward shomen, as a sign of respect for everything that the dojo means to us. Shomen is the front wall of the room; sho means “true” and men means “face”. In traditional dojos, the kamiza (miniature Shinto shrine), hata (club’s flag), and dojo kun are placed at shomen, thus making it into a somewhat sacred area. Bowing is a Japanese custom for displaying respect, humility, and lack of arrogance. It is not a matter of “bowing down” to a superior; as you notice, black belts bow to lower belts and vice versa.
Sweeping the Floors Before Each Practice
- Considering that we train barefoot, the floor of the dojo must be cleaned prior to class. This is a task fulfilled by all members of the dojo before class. Usually, we line up in rank order and sweep. If you come in late and you see that higher-ranking dojo members are sweeping, you should take the broom from a higher-ranking club member and sweep.
- When class begins, we line up shoulder to shoulder in rank order, i.e. with higher ranks to the left (furthest from the main door), lower ranks to the right (closest to the main door). The reason is that in Japanese society, the person of highest rank always sits furthest away from the door (the place of greatest safety) and the person of lowest rank sits closest to the door. Actually, at the Hand Chapel, we line up with higher ranks to the right and lower ranks to the left, but at the Fitness Center, we line up with higher ranks to the left and lower ranks to the right.
After we bow, Sensei will instruct us to stand up and form a circle, for warmups. Please go to the edges of the room (even if there are only a few people). Sensei prefers a big circle, not a small circle, during warmups.
Sometimes we just do standing bows. Sensei will simply turn around to face the front of the room. He will call out Shomeni-rei. We will all bow from a standing position (heels together feet out, hands straight at our sides) together and come up together (after Sensei comes out). Sensei then will turn to face us and will say "Rei" (which simply means "bow"). We will then all bow at the same time and come up at the same time (again, not until after Sensei comes up first).
- Seiza (“kneel down”): done in rank order, starting with the higher ranks first.
- Mokuso (“meditate”): we take one minute to empty our minds and prepare for maximum concentration during class. Meditation should be done with eyes closed, body relaxed, and exclusive concentration on your breathing.
- Mokuso yame (“stop meditating”): gently return the focus from your inner self back to the environment you are in.
- Shomen ni rei (“bow to shomen”): we bow as a sign of respect and thanks to the founder of Shotokan and the ancestors. This tradition has its roots in Shinto religion. We all bow down at the same time, but we come up in a wave. Come up only when you see the person on your left come up. Never come up before Sensei (it is considered rude to come up before the Chief Instructor comes up). Because Sensei has bad knees, we come up quickly so that we are not sitting in the seiza position for too long.
- Sensei ni rei (“bow to sensei”): the entire class bows to the teacher. If sensei is not present, the command will be senpai ni rei, thus bowing to the leader of that day’s class.
- Otagai ni rei (“bow to the others”): we all symbolically bow to each other by bowing forward. This is a way of giving thanks to everyone for being present and helping us learn karate.
If You Arrive Late to Class
- If you arrive after class has begun, warm up and stretch on your own prior to entering the dojo. When you enter the dojo, bow upon entry, put your things down, then sit in seiza position and do your own mokuso. Once you have finished meditating, open your eyes and look towards Sensei (staying in seiza position). Wait for Sensei’s permission to join the class. When he motions you into the class, bow and say “osu,” then if the class has finished group warm-ups, go to the end of the line to the right of the beginners, regardless of rank. If the class is still doing warm-ups, then just join the circle wherever there is room (usually where others of your rank are warming up) and when the class lines up, take your usual place.
Other Rules to Follow
- During class, all karateka should concentrate on what is being taught and on practice, avoiding distractions.
- One should not leave the dojo floor unless something is wrong (e.g., you are injured, you feel like throwing up, etc.). It is improper to take a break whenever you are simply tired or thirsty and then rejoin the class. You should only leave the dojo floor if you are seriously ill.
- If you are sitting and watching class, do not lean against the back wall as that is very rude.
- Do not enter or exit the dojo from the side door. Only use the main door to enter and exit the dojo.
If You Need to Leave the Dojo During Class (or if you need to leave early)
- If you need to leave the dojo during class, bow out after the set, then stand in front of the exit door with feet together, heels together, toes pointed out and hands at your side. Look directly at Sensei. When Sensei motions for you to leave, bow and say “osu,” then exit the dojo.
- If you need to re-enter during class, please bow and say “osu” upon entering the dojo, then sit in seiza position and look at Sensei. This will signal to Sensei that you wish permission to rejoin the class. If you simply wish to watch the rest of the class, then after sitting in seiza position, you may cross your legs and sit comfortably cross-legged. It is improper to simply rejoin the class without sitting in seiza position and getting Sensei's approval to re-enter the class.
End of Class (strengthening exercises)
- When class is over, Sensei will say "make a circle." He will then ask one of the students to lead a series of strengthening exercises (shikodachi, knuckle pushups, leg raises, mountain climbers, and hip switches) and warmdown exercises. Please note that of the 5 strengthening exercises, the first, shikodachi, exercise is done slowly (imagine youself as a sumo wrestler trying to strengthen your leg muscles). All of the other exercises (knuckle pushups, leg raises, etc.) are done quickly to improve our fast muscles.
Lining Up at the End of Class (Dojo Kun)
- After warmdowns, Sensei will say “line up.” We’ll line up again in rank order and do seiza and mokuso. Then the highest ranking student will recite the dojo kun (“rules of the dojo”). These are a set of five rules that were passed down from the masters of Okinawan karate, and are an affirmation of things we believe in and must keep in mind at all time. After the senior student says each precept, the rest of the class should repeat the precept loudly.
Seek perfection of character
Refrain from violent behavior
- After the dojo kun, we do the three bows: to shomen, sensei or senpai, and otagai. After that we stand up. Upon the senior student’s direction, we’ll turn to face the (exit) door, and bow to Sensei. After that, we’ll face front and class will be over.
- Everyone should stay for announcements and roll. Please say “osu” loudly when your name is called to show good spirit.