I wrote a post about six months ago outlining the proper guidelines one should follow when attending ANY martial arts school. Some of these are simply a matter of tradition, some of them are necessary to ensure that a dojo runs smoothly. Some, mostly all of them, are also a show of respect for the school you’ve chosen to attend.
In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to observe some students, visitors and outsiders in a few different martial arts circles. Based on some of the things I’ve observed, I think it would be useful for me to repost some of those guidelines. Here we go:
- Bow when entering or exiting the dojo: This seems like a bit of a tiny detail, but it is an important one. It provides a show of respect; respect towards the instructors, respect towards the ones who trained before you, and respect towards the school;
- Ensure your Gi, or karate uniform, is clean and pressed: This one is important not only for protocol and etiquette, but for hygiene reasons as well. And you would be surprised how many people overlook it. There’s nothing worse than someone who assumes that their last workout wasn’t intense enough to warrant laundering their uniform. Make sure it’s clean. Not only does that ensure a more “pleasant” environment for yourself and the other students, it shows proper respect for the uniform you wear on your journey;
- Stand straight and pay attention: When not executing a movement in the immediate moment, it is imperative that you stand straight and tall, heels together and thumbs tucked into the front of your belt. Keep your gaze towards the front and pay close attention to what the head instructor is saying. Try to avoid looking around and fidgeting. A big part of discipline is being able to focus long enough to build an attention span beyond that of a goldfish;
- Acknowledge every instruction given: Different styles will have different ways of doing this. Some will choose a shallow bow when the head instructor provides instruction, some will answer in the affirmative by saying Hai (Japanese for “yes”) or something of the like… The method of acknowledgment will depend on the style and school you’re in;
- No food or drink within the dojo: You would think this one would be common sense, but a martial arts school is no place for you to sip your mocha-choca latte while your kid trains. Since the average martial arts class only lasts about an hour and a half to two hours, you can manage this easily without having food and drink within the confines of a training environment;
- Get out of the way: If you become injured or over-tired, bow, step back and sit in seiza (on your knees) at the rear of the class. Stay out of the way and remove yourself from the flow of the class until your fatigue passes or your injury allows you to continue. Of course, if your injury is severe or serious enough to think you need to remove yourself, you likely shouldn’t continue as you could aggravate the injury further;
- Don’t show up late: This one is and always has been, a personal pet peeve of mine. Some instructors will say that if you show up late, it’s better to get “some of the workout” in rather than none at all. Although that is a great concept, showing up late can be disruptive to a class and shows great disrespect to your class and instructors. We all have busy lives. It falls to you to plan ahead and schedule things so that you may attend class. Whether or not showing up late is appropriate will be up to your head instructor, but true respect dictates that if you aren’t fifteen minutes early, you’re already late;
- Don’t waste your instructor’s time: Although you’ve likely paid a fee for your presence, the instructor(s) within the school are there to impart their knowledge and skills to you and others. If you aren’t going to put in your full effort, then you’re wasting your instructors time. Effectively, you’re also wasting your time AND the fee you paid. You’re also affecting the other student’s ability to learn properly. Food for thought…;
- Respect and train based on your partner: You will sometimes be paired with someone of lower or higher rank than yourself. If you’re paired with someone of lower rank, you become the example of what is to be taught. If you inflict injury upon your partner, you may discourage them from further learning and you will have gained nothing yourself. If training with someone of higher rank, respect should be given and you should take every advantage to learn from this person as they are in the same position you would be if training with a lower ranked belt.
Recently, I’ve seen everything from kids running around, coffee, students fidgeting and looking around… There was even one guy who showed up forty minutes late for class with a bag of cheeseburgers and ate while the rest of us did calisthenics! Besides the fact that the smell of burgers was killing me, a karate dojo is definitely NOT the place to eating, much less junk food.
Folks, no matter what sport or art you study, there will always be guidelines to follow. The martial arts simply has more, and that’s part of the charm. Although the above guidelines are only basic, they apply to any martial arts school you attend. Your specific dojo may have more, and this is one of those moments where it’s important to take the initiative and ask. After all, respect is a primary aspect of karate and all martial arts. ☯