Mark Lithgow a long term resident in Japan recently was talking with Hatsumi Soke, and they were discussing dojo etiquette. This is very important so I’m sharing it here with you.
To all my Bujinkan friends:
I had a chat with Soke at his house last week regarding ‘dojo manners’, and he said that these things were important to pass on to all Bujinkan Dojo members. Today (Sunday May 10th, 2015), he had me stand up in front of the class to pass them on to the people present.
Dojo etiquette can vary from school to school, and even from dojo to dojo within one school such as the Bujinkan. It is often learned by simply watching other people who know better. Unfortunately, these days we have so many people coming through the new Honbu Dojo, and because most people are new to the place, they don’t have many good examples to watch in order to know how things should be done. I myself have often felt the need to intervene, and play ‘manners police’. I sometimes feel a little bad doing it, but on the other hand, this my home dojo. I am a member of this dojo, not a visitor, and I have been now for close to 3 decades. It is actually my ‘duty’ to instruct visitors in how to behave in my dojo.
When discussing this with Sensei, it soon became evident that he feels very strongly about etiquette. He may seem easy-going, but on the inside, he expects it and respects people that have good manners. He righty feels that it is not his place to teach or enforce etiquette. As the Soke, he should be able to just turn up at his dojo, teach, and leave. The general running of the dojo and the cleaning and maintenance should be done by others. That goes for things such as correct etiquette too. He said that the ’Shihan should handle this, and that because of my experience with dojo of other arts, I know how dojo SHOULD be treated’. Apparently, for that reason, I am the ‘perfect person to transmit it’. smile emoticon Something he said today, incidentally, when I went back to his house after training, was “How can we expect to be taken seriously by the Japanese martial arts world if our basic dojo etiquette is so lax?”
I spoke about three points in the dojo today on Soke’s request. More will probably come up, but I think that this is a good start. I also feel that I may have to repeat the announcement once in a while, until it reaches the point where there are enough examples for new visitors to learn from, and so that it grows into a real part of our dojo culture. They may seem very basic…. Indeed, they are common sense to many people. But from what I have seen in the dojo recently, they are not known by everyone, and they need to be addressed.
1) Bowing in and out of the dojo.
Bowing in and out of any dojo in Japan is just ‘common sense’. You’ll even see the custom practiced outside the dojo, in such places as supermarkets and department stores. Staff members, as they leave the shop floor on break or at the end of their shift, at the ‘staff only’ door, will often turn around and bow to the shop before walking through the door. I have to admit that I myself sometimes became a little lazy in the old Honbu Dojo, sometimes neglecting to bow. With the new dojo under construction, I mentioned this to Soke, telling him that although I had sometimes been lazy, I had made it a new rule for myself after the new dojo was opened. We had a long discussion about it then, which continued last week. For him, bowing as you enter the dojo is essential to showing respect to the dojo. To Sensei, even bowing twice would not be bad: once at the entrance to the building, and once more when walking into the dojo proper… onto the mats. After some discussion, however, he conceded that the main entrance one is optional, but bowing as one enters the main training area is essential. As you cross over the threshold, stop, pause, bow, pause again… then walk into the dojo. At that moment, you are leaving the outside world behind you, and getting into ‘training mode’. The same when leaving.. Stop and bow. Take a moment to reflect on the fact that you came out of there safely, and are about to go back out into the real world.
It is only necessary to do this once when entering and once when leaving. If you have to go out to your bag, or to use the restroom, you don’t need to bow each time. Just when switching between training mode and outside mode.
2) Shoes in the doorway.
This is based on a simple idea that ‘Inside is outside and outside is outside… and those two places are kept seperate’. When we are training in the dojo, we are wearing indoor footwear… usually tabi. Indoor tabi can have cloth or leather soles. Rubber-soled tabi, known as ‘jika tabi’ are for outdoor wear, and should never be worn in the dojo! Indoor footwear is for indoors, and outdoor footwear is for outdoors ONLY. The border is the wooden boards on the floor on the ‘genkan’ (entrance). The wooden boards are INDOORS. A few weeks ago, I arrived to find a bunch of shoes actually ON the boards! If you are wearing (indoor) tabi, don’t dirty the soles by going outside, and then tread that dirt back inside. If you want to sneak outside for a quick smoke, please put your shoes on! Again, once your tabi have been outside, please do not tread the dirt back in the dojo! And don’t step out of your shoes onto the (outside) floor, then step up. Step up directly from your shoes! The doorway in the new dojo is a little small, and sometimes you might have no choice but to take one step on the outside floor. It can’t be helped sometimes, but please try your best to avoid it.
3) The Shômen wall
The shômen (front) wall of the dojo contains the ‘kamiza’. The kamiza is regarded as a sacred part of the dojo and should be treated with respect. It is not a place for putting any personal effects. Nothing except the things that actually belong on it should be placed on the shelf. Under the kamiza in the new dojo is a kind of wooden-floored alcove. It is used as a little display area for statues etc., but it should be treated in the same way as the actual shelf on which the shrine sits. It is not a place for bags, drinks… and certainly not for people to walk, stand or sit in. Actually, the entire front wall is treated in the same way. In the new dojo, apart from the areas mentioned above, the remainder of the shômen wall is actually taken up with the training weapon storage closets, but even in the old dojo, where there was some space either side, the rule was that no personal effects should rest against the front wall. The side walls OK, but not on the front wall, which is regarded as an extension of the kamiza itself.
The above points were the ones mentioned today, but I would like to add a couple more – some things that I noticed today, which I feel warrant a mention.
Firstly, when a technique is being shown in the middle of the dojo, please be aware of your surroundings, and show some consideration to others who are also trying to see what is being shown. If you are right by the wall or there is nobody behind you, by all means remain standing. But if you take a little look over your shoulder and realise that people behind you may not be able to see properly, please duck down a little or kneel so they can see over you. Today, I was translating, so I usually try to get a little closer to Sensei. I am never standing at the back, but am usually kneeling at the front. Even so, I still had people standing right in front of me. A little consideration, please!
Secondly, if you’ve used dojo training weapons during training; rokushakubo, hanbo/fukuro shinai etc., please put them back where you got them after training. Someone always vacuums the floor after training (any volunteers to do that are always appreciated, by the way!). It is not their job but put away your weapons after training!
Anyway… I just wanted to let Facebook-land know the details of what was said in the Honbu Dojo today. Hopefully this also will help general etiquette awareness to people who may be visiting the Dojo in the future.