Proper observance of etiquette is as much a part of your training as is learning techniques. In many cases observing proper etiquette requires one to set aside one’s pride or comfort. Nor should matters of etiquette be considered of importance only in the dojo. Standards of etiquette may vary somewhat from one dojo or organization to another, but the following guidelines are nearly universal. Please take matters of etiquette seriously.
1. When entering or leaving the dojo, it is proper to bow in the direction of O-sensei’s picture, the kamiza, or the front of the dojo. You should also bow when entering or leaving the mat.
2. No shoes on the mat.
3. Be on time for class. Students should be lined up and seated in seiza approximately 3-5 minutes before the official start of class.
If you do happen to arrive late, sit quietly in seiza on the edge of the mat until the instructor grants permission to join practice.
4. If you should have to leave the mat or dojo for any reason during class, approach the instructor and ask permission.
5. Avoid sitting on the mat with your back to the picture of O-sensei. Also, do not lean against the walls or sit with your legs stretched out. (Either sit in seiza or cross-legged.)
6. Remove watches, rings and other jewelry before practice as they may catch your partner’s hair, skin, or clothing and cause injury to oneself or one’s partner.
7. Do not bring food, gum, or beverages onto the mat. It is also considered disrespectful in traditional dojo to bring open food or beverages into the dojo.
8. Please keep your fingernails (and especially toenails) clean and cut short.
9. Please keep talking during class to a minimum. What conversation there is should be restricted to one topic – Aikido. It is particularly impolite to talk while the instructor is addressing the class.
10. If you are having trouble with a technique, do not shout across the room to the instructor for help. First, try to figure the technique out by watching others. Effective observation is a skill you should strive to develop as well as any other in your training. If you still have trouble, approach the instructor at a convenient moment and ask for help.
11. Carry out the directives of the instructor promptly. Do not keep the rest of the class waiting for you!
12. Do not engage in rough-housing or needless contests of strength during class.
13. Keep your training uniform clean, in good shape, and free of offensive odors.
14. Please pay your membership dues promptly. If, for any reason, you are unable to pay your dues on time, talk with the person in charge of dues collection. Sometimes special rates are available for those experiencing financial hardship.
15. Change your clothes only in designated areas (not on the mat!).
16. Remember that you are in class to learn, and not to gratify your ego. An attitude of receptivity and humility (though not obsequiousness) is therefore advised.
17. It is usually considered polite to bow upon receiving assistance or correction from the instructor.
It is common for people to ask about the practice of bowing in aikido. In particular, many people are concerned that bowing may have some religious significance. It does not. In Western culture, it is considered proper to shake hands when greeting someone for the first time, to say “please” when making a request, and to say “thank you” to express gratitude.
In Japanese culture, bowing (at least partly) may fulfill all these functions. Bear in mind, too, that in European society only a few hundred years ago a courtly bow was a conventional form of greeting. Incorporating this particular aspect of Japanese culture into our aikido practice serves several purposes: It inculcates a familiarity with an important aspect of Japanese culture in aikido practitioners. This is especially important for anyone who may wish, at some time, to travel to Japan to practice aikido.
There is also a case to be made for simply broadening one’s cultural horizons. Bowing may be an expression of respect. As such, it indicates an open-minded attitude and a willingness to learn from one’s teachers and fellow students. Bowing to a partner may serve to remind you that your partner is a person – not a practice dummy. Always train within the limits of your partner’s abilities. The initial bow, which signifies the beginning of formal practice, is much like a “ready, begin” uttered at the beginning of an examination.
So long as class is in session, you should behave in accordance with certain standards of deportment. Aikido class should be somewhat like a world unto itself. While in this “world,” your attention should be focused on the practice of aikido. Bowing out is like signaling a return to the “ordinary” world.
When bowing either to the instructor at the beginning of practice or to one’s partner at the beginning of a technique it is often considered proper to say “onegai shimasu” (lit. “I request a favor”) and when bowing either to the instructor at the end of class or to one’s partner at the end of a technique it is considered proper to say “domo arigato gozaimashita” (“thank you”).