Tips for new students.
White belt, where we all started.
(The following comments are examples only, since rules, and etiquette, will vary from one dojo to another).
In a classical karate dojo everyone starts at the bottom. Even the Chairman of a large company. Even your boss at work. Everyone in spite of their status outside of the dojo, starts at the bottom. Where they go from there is entirely up to them.
Etiquette within the dojo society.
Of the many things that are important in a classical karate dojo proper etiquette ranks at the top. Since it is human nature for us to learn by trial, and error, many things can be forgiven in the dojo, but poor etiquette is not one of them. This rule applies to every student within the dojo society, regardless of their rank. In fact the higher the rank the less tolerance there is for poor etiquette.
Upon entering the dojo.
One of the first lesson that you are likely to receive is how to bow properly prior to entering, or leaving the dojo. You will likely be taught by one of the higher ranking student. Should you find yourself entering, or leaving the dojo with a large group of students, do not push, or shove, instead patiently wait your turn. It is common to allow the most senior students in the group to enter, and exit the dojo first. Since within the dojo society everything is determined by rank.
Arriving late to class.
In a karate, as is it is in life, it is considered poor manners to arrive late. Sometimes, however, this may be unavoidable. In which case you may be required to quietly kneel down in seiza at the dojo entrance. Do not attempt to enter the dojo until you are invited in. While the invitation may not come right away, eventually the sensei, or a senior black belt, will acknowledge you and invite you to join the class. If at that time all of the students are still standing in rank order you may be asked to stand last in line regardless of your rank. In karate as in life, arriving late often requires you to make adjustments for your tardiness.
The line up.
At the beginning of each class you will hear the sensei, or the a senior student call, line up. Upon hearing this command you must stand in heisoku dachi, or informal stance, at your appropriate place in line. The line up is done in rank order from right to left facing the front of the dojo. As a new student you will always have a more senior student to your immediate right. This could even be a student who wears the same colour of belt as you, but who joined before you did.
Rei, the standing bow.
A standing bow is commonly done by placing your feet together, keeping your posture straight, and with your arms held at your sides. Your facing inwards along the seam of your gi. To bow, bend forward at the waist to about 37 degrees, while looking downward, and do not let your arms move form your sides. Hold the bow for about two seconds, and then unbend. Breath out quietly as you bow, and breath in quietly as you stand up. The entire bow should always be performed with the utmost courtesy and respect. A standing is usually used when entering, or leaving the dojo, bowing to another person, and at the beginning, and the end of each kata.
Seiza, the kneeling bow.
At the beginning of each class, and prior to any training, the entire class will usually kneel in the seiza. The first bow is to the front of the dojo where there is often a photo of the Founder of the style. The second bow is to the Sensei, in return the sensei bows in return. To perform a bow from seiza, first move your left hand from your left thigh to a point about two hand lengths out in front of your left knee with your finger tips pointed inward. Then move your right hand in a similar manner, so that your and your index fingers are almost touching. Now without letting your elbows touch the floor lean forward and bow, stopping your head a short distance above the back of both hands. As you come up from the bow, in reverse order, place your hands back to their respective starting positions.
Mokusoh, quiet time.
This is the time to meditate. When, Mokusoh, is called you must close your eyes, lower your gaze, and sit quietly in seiza. It is during this meditative process that you want to quiet your mind, and to try and rid yourself of all thoughts unrelated to your upcoming training. Mokusoh yame, is the command to stop meditating. Open your eyes, sit up straight, and when your turn comes stand up starting with your right foot, then your left foot, and stand in a ready stance to await further instructions.
The Dojo Kun.
At the end of a classical karate class it is not uncommon to recite what is called the, Dojo Kun. This can best be described as a verbal affirmation of certain principles established by the Founder of the style. You must make a point to learn the dojo kun as soon as possible. When reciting it always try and speak it in unison with the other students, but never so loudly that your own voice stands out from all the others.
Once the training starts it is very important to put aside all unrelated thoughts. You must make every effort to only concentrate on the specific tasks at hand. Especially on improving the quality of your own techniques. In short, always try to do your best. In time what is unfamiliar will become familiar. Each class will bring new lessons, and new knowledge, these too in time will become familiar. So train often, train with sincerity, and learn all you can, for as long as you can.
Remember: "Spirit is more important than technique."