Tips for new students
White belt, where we all started.
(The following comments are meant as 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. No one, in spite of their wealth, or their position, can join a classical karate dojo and stand ahead of anyone else in line just because of their status outside of the dojo. Everyone starts at the bottom. Where you go from there is entirely up to you.
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 usually 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 lessons in etiquette that you are likely to receive, is how to properly bow prior to entering, or leaving the dojo, or training hall. This will often be done by one of the higher ranking student. Should you ever 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 not uncommon to allow the most senior students in the group to enter, and exit the dojo first, since within a dojo society everything is determined by rank.
Arriving late to class.
In a karate, as is it is in life, it is 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 to enter the dojo 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, instead of finding your normal place you may be asked to stand last in line. In a 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 often done in rank order from right to left facing the "Shomen" or the “front” of the dojo. As a new student you will always have a more senior student to your immediate right. In time this could even be a student who wears the same colour of belt as you, but who achieved that rank before you did. Since the size of each class can vary, you will find that your place within the line up will be different from time to time.
Rei, The Standing Bow.
The single most important technique in a classical Shotokan dojo is a proper bow. This is commonly done by placing your feet together, keeping your posture straight, your arms held straight at your sides, with your hands open along the seam of your gi. To bow, bend forward at the waist to about 37 degrees, keep your eyes looking downward, and do not let your arms move form your side. 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 the utmost respect. A standing bow is usually used when entering, or leaving the dojo, bowing to another person, and at the beginning, and end of each kata.
Seiza, The Kneeling Bow.
At the beginning of each class prior to any form of training, the entire class will usually kneel in the seiza position and then bow in turn. First bow is to Shomen, the front of the dojo where there is often a photo of the Founder of the style. This is often done all together at the command, “Shomen ni rei”. This second bow is to the Sensei at the command, “Sensei ni rei”. In return the sensei bows to the entire class as a sign of respect to the students because without students to teach there would be no one for the Sensei to pass his, or her knowledge on to. To perform a bow from the seiza position, first move your left hand from your left thigh and on to the floor, 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 just short of touching the back of both your hands. The bow is done entirely from the waist and since it is a more formal way of bowing, you should pause for slightly longer than you do when performing a standing bow. When coming up from the bow slide your hands back to their starting position in reverse order, that is your right hand first, followed by your left hand, then sit up straight in a relaxed posture.
Mokusoh, Quiet Time.
This is the command to meditate. When ”Mokusoh” is called, you must close your eyes, lower your gaze, tuck your chin in towards your chest, relax, and quietly begin taking long slow, quiet breaths in through your nose, and out through your mouth. It is important to learn to breath not just with the upper portion of your lungs, but also from your lower abdomen. 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. This will help you to stay focused throughout the class. "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 "heiko dachi" or "ready stance" and await further instructions.
The Dojo Kun.
At he end of class it is not uncommon in many classical karate dojos 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 rest.
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 task 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. And, while 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, for karate is a life long pursuit.
Remember: "Spirit is more important than technique".