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 bow properly prior to entering, or leaving the dojo. You will likely be taught 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 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 to enter 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 Shomen or 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, your arms held straight at your sides, and 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 respect. A standing bow 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 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, while in return the sensei bows to the entire class. To perform a bow from the seiza 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 a short distance above the back of both hands. When coming up from the bow place your hands back to their respective starting positions in reverse order and sit up straight in a relaxed posture.

Mokusoh, quiet time.

This is the time to meditate. When, Mokusoh, is called you must close your eyes, lower your gaze, tuck your chin in slightly, relax, and quietly begin taking slow quiet breaths in through your nose, and out through your mouth. 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, so 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 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 others.  

During class.

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."