Without knowing and understanding the meaning of humility you can never be a true martial artist!
This is translated as correct etiquette and manners and forms the backbone of good students and a good Dojo. The word Rei comes from the word “Reigi” meaning manners and the word “Tadashiku” means correct.
When entering a Dojo you must always bow (Rei) and enter without shoes on. This must be understood and remembered especially in this day and age of using sports centres. The customs form part of the transition into a place of reverence and indicate just how strict the respect of Dojo is.
Students are usually expected to sit on their haunches (Seiza) in readiness for the Sensei to enter the dojo and begin the lesson. Classically the students would be in lines from right to left in order of rank. The Senior (Senpai) students or instructors would sit to the right ahead of the students facing at an angle to the Sensei who would sit in the middle of the dojo facing the front (Shōmen) and the shrine (Kami Dana). There are 3 commands that should be used at the beginning and end of every lesson and they are as follows:
- Shōmen ni Rei
- Sensei ni Rei
- Otagai ni Rei
Shōmen ni Rei, means bow to the front and all the class must do this. The word Shōmen meets the front and ni is translated as to.
Sensei ni Rei means the class and senior instructors bow to the Sensei who turns from Shōmen to face the class and reciprocate the bow. Students are expected to and should out of courtesy bow lower than the Sensei.
Otagai ni Rei is where the senior instructors face the students and visa versa and they bow to each other. The Sensei does not bow at this point.
All the commands are given by the Senpai not the Sensei. If there are no Senpai then the Sensei will call Shōmen ni Rei and the student furthest to the right being the most senior must call Sensei ni Rei. It is not correct for the Sensei to say Sensei ni Rei. This is seen as both arrogant and poor etiquette!
The Sensei is the first to rise with the command to stand (Kiritsu) whereupon the seniors stand followed by the students. This signifies the commencement of the second phase of the class structure, the warm up “Junbi Taiso” or “Junbi Undo”. Usually a senior does this rather than the Sensei unless it is a new school with few seniors. There is a traditional format passed down through most old schools and the warm up is often kept the same. With the advent of modern body exercises much has been gained from new routines to get warm but much has been lost from exercises formed from the study of the art. Many warm up exercises were taken from Kata and Kihon and played an important part to preparation related movements.
Good manners in the Dojo also incorporate bowing after receiving some instruction in the class and knowing how low you should bow. When asking a question you must get the timing right and knowing how to ask is also important. Ask when there is a pause in teaching or a break in the Kata etc, do not suddenly stop as many do in the West and asked away! Either Sensei or Senpai is the normal to ask unless you are training with Hanshi. Remember Japanese believe you first learn from your body not your head so unlimited repetition is the way. This being the case you may find you are normally too tired to ask anything. In the West we have a habit of learning with our heads first and therefore ask many, too many questions in the Japanese eyes. They believe many of the answers will be learnt from the doing which is more natural. Many strict Dojo insist all the students sit in Seiza when the teacher explains or demonstrates a technique or important point. This is quite rare now and harbours links to the days of old under the watchful military eye.
Some universities and strict Dojo insist that the junior students (Kohai) wash the Karate Gi’s and generally do what they are told by seniors. This is a bit like the first year in a university and has smatterings of “John Browns School days”. However you must recognise that the Kohai-Senpai structure is still strong in Japan. It was only a few years ago when a student was killed in the showers of a well known university in Tokyo for not cleaning the Karate Gi’s properly!
Outside of the Dojo good manners are still expected and recognised. My teacher was always called Sensei or Hanshi by all the students outside of the Dojo and this was something I always did too. Also the seniors were addressed as Senpai or Shingai Sensei or Okawa Sensei. Such is the strong correct etiquette of Bujutsu but much of it you must feel or it does not exist.
On New Years day all students were expected to visit the teacher’s house to pay their respects and thank the Sensei for teaching them in the year gone by and ask for his tuition in the New Year commencing. The Sensei would provide some light food and sake to commemorate the occasion. The students would also bring a gift which was always beautifully wrapped and never opened in front of the students. The New Year (Oshōgatsu) is very important in Japan and the etiquette of Bujutsu is intrinsically linked. The night before will also of seen the bell rung 108 times by the priests to cast away the sins of the old year and allow the new year to start afresh!
Inoue Motokatsu Hanshi would talk much about all the teachers in the Tokyo area coming to Fujita Seiko’s house to pay there respects. This would include Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, Sensei Choki Motobu, Sensei Yasuhiro Konishi and Sensei Shinken Taira to name but a few. Such is the meaning of Reigi. Tadashiku
Another aspect is the word loyalty roughly translated and known in Japan as Giri! This is a word commonly used by many but understood by so few. It is not the rich feeling we see it as in the West. It means more a sense of burden, forbearance, tolerance and to endure. To be asked to do something you do not wish to do, to be asked to do something that is inconvenient or troublesome, to do what needs to be done for your teacher even though you wish not to do it. This is Giri! It is known well in traditional Dojo and many have been asked to leave due to their inability to undertake the duty put upon them. You should also know that which you must do without being asked. To be asked embarrasses the teacher and this must not happen. Welcome to the intricacies of Reigi Tadashiku. Learn it well and know you are part of a family and therefore are expected to play your role. In time the burden of responsibility will fall on you and you are expected to shoulder this and know and do what has to be done.
For foreigners studying in Japan it is a mind field in learning correct etiquette in society, the Dojo is just as demanding. The do’s and do not’s are enormous and it is obvious much compromising from Japanese takes place. I know there were so many times that I did the wrong thing, said the wrong thing and acted inappropriately. There were serious moments and funny moments.
I remember one particularly amusing happening when I was paired up with one of the seniors “Ikegaya Sensei” who had an excellent sense of humour and would often have a glint in his eye in the Dojo. Shingai Shihan was taking the lesson and it was very strict, no talking, plenty of sweat and lots and lots of repetition. I had been swept and was lying on the floor when he leaned over and spoke in a voice mimicking and sounding exactly like Motokatsu Inoue Hanshi. I instantly burst out laughing and was immediately facing Shingai Shihan glaring at me and telling me in no uncertain terms to be quiet or else. Needless to say Ikegaya Shihan kept a straight face!
There was a more serious occasion once when I was at a gathering of many of the old Sensei from other styles of Bujutsu in Tokyo with Motokatsu Inoue Hanshi. It was a big gathering and as was often the case many of the older teachers became quite colourful after a few glasses of sake. One of the old teachers that was there took his jacket off and showed his “Sanchin” Kata, asking one of the students to test him. There were lots of loud noises and partial punching but out of respect of course no real heavy impact hitting – the teacher after all looked at least 80 years old. Proud of his show of strength at such an age he asked a big American student to do the same thing and started the Kata with much noise and heavy breathing. Alas the student did not comprehend what was happening and what he had to do and hit the old teacher powerfully in the stomach. Of course the old teacher hit the floor quickly and the last I saw of the American was the back of his head as he was being escorted out the back by some heavy looking seniors! A lesson in correct etiquette!
In the Dojo the importance was always good manners. Being polite and knowing your place was paramount to succeeding and it was always a case of good character preferred over good technique. You were expected to remain late if a senior asked you and expected to help serve all the seniors if you were in a restaurant together. You were expected to carry the senior’s bags as and when and were always expected to be punctual.
As I lived in the Dojo apartment it was easy for me to meet as was customary outside the Dojo at any time when we were going to Kyoto or Tokyo to do demonstrations or going to compete. Motokatsu Inoue Hanshi would say for example, we will meet outside the Dojo at 7 am. I would arrive at 6:55 am and all would be there and he would say, “Good morning, you are late”! It was not my place to argue so I smiled and apologised. The next time we met I arrived 10 minutes earlier and he was there and again “Good morning you are late”. On the third occasion I arrived 15 minutes early and he came just after I got there and just said good morning. I realised that I was expected to be there before him as a sign of respect and of course he was the teacher! Some things took time and I just had to work them out for myself whilst trying not to upset too many people in the Dojo.
Very nice mix Julian Shihan, of stories and real practical lessons learned while in Japan. Like the wet and dry area s of change rooms, and keeping the place tidy after use. Depth of bow also very important and waiting for the senior to rise first. Also a very good reminder of what we didn’t and has changed more recently.