"Without shoshin and attention to correct conduct in the dojo, we muddy the pure water of Aikido with our distorted motives and agendas, Watch the smallest details in your practice and allow yourself to fail. Ego will not want you to fail, it insists on looking good and does not want to appear a failure, this is a trap - do the opposite of what it tells you and enjoy all of your efforts in the dojo without concepts of success and failure. Humility is essential and we all must be broken down in order to be rebuilt, this process can be made easy or hard. Reflect."
- Chiba Shihan
Etiquette in Aikido is on one level an expression of the Japanese roots of the art, but on another level it is simply an expression of universal common sense and courtesy. These remarks are not a comprehensive list of “rules” for practice; ultimately, it is better simply to digest them and obey the “spirit of the law”.
While there are many “rules” and “conventions”, the best advice is simply to observe and copy the senior students in the dojo. If you have questions, ask the seniors and they will be happy to answer them.
Addressing Others In an Aikido dojo, the teacher of the class is always referred to and addressed on the mat as sensei – literally, “teacher” . The Chief Instructor ( dojo-cho ) of the dojo should be referred to and addressed as sensei at all times, ON or OFF the tatami. More junior instructors may prefer to be addressed informally if not actually leading a class.
If more than one instructor is present, then use the instructor's surname and title, as in “Smith-sensei”.
Students who are senior to you are known in Japanese as your sempai; in the opposite direction, your juniors are known as your kohai. It is considered respectful to address your seniors as sempai, especially on the mats. If you need/wish to include the person's name, then either name is appropriate: “Smith-sempai” or “John-sempai”. If one of your seniors requests that you simply address them by first name, then it is perfectly all right to do so.
Do not directly address your juniors as kohai as this may seem condescending. If you wish to be formal, then use the Japanese term san, as in “Smith-san” or “John-san”. In most cases, however, there is no need to be so formal, and a first-name relationship is not inappropriate.
On occasion, senior teachers may be referred to using equivalent Western titles, as in “Master Chiba” or “Professor Chiba”. This is typically confined to Western texts written before the meanings of certain Japanese terms such as shihan (“master”, or “teacher of teachers”) were more widely known Instructors holding shihan title are referred to as such in writing, but sensei is usually used when speaking Behaviour on the Mat At all times, one's behaviour on the mat should be governed by Aikido's basic principles of universal respect.
Never engage in contests of strength: the techniques of Aikido are capable of inflicting great damage and even death if used maliciously.
If your partner is unable to perform any given movement through injury or any other reason, then do not force him/her to do so; reciprocally, if you have an injury or any relevant medical condition, then make your partner – and, most importantly, the instructor - aware of it before practice begins so that he/she can take account of it.
The instructor is the single authority on the tatami . Follow his/her instructions precisely and practice the movements as demonstrated.
Actively seek out your seniors on the mats for practice; do not expect them to find you. Similarly, a visitor to the dojo is an honoured guest and should never have to look for a partner. In both cases, allow the other person to practice the technique first.
The following is a list of do's and don't abbreviated into a ball-point format and grouped by their general theme.
- Remove all jewellery and piercings before training.
- Keep toenails and fingernails clean and short.
- If a student is cut they should leave the tatami and dress the wound before resuming training.
- Students thought to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs will not be permitted to train.
- Do not run in the dojo, either on or off the mat (this is also a matter of respect for your fellow Aikidoka).
- Treat all senseis with respect at all times.
- Do not be lazy in training. Be calm and focused.
- Learn by focusing your attention and by practising intelligently.
- Always keep body and Gi clean.
- The use of bad language is not permitted in the dojo.
- Be on time for class, preferably early but if late bow in alone, after receiving permission to enter the tatami.
- Always sit in seiza and wait calmly if you are not doing techniques.
- Kneel down on the left knee first.
- Stand up with the right leg first.
- During class always ask a sensei if you want to leave the mat. If you get permission, bow to the kamiza before leaving, on return wait at the side of tatami until the sensei invites you back to keiko, bow to the kamiza, wait then continue your keiko.
- All instructors are called sensei during class.
- Never interrupt the class by calling out. If you have to ask a question, wait until the sensei’s attention is available.
- No eating or drinking is allowed in the dojo. Drinking is allowed only in the changeroom.
- Always keep the dojo clean. Pick up any rubbish. There are rubbish bins about.
- Upon entering the dojo for the first time a seated bow should be performed on the tatami.
- On leaving the dojo students should do a standing bow towards the shomen.
- Bow towards the shomen when stepping on or off the mat.
- Bowing is a form of paying respect to Aikido, O Sensei, the dojo, Sensei and training partners. It is the spirit in which it is done which gives it value and meaning. A bow done out of habit is simply a hollow shell.
- The class is started and finished with a formal bow towards the shomen and the Sensei.
- Before and after training with partners they should be thanked with a bow, the same also when the Sensei provides personal instruction.
- Ensure feet are clean before stepping onto the mat.
- If your belt comes undone turn to face away from the Shomen, Sensei and other students, drop to your knees and re-tie your belt.
Always treat your fellow Akidoka with respect and sincerity and even if you go wrong, you will find yourself welcome and surrounded with fellows eager to help.
No-one knows it all; we are all here to learn.