From time to time I need to be reminded that how we conduct ourselves in the dojo (karate school) is utterly foreign to a lot of people. There are many people who are good-hearted but at the same time tend to struggle with remembering basic manners. The more martial aspects (like shouting “osu” and having a hierarchy) will be alien to most. At least three times per year I am reminded of how new students might view dojo etiquette. In college dojo we get new students every Fall, Winter, and Spring quarter. College Dojo is a Physical Education class that students take for credit. Two quarters are offered, and we occasionally have a student or students audit more quarters just for fun. So assuming on the first day of the quarter we have College Sensei (instructor), me (almost three years into my training), two second-quarter students and one auditing student… What might we look like to the new people?
Student A speculates, “Is this some sort of cult?”
Student B wonders, “That’s not how we did things at the dojo I was in when I was a kid. Which dojo is right? Which one is wrong?”
Student C overdoes it and does some extra bowing. Just in case.
Student D inwardly scoffs, “What a bunch of baloney!”
Student E nervously thinks, “All this is really strange and I’m feeling a bit intimidated.”
Student F tells himself, “I’ll just roll with this and cheerfully do the best I can.”
I’ll bet you can spot my least favorite type of student among the five. Yep (groan) – Student D. That said, sometimes it’s that student who will often inspire me to explain things the rest need to learn. Student F is pleasant to deal with, but if everyone were like Student F, would I remember to explain dojo etiquette? Maybe not.
So why do we need to think about and teach the reasons why we do what we do? It’s not just to reassure Students A, C, and E or to give Student B a deeper appreciation for the diverse world of Karate. We could dissect each rule and discuss its origins and benefits (and that’s a fascinating study for some of us), but what it all boils down to is etiquette benefits everyone. Etiquette provides a framework for building respect. This includes respect for those who have learned more, for those who haven’t learned as much, for facilities and equipment, and most of all, respect for one’s very self. Also, etiquette keeps things running smoothly. Not only that, simple rules like bowing to Sensei (and Sensei bowing back) paves the way for the future – not only the future Karate career of the student, but also the future of the dojo and/or organization.
As I get more and more involved in helping with various things, I run into more etiquette. Here are a few examples. Deferring to the dojo’s Sensei on matters that are not mine to deal with. How to treat VIPs. The relational dynamics of sub-groups (such as a fundraising group interacting with the yudansha-kai). Inter-organizational etiquette. Working with service providers (recreation centers, catering, special event venues, etc.). Fortunately I have any number of mentors to help me navigate the trickiest situations. Those mentors have many more years of experience than I do, so I trust them. And yes, sometimes the etiquette lessons “sting” a little bit because I’ve crossed a line that I shouldn’t have. But if I learn my etiquette lessons well, my cooperative and respectful involvement will help the organization run smoothly so we can keep on having fun things like tournaments, seminars, and camps.