Little House In Ise

The Sergeant at Arms for Etiquette
October 4, 2008, 14:06
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , ,

Most groups or organizations have rules and norms of behavior that, to an extent, define their culture. Aikikai Honbu dojo has many. Some are written others are not. Many classes seem to have a sort of Sergeant-at-Arms for Etiquette. I am not sure if it is a self-appointed role but I have seen the same people counseling visitors and other new comers about behavior in the dojo. Usually people understand that they have just committed some sort of minor faux pas but often are left wondering what exactly they did wrong — I saw a French (Belgian?) visitor being chided in broken English and he clearly had no idea what he had done wrong. Here is a list of a few unwritten rules of Honbu dojo …

1 – No how matter how much sweat is pouring down your face, if Sensei is demonstrating do NOT wipe your face. Before or after is fine just NOT during.

2 – Common to many dojo that I have been in, it is considered rude to lean against the walls. Especially when sitting, keep your back straight and away from nearby walls.

3 – Also common to other dojo where I have trained, try not to have your back to the shomen when bowing.

4 – When watching (sitting or standing) don’t cross your arms. This posture is believed to indicate a challenge or perhaps lack of respect.

5 – In most classes, when sensei does informal demonstrations nearby students are expected to kneel and watch. Doshu’s classes are different. He wanders around and picks individuals to throw but he doesn’t want others to stop training to watch. So, don’t stop for him just keep on training and watch out of the corner of your eye.

6 – At Honbu dojo there are two entrances into the third floor training space. Sensei and women enter through the main door. Men are expected to enter through the door connected to the men’s locker room.

7 – Please note, if you arrive late, you will annoy sensei. However, it does happen, so make sure you bow in properly and then join the class. I have seen people wait to be acknowledged and then allowed in to practice (as is common in other schools) but that does not seem to be required here.

8 – There are signs up saying that “due to the heat wave over the summer” water bottles will be allowed in the dojo. That said, I have yet to see a single water bottle in the dojo proper. Men go to the locker area to drink and women go to the second or fourth floor fountains (fourth is closer and its downhill on the way back:-)).

9 – During clean-up after class, leave the weapons rack to the locals — there seems to be a pecking order related to who moves it (at least in morning class).

10 – It is perfectly acceptable to skip clean-up if you are running downstairs to take part in another class — just hurry so that you don’t annoy the other teacher.

These are the things that I have seen visitors bumping into. FYi …


Where To Sit
April 23, 2008, 12:28
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: ,

When starting in or visiting a new dojo I have tried to pay close attention to local etiquette. Each school has its own variations on appropriate behavior and it is wise to politely be mindful of differences. As you would expect, Aikikai Honbu Dojo has variations as well. On the far wall of the first floor, facing the entrance is a bronze bust of Osensei and on the landing between second and third floors there is a similar bust of Second Doshu; it is common practice to pause and give a short bow in front of both when passing. Another thing to note is that when entering the third floor training area, men should enter through the men’s changing room door. Women may enter through the main doors though, if sensei is starting class, women have been known to run through the men’s locker room and sneak in the back way — be warned! 😉

Other schools I have been in have varied between having strict rules regarding who sits where during the line-up and no rules at all. Honbu falls into the no real rules category but there are better places to sit. For example, If you are traveling with a group, try to _avoid_ the people you came with. Do NOT sit near them else you may wind up training with your buddy from your home school. You probably did not travel 6,000+ kilometers to be thrown by your buddy from home, right? Also, make an effort to sit closer to the far wall, near the back door. This is where most of the older students (sensei/shihan types) sit. If you come all the way to Tokyo to train then you may want to go the extra five meters or so to get to where the teachers are sitting.

After class, sweeping and dusting is appreciated but don’t take your hakama off yet! There are many shihan, shidoin and cranky old sempai who do their regular training at Honbu, don’t just decompress, ask to be thrown. You may find that the best training you get is after class!

More on Dojo Etiquette
October 22, 2007, 23:17
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

Tonight’s class was one of those rare, unplanned all yudansha classes. Sensei took the opportunity to get into nitty gritty. In my case he was focusing on how I behaved in my role as uke more than how I did technique. I was his uke all evening and after I back-rolled out of a shihonage he called a pause to the demo. It wasn’t to give a reprimand, rather, it was a teaching opportunity. He said that proper behavior as uke for the demo portions of class was to take the fall, hold position and then stand up for the next attack. I had been rolling out and starting my next attack immediately. Sensei’s point was that behavior that is appropriate and good during normal practice is not necessarily what shihan want during their demonstration. Mind you, all shihan will want something different but their technique is usually the focus of the demonstration so there needs to be time for the students to catch it. Immediately flowing into the next attack also has the uke setting the timing of the demonstration which is, once again, not necessarily the best way for students to pick up what is being taught. So, I stopped rolling out of his techniques and class progressed.

Later, another pause was called in order to correct my za-rei (seated bow). Now I know my bow is less than graceful, my wife always says my butt ends too high, but I had no idea that my feet were wrong too! It seems that the seated bow should be performed with the backs of ones toes flat on the mat. I had been bowing with “live toes” — toes extended, butt on heels. Good to know!

I didn’t notice much technique but there was one other bit of nitty gritty Aikido that I just loved. We were doing something or other from gyaku hanmi katatetori. My partner had strong, veiny, muscular forearms and he looked tough. When I grabbed for his wrist it was as though he was a ghost. His technique, for all its power, was remarkably soft. I spent our whole time together trying to copy the way he moved.

It was a good practice and a good night.

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