Dojo Etiquette and Culture

Sensei's Comments

Dojo Culture

Every aikido dojo has its own culture. In part, the dojo's instructors set the tone that will become the basic of the dojo's culture. In addition, the attitudes and intentions of the dojo's students also contribute to the overall culture of the dojo.

As a relatively new group, the culture of Capitol Hill Aikikai is still being formed. It is my hope that Capitol Hill Aikikai will become a place where the students train vigorously and diligently, while also enjoying their practice. 

- Martin Sensei 
The nature of a dojo is influenced by many things, including the dojo's etiquette and its culture. Below is a brief description of the etiquette and culture of Capitol Hill Aikikai.

Dojo Etiquette

Every dojo has its own rules of conduct, or etiquette, that the members are expected to follow.

At Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, Japan, there are eight major dojo rules:
  1. Proper manners and rules should be obeyed, while following the instructions of one's teacher.
  2. Practice should be serious and sincere, but should not inflict an injury on others.
  3. All should participate in cleaning following practice, in order to insure a clean place of training.
  4. There should be no smoking in the dojo at anytime.
  5. Harmony should be respected, and the practice should be bright.
  6. Practice under the influence of alcohol should be avoided.
  7. People observing practice should respect the rules and order of the dojo.
  8. All accidents and/or injuries resulting from practice are the responsibility of the individual member.
  9. Capitol Hill Aikikai adds one more rule to this list: During instruction, the focus should be on one's training; conversation should be kept to a minimum.

Value both practice and demonstration

Endô Seishirô, Aikidô Saku Dôjôchô, translated by Daniel Nishina

The 9th International Aikido Federation (IAF) Congress and Seminar was held at the Olympic Center in Yoyogi, Tokyo,
September 7 – 12. This event included seminars and demonstrations. The seminars enjoyed their good repute from the
previous time and saw a greater number of participants of over 600. The demonstrations were held for the first time and consisted of representatives from IAF member nations, making for a large-scale event. Although I knew little of most of the featured representatives and their practice histories and skill levels, I viewed all of the demonstrations from start to finish. While I was unfortunately not left with the impression that all of the demonstrations were good, there were two or three that were sound.

Since before, whenever I view demonstrations I endeavor to observe everything from how the participants enter the arena, to the way in which they walk, sit, stand, and bow. As a result, I have noticed that there is a significant relationship between such behaviors and the demonstration itself. Those who give a good demonstration, from the time they enter and face their partners after bowing, already exhibit the attitude that they are in a serious situation. They are composed with collected feeling, their upper bodies are relaxed, and their overall activity is settled.

We practice budô in the format of attack and defense with a partner. Accordingly, we tend to become preoccupied with
how to defeat the partner, develop bad habits and overuse strength. In practices such as kenjutsu, in which weapons are used, there is a basic awareness that even a touch will cut. Without correct posture and distance, the weapon cannot be used effectively. Furthermore, as using the weapon poorly poses a danger for the practitioner him/herself, practice is conducted with seriousness and attentiveness.

Although there is a demand for seriousness and attentiveness in body arts practices as well, the distance is closer and there is direct contact with the partner, which can result in both the body and feeling instinctively becoming rigid. When one tries to defeat the partner, it becomes necessary to inflict considerable damage, which may cause one’s posture to suffer and one to overuse strength and develop bad habits. Consequently, seriousness and attentiveness are lost and movement becomes indolent and reckless.

In order to avoid such developments, it is necessary to be wary of becoming preoccupied with whether or not techniques are effective, and first simply repeat the forms, both uke and tori, correctly. It is simultaneously crucial to carefully observe the use of one’s body and the state of one’s heart/mind, and the relationship between the two, during each technique. One should be mindful of taking the time to absorb into one’s body everything from techniques involving small movements of the arms and legs to larger and simpler movements, in such a way that strength is not overused.

Based on the preceding, if we are to consider demonstrations as a venue of seriousness, that which we cultivate during daily practice, from techniques to the state of our heart/minds, can be expected to manifest during such events. It is especially on such occasions that one must not be conscious of one’s partners or techniques, and perceive a self that is humble and with an empty mind. (November 2004)