Dojo Etiquette

Visitors to the dojo will notice many traditional aikido customs being observed. We practice in the style of our parent dojo in Okazaki, Japan. Whether Kodokan USA students travel to Japan, or our Japanese sensei come for a visit, following etiquette allows everyone to feel at home and practice effectively.


When should I bow?

Like shaking hands, bowing can variously show respect, agreement, greeting, or apology. We most often bow to our partner at the start & end of an exercise. Students also line up for a formal bow (two bows—four claps—two bows) at the beginning & end of class. Other times include: when sensei bows to a chosen uke, when stepping onto/off of the mat (bows face the kamisa), and when entering the dojo. Whether standing or sitting, basic bows originate at the waist with the back kept straight.  If standing, keep the hands at the sides (boys and men) or clasped in the lap (women and girls). For  seated bows, place the forearms and palms flat onto the mat, with index fingers and thumbs forming a triangle. The eyes gaze down. Generally, the longer and deeper the bow, the greater the show of respect.

What do I say when bowing?

If beginning to work with a new partner, ask “Onegaishimasu.” (Please do me this favor.) At the end, say “Arigatou gozaimashita.” (Thank you very much.)

Explain the Kamisa shrine.  Is this a religious practice?

Aikido is a secular practice of self-development, which includes both physical and spiritual training. However Aikido is not a religion and does not contain any doctrines or deities. The kamisa in our dojo was a gift from John Grinnell’s Iaido Sensei, Yamamoto Sensei, and functions as a point of focus for the respect of the founder, O’sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the second doshu Kishomaru Ueshiba and all the practitioners of aikido that have contributed to the development and dissemination of the practice.

Different belts—what do they mean? How is class rank observed?

White denotes beginners, whose ranks begin at sixth kyu when they first join the dojo and progresses through fifth and fourth kyu. Brown signifies students at the third, second or first kyu (sankyu, nikyu, ikyu). Black belts and hakama pants are worn by those of shodan rank and above. Shodan means "first step", and is the lowest black belt rank in aikido. Nidan, sandan, and higher rankings come with progressively more years of training and testing.

How do I sit?

Traditionally we sit in seiza—kneeling. Sitting with legs folded (“Indian-style”) is also acceptable. In any case, take care to avoid showing the bottoms of the feet, considered crude especially if the feet are dirty.  Rest the hands gently on the top of the thighs.

Can I partner with anyone?

Yes! Practicing with different partners is one of the best ways to learn. Do not be afraid to ask someone of higher rank to work with you.  Use their name and formal address (for example, “Jen san,” or, “John sensei,” and ask, “Onegaishimasu.”

Practicing with a partner— what is the basic etiquette?

Bow to your partner (aite). If he or she is of higher rank, begin by offering the attack as the uke, and your partner will perform the technique as tori / nage. Perform the attack left & right sides twice before reversing roles. The higher ranked practitioner has the role, of senpai, as the more senior student, he or she is obligated to assist the junior student (kohai) in the study. To this end the senior student may offer some points of instruction.

What about practicing with a group?

Everyone participates in rank order. Usually one side attack is offered by all the uke’s, then another round with the opposite side. If the occasion calls for it, it is proper for only the highest ranking student (or sensei) in the group to offer some instruction—everyone else is to be watching and learning.

When is it ok to offer a suggestion?

Everyone’s thoughts and suggestions are welcome, however please observe sempai - kohai system of rank in which junior students defer to senior students and teachers. It is not just a matter of authority; sempai roughly translates to “mentor / senior” and bears responsibility for the training of kohai, or “junior”. While senpai may offer observations and suggestions to kohai, kohai should wait until sempai opens a discussion or kohai can discreetly and respectfully have a conversation with senpai after class. When practicing with a group, remember that only the group sempai should offer teaching. The one exception to the above mentioned standard of practice is in the case of safety or injury. All students are obligated to voice concerns of safety and report any injury if one occurs. 

I have an old injury/limitation/difficulty with certain things. What if I need to stop?

Safety is the first rule!  Please take care of yourself at all times.  If you need to you stop or leave the mat, please inform the sensei.