Dojo etiquette or Reishiki

reiRight off, let's make it clear that bowing and the other forms of etiquette in the authentic martial arts (bujutsu/bugei - e.g., Tenshindo), martial ways (budó - e.g., Wu-Shin Todejutsu; the civilian defense art as taught by our Foundation) neither portray subservience nor embrace any religious connotations. They indicate respect – which is something entirely different.

The forms of polite behaviour in the dójó have meaning beyond an acknowledgment of the Oriental root of our arts.


Origins of Reishiki in the West

The etiquette observed in authentic and nominal martial arts, ways, and some of the modern combative-sport derivatives in the West is, of course, derived from their Japanese and Chinese roots. The men and women who first introduced these arts/sports to the West also brought the methods of teaching that they were given by their oriental instructors, particularly following World War II. These methods included 'reishiki' (the Japanese formal culture of respectful interaction).

After a couple of generations in the West the bowing and scraping may now seem a bit artificial. This is only natural since we express our politeness in ways other than the bow. We shake hands, and call people "sir". We open doors for people. We have dozens of ways to express politeness and respect that we think of about as often as Japanese would think of bowing (even to the telephone) - not often.

Perhaps we should examine in further detail just what it is that we are doing when we bow in such a perfunctory way, and how we can use these transplanted rituals to our advantage.


Origins in Japan

In Japan, reishiki was developed to a high degree in the Edo, or Tokugawa period (1603-1868), and saw the birth of various specialist schools teaching the formal behaviour of etiquette. The great neo-Confucian movement of the age was a major impetus, infusing the acts of reishiki with the hierarchical meaning that it carries today. The idea that all authority came from above and that everyone had his or her own place in the order of things was reinforced by the degree of bowing between people.

The Imperial court had, from earliest history, always stressed reishiki and the bushi (warriors) - who were originally country bumpkins - had, in the course of association, picked up the habit. The court of the Shogunate adopted these manners, and from them, the samurai throughout the country began to use the forms.


Reishiki for the Samurai

It did not take long, however, for the bushi to create their own distinctive forms of etiquette. Even in the Tokugawa era the action of bowing went beyond a simple acknowledgment of authority into the realm of how to act properly at all times.

Put simply, it was reishiki that allowed the Edo samurai to go about his business without giving or taking offence and without letting his alertness drop for a moment. It was a matter of safety as much as a matter of correct action and courtesy. With constant attention paid to each outward movement, the mind of the warrior could not be other than alert at all times. With no daydreaming the possibility of accidents was reduced and no actions were taken (or accepted) that were not intentional.

It is this aspect of the samurai etiquette that is evidently part of the bujutsu and budó taught in our dójó. The bows are not a form of submission, but a way of nurturing consideration for others, and of practicing safely with alertness and awareness. "Budó begins and ends with Reishiki". This does not mean that we just bob our heads at the start and the finish of a class; it means that the arts we are studying are Reishiki. Respectful behaviour is not "added on"; such manners are part and parcel of our arts.


Reishiki in the West

There is nothing wrong with bowing to your instructor for no other reason than to say 'please' and 'thank you'. He or she has worked hard for many years to achieve the level of skill that can now be passed on to you. That commitment should be appreciated since the work that has gone before makes your learning easier. The bows and the other forms of politeness then extend recognition; they tell the teacher, and yourself, that you appreciate their effort and that you respect it enough to give your best effort to learn what you can. In this manner, reishiki has the purpose of encouraging you to concentrate on what you are doing at all times.

One of the reasons to take up the classical martial and civilian defence arts training is to tame the super-ego. If you cannot bow to someone else without feeling as if you are submitting somehow to another person, then you have no chance of achieving altruism - a traditional virtue in many cultures. In such an instance, the bow can come as a shock on a fundamental level to those individuals possessed by the idea of themself as a self-important entity. This shock is often magnified in a society that does not normally bow, or display natural respect any more; an unfortunate consequence of some egalitarian societies. However, the greater the impact of the shock to the idea of a ‘distinct self’ the greater the chance will be that you will learn something from inculcating the practices of formal etiquette.

Reishiki goes beyond simply bowing in our modern dójó, just as it did four hundred years ago. Etiquette defines how you enter and leave the room, how you move past your fellow students, how you sit or stand, and how you practice. If everyone is following the same code of behaviour, everyone will know what to expect during keiko (formal training). What this means, simply, is that nobody is going to step in front of or behind you when you least expect it and you can concentrate about other things instead, while remaining safe. At the same time, the specific actions of reishiki have the effect of making you more alert so that when the unexpected does occur, you are better prepared to deal with it.

(With thanks for D. Lowry's input).


reiThe next post, Reishiki in practice, will look at some specific examples of traditional dójó etiquette.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy reading: Kindly remove your shoes.

10 February 2013, 23:56
Need to register to leave a comment.

Comments (0)