Reishiki in practice

reiOur previous post on Dójó etiquette or Reishiki introduced the concept of dójó etiquette and why it is important. In this post we look at some specific examples of dójó etiquette in action.


Specific Reishiki...

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

Each art and each instructor in the art will establish a distinct code of behaviour for their students. The main thing to remember is to act at all times with full awareness of what you are doing and why. What follows is a discussion of several forms of Reishiki that are common to most dójó practising the Japanese arts.

...Bow at the dójó entrance

As you enter and leave the specific room or training area (often outdoors) you stop, bring your feet together (heels touching, toes separated at 30o) and bow toward the Embujó (central keiko area), or, in the case of Tenshindó a kneeling bow is executed in the entranceway with all your weaponry placed by your right hand side. This is often described as an acknowledgement to the dójó that you will concentrate fully and perform well and energetically, recognising it as a place where many have trained passionately for lengthy periods so as to acquire the skills that appeal to you. Many students make it a moment for a small meditation to oneself. You leave the busy, confused, and quarrelsome world outside and enter the wholly concentrated world of the dójó. This is the first step and is followed by a series of actions that remind you on a subconscious level that the outside world should be left outside.

On a more mundane level, stopping before you step onto the practice surface is simply good sense. Stepping in without looking can get you hit over the head with a sharp or hard object.

...Bow to the Shomen

This is a bow performed at the start and end of each class that is directed toward the shomen (the high point at the front of the dójó), or perhaps towards a photograph, scroll, or even toward a kamidana (display shelf). The bow is another transition step from the outside world to the dójó. It is also a moment wherein students can either reflect on the history of their art, since this is the time when gratitude is expressed toward the founder and the previous instructors of the art, or to remind themselves of the personal principles which they are attempting to inculcate. Bowing to the shomen also reminds one where it is situated; this is important in how you move around in the dójó with relation to any other participants.

...Bow to the Instructor

At the start and end of a class, students have a chance to make a formal bow to the instructor. This should be done carefully and with full attention since this is your chance to show your gratitude for the knowledge, patience, and abilities of the sensei (licensed, senior instructor). It also expresses your willingness to learn and your request to be instructed.

At many times during a class you will have a chance to thank the instructor for advice or correction. By making this bow with full awareness you will ensure that you are paying full attention to what is being said. It is all too easy to half-listen, say 'thanks', and then go right on practicing something badly. The instructor will return your bow in acknowledgement of your enthusiasm and sincerity.

...Bow to your partner

If you have the opportunity to work with a partner, you will bow to each other. Again, bow carefully and with full attention. You are conveying to your partner: 'Please practice with me', and 'thank you for your cooperation'. A sloppy bow will lead to sloppy practice and the potential for accidents as one student bows while the other attacks.

Always remember that the senior students and the instructors can tell a lot about your attitude by how you observe the etiquette of the dójó.


Zori (dójó slippers) should be worn on the approach to the dójó to avoid picking up infections (and dirt) and passing them on to your fellow students. These zori are taken off at the Genkan (the foyer/entrance to the keiko area) and are placed on top of the pair of suitable training shoes that every student is also required to bring with them to the dójó, in anticipation of outdoor training. All footwear is lined up neatly, facing away from the dójó floor, and out of the way simply to prevent someone tripping over your mess. They are lined up ready to be put on when you leave so that there is little fuss at the end of the class. By placing the shoes specifically so that you are ready to leave the class you are showing that you intend to pay attention and learn.


All movement in the dójó should be done with full awareness and control at all times. It is considered rude to flap your arms around and swivel your head about as you look at everything except what you should be watching. Look where you are going at all times and you will be safe as well as polite.

Walking politely means being able to stop without losing balance at any point in your stride; namely, to walk under control of yourself. If you pass other students who are practicing, wait until they are finished and have noticed you, then move on; don't disturb them. This is obviously a safety rule as well. If you are moving down a line of seated students, move along behind them, not in front of them or between them and the instructor. The latter action cuts their view and also exposes yourself to attack; in effect, you are daring them to attack. It also shows that you are not paying attention. If you must pass in front of them extend your right hand in front of you and bow forward slightly to apologize for your blocking of their view. This places your hand in their view before your body so that they have a chance to stop any intended movements or potentially dangerous actions. Better to lose a finger than an eye.

A basic rule is never to expose your back to the shomen. High-ranking visitors will be seated close to this point and it would be rude to show them your backside. More importantly the rule is an exercise in knowing where you are in relation to the environment at all times.


When you are standing it is impolite to slouch against a wall, put your hands in your pockets, cross your legs or your arms, use your weapon as a support, or generally to be slovenly. All of these prohibitions are to prevent you from moving into a position that exposes you to attack and injury. It would be paranoid to assume that someone is going to sneak up behind you and attack, even during a formal training class. It is not paranoid to assume that someone might fall into you from behind. By being polite when you stand you are in the best position to prevent an injury to yourself and others.


You should be no less polite when you sit down. In Japan it is generally considered rude and ugly to have your limbs spread out away from your body. Think about this cultural foible in terms of sitting with your legs out in front of yourself during a class. Now think what would happen to your knees if someone were to land on them during a practice. On the other hand think how you would feel if you were to trip and injure a fellow student. Again a rule of etiquette is in reality a safety rule. Your legs and arms should always be tucked in and protected from injury. For similar reasons it is not wise to lean back on your arms behind you while sitting.

The idea that it is rude and unsightly to have your elbows sticking out at the sides is also more than a safety rule; it is a good posture training rule. In almost no situation is it of advantage for a martial artist to have their elbows out away from the centre of the body.


The majority of the rules of etiquette in the modern Japanese Budó can be traced to the use and practice of the sword from the koryu (classical) Bujutsu. With several students swinging very sharp blades or heavy wooden weapons at the same time, certain modes of behaviour were developed for safety sake.

In the dójó great care is given to the placement of weapons whenever they are not in use. As an expression of the peaceful intent underlying our systems of Tenshindó and Todejutsu all weapons are placed with their attacking edges facing inward toward the training area, with the weapon-points facing away from the kamiza (the raised area at the front of the dójó). Along the shimoza (back of the dójó, opposite the kamiza) weapons are placed so that their handles are on the left hand side, i.e., to our disadvantage.

Weapons are also placed in such a way as to avoid the need for or possibility of anyone having to move the weapons or step over them. Not only is this done to avoid the possibility of damage to your personal weapons, but the act of touching someone's blade or even of stepping over it was considered not only impolite but an act of aggression and an invitation to attack.

Weapons should also not be leant, unsupported, against the dójó wall during training as they can fall unexpectedly and cause injury.

When the swordsman moved out of the dójó the need for a code of behaviour that kept the swords inside their scabbards was even more obvious. In fact, one of the excuses for a fight was the practice of saya-ate (hitting someone's scabbard with your own) as you passed. Passing on the right side of another swordsman thus became a dangerous (and then rude) practice. One passed so that one's sword was out of reach.

Most of the elaborate rules for handling the katana (Japanese long sword) can be traced to the simple need to keep it under control and to make it plain to others that your intentions were peaceful, or otherwise.


reiSo, next time you begin to bow before, during, or after class, take a moment and think just why you are bowing and what purpose the act holds.


12 February 2013, 19:00
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