Why You Need Dojo Etiquette

Sensei Mae here! I wanted to talk about Dojo Etiquette. We are a traditional Shotokan Karate dojo, so respect is very important to us.   One of the most important rules of etiquette is behavior.

Since by nature we all learn by trial and error, many things will be forgiven in a dojo, but bad behavior is definitely not one of them. This rule applies to every student within the dojo society regardless of their rank, in fact the higher the rank, the less tolerance there is for any breach of etiquette whatsoever. It is very important to remember, however, that correction for acts of misbehavior always come from the top down, not the bottom up.


In our blog post on Dojo Protocol, we discussed how to enter the dojo. The point is that we should bow each time we enter and exit the dojo and teach fellow students to follow the same pattern. Maybe like me, you sometimes inadvertently bow entering other places.  Bowing (rei) comes from our roots and it was rule number one for Funakoshi. “Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with rei.”

Even the Japan National Tourism Organization explains that “In the Japanese bow, the bower expresses appreciation and respect to the person being bowed to by bending at the waist.” It is part of who we are in our karate dojo; we bow.

  • Clear your mind when you bow at the door.  When you walk in, relationship stay outside. 
  • Even when training with my family, I am always careful to address them with the respect they deserve.

Karate is an art about courtesy, manners, etiquette and attitude. In the dojo, regardless of your belt color and ability, as long as you work hard and show a determined commitment, you will always receive praise. However, if you show disrespect to anyone in the dojo, or to the dojo itself, you will be admonished and possibly asked not to return.  Upon joining a karate dojo, you will find that no one gets special treatment as everyone starts as a white belt. I did not start at a belt higher than my younger brother. Everyone starts at the bottom.

So now that you know some basic cultural differences, please understand that a traditional dojo will strive to mimic the training in Japan. That includes the way kata is taught and how a student should greet their instructor.

Let’s talk about the black belts. Black belts are a rank all to their own.  They should always be treated with the utmost respect.  A few quick tips—it is disrespectful to:

  • cut in front of a black belt
  • photograph a black belt without their permission

In Japan, it is forbidden to watch the black belts train. This applies to us at the dojo as well if we are looking to learn courtesy.

  • For example, if there is a class right before back belt class, you should never stick around to watch them train. This is because to become a black belt, much work is required. Then, when a black belt is achieved, we learn secret techniques. It is dangerous to try these techniques if you have not had proper training or correct supervision.
  • It is good not to know what the black belts do in their classes. It will keep you safe.   Even within the rank of black belt, we do not watch the higher black belts train.
  • If a first-degree black belt cannot watch a second-degree black belt train, why should a red, yellow or brown belt watch a black belt train?
  • Respect is essential in karate.  All black belts must be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of how you feel about them outside of the dojo.

In addition to respecting all black belts, senseis merit a certain respect. For example, bowing to your senseis when they pass by is always a good idea. While training, be sure to respond with a “Yes, Sensei” or “yes ma’am”, “no, sir”, etc… whatever your Sensei prefers.

Each belt rank is special. In my dojo it goes from light colors to dark beginning with white and progressing to brown then black.   Each belt gains more respect because of the time it takes to earn.

  • In addition to respecting the belt grade, one should respect the belt itself.
  • You are clearly a stellar human being for taking up martial arts so you should treat your belt appropriately.
  • Not just anyone can obtain a belt.  For that reason, my belt, obi, is never left on the floor.
  • There are some pretty cool things that you can do with your belts as you progress. Several people I know have belt racks to display their success.
  • Regarding the traditional uniform itself, sometimes during class it can start to come undone.
    • When this happens, you should turn around (away from your Sensei) and adjust yourself quickly and without drawing attention to yourself.
    • In addition to being rude to adjusting your uniform during class, it can make you appear distracted and undisciplined.

One thing that I really enjoy about karate is that it allows me to leave the outside world, well, outside.  It is peaceful that way. In the dojo I am not a boss, a daughter or a sister. I am simply a student.  This allows me to be completely relaxed and focus on learning.  If you are having a problem, take it off the floor. Do not come back onto the floor until you are able to learn.  This is healthy for you, and respectful to others around you.

Remember the dojo is here for you to learn. Ask questions, get a karate buddy and have fun!

Hope this has been helpful to you. It was helpful for me to write it. It is always good to go over dojo etiquette.

Have a great week!




How Taking a Day Off Will Improve Your Karate

I can just hear it now. “Sensei Glen, it is so enjoyable for me to go to class each and every day and I just have to keep active and cannot miss a day of working out.” I have said the same to my teacher as well. Connecting with my karate family at the dojo gives me a place to talk to like-minded people and does help me deal with daily stress. I am always making new friends at the dojo. Yes, I encourage you to come often to the dojo. The main point is to take the time needed to build stamina for classes at your belt level.

Glen Last Day at Fido

The picture in today’s blog is of me on one of my last days in the office as I have retired from corporate life. I did not go into work every day and I am sure you took vacation as well from your job or school. The goals of these vacations are to relax, reconnect, and rejuvenate ourselves so we can come back to our jobs and continue to be productive.

  • Part of our karate training is a continuous build up to black belt and once at the black belt level to continue to improve through consistent training.
  • Beginners and exercise enthusiasts (could be me) sometimes forget that our bodies naturally need rest and recovery.
  • A consistent pattern of training will push you to your goals with proper resting in-between. If you are planning on taking off one or two days from training per week, the results will be good. If you train for a month non-stop, as I have, and then stop for a month, the re-start is harder on your body than the consistency of the training.

Sensei Glen, how do we reconcile a day off with Funakoshi Precept #11: “Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.” Here is how, we do need a day off once in a while. We are still committing to consistently training. The benefits from that training require 1-2 days off per week to keep improving.

In my training plan, we look to a few fundamental principles to keep us at our best. Here are the top three reasons to take a day off from training.

  1. Rest between practices is a key to growth in strength training. We need to listen to our bodies when we exercise.
    • Karate can place relatively high stress on the body. Think back to our last kick class. We could go up and back on the floor and not stop the activity. We are better off walking back to the starting position and having a moment of recovery and to bring our heart rate back down.
    • The same principle of an interval between activities applies to our overall active schedule.
    • For our children at the dojo who are still growing and developing, too much of anything, even karate, is likely to result in injury, burnout, or poor performance.
    • We need to take a day of rest. In the Bible, Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the seventh day.
    • Failing to rest at regular intervals, I need to force myself to take the weekly 1-2 days off from working out, which can mean all the benefits I am hoping to achieve from my hard work is counterproductive without the day off. I have seen it in myself that my performance actually decreased when I do not take a day to recover.
    • Just prior to the black belt test, I had a slightly pulled calf muscle. Nothing was going to stop me from testing. I did have to take a few days off from training and had to re-think how to train. I ended up in a pool practicing no impact kicking and katas. My kicking and kata looked better on the test due to the rest and alternate training then they would have if I had just followed through on the initial, non-stop training plan.
  2. The proper amount of rest or sleep is critical; this is the rejuvenation process
  3. Coming to class on a regular basis allows us to reconnect with our fellow martial artists and create the family of support many of us are looking for to keep us sharp.

As some of you know, our blog is designed to improve the lives of those who come to the blog using lessons learned from the dojo. I was recently teaching an adult class with and a new yellow belt asked where the main sensei was.

  • Apparently, we had not met, and our main sensei had never been absent from any of his classes.
  • I introduced myself as this was prior to class and his next question was “So, is class cancelled?” “Of course not” was the answer.
  • As a result of the question, I had the good fortune of meeting a new friend and was able to teach some really good lessons at class.

My challenge for you is to sketch out your week and find the intervals when you are not training. When you adopt this new schedule of less than seven days of training you will find that your performance will actually improve. Put a comment below and let us know your intention as well as how the new training went.

See you in class soon.

Drum Beats and Songs from the AAU National Tournament

Sensei Mae National AAU

Sensei Mae at the National AAU Competition in NC

Sensei Mae here back from the AAU national tournament! Hope everyone had a good 4th of July!

When I have competed previously, I have had to miss opening ceremonies.  I tend not to care much for pomp or prestige; however, I really enjoyed the opening ceremonies.  Sensei Sarah Napier got a video of parts, and posted them on AAU Karate KY Facebook page. I would recommend checking it out.

The drums were captivating. Also, knowing that some of the people dancing and beating the drums are high ranking black belts made it much more fascinating.

This year, as a part of the opening, we got sing a song “karate-do sanka.” karate-do-sanka-e1499518991982.jpg

  • Long ago in Japan, there were songs about karate.
  • We were talked to as referees and officials on Wednesday about the history and importance of passing these songs down.
  • We were reminded that karate songs are strong and should not be sung as a lullaby, but as a war song. To this song, there are at least three verses. Here is the English translation:

Kicking and punching are the technique of karate.

We are trying to learn the depths of this art.

We are training under the five rules of dojo kun.

We must try harder, looking at our spirit.

  • Very neat! I will be passing this along to the students.

My dojo participates in AAU karate competitions, and we had the national competition, hosted by Director Sensei Joe Mirza, in North Carolina.  It was a great competition! Here are some observations from the tournament.

  • The students of ours that went did a very good job and I am very proud of all of them.
  • We got to see a lot of great kata. Some of my favorite katas were performed quite well.
  • There were several different styles of karate. We represented Shotokan, and there was also Go-ji-ryu, Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu and several others.
  • I had the privilege of meeting several great karate practitioners including Sensei Adomson our neighbor in Indianapolis and Sensei Michael Kamininski of San Diego.
  • I was certified as a referee and worked the ring with Sensei Adomson.
  • I have competed in the past at the national level, and I have always enjoyed it.  This year was a very exciting year! The AAU invited the people from WKF, WUKF, and Romania.
  • We had an Olympic style ring on Saturday, giving us the chance to preview how the Olympics will be.



New Mirror Judges

One of the drum beats that was different for me from the state/regional level was that this year AAU brought back “mirror” style refereeing for sparring.  This was very new for me. Others shared with me that we have not used this style of refereeing this since the ’80s.  (Maybe Sensei Glen remembers the ’80s, but this was long before I was around). Normally in point sparring, there are two judges (or four depending on the level of skill of the athletes) and one referee. See diagram.

Practicing the mirror style will help us understand:

  • The WKF style for when we compete internationally.
  • How things will be for the 2020 Olympics.  Yes, sensei Mae is very excited about karate being in the Olympics for the first time!!!

At first I really did not understand or enjoy mirror style.  However, after one day of training and another day of watching it, it is really a neat way to referee!

  • Having a Kanza and just two refs made communication much more concise.
  • The Kanza had a lot to do during the match.
  • Not only does the Kanza have the responsibility of making sure the scoring is done properly, he must also pay close attention to the fight so that if need be, he can make a decision.
  • The head ref, as we are used to, still calls game, awards points, and calls for contact and other warnings.
  • The mirror does just as the name implies- mirror the head ref.
  •  What is really different is that the head ref cannot overrule the mirror.
  • If the head ref and mirror disagree on what call to make, the head ref looks to the kanza, and the kanza makes a ruling.
  • Once the kanza makes a decision, no one can override that call. That took me a little bit to get used to. However, it is nice when being head ref to not have 100% of the pressure all the time.
  • Giving the mirror ref the ability to walk around and actively observe the fight gives the competitors a more fair fight.
  • Previously, with two judges stationary, an athlete could dedicate their time to learning how to work the judges. This allows weaker karate to flourish.

Giving the mirror freedom to observe, I think, gives the opportunity for cleaner, high quality waza.

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Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

Sensei Mae and Sarah Napier AAU National

Sensei Mae with Sensei Sarah Napier