Dojo/Dojang/School Etiquette

Steve

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Reading another thread made me wonder about other schools and their etiquette. I think that the personality of the school has a lot to do with the students who train there... more so than the efficacy of the style where most of us train as a hobby.

My school is very informal, although it's more formal than most BJJ schools. Warm ups are relaxed and a lot of chatting goes on. We'll have music on, as often as not... usually something loud and obnoxious, but every once in awhile, we'll sneak some cheesy '80s stuff in there to make the kids groan. Music gets turned off during technical instruction so that we can all hear, and then will usually go back on during sparring. The class has a relaxed but attentive atmosphere. People pay attention and generally focus on the task at hand.

General rules and observances amount to not leaning on the walls, bowing at the beginning and ending of class, and then we shake everyone's hand down the line. We also line up in ranking order and try to straighten up our uniforms, although it's not a huge deal if you don't get your belt on correctly.

Personally, I am all about following rules I believe make sense, but senseless ritual drives me crazy. I respect individuals and not ranks, so the relaxed atmosphere suits me very well. At the same time, I like structure, so the predictable format appeals to me as well.

What about you guys? What kinds of rules do you have, and do you LIKE them? Does the structure (or lack of) appeal to you? Do you think that the personality and etiquette play a major role in your decision to train where you do?
 

Bill Mattocks

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My dojo is a lot like yours, I suspect. We don't do music, but the warmup calisthenics are less formal - we usually don't put our gi tops on until it is over. We also tend to be less formal on the nights when junior sensei's teach than when 'the man' is there in person. We bow in and out, we bow on and off the floor, we line up according to rank (there are usually more black belts than students, and it takes about 9 years to make black belt, so we're a seasoned school), and we are polite and respectful. Those who cannot being themselves to say 'sensei' to a BB will at least say "Mister" or "Miss" and their last name.

Personally, I am all about following rules I believe make sense, but senseless ritual drives me crazy.

I think that's probably where we differ. Ritual is not 'senseless' as I see it, even if I do not grasp the entire significance of it. No one has asked me to do anything that I find offensive or anything like that, so I'm happy enough to do what is asked. I don't drop my bo or sai on the ground, I don't lean on the walls, I ask to leave the dojo floor during training, I do not interrupt two BB's talking to each other, in general, I have no problems at all.

I figure I would not be asked to respect a ritual or tradition unless it was important to my Sensei. I respect him, so I respect his requests. It's not that hard to do. The world is not just about me.
 

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Etiquette at our academy would be similar to everything mentioned above... We play music a bit less often during training, but when we do it would be more classic rock than anything else so that everyone would be happy. As far as etiquettee goes, we don't fix gi's or tie our belts directly facing the instructor. We face away from the instructor and straighten up at the back end of the mat as a form of respect. I personally feel that would be the most formal act at the end and everyone seems to be cool with it.
 
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Steve

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I think that's probably where we differ. Ritual is not 'senseless' as I see it, even if I do not grasp the entire significance of it. No one has asked me to do anything that I find offensive or anything like that, so I'm happy enough to do what is asked. I don't drop my bo or sai on the ground, I don't lean on the walls, I ask to leave the dojo floor during training, I do not interrupt two BB's talking to each other, in general, I have no problems at all.
Maybe it's semantics, but even the term "ritual" connotes to me something that is largely pointless.

Common courtesy is fine. Not interrupting anyone is a good habit to acquire, but the BB has nothing to do with it (IMO). At the same time, I would consider it exceedingly rude if I am waiting politely to ask a question and were being ignored.
I figure I would not be asked to respect a ritual or tradition unless it was important to my Sensei. I respect him, so I respect his requests. It's not that hard to do. The world is not just about me.
That sounds fine. I'm not suggesting that the world is about me or anyone else.

I guess ultimately I'm wondering if the performance of the rituals and formalities is something that you enjoy. Do you think that the rituals make your training better? Do you think that the honorifics and the bowing are essential to YOUR enjoyment of training in your art?

This isn't intended to be about whether a particular point of view is wrong or right, better or worse. What I'm really suggesting is that the efficacy of the style is secondary to most people when choosing an art to train in. I'm proposing that the primary influence is the culture of the school. Even to the point that an ineffective style will be rationalized.

As another example, I've trained as a guest at a few different BJJ schools. At one, class was supposed to start at 4pm, and I was there at 3:45 getting changed. I was the only one there. At about 4:05, the students started trickling in. Warm-ups started at 4:20 or so and the class which was scheduled to end at 5:30 went until about 6:15. The format of the class was haphazard, even though the quality of the instruction was really high. I hated it. Had this been the only BJJ school in my area, I couldn't train there.

Am I making sense?
 

Xue Sheng

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School Etiquette


Let me think.... be polite and don't be an idiot

It is TCMA and rather informal.

There is a bit of bowing but it is not the idea of the Sifu it was the idea of a bunch of his students (westerners) that thought they should bow to him whether he wanted them to ort not. They were asked not to and told what they are doing is mostly pointless but they are a persistent lot who are being polite in their culture (western) and looking silly in my Sifus culture (eastern)

School Etiquette in my last Xingyiquan school was

No whining.

Per my last Xingyi Sifu

Training Xingyi hurts and if you have joint pain, let me know otherwise I dont want to hear it
 
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Steve

Steve

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School Etiquette


Let me think.... be polite and don't be an idiot

It is TCMA and rather informal.

There is a bit of bowing but it is not the idea of the Sifu it was the idea of a bunch of his students (westerners) that thought they should bow to him whether he wanted them to ort not. They were asked not to and told what they are doing is mostly pointless but they are a persistent lot who are being polite in their culture (western) and looking silly in my Sifus culture (eastern)

School Etiquette in my last Xingyiquan school was

No whining.

Per my last Xingyi Sifu

Training Xingyi hurts and if you have joint pain, let me know otherwise I dont want to hear it
Xue Sheng, it sounds like you appreciate a practical set of rules, as well. Do you think that the simple and unpresuming atmosphere influenced your decision to train in the schools you chose? Do you think you would train in a school with a more experienced teacher even if there was a greater emphasis on formality?

I'd be very interested to hear from some people who train in more formal schools. Do you think that the structure and formality play a large role in your decision to train in that school or style?
 

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I train in two very different schools when it comes to etiquette and formality, therefore, I would disagree up to a point that the efficacy of the style is secondary to the culture/etiquette when choosing a school. I say up to a point rather than disagree completely because regardless of expectations of etiquette both schools have something in common and that is that they are attended by friendly, humourous and hard training students.

My TKD class is the most formal. Once graded we all have to wear regulation Tae Kwon-do Association of Great Britain Doboks. We have to use regulation TAGB sparring equipment. We have to address anybody of senior grade as "Sir" "ma'am" "Mr...." or "Mrs...." We are expected to bow when entering or exiting the Dojang. We line up in grade order. We face away from the instructor when we are adjusting our Doboks/belts. We only adjust our Doboks/belts when permitted during training when our instuctor uses the words "Scholl/Relax" When our instructor says this we are to say "Thank you Sir!" before facing away and making adjustments. We bow and touch gloves before sparring. We shake hands and bow when finishing sparring.

We must make sure our heels are touching when bowing - our instructor stresses that the only people who are allowed to have their feet apart when bowing to him are people with balls bigger than him!! Apparently his wife calls him "coconuts!" So by this he means that no-one has balls bigger than him!

I know that there are a lot more formal rules that I can not recall right now.

My Jujutsu class is completely different. We call our instructors and other students by first names. There is no uniform (though most people wear the same trousers) A lot of people also wear the school T-shirt but it is not expected. The only formal things that remain are lining up in grade order at the start and end of the session and kneeling and bowing towards the instructor (only at the beginning and end of class)

For me the etiquette of each is of little concern compared to the quality of the training. Both schools provide me with very different but high quality instruction and that is what matters. A part of me enjoys the ritual of the TKD but I admit that a big part of me feels weird about a lot of aspects. Calling people that I know on a first name basis "Mr......" or Mrs....." feels strange!

However I would agree with Bill in saying that it is not all about me and whether I am comfortable with every aspect of etiquette! As far as I am concerned it is part and parcel of the school and if I don't like it I could always go elsewhere! It is voluntary and if I want to recieve the top quality instruction, training and benefits of that school then I need to abide by the rules and boundaries that come with that school. I can not pick and choose what bits I want to train.

Does it enhance my training? Yes and No, I would still train hard but there is something about slipping into the Dobok and etiquette that gets me into the right frame of mind to train.
 

Bill Mattocks

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Maybe it's semantics, but even the term "ritual" connotes to me something that is largely pointless.

To me, a ritual is a prescribed or established procedure.

Humans largely love rituals. We make rituals of everything. Very few people do not have rituals in their lives. Rituals add social structure, give comfort, and connect us with our own history.

Having been raised Catholic and having served in the military, I am familiar with and comfortable with rituals.

More than anything else, rituals are social constructs. Everyone involved in a ritual has a place, a part in the structure, and belongs.

I guess ultimately I'm wondering if the performance of the rituals and formalities is something that you enjoy.

I am not sure 'enjoy' is the right word, other than to say that I enjoy being an acknowledged part of a whole. When I am performing za-rei while another is being promoted, I 'enjoy' knowing that I am being given the gift of being part of an important ritual for another. I am more than just a student at my dojo; I am a welcome member of the family.

Do you think that the rituals make your training better?

I do not know if they make my blocks faster or my punches stronger. However, I consider my first kata, Sanchin. Three battles. Mind, body, and spirit. I do the kata and it is itself a ritual. I think about the meaning of seeking balance between these aspects of myself as I perform the kata, and it may make my kata better. If it makes my kata better, it makes me a better karateka.

I can also say that I do not take karate training specifically for self-defense training. I feel that I take karate for the benefit of my health, my body, and to some extent, my spirit. After 25-some-odd years, I am reconnecting with my warrior spirit, as odd as that may sound. I am a warrior, I have always been a warrior, and I was destroying myself by locking down my warrior soul. Ritual helps me to reconnect.

Do you think that the honorifics and the bowing are essential to YOUR enjoyment of training in your art?

Essential? I don't know. I'll say 'yes'. I am sure I could learn the essentials of karate in any dojo with any excellent teacher. I would learn karate, but I would not master my spirit. I can guess that I would probably lose interest and quit. Self-defense and karate alone are not enough for me.

This isn't intended to be about whether a particular point of view is wrong or right, better or worse. What I'm really suggesting is that the efficacy of the style is secondary to most people when choosing an art to train in.

I hear you. I am intrigued by other threads here about people who object to kata, they just want to get to the self-defense and the sparring, etc. I guess I understand their point of view, and I might have felt the same way when I was younger.

Now I am a lot less interested in the 'efficacy' of my karate, so I believe you are correct, at least in my case. I know it (isshinryu) is terrific for actual, real, street-type self-defense. But I'm sure I could train in other forms that might be more directly street-type self-defense oriented, like Krav Maga or something like that. I could take boxing, or BJJ.

I'm proposing that the primary influence is the culture of the school. Even to the point that an ineffective style will be rationalized.

Fortunately for me, my senseis are quite good at bunkai. When I have questions about 'why do we do it this way', they can not only explain, but demonstrate, and I'm not stupid - if they were full of it, I could figure that out. So far, everything I see makes perfect sense to me. I simply haven't seen anything 'ineffective' so far.

As another example, I've trained as a guest at a few different BJJ schools. At one, class was supposed to start at 4pm, and I was there at 3:45 getting changed. I was the only one there. At about 4:05, the students started trickling in. Warm-ups started at 4:20 or so and the class which was scheduled to end at 5:30 went until about 6:15. The format of the class was haphazard, even though the quality of the instruction was really high. I hated it. Had this been the only BJJ school in my area, I couldn't train there.

We are pretty good about starting on time. There is one lady who arrives late consistantly, but she works full-time, and has a family that expects her to make dinner every night as well. She does that and then comes directly to class. She trains hard and never complains. She can come late, we know she is doing everything she can. If I were late without an excuse, I might have a few hundred pushups to do.

Am I making sense?

Sure! I think perhaps I like ritual, because it connects me and 'plugs me in' to the dojo and my dojo-mates'. But I come from a Marine Corps 'Band of Brothers' mentality, and it goes further back to being raised Catholic. I seek belonging and being part of something, and ritual is part of how those structures are built.

Learning the ability to punch, kick, and block - that's great too. But perhaps for me, it is nearly a side-effect.
 

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i teach tai chi & bagua classes at the studio my wife and i operate. there are absolutely no formalities, or rituals. there is no bowing. there are no uniforms. there are no ranks or titles. i call students by there first name, and they call me by mine. if they have a question, they ask. publicly or privately... its up to them. we laugh, we learn, we sweat, and we come back again. i like music, but realize different people have different tastes and expectations, so i play what i like so at least one person is happy! but i do change it up, from coltrane to pink floyd, beethoven to neil young... lots of movie scores, like last of the mohicans, gladiator, the departed, etc. sometimes no music at all. each class is different, some classes are more introspective, qigong/meditation, while others are more martial throwdown/smackaround... many times a little of both. just like the jazz i like to play, we see how far we can pull away from the melody and still stay connected to the tune.

pete.
 

Xue Sheng

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Xue Sheng, it sounds like you appreciate a practical set of rules, as well. Do you think that the simple and unpresuming atmosphere influenced your decision to train in the schools you chose? Do you think you would train in a school with a more experienced teacher even if there was a greater emphasis on formality?

Actually my choice for going to my Taiji sifu to train was I wanted to learn more about Taijiquan and my first sifu just did not have the background - he was also not big on formality by the way) and I came from a couple other CMA schools and there was no formality there either. As for someone more experienced, IMO, that is a hard one to find, my sifu was a student of Tung Ying Chieh and Tung Sigung recognized him as such and my sifu has been at this for over 50 years. However I do know that things were a bit more formal for him when he was a student, but not much. For example if he were the same as his sifu I would need to bow by kneeling on the floor and touch my head to the floor at some point.

As for Xingyiquan the formality I find is in Santi Shi, it is required and with out it, IMO, it is not Xingyiquan. However if there was a more experience sifu that was more formal I would go check it out if I were still training Xingyi (it is an addiction I am trying to break :D)

But I look for a good sifu not formality or the lack thereof when it comes to finding one.
 

Daniel Sullivan

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What about you guys? What kinds of rules do you have, and do you LIKE them? Does the structure (or lack of) appeal to you? Do you think that the personality and etiquette play a major role in your decision to train where you do?
Korean Martial Arts is fairly traditional in our classes, but not overly rigid. The kendo class is the most traditional, though we are not nearly as rigid as a school with a Japanese sensei would be.

In my own backyard project with a student body of two, we bow in, bow out, shake hands and maintain a structured class. Still working out any other traditional details.

Personally, I like the more rigid, traditional school. Maybe my having attended parochial school gave me more of an appreciation? I am the same way about church; I prefer a high mass with greater formality. Either way, when it is traditional and rigid, it helps to get me to keep focus on the small details more.

That is me personally. I do not feel that either formal or informal is inherently better; different people excel in different training environments. Just like church, some people are very uncomfortable in a very formal worship setting, while others do not like a more casual setting. Neither is better; just different ways of expressing one's spirituality.

I do feel that formal is better for some people. And I do think that informal is better for some people. I flourish in either, but prefer the formal.

Daniel
 

shihansmurf

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Sure! I think perhaps I like ritual, because it connects me and 'plugs me in' to the dojo and my dojo-mates'. But I come from a Marine Corps 'Band of Brothers' mentality, and it goes further back to being raised Catholic. I seek belonging and being part of something, and ritual is part of how those structures are built.

Learning the ability to punch, kick, and block - that's great too. But perhaps for me, it is nearly a side-effect.

This has more to do with why you chose a great school for you than anything else. You understand and have a clear view of your personal preferences and needs. You then seemed to find a school that fits those needs. A lot of people don't, especially at the begining of their martial art training. This is where the disconnect with much of the rituals come into play. People go into a school looking for one thing and the associated trappings, find something else and then find it useless.

This isn't how it always works, of course. My own disillusionment with the formalized rituals, or at least the vast majority of it, came after may years of training. I focus on application and conditioning in place of character building with my students. Guys who come to me and stay with my class have a different outlook and set of training goals than people that look for a traditional school and the training environment facilitates them in a far superior way than a more traditional dojo. Folks that are coming to me to experience the type of enviornment that you are in wil be sorely disappointed. We're informal. I get called Mr Chapman part of the time. Mark most of it. We joke around, when we have the air to do so(we do a lot of conditioning), and I expect my students to point out when they see errors on my performance. I'm part of the class too, I'm just the most senior guy. Test day, things shift to rigid formality, I become Sensei then, but then they go back to normal when the test is done. This works well for us as a class.

Neither one is better than the other, objectively speaking. Each type of etiquette has advantages and disadvantages and each work better for a given student's needs. The trick is matching up the right student with the right school. Its also important to know where you're tolerance level for formality in training is. Mine is pretty low so I tend to avoid trainng in schools where they make a big deal out of it. I don't care for much of it on either side of the "rank divide". When I'm the student I dislike being spoken down to my someone because they've been involved in a sport longer than me. When I'm the senior, I'm uncomfortabe with someone being subserviant, or bowing and scraping. I figure that you're being respectfull enough if you treat me with commom courtesty and listen to what I have to say on the topic.

There was another thread where phrases like "sempai oath", and "dojo law" were being tossed out. This sort of thing makes me cringe, as I've found that places that tack on this sort of thing seldom have good reasons for doing so. Power in interpersonal relationships is an intersting thing, and I'm always forced to wonder at the dynamics in the relationships in a school that needs to codify things like that. If it works for them, that's great, it just sends up a red flag to a guy like me. I have found that the most effective way of getting students to act in a manner that you want them to is to act in that manner yourself. I expect my students to be polite to each other and not to degrade one another, so I don't do that to them. I don't want to be interrupted when I'm speaking so I don't interrupt them. Seems to work well.

I thinks its cool that you've found a place that fits what you're looking for, especially in regards to the atmosphere of the school. Sounds like a good fit.

Mark
 

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We had allot of personallity in our class. We use to train to music and we were encouraged to hold open discussions as we trained, making it a relaxed atmosphere. Being military at the time, we still held to our respective ways while in class and when the instructor spoke of course.
 

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This has more to do with why you chose a great school for you than anything else. You understand and have a clear view of your personal preferences and needs. You then seemed to find a school that fits those needs. A lot of people don't, especially at the begining of their martial art training. This is where the disconnect with much of the rituals come into play. People go into a school looking for one thing and the associated trappings, find something else and then find it useless.

I agree. My background prepared me for what I found, and in fact I was pleased to find it. I would have been much less happy had I found a more 'Americanized' dojo that taught karate (however well they did it) and not the traditions or the small formalities that we use in mine.

This isn't how it always works, of course. My own disillusionment with the formalized rituals, or at least the vast majority of it, came after may years of training. I focus on application and conditioning in place of character building with my students.
If you don't mind, my character is already built. I am nearly 48 years old, my character is what it is at this point. I am a man and not a child. The ritual connects me at a basic level to my warrior spirit, and I am sure it can help build character in younger people, but I am, character-wise, a finished (flawed) product.

And believe me, we get plenty of conditioning and application. Vigorous calisthenics, stretching, and bunkai to go with basic exercises and kata, not to mention kumite. I don't think anything is neglected.

Guys who come to me and stay with my class have a different outlook and set of training goals than people that look for a traditional school and the training environment facilitates them in a far superior way than a more traditional dojo. Folks that are coming to me to experience the type of enviornment that you are in wil be sorely disappointed.

Horses for courses, as the brits say. We each seek what we desire.

I will say this - if I were already a karate adept, and I wanted merely to learn some this or that to round out my skill set, I might well want to seek out a teacher who just 'cut to the chase' and taught me what I wanted to learn. But I am a mere beginner, and I am on a Path, and I am patient. All things in time.

We're informal. I get called Mr Chapman part of the time. Mark most of it. We joke around, when we have the air to do so(we do a lot of conditioning), and I expect my students to point out when they see errors on my performance. I'm part of the class too, I'm just the most senior guy. Test day, things shift to rigid formality, I become Sensei then, but then they go back to normal when the test is done. This works well for us as a class.
We're pretty informal during warm up as well, until we put our gi tops and belts on. And we're not formal like the military even then. Just basic stuff that I find unobjectionable.

[-snip-]

When I'm the student I dislike being spoken down to my someone because they've been involved in a sport longer than me. When I'm the senior, I'm uncomfortabe with someone being subserviant, or bowing and scraping. I figure that you're being respectfull enough if you treat me with commom courtesty and listen to what I have to say on the topic.

There was another thread where phrases like "sempai oath", and "dojo law" were being tossed out. This sort of thing makes me cringe, as I've found that places that tack on this sort of thing seldom have good reasons for doing so.
Yeah, I'd be uncomfortable with that as well. "Call me Master!" What, are you kidding? Sensei means teacher and it is traditional. The discipline and ritual we use in our dojo is traditional, and a shadow of how it once was, so I don't see it as asking too much of students.

I snipped your words above because what you say resonates with me - I have had friends who objected to military service using similar terms. Yes, we bow - is that the same as 'scraping'? You make it seem so disgusting, as if I am giving my person lesser value than the person I am bowing to. If I saw it that way, I wouldn't want to do it either, but I don't. Please note that when a person bows to sensei, sensei bows back. Respect - and it is a two-way street. It is no different (to me) than a salute in the military. I salute officers - they salute me. Respect given and returned.

Nor have I ever felt 'talked down to' by a sensei or senior student in my dojo. My seniors know more than I do about isshinryu. They share their wisdom. I listen and try to learn. If I have a question or disagree, I ask. I am never browbeat or made to feel inferior. I'm a 48-year-old Marine. You think I'd put up with being made to feel inferior? I just don't quite understand how 'respectful' becomes 'subservient'.

I mean, I went to a friend's house who is from another culture. He asked me to take my shoes off in his house. I did, and what, I'm subservient to him? I'm bowing and scraping? I'm someone considering myself inferior to him? I'm just showing him respect for his rules in his house. If it bothered me that much, I could leave, I guess.

Power in interpersonal relationships is an intersting thing, and I'm always forced to wonder at the dynamics in the relationships in a school that needs to codify things like that. If it works for them, that's great, it just sends up a red flag to a guy like me. I have found that the most effective way of getting students to act in a manner that you want them to is to act in that manner yourself. I expect my students to be polite to each other and not to degrade one another, so I don't do that to them. I don't want to be interrupted when I'm speaking so I don't interrupt them. Seems to work well.
I can see we're different. The military has history and traditions, and I understand them. So does the Catholic church. So when a dojo that adheres to traditions asks me to follow those traditions when in the dojo, I have no problem with it.

I thinks its cool that you've found a place that fits what you're looking for, especially in regards to the atmosphere of the school. Sounds like a good fit.
Thank you - I feel it is a good fit. And I completely understand what you're saying, and agree, with the minor exception of what appears to be a belief that following tradition = being subservient. I just don't agree.
 

shihansmurf

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If you don't mind, my character is already built. I am nearly 48 years old, my character is what it is at this point. I am a man and not a child. The ritual connects me at a basic level to my warrior spirit, and I am sure it can help build character in younger people, but I am, character-wise, a finished (flawed) product.


Yeah, I'd be uncomfortable with that as well. "Call me Master!" What, are you kidding? Sensei means teacher and it is traditional. The discipline and ritual we use in our dojo is traditional, and a shadow of how it once was, so I don't see it as asking too much of students.

I snipped your words above because what you say resonates with me - I have had friends who objected to military service using similar terms. Yes, we bow - is that the same as 'scraping'? You make it seem so disgusting, as if I am giving my person lesser value than the person I am bowing to. If I saw it that way, I wouldn't want to do it either, but I don't. Please note that when a person bows to sensei, sensei bows back. Respect - and it is a two-way street. It is no different (to me) than a salute in the military. I salute officers - they salute me. Respect given and returned.

We're all flawed, that's what makes us interesting. :)

I re-read what I had written and I realize that it comes across a bit harsher than I intended, or at least a bit more judgmental in places. Let me give a bit more context as our views are not so far apart as they seem.

By the character building remark, I should probably say a more "hollistic" approach perhaps? Many traditional schools don't have as their chief aim the end result of producing combat athletes and fighters, opting instead to concentrate on the persons development of "character". They are promoting the tertiary benefits of martial art training such as discipline, comraderie, and other social factors. There's nothing wrong with that, but I am of the opinion that those things happen as a result of hard, realistic training and not because of artificialy constructed traditions that have more to do with military culture than fighting training. Given the way that most Japanese/Okinawan arts were filtered through returning servicemen and taught to the Japanese military, the wholesale adoption of things like standing in lines in class(formations), standing in formation by rank(heirachy of rank/chain of command- why do you obey the directives of students that out rank you if they are not the instructor?), lots of bowing(saluting), flags and pictures of dead guys(paegentry), ritualized behaviors upon promotion(NCO Induction Ceremonies, Wetting Down of LT's, Blood Rank), and recitation of the dojo kun( Ranger Creed, Soldier's Creed, NCO Creed, and the like), it is easy to see why you find the surroundings familiar and comforting.

How much of that was traditionaly practiced in Okinawa prior to karate being exported to a militaristic Japan, then on to the States after WWII?

A student addressing me as Sensei, doesnt offend me. I won't call just anyone of black belt rank by that honorific, they would actually have to be my teacher. I only have the one left. The other two have passed on. At the point I am at on my journey, I don't really need an instructor in the same manner that you do and that is what colors both of our perceptions of this issue. Where I am at, my skillset is already pretty well ingrained. I need more peer counseling type input and feedback as opposed to a teacher instilling the art. I know this sounds arrogant as all kinds of hell and I don't intend it to be, but after doing this for 25 years my perspective of the art is bit different. I know how to do my art very well, I don't need to be taught karate. Sometimes, I need tips. Given what I just stated, I think that refering to my peers by their names, or with "Sir" or "Ma'am" is sufficient to show respect, certainly without being disrespectful of the one remaining person that actually qualifies to be my "Sensei". I would ask for no more in return.

See, I've worked with this person for the better part of the 25 years that I have been involved in the arts and I think that the sort of respect that I hold for that person has to actually be earned, not just assumed by someone because they happen to be a black belt. I think that for a person to be considered a teacher, they have to know that student. I think they have to have a developed relationship with them. Not just be a black belt.

I don't think that you are giving yourself lesser value by showing respect to the people with which you train. No offense was intended, but I wonder if you would show a boxing coach that same respect? How about a guitar teacher? You might(and probably would from what I can tell about you from your posts), but most martial artist wouldn't, in my experience. This is where I have the problem. I am a godan, a recently promoted one in fact, in shotokan and kobujutsu. Should I be given any more respect, bowed to, or treated with any more deference, than the guy that coaches my wife's softball team? How about a firearms instructor?

Some would say yes.

I am not one of those.

We have, fundamentally, the same job, either producing athletes or combatants but perhaps because of the exoticism associated with the martial arts, it is assumed that I should be shown loftier deference. Personally, I would be more polite to the guy who teaches people to shoot.

In my time in the arts I have witness some unscrupulous behaviors on the part of instructors towards their students. I've encounters more than a few megalomaniacal asshats that thrived on the bit of social power that teaching karate had given them. I ran across one too many dojo that was set up like a little personality cult with the teacher as a little tin god, prosideing over his kingdom. I've also noticed that there is a distinct lack of this kind of crap in places that train and compete in heavy contact. Seems as though, in places where you actually have to prove your worth through performance on the mat or in the ring, the trend towards rampant egotism and the "Bow to your sensei!" type crap doesn't appear with as much frequency. Also seems to me that when, in those type of schools, the students are respectfull it is genuine and honest because that respect is earned and not just an enforced pattern of behavior. In those cases, I don't find that sort of thing demeaning at all.

We've had lots of threads around these parts on rank. As martial artists, we love to discuss that topic too much I think. Who is wearing what, who promoted who, how long was that guy that rank before he got promoted, so on and so forth...

Now me, I couldn't care less what a person ties around their waist. I gauge the person on who they are, how they move, how they conduct them selves. I feel that same way about all the bowing and such. IF its important to you in your school, then knock youself out, but the belt around someones waist, or the fact that they have had the title of "Sensei" bestowed on them by someone, does not automaticaly entitle them to respect. They still gotta conduct themselves in a way deserving of it, and a major portion of that, as I see it, is in how they treat less experienced martial artists.

Less experienced martial artists and not suborodinates. I am not better than people that have been training for less time that me. I am more skillfull at performing karate, but I am not bestowed with any more inherent value or authority than any other martial artist. I'm just further along on the path than most, not as far as some, and I happen to be one of the people with a talent for helping others along said path. That description is fitting for any martial arts instructor. Anything they assume beyond that, is entirely permissive on the part of the student. All of the authority any teacher has can be stripped from him in an instant by a student. All that student has to do is quit. In light of this, I am amazed at how many teacher behave poorly towards their charges.

Nor have I ever felt 'talked down to' by a sensei or senior student in my dojo. My seniors know more than I do about isshinryu. They share their wisdom. I listen and try to learn. If I have a question or disagree, I ask. I am never browbeat or made to feel inferior. I'm a 48-year-old Marine. You think I'd put up with being made to feel inferior? I just don't quite understand how 'respectful' becomes 'subservient'.

I mean, I went to a friend's house who is from another culture. He asked me to take my shoes off in his house. I did, and what, I'm subservient to him? I'm bowing and scraping? I'm someone considering myself inferior to him? I'm just showing him respect for his rules in his house. If it bothered me that much, I could leave, I guess.

Since I got carried away in the last few paragrapgh, I kind of addressed these points but I think that I should re-state that you found a good school. I've been to places where it is considered rude to question what you're being taught.
You last sentence summs it up nicely. We all have differnet levels of tolerance for what is acceptable. I know what sort of things I'm cool with in a training environment and I naturally gravitate towards it. Nowadays that enviornment is much more boxing gym then traditional dojo. Not a slight to those that perfer otherwise, and apologies if what I posted was taken thusly.

I will say this - if I were already a karate adept, and I wanted merely to learn some this or that to round out my skill set, I might well want to seek out a teacher who just 'cut to the chase' and taught me what I wanted to learn. But I am a mere beginner, and I am on a Path, and I am patient. All things in time.

This shows a lot of wisdom. I think that too many people are in too much of a hurry in the martial arts, patients is an important aspect. My guys train hard, and I don't hand out rank easily. I've lost several students over the years because of this. Thats fine. I'd rather train a few that I can be proud of than hang black belts on a bunch that I'm ashamed of in pursuit of money or for the gratification of having lots of names on my family tree. I wish more people looked at things the way you do when they are starting out. As advanced practitioners, to sample things and expand your knowledge by working with a variety of sources is a great thing but I think that it is a bad idea to do so until you have a solid base.


I can see we're different. The military has history and traditions, and I understand them. So does the Catholic church. So when a dojo that adheres to traditions asks me to follow those traditions when in the dojo, I have no problem with it.

Not so different. Traditions have their place, I just don't don't think that they are as important to training as you appear to. I think that the following traditions can be beneficial but we should be honest with ourselves about the origon of those traditions and the purpose of them before we decide to play along.
To be fair, though, I subscribe to the "When in Rome", philosophy when I am visiting another school. With very few exceptions I will follow what ever social customs they have in their school. I think it would be rude to do otherwise.

Thank you - I feel it is a good fit. And I completely understand what you're saying, and agree, with the minor exception of what appears to be a belief that following tradition = being subservient. I just don't agree.

After that long winded and rambing post, I hope I was better able to clear up my position. I've been involved in this discussion before and it is a tough one to have on a posting board without coming across as an arrogant jerk, and if I did so I apologize. Just kinda responding tou your post and venting a bit.

Mark
 

Bill Mattocks

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After that long winded and rambing post, I hope I was better able to clear up my position. I've been involved in this discussion before and it is a tough one to have on a posting board without coming across as an arrogant jerk, and if I did so I apologize. Just kinda responding tou your post and venting a bit.

No need to apologize, and I quite understand you now.

We could have a beer some night and discuss what is gained by training in a dojo that has formal traditions or rituals over just learning the techniques, and it might be an interesting discussion. I am of the opinion that there is something ineffable about training that includes sitting quietly, showing formal respect (not just "I respect you, my teacher," but actual formal bows), and so on. Something tied up with the inner quiet needed (by me) to be receptive - not just physically and mentally but spiritually too - to the training I am about to receive.

When my wife and I have a formal sit-down dinner (not often enough these days) and we say Grace, I ponder on the words "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful." Without making anything too mystical of it, when I am in the dojo, I look for and often feel I find a spiritual place where what I receive is received, um, I think the word is 'properly'. It isn't just a punch or a block or a kick. It is part of a 'way'.

Yeah, I'm probably getting too mystical about it. This ain't "Kung Fu" the TV show. But you know what I mean.

One of my senseis has mentioned to me the difference between 'living the kata' and just learning the moves. He pointed out someone who is a black belt, does exquisite kata, but he says it is 'all surface'. I am just getting to the point where I start to see what he means.

Does that make any sense?
 

shihansmurf

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Makes perfect sense.

I am always up for talking karate over a beer. Two of my favorite things.

Without making anything too mystical of it, when I am in the dojo, I look for and often feel I find a spiritual place where what I receive is received, um, I think the word is 'properly'. It isn't just a punch or a block or a kick. It is part of a 'way'.

I don't think that you're making anything too mystical, and even if you were, if doing this ritual or thinking in this way makes you better able to learn and improve as a martial artist then it is a positive thing. I don't think that it is without significance that one of the traditional symbols associated with the study of budo is that of the gate. We enter through it and leave distractions behind so as to achieve mushin, if I remember the term correctly, my Japanese is rusty.

Point is, all of it is a means to an end. Improving yourself. I just focus on the physicality of it and let the other things work themselves out on their own.

Mark
 
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