Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Over the past several years I have participated in many seminars and special classes at other martial arts schools. I am constantly surprised by the lack or absence of etiquette. Many martial arts teachers will judge you by your etiquette more so than your technique every time and that is another example of what we strive to perfect in our chosen arts. There are so many details to proper DOJO etiquette and they can be adhered to very strictly or not at all. Here in the United States, there seems to be a disconnect from this because we learn the history of why it is the way it is. We have a tendency to want to disregard all of the formalities and get right down to what we want...technique. We always need to polish our etiquette from the time we enter the DOJO to the time we leave and even outside of the DOJO.
There is also the senior student to junior student relationship; what is also commonly called the SEMPAI-KOHAI relationship. The dynamic of this relationship is very important. KOHAI, the junior student, should always be the first to bow to SEMPAI and should not rise before SEMPAI rises. They should also always refer to SENSEI as "sensei," not "Hey" or just "Good evening." This is one of the many ways KOHAI show your respect for the years SEMPAI and SENSEI have spent perfecting the art within themselves, so that they may, in turn, share it with the junior student.
When a new student comes in to our Aikido DOJO in Colorado Springs asking to be taught the Japanese art of Aikido it is the responsibility of the school, SENSEI, and SEMPAI, to impart proper DOJO etiquette; and it is the responsibility of the new, beginning student to let go of all of their preconceptions about what it is they asked for and always do their very best to perfect daily everything they are taught. I remember a long time ago my teacher had our school go to another school and train together. It was a separate art, but an art, which still demands the etiquette. After the class was over, the instructor of that school told us that our school has beautiful etiquette and he needed to improve the etiquette of his own students. Nothing was mentioned of the technique our school demonstrated, what was noticed was solely the etiquette.
Other things to consider with etiquette are how you should always bow when entering and exiting the DOJO and also to bow both getting on and off the mat. When you bow, you show humility to the Founder of Aikido, O'Sensei, for dedicating his life to creating this art, which carries on well after his passing. We, practitioners of the art, have a responsibility to carry the torch. If we dismiss all of the things we don't want to do, and take only that which we want, the art will disappear. If students train sincerely and with an open mind, they will grow in the art, but if there is a personal agenda or desire for just technique, they will fail. The art is always there but the DOJO may not be, so students must train like it's the last day the school will be open. Treat all students as seniors and whenever you bow to somebody, imagine the years they have spent picking themselves up off the mat.
When you enter the DOJO, recognize its history not just as a building, but as a place that contains the teachings of O'Sensei. Remember, Examine closely every aspect of your practice; recognize excessive ambitious behaviors.