Bowing has an important role in keeping the old Japanese traditions. By bowing we demonstrate the attitude of respect and thankfulness toward the dojo, the Founder’s memory, the instructors and the training partners.
By bowing you show the other aikidoka that you want to practice or change roles with him/her. You bow to thank for practicing. Also, if it is necessary to ask a question of the instructor, go to him (never call out), bow respectfully, and wait for acknowledgement. A standing bow is acceptable. You bow to thank him/her for helping you. It is a general rule that the person with a lower rank bows first (and maybe lower), and erects second. When you bow in seiza, you place your hands down creating a triangle with them, or holding them in a parallel position (the former is more usual)*. You may place your hands down at the same time, or your left hand first and then your right hand. When you want to bow to someone sitting in seiza, you should also sit down in seiza before bowing. When bowing in seiza, lower your torso with your back and neck straight and bow from the waist. Do not allow your rear end to rise up.
*A rare position is when the hands are placed separated and with the palms upwards. This is a Buddhist tradition representing the believer holding the feet of Buddha to prevent them from getting dirty from earthly dust.
**Humility is represented by touching the ground with the forehead when bowing in seiza.
Entering the dojo
First of all, you are supposed to arrive always on time. Upon entering the dojo, make a standing bow. Before stepping onto the tatami, take off your footwear. When stepping onto the mat, always bow in the direction of the kamiza. When stepping on the tatami for the first time, bow in seiza to the kamiza, later (if for some reason you have to leave the tatami) it is proper to make a standing bow when reentering.
If you are unavoidably late, you should wait, formally seated beside the mat, until the instructor signals permission for you to join the class. Perform a formal seated bow as you get on the mat. In special cases (e.g. a training camp with lots of people) you do not have to wait for permission.
Leaving the dojo
Do not leave the tatami during practice except in the case of injury or illness. If you have to leave the mat for personal reasons, you should request permission before doing so. Before leaving the mat, bow to the kamiza and then put on your footwear. Before leaving the dojo, make a standing bow.
Upon stepping onto the map, the aikidokas sit in seiza in a row or rows as they wait for the instructor. When the instructor arrives, he bows to the kamiza then sits down in seiza, facing the aikidokas. After a short meditation (mokuso) every participant bows to the kamiza. (Before bowing the instructor may signal by clapping his hands above his head. Depending on the number of claps, clapping has several meanings: one clap is a Buddhist tradition, two or four claps is a Shintoist tradition, intending to welcome the Kami (a divinity, living force, or spirit.) Saotome Sensei: “By the first clap you send out vibrations toward the spiritual world, and by the second clap you welcome the echo.”
Then the aikidokas and the instructor greet each other by bowing and maybe by saying “o-negai shimasu” or “o-negai itashimasu”. If there is a guest instructor in the dojo, first the host instructor and the guest greet each other by bowing and then the aikidokas bow to the instructors. If there are several instructors holding a training class, the senior instructor sits opposite the aikidokas and the other instructor(s) sit(s) beside the row. First they greet one another by bowing and then the aikidokas greet the instructors. This short formal ceremony is followed by warming up and then training.
The end of the training
At the end of the training there are short exercises (e.g. breathing exercises, suwari waza kokyuho), then the aikidokas sit down in a row and after a short meditation they bow to the instructor (in the case of several instructors, they are the first to bow to each other). In some dojos in Hungary, when the instructor leaves the tatami and he bows, the senior aikidoka still staying on the mat calls out “rei” loudly, and the aikidokas bow again. In some dojos the aikidokas turn to and bow to the training partners they have practiced with during the training to thank for the work they have done together.
Demonstrating a technique
If the instructor stops the practicing, the aikidokas thank their partner for practicing (by bowing or saying “origato gozaimasu”) and they quickly sit down in seiza on the mat ensuring that enough space is left for demonstrating the technique. The demonstration can be watched in a half-kneeling or – in the back rows – in a standing position. You are not supposed to turn your back on the instructor as he may intend to choose you as his partner. If the instructor gives a long explanation, the uke has to wait half-kneeling. In MKDE dojos (and in Kobayashi Dojos as well), after the presentation the uke and the instructor change roles and they perform the technique again. If during practicing the instructor presents a technique to someone, that person is supposed to watch sitting seiza. All other watchers should sit in seiza too.
After the technique is presented, the aikidokas bow to thank for the teaching and they quickly choose a partner (by bowing or saying “o-negai shimasu”) and begin practice. During practice, supporting your training partner’s development and maintaining their good physical condition are of primary importance. One should strive to practice with as many partners as possible during the training. Higher ranked aikidokas are able to make you aware of your weaknesses and also to help you improve, while mistakes that lower ranked ones make will make you learn from them.
Other dos and don'ts
- Practice in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
- Never disrupt the atmosphere of the dojo by impoliteness or disrespect.
- Carry out the directives of the instructor promptly and completely.
- Be fully focused during practice at all times.
- Avoid sitting on the mat with your back to the Kamiza. Also, do not lean against the walls or sit with your legs stretched out. Never step over anything (and anybody!)
- Remember that you are here to learn, and not to gratify your ego. An attitude of receptivity and humility (though not obsequiousness) is therefore advised.
- Keep talking on the mat to an absolute minimum. Aikido is experience.
- Never use someone else's practice gi or weapons.
- Personal conflicts and problems are to be left outside of the dojo.
- Please keep your finger and toe nails cut short.
- Remove watches, rings and other jewelry before practice.
- No eating, drinking, smoking, or gum chewing on or off the mat neither during practice, nor on the mat at any time.
- Keep the rules and make your partners do so too. The instructor’s energy is not to be wasted by disciplining.