"Traditional Dojo Etiquette: Part Three What's expected and What to Expect"

The Dojo setting is not your typical sport setting. We are held to a higher set of standards and discipline. This is due in part to tradition and it is also a necessity due to the nature of the material studied. There are many “rules” that you will not see in other arenas and it all ties back to ancient Samurai history and honor.
For example, did you know that it is not appropriate for a student to ask a  Sensei when he/she will be getting promoted? The use of colored belts as a specification of rank is a relatively new system. It has only been in effect since the late 1880′s. This “New” system has caused a shift in the focus of the modern day martial artist. Instead of focusing on building and improving skills they are driven towards receiving the next colored belt.  In the past, a student would spend many years with a Sensei building their skills. Rank was issued to the senior students for the purpose of designating what that person was authorized to teach to the junior students at the Dojo. These “Licensed” students functioned as assistant instructors with limited teaching authorization. This marked an increase in the responsibilities of the senior student as well as a higher status in the clan. It was considered an honor that only the Sensei could bestow due to his full understanding of the total spectrum of training. To ask for this position was a statement  that the student believed himself more capable than the Sensei and that the student did not trust the Sensei’s judgment. This was considered egotistical and dishonorable and often resulted in the student being blocked from further training. This type of character in a student was known to produce a dangerous individual and to create disruption in the order of the clan. Many times this type of student was simply expelled and made an outcast.
 You may have also noticed that students will address a Sensei or higher ranking student more formally than they do each other during training. It is customary for all students to show each other respect and it is also customary to show special respect to the Sensei and to those who are instructing or acting on his behalf.
In a Dojo, it is crucial to maintain the atmosphere of discipline at all times. This requires much assistance from higher ranking students. They are responsible for everything from making sure the underclassmen line up correctly to assisting with tying belts and maintaining the high standards and customs. They are also charged, in part, with passing down the time honored  traditions of etiquette. Senior students are not responsible for and should not attempt to correct the techniques of the junior students unless instructed to do so by the Sensei. Holding a higher rank than a fellow student does not mean that one has mastered a technique and does not qualify one as an instructor.
Some may wonder why all of these details are so important. Each and every custom and morsel of etiquette come together to create an environment that is designed to turn out highly trained and highly discipline individuals. It is the duty of the Sensei to instill respect into his students. If one learns Martial technique without respect it can lead to misuse of that knowledge.
….WRITTEN BY SENSEI  & NANCY TOPP

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