View Full Version : Dojo Etiquette

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Elaine Adams
02-09-2008, 08:48 AM
I have been wanting to post this thread for ages, and have finally got round to it. I moved to Italy from England last year and my first priority was to find a good dojo.

I found a great one, sympathetic sensei, sprung floor, skillful and inspiring black belts, it's even next to a bar, which made my old aikido mateys back in the UK really :yuck: with envy!

New country, new language, new customs, new dojo. Everything is strange and new. In my old organisation, we all wore coloured belts and you have to be a black belt to wear the hakama. IMHO the coloured belts are a good idea, if only as a safety precaution, you know if someone can break fall or not for example. In my new dojo, I was told to wear a white belt (I am graded at 4th kyu in England). I have noticed when attending international courses that some other organisations have all kyu grades wearing white belts, and wear the hakama at lower grades.

I have also noticed in some foreign dojos, you can sit anywhere on the tatami when lining up at the beginning and end of the class. I am not happy with this, I feel very uncomfortable at the right hand side of a black belt. In my new dojo, I asked why they didn't wear coloured belts and was told that it was in order not to show off. When I asked how they knew who was which grade, the answer I got was that they all knew each other, but how does this work on courses?

I am in a quandry every class, as my new dojo keep the usual etiquette of the higher the grade, the higher up the mat. Unless I put myself right at the bottom, I am in danger of making a gaffe. Almost everyone in my new dojo has had the utmost patience with this foreign newbie who hasn't even mastered their language properly. However, although I am familiar with most of the techniques practised, I have learned other methods of doing them for the most part, and am having to relearn everything. It's frustrating and hard work, also an excellent lesson in humility, but I do feel such a fool. I am sure some of them think I am a complete novice, as was evidenced last night when a fellow aikidoka asked me to sit below her on the mat, saying "No, you sit lower down than me" adding "I think". I'd had a particularly tough session and stupidly let this get to me.

I would love to hear other aikidoka's opinions, coloured belts or not, hakama at black belt, position on the tatami. What happens in your organisation and why? :confused:

Oh, and I miss you guys at D.A.N soooo much!

Pauliina Lievonen
02-09-2008, 09:12 AM
I switched dojo and organisations when I was a fourth kyu as well. The only difference is that both organisations wear white belts until shodan so at least I was used to that. But I had to learn subtly different ways of doing all the techniques as well, and in the beginning just like you I didn't know who was what rank, so I tended to line up far left just in case, until there were some people who started after me at the dojo.

The short answer is, if you keep training, all of those issues will solve themselves. You learn the new technique, you learn to know people, and people learn to know you and what you can do. Until then, you just have to swallow your pride, accept that things are different in different places (when in Rome.... :D) and practice patience. Sorry I don't have any magic tricks to make it any easier.;)

Maybe it would help with lining up to think of it this way: every single person who started training at your new dojo, regardless of their rank, is senior to you in this particular dojo. You can safely line up left to anyone who was there before you.

As to courses and seminars: A fourth kyu at one dojo in one organisation might have very different skills than a fourth kyu in another dojo/organisation. So even wearing a coloured belt, you still need to start out carefully with each partner, until you get a feel for each other and what you can handle. Don't look at what people wear but try to feel what they can do when you start to train with them.

Hope this helps!

Angela Dunn
02-09-2008, 04:39 PM
Hyia Elaine...

I was wondering how you where getting on!

I think you know what happens in our organisation already and I am sure it is all a bit strange and will take a bit of getting used to. I suppose though different dojo, different rules and you just have to learn to adapt and get on with it. If your struggling though is there not a friendly higher grade you can ask about with regards to where your supposed to sit and other different quirks?

As for different ways of learning the same technique, did you not find when over in not so Sunny England people had different ways of showing you how to do a method and you just adapted the way that suited you best. Okay maybe not different ways but had there own little hints and tips.

02-09-2008, 08:29 PM
I would love to hear other aikidoka's opinions, coloured belts or not, hakama at black belt, position on the tatami. What happens in your organisation and why? :confused:

Hi Elaine,
At my primary dojo we wear hakama at 5th kyu, no colored belts, and we line up in no particular order. At the Shodokan dojo I trained at we wore colored belts (mine was white), no one wore hakama, and we sat according to rank. For the most part these things don't make much difference, in my opinion...they're up to the taste of the organization. I was told by my Shodokan instructor that because their system is so highly structured, it makes it much easier for visiting teachers and students to know at a glance the general abilities of the people around them. Personally, I kind of like the idea of not having it being made so obvious. It doesn't really matter much one way or the other though. I think, like most things, it's not so much one way or the other as much as what you do with the way you choose.
When in Rome...do as Elaine does:D
ps-there's a great thread by the same name as this one which I think has quite a bit of input if you're interested in looking it up.

02-09-2008, 09:19 PM
Don't let the uniform or its related trappings define who you are. It's just clothing. When in your dojo, do what you're accustomed to. When in somebody else's, do as they suggest. It's always a good idea if you do a lot of visiting to call ahead and ask permission (just a polite formality, really), which gives you the perfect opportunity to inquire as to the prevailing uniform protocols. Usually, you will find that most dojos won't hold any uniform variation against a visitor, as long as it is not in poor taste. If you are actually changing home dojos, you will be expected to adopt the policies of your new dojo.

Elaine Adams
02-10-2008, 01:41 AM
Thanks for all your input and hi Angela!

I found the other thread after I had started this one, some interesting information. Is the no colour belt system the most prevalent then?

Yeah, yeah, when in Rome, I laid myself open to that one, lol.:D

The simple answer to all the newness seems to be the one I get from any question I pose regarding aikido. Practice, practice, practice, and patience, patience patience. Oh, and practice patience.

I don't know if it's because one is naturally more biased towards the system one starts with, but I do prefer the coloured belts for their "at-a-glance" convenience. We seem to get a lot of visitors, naturally enough being one of the most popular tourist spots in the world, and with our international relations with other organisations, and unless they are shodan, it's not easy. Also, personally, I hate being treated with kid gloves "Make me fly!". It's also helpful when you are lost in a technique. If there are no black belts around, you can look for a higher grade to help.

Is there a lot of disparity between grades in different organisations? Sure, I have heard of people buying black belts in disreputable ones, but apart from that? Do none of the governing bodies standardise and liaise internationally?

How did the system of coloured belts originate?

02-10-2008, 07:36 AM
I don't know if it's because one is naturally more biased towards the system one starts with, but I do prefer the coloured belts for their "at-a-glance" convenience.
You'll get used to the no-color system, as you will get to know the people instead of the belts.

Is there a lot of disparity between grades in different organisations?
Can be. Although major organizations try to establish ranking criteria, it remains very subjective, particularly in the kyu grades and lower dan grades. The instructors can take much latitude, and in an non-affiliated dojo, latitude is all they can take.

How did the system of coloured belts originate?
Most will say it is "borrowed" from judo.

02-10-2008, 08:19 AM
That's it, some dojos are only black and white

02-11-2008, 07:35 AM
It's a very odd feeling to go from "seniors to the right" to "seniors to the left", or vice versa. I'd say that's a lot more disconcerting than changing belt colors, which to me always have a "purely local" feel to them.

02-11-2008, 07:47 AM
Elaine,it was nice to share ,with us!Thank you!

Will Prusner
02-11-2008, 11:42 AM
Maybe if you practice enough, your skill will increase to the point that folks will just naturally seat themselves to your left.

Marc Abrams
02-11-2008, 02:16 PM
This sounds like an opportunity to take Aikido principles and apply them in other areas of your life. If you can center yourself and focus in on your training and learning from the teacher, it should not really matter where you sit, or how people (including yourself) want to place you in some hierarchy. I have had to learn those same lessons myself over the years (and still find myself having my ego stand in the way of my learning). I try very hard to tune-out the extraneous and focus in on why I am there and what can I learn from that training. Rank, protocol, and hierarchies seem to become so insignificant when I realize how hard a journey it really is to further develop my budo.

Best of luck!

Marc Abrams

Ron Tisdale
02-11-2008, 02:32 PM
While I agree with statements like Marc's, above, I also wonder what was up with the twit who couldn't find a reasonably nice way to fill you in on the protocol, without making you look like the chump.

Ron :(

02-11-2008, 04:28 PM
While I agree with statements like Marc's, above, I also wonder what was up with the twit who couldn't find a reasonably nice way to fill you in on the protocol, without making you look like the chump.Because that's what twits do... :o

Personally, I'd rather look like a chump than be a twit, anyway, so she's still got the upper hand. ;)

02-11-2008, 07:44 PM
Bona Fortunata !

Walter Martindale
02-11-2008, 09:25 PM
As some have said - "when in Rome".

I've practiced at 6 different dojos as "member" - relocating due to work requirements, and visited several others - of those I've been a member:
One dojo - White belt to ikkyu, brown at ikkyu, black with hakama at shodan.
Another dojo - Hakama and yellow belt at gokyu, blue for sankyu, yonkyu, brown for ikkyu, nikyu, black for shodan (hakama all the way up)
Another dojo - White for 6-4 kyu, brown for 3-1 kyu, black belt and hakama at shodan.
another dojo.. Brown for Nikyu but only after sensei gives it to you at a presentation, and embroidered black belt presented with shodan certificate - but you get your own hakama. Until the certificate arrives, though, keep wearing the brown.

Each dojo will want to see where you stack up against their standards for each of the kyu and dan.

From the movie "The Challenge" with Scott Glenn (martial arts consultant S. Seagal) - "Patience - with 5 older brothers you learn patience."


Ron Tisdale
02-12-2008, 07:08 AM
We were just talking about that movie this weekend! Need to find my video of it...need to make a dvd...

Elaine Adams
02-12-2008, 01:31 PM
Plus ca change.......

After 2 excellent sessions I am wondering what I was making a fuss about. I also found myself in the reverse position, biting my tongue at a gaffe someone else made, thus hopefully avoiding "twit" status!

I am concentrating on my aikido, what I need to work on and not what people think of me. Tonight I "got" a technique I had had trouble with for ages. Funny huh?

As my wonderful aikido friend Sylvie once said to me "Be kind to yourself on your aikido journey". I have to adapt. Dinosaurs didn't. Look what happened to them!

Thanks for the great advice and solidarity. I have so much to learn. :o

Ron Tisdale
02-12-2008, 01:42 PM
LOL...join the crew! the water is fine...

Ron (and welcome)

02-13-2008, 02:39 AM
I have so much to learn.Don't we all?!? That realization is the beginning of all knowledge... Enjoy your special journey! :p

02-14-2008, 10:07 AM
hi in my dojo we wear coloured belts and me and my brother were given permission to wear a hakama at 1st kyu. generally women get to wear hakamas at about 3rd kyu (traditionally). as for sitting for the bow etc. we sit in grade order.

what is it like in italy?


Erik Jögimar
02-18-2008, 01:26 PM
In sweden the norm is hakama from third kyu, and white belt for
mudansha and black for yudansha's. Where i practice, ourreigi is pretty
lose. It's a fairly large group, though few practice
regularly so we are a small tight-knit group. When we line up
for bowing in, we sit in accordance to our offical grade as well
as we bow out at end of class.

As for how it works during seminars, i'm not entirely sure as
i've never been to one yet. Though i know from experience that
once i made it out of the beginners group in our dojo, people
dont really select Uke/Tori based on rank. It's really common
a blackbelt practices with sixth kyu and high in rank, but
we usually just start off carefully to see how uke takes the
ukemi and then build from there.