View Full Version : Reigo Sa Ho, an Aiki Perspective Revisited

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02-15-2012, 02:17 PM
Etiquette is a most useful tool in assisting people of independent thinking, diverse cultural backgrounds, and time invested ethnic origins to establish order, as well as to develop a carefully and scrupulously maintained environment of mutual respect and regard for each other's rights and ultimate welfare. It is the social foundation, as it were, for enlightened leaders and individuals, to suspend for the interim, their particular biases, beliefs and self imposed boundaries, for the good of harmonious, respectful, and mutually beneficial social interaction with one another. The human species is the only one I am aware of that finds this form of social discipline to be both useful and necessary. It has also proven to be equally elusive, and in constant need of re-definition and re-enforcement. A work in progress indeed.

Is there value and merit in having enforceable guidelines that work to establish common ground rules of conduct and proper etiquette for Aikido training and activity? I certainly think so, as so much tradition, knowledge and history can be transmitted to a wider and more diverse audience of earnest and sincere practitioners of the art. Should these guidelines be set in concrete or stone, and mindlessly applied without thought or regard for cultural, ethnic or personal differences? I think not, as the Aiki Principles trump Aikido convention, with the universal appeal and flexibility of applying these principles being of primary importance. Each dojo should be allowed to establish their own working version of the traditional model, and not be held to arbitrary account for such decisions.

In my view, most established and enforced standards of etiquette are, at best, arbitrarily determined, culturally specific, and never intended to be an all inclusive invitation for the greater majority of citizens to unconditionally be subjected to, without question, or without regard to the possibility of enlightened correction in the future. In other words, these so called "standards" are primarily designed to enable certain classes of citizenry to effectively differentiate themselves from other existing social levels and classes, via well established guidelines and levels of privileged status and allowed participation. You either comply with such standards, willingly or not, or be potentially ostracized and banished from further involvement with that particular group. You then incur the risk of being denied the specific privileges and access to benefits as defined and regulated by the entrenched, and too often self entitled, stewards of such meticulously engineered systems and organizations.

In the martial arts world, however, this is not how the rules and structure of appropriate and accepted standards of etiquette are traditionally defined or intended. True, established standards have been maintained for long periods of time, with the Koryu arts tracing their lineages back for centuries. Nonetheless, I believe that the fundamental bases for such traditionally honored caveats are rooted in the laudably higher human need for fairness, rectitude, compassion, and the dream of a higher state of individual achievement through long and lonely perseverance, and humble effort. Such a dream transcends cultural distinctions, in my opinion, and is inclusive of anyone, regardless of social ranking, who is willing to pay the unique and decidedly high price of dedicated and unconditional membership to such an organization.

From what I know or think of the Founder of Aikido, he would probably dismiss the entire conversation of "required bowing" to a Shomen or Kamiza as a silly, and perhaps antiquated convention, and an unnecessarily arbitrary distraction to the goal of training undisturbed in his Aikido. This ultimate purpose of Aikido, in my opinion, is to create and maintain an environment where anyone who is honest and willing to work through differences of style, experience, individual preferences and occasional misunderstandings, can find common ground in the generous capacity for vision, tolerance and compassion, abundantly and thankfully to be found in the Founder's Aikido.

When we make such a "big deal" over any singular demand of required compliance to established etiquette, we face the real risk of ignoring and perhaps losing the very essence of why we gather together to train. It is not for the reason of reinforcing mandatory standards of behavior, as much as it should be the allowing for ourselves the right to remain open to new and sometimes challenging points of reference, different from our own. We are in effect taking "our eyes off the prize" of growing together in Aiki, being truly committed by virtue of respectful, open hearted, as well as open minded training. It is perhaps in this way of reaching out to one another through such training, that we may find ourselves happily open to finding common ground on matters not necessarily tied to just training, but to the answers to the mysteries of how we can all agree to go along to get along. This is what Kisshomaru Doshu called "nakayoku keiko", or joyful training with peace and good will in our hearts, healing energy in our hands, and unmistakable joy and gratitude in our movements. Smile, you are on Candid Aiki!

In respect to the question of "Should we be required to bow to the Shomen or Kamiza?" as an integral element of proper Reigi, I have had several instances of earnest and well meaning people share with me their reservations to that requirement of actually bowing to the Shomen, who in every other way, were respectful, considerate of each other, and committed to training in good faith with the rest of the group. If I had capriciously terminated their membership, it would be my dojo, myself and my sense of the Founder's Aikido that would have suffered an irreparable loss. The fact that I did not yield to such an arbitrary and short sided reaction has resulted in excellent students of Aikido, and the maintenance of mutual respect and harmony in my dojo.

Perhaps a frank and quiet discussion of the reasons for the traditional trappings of common dojo etiquette would be the first order of business with such a troubled member, and to hopefully reach a mutually satisfactory agreement on some alternative behavior, acceptable to all, that would take the place of the physical bowing to a shomen or kamiza. Such enforced behavior has never, in my experience, guaranteed the highest form of compliance to the rule of the dojo, faithfulness to Aiki Principles, or to guarantee the true sentiment and pure intention of the individual to others in the dojo.

The late Shoji Nishio Sensei authored "Yurusu Budo", which I personally interpret to favor the reasoned tolerance of a temporarily unsatisfactory situation, while a universally fair and mutually acceptable solution is being honestly and compassionately worked out through earnest Aikido training, with genuine regard and respect for cultural differences and interpretations.

Bushi no Nasake, or the Compassion of the Warrior, is a time honored and prized attitude to witness, and a character trait to eventually cultivate for oneself. Along with Reigi Sa Ho, a powerful combination of traits indeed.

Francis Takahashi was born in 1943, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Francis began his Aikido journey in 1953, simultaneously with the introduction of Aikido to Hawaii by Koichi Tohei, a representative sent from Aikikai Foundation in Tokyo, Japan. This event was sponsored by the Hawaii Nishi System of Health Engineering, with Noriyasu Kagesa as president. Mr. Kagesa was Francis's grandfather, and was a life long supporter of Mr. Tohei, and of Aikido. In 1961, the Founder visited Hawaii to help commemorate the opening of the new dojo in Honolulu. This was the first, and only time Francis had the opportunity to train with the Founder. In 1963, Francis was inducted into the U.S. Army, and was stationed for two years in Chicago, Illinois. He was the second instructor for the fledgling Chicago Aikido Club, succeeding his childhood friend, Chester Sasaki, who had graduated from the University of Illinois, and was entering the Air Force. Francis is currently ranked 7th dan Aikikai, and enjoys a direct affiliation with Aikikai Foundation for the recommending and granting of dan ranks via his organization, Aikikai Associates West Coast. Francis is the current dojo-cho of Aikido Academy in Alhambra, California.

Chris Li
02-15-2012, 02:43 PM
I've spoken to a few uchi-deshi of the Founder about this - a person who couldn't bow for religious reasons. Basically, they just looked at me as if I were a little nuts to imagine that this would be a problem. No one I ever spoke to in Japan ever seemed very concerned about it.

I have gotten a lot of resistance on the same issue...from American instructors in the US.

Funny how things get turned around...

That holds true for other things as well, the most fanatic enforcers of etiquette at Hombu and other dojo in Japan were, in my experience, the non-Japanese.



02-15-2012, 03:37 PM
There seems to be an odd twist on the Japanese character I haven't figured out yet. On the one hand, they're supposed to be super-conformists. On the other hand, there are a number of situations where they seem to demand much less conformity than I'd expect. Examples:

* The various deshi of O-Sensei taking aikido in their own directions
* There's a great video of O-Sensei leading warmups before class. He's going through a series of exercises. About half the class is following along, some in sync, some not. The rest of the class is doing their own exercises, horsing around, random stuff.
* Your point on teachers' attitude towards etiquette in their class.

Any perspective on what's up with this?

Chris Li
02-15-2012, 04:33 PM
* There's a great video of O-Sensei leading warmups before class. He's going through a series of exercises. About half the class is following along, some in sync, some not. The rest of the class is doing their own exercises, horsing around, random stuff.

I've been in a lot of classes in the US where the non-Japanese instructors were insistent that all exercises be performed in the same time and in the same directions - never had it happen even once in Japan.



02-16-2012, 02:47 AM
During my first time in Japan (1976), I didn't know the proper etiquette in the dojo with a shinto shrine. I just followed the group and did the clapping with the hands, of course I did it wrong, too much clapping (1or 2 times too much). After the training, one of the assistent came to me and said: If you don't know the reason for this kind of bowing and clapping, don't do it, just bow.
Later, when I was back in Europe, I saw people doing the bowing and clapping in their dojo. I asked them why they did this. They really did'nt understand what they were doing, they just copied a certain teacher without understanding.
Maybe for some of you this is a funny story. But I was really embarrassed the first time in Japan.


03-10-2012, 12:11 AM
Thanks for making this clear for everyone Francis. Behind reigi saho there should always be thoughtfulness and compassion. It shouldn't be katachi - form for the sake of form or rules for the sake of rules. As you explained that is the real meaning of bushi no nasake - the compassion of the warrior. Recently in Japan the meaning has become a little distorted to mean look the other way.


Kevin Leavitt
03-10-2012, 01:38 AM
Very good post! Good order, discipline, etiquette, and mind fullness are important, as you state forming attachments to these things is not healthy. They should be ubiquitous if done at all, and not detract fromthe real focus of training. Thanks.