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Old 01-04-2008, 04:27 PM   #51
Dojo: TNBBC (Icho Ryu Aiki Budo), Shinto Ryu IaiBattojutsu
Location: Seattle, WA
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 927
Re: Dojo etiquette?

I'm sorry, this guy just sounds like he was being rude. It's entirely possible to give stern authoritative correction without trodding all over the ego of your students. A lot of time you hear the excuse that we're stepping into a foreign space/ exploring a different culture and therefore there's a lot of confusion on the part of the student as to what is expected. I think the problem comes when the teacher mixes Western bluntness with Eastern etiquette rules. Yes there are safety reasons for lots of dojo etiquette, but there's also a lot of crap that simply serves to keep people 'in their place' so to speak. A lot of this is unhealthy hold over from the militarization of Japanese budo during the lead up to WW2 and bares little resemblance to classical budo dojo dynamics. A good dojo operates like a healthy family, not a boot camp.

To give some context to my statements, I will share the following. I started Aikdio at a "more Japanese than the Japanese" Aikido dojo. I have pulled "kohai" (I really don't like that term outside of Japan) off the mat and into the hall to chew them out for some minor and petty infraction of the rules. I used the phrase, "Don't talk back to me," in complete honesty to grown adults. That was stupid. It was expected of me, and it was my place in that dojo, but it was not OK or justifyable. It was my imaturity that let me believe that was the way dojos should operate. The whole thing was a twisted mash-up of conservative Japan and conservative/wanna-be military US. It doesn't work like that.

Then after I left that dojo, I found my current sword teacher. Between training with him and travelling to Japan to train with the rest of our ryu-ha it really opened my eyes to how more traditional dojo actually run. It feels like family. Seniors get respect because they deserve it, but they don't lord it over the juniors. You want to do well to make them proud, not to keep them from yelling at you. Even the gruffer old curmudgeons who are always barking corrections are the first to pour your beer after class. They respect you and your efforts, laugh at you when you put your foot in your mouth and pat you on the back when you do something well.

As for the seriousness that comes from weapon training, it's true that some instructions have to be brief and authoritative for safety sake. I teach sword and there are lots of little details (like always covering the tsuba with the thumb when in class) that are hard for people to remember at first and take lots of reminders. I've found that simply saying, "Please cover your tsuba" usually does the trick. After a couple reminders during the same class a newer student starts to feel pretty silly. And that's the thing, they aren't mad at me for lording a rule over them, but frustrated with themselves for making the same silly mistake over and over. That's a much different headspace.

It's far too easy to an overzealous Western student to adhere to rules and etiquettes to a degree that is beyond their intended purpose and to enforce/correct in a manner that is itself a form of poor etiquette. That's something that often gets missed (IMHO). I've seen some really amazingly rude stuff done in the name of enforcing some small subset of Japanese social norms.

Here's an example, names changed/with held to protect the guilty.

A couple years ago I went down to watch part of a class with a visiting Shihan at a dojo that is affiliated with my teacher. This particular club is/was joint affiliated with us and with this Shihan. Anyway, so I go down there with another student, my teacher and my teacher's teacher (both of whom are senior to the affiliated dojo's dojo cho). The seminar is being held in a large gym. We got there a bit late since we were only going to be watching the afternoon session. We walk in and class is already going, so we move away from the door and stand in the back of the gym. We're all being quiet, hands are out of our pockets folded in front. The Dojo Cho sees us and comes over, we're all expecting a, "Hello, welcome" or something. But no, we get, "You can't be standing there, Sensei is very upset that people are standing while he's teaching, you'll have to find a seat or I'll have to ask you to leave." I'm sorry, wha??? We look around and there are no open chairs. So we all have to climb up onto a pile of exercise equipment and balance beams in the corner of the gym. I'm sure that the visiting Shihan was upset about people gawking. According to his rules we were being rude by just standing there. According to other rules that I've been exposed to, it's rude to just pop in and make yourself comfortable without being acknowledged. Classic example of someone trying to enforce rules without understanding thier complexity. It was rude not to have enough chairs for people to sit on. It was rude not to have a junior student (if it was that big of a deal for this Shihan) directing legitimate interested parties to those chairs and directing the interested basketball players back out into the hall. Even given the situation as it played out, he could have said, "Welcome Sensei, can I find you a seat? Shihan has asked that observers sit down while class is in session. Thank you!" How hard is that? Tatemae anyone?

Chris Moses
TNBBC, "Putting the ME in MEdiocre!"
Budo Tanren at Seattle School of Aikido
Shinto Ryu Iai-Battojutsu
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Old 01-04-2008, 05:26 PM   #52
Keith Larman
Dojo: AIA, Los Angeles, CA
Location: California
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 1,604
Re: Dojo etiquette?


I understand what you're saying and agree with you quite a bit. But I've also known students who were, how shall I say it, rather dense with this sort of stuff? I've seen a few over the years that tend to make flippant comments, wave off instruction, etc. Maybe its their own coping mechanism or their way of deflecting perceived criticisms of their abilities. But I've known a few who have a habit of continually making comments like that and after a while it just gets grating. And if I was demonstrating something with weapons, asked a student to make a certain cut, then watched them do something different and deflect the correction by saying "this would be effective too", well, I'd probably get pretty darned short with him too.

And I've seen these guys get corrections and later stomp off angry about being singled out. All while they have been told repeatedly to correct the behavior. Often starting nice and friendly and finally over time ending up with "fix it or leave". The very person who tends to wave off corrections and give flippant comments usually doesn't realize how many corrections they've been given nor how annoying those "wave-offs" can get. And once it gets to the point past polite requests they tend to be surprised that others are frustrated with them.

Of course I'm talking about my experiences here and not the OP. I don't know the OP nor what sort of relationship he's had. For all I know it was a first time/only time issue. But like I said, I've had guys who seem to be completely unaware of repeated attempts to get them to fix something. And making those sort of off-hand comments is usually something those very same people tend to do, at least in my experience.


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Old 01-04-2008, 05:36 PM   #53
Aiki1's Avatar
Dojo: ACE Aikido
Location: Los Angeles
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 346
Re: Dojo etiquette?

Christian Moses wrote: View Post
I'm sorry, this guy just sounds like he was being rude.
I'm with you here Chris ()

I have to wonder what the issue here might really be. I am well acquainted with the importance of discipline, feedback, and necessary adherence to rules etc. in a dojo. But there is a huge difference to me in teaching someone through serious, diligent, and direct feedback and instruction and coherent modeling, and behavior that may be simply ego and control-based - which I have seen more often than not in Aikido dojo over the years.

To me, this may be the issue here, as the original poster has already acknowledged early on that his behavior was perhaps not the most appropriate. The (even extreme) seriousness of a situation can be conveyed in many ways that are not rude or condescending at all. In fact, I doubt that kind of response often achieves what it is portrayed here by some as intending to do - likely just the opposite, as it is usually polarizing rather than instructive. It's probably a good idea as a teacher to ask oneself what the goal is, rather than, what will make me feel good about myself.

Larry Novick
Head Instructor
ACE Aikido
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Old 01-04-2008, 06:43 PM   #54
Dojo: TNBBC (Icho Ryu Aiki Budo), Shinto Ryu IaiBattojutsu
Location: Seattle, WA
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 927
Re: Dojo etiquette?

I hear you Keith. I recall an incident a few years ago at my last Aikido dojo with a student who just didn't ever seem to 'get it'. I was watching class since I had a broken arm, and kept noticing this particular student's mouth/jaw moving in a strange way. Finally it dawned on me that he was chewing gum during class. I called him over to the side of the mat and asked him if he was chewing gum. "Yeah." I didn't bother to go into all the many reasons this was a bad idea, I just told him, "Dude, go spit it out. Don't chew gum during class." I found out later he considered this one of the defining moments of how he felt the seniors of the dojo acted "elitist" towards him. The guy was my father's age, but I wasn't holding him accountable to some odd Asian ethic. It's just a bad idea to chew gum while training, you could choke, you could bite yourself or you could just spit it out accidentally and get it into the canvas mat. Anyone could be expected to know better (IMHO).

So yeah, I get where you're coming from, and obviously there's no way to know exactly what happened or what led up to the OP's first post. I still feel that it's too easy to go down the line of thinking that whatever comes out of an instuctor's mouth is the WORD and it is a personality flaw for the student not to appreciate every drop of wisdom. That's for Kung Fu movies. (And no, I don't mean to imply that was what you were endorsing.)

Chris Moses
TNBBC, "Putting the ME in MEdiocre!"
Budo Tanren at Seattle School of Aikido
Shinto Ryu Iai-Battojutsu
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Old 01-04-2008, 08:36 PM   #55
Basia Halliop
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 711
Re: Dojo etiquette?

It sounds quite rude to me too, personally... Even if you're going to snap at someone (which is a big if in and of itself) it's only reasonable to make sure you've told them the thing you don't want them to do at least once first. But I also agree that rudeness can be very subjective. It's probably less useful for the poster to ask whether the teacher was 'appropriate' or 'rude' than just to ask himself if, overall, there are enough things he likes and respects about his dojo and Sensei to justify this thing he doesn't like.

Because it's not like it really matters that much how he labels the teacher's behaviour (although for me personally, it is not behaviour I would be proud to emulate), what matters is whether it's something he can deal with or whether it's a deal breaker for him. Every human being has some bad qualities or qualities you don't like as much about them or things you don't see eye to eye about, the thing is is it bad enough to make you lose respect for him or not want to be there, and if not, how can you learn to get used to it and work within it.

Last edited by Basia Halliop : 01-04-2008 at 08:50 PM.
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Old 01-04-2008, 08:52 PM   #56
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
Location: Phila. Pa
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 4,614
Re: Dojo etiquette?

Also good posts, including the ones that take different viewpoints from mine. Lost of good stuff in this thread...I'm actually glad its here.


Ron Tisdale
"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
St. Bonaventure (ca. 1221-1274)
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Old 01-04-2008, 09:23 PM   #57
Mattias Bengtsson
Dojo: Halmstad Aikidoklubb
Location: Halmstad
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 37
Re: Dojo etiquette?

What I cant understand is why when people have been the target of doing some infraction of some rule they are unaware off or can't understand, why on earth they didn't think about inquiring WHAT it is that they did wrong or WHY it was wrong, instead of just going 'how rude'
The guy with the Marine who didn't like being pointed at, or the guy with the chopsticks, or the kid with the chewing gum.
Is there some kind of weird pride about not showing that you are unable to understand and "can you please explain?"
When its already quite appearant that you indeed ARE ignorant about why you shouldn't do something.

Acknowledge that you made a mistake, but that you in an effort in trying to improve yourself are trying to understand and learn.

Granted, it can be embarrassing to have the sensei to come over and explain, once more, the technique youre supposed to be doing.
He (or she) might think you are stupid because you are unable to understand something at first.
But trying to do it, and doing it wrong, are like proving it.

Same thing with rules.

Uke Iacta Est
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Old 01-05-2008, 02:04 PM   #58
MikeLogan's Avatar
Location: Rochester, NY
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 281
Re: Dojo etiquette?

Andrew, I bet you feel like a guy who is told to relax, but can't begin to relax until everyone gets off his case about relaxing. That used to bug the heck out of me. The funny thing is that in every case, the example above, your instructor's severity, the posters in this thread, your betterment and well-being, and truthfully the well-being of those you train with, are at the heart.

I have thankfully committed only one serious transgression so far in my aikido training. It was 8 months in, and I knew it was wrong the moment the bokken left my hand. The shihan clapped for us to observe the next technique, and I intended to remove the bokken used in the paired practice to the edge of the mat. I only lobbed it two feet, and after a small slappy bounce it landed right where I wanted it, thankfully. The student I was training with immediately said: "Dude, don't ever do that again." Luckily I quickly grasped why, and without explanation. It was disrespectful of the bokken as both a weapon and a training implement. Then there is the disrespect to the mat, and onward to the dojo as a whole.

I was torn between the need to set the weapon aside, and obeying the instructor immediately. I thought I was choosing the lesser of two evils, but there is an eventually discernible hierarchy of what you should do in the various permutations of interaction in a dojo. A lot of this sort of thing is far less obvious than what I describe, and there are several instances of "dysfunctional etiquette", such as Christian Mosses has described of his younger self, and what he has received from others.

Etiquette may seem arbitrary, as arbitrary as the assumptions made in this thread about yourself, and as the assumptions you have made about how to interact with your instructor. Instead, it may help to view etiquette as a means of reducing the dependence on assumption, thereby enabling stronger assumptions about people who are breaking etiquette.

Another thing, though it may be annoying, is to take your instructor's severity as a compliment, a sign that he thinks you can take a little tough teaching. Perhaps ask a senior student, or the instructor, to make a list of behaviors expected, and the reasons behind them. This sort of thing is not any different from learning proper ukemi. You may be forced into the mat, but you will know if, when, and why it is happening.

Of all the people to comment so far, probably I am the closest to you in terms of experience, and I've been training 4 years come next month. There are at least 3 to 4 instructors in this thread alone that account for nearly 100 years of practice in Aikido, combined, if not longer, and they don't post at the drop of a hat, either. On top of that, the advice and insight you've seen from others of perhaps less renown is just as valuable. If there was ever a printed edition of AikiWeb archive, I'd look for this thread to be in it.

Thanks all, and thanks Andrew for starting it. (even if you did get a clubbing). The content will eventually far outweigh the impetus of this thread's creation.


Ever wonder why you hold the door for ladies to walk through first? I bet everyone a dollar that the first so-called gentleman to do it figured that a potential attacker would lose both surprise and then the will to execute upon seeing a lady enter before the target.

If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.

- Thomas Hardy
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