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Old 01-01-2008, 08:28 AM   #1
Andrew R
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Dojo etiquette?

Long story short, I've been doing aikido for about 4 months and I really enjoy it. My sensei is a very good one and usually very kind one. But the other day something happened that I thought was quite rude and made me question if I should even train with him anymore. We were practicing with the bokken and I was practicing the overhead swing. Instead of bringing it out all the way to simulate crushing the skull I only brought it out far enough to have slashed his face. He told me to extend my arm more, and while I had no intention of disobeying him, I lightheartedly let out an offhand comment saying that the face slash would be effective too. And in a real fight, of course it would, barring a face mask on the opponent or him being able to step back very swiftly. I know that he was trying to teach me proper form and that ultimately the longer extension is more effective, and I wasn't really even arguing with him, but instead of making light of my comment he said sternly "You're not arguing with me, are you? I didn't think so."

To be honest this was like a slap in the face. I thought there were a thousand things he could have said in that situation and that he chose one of the most confrontational things. I'll admit I probably shouldn't have said what I did, but it was a harmless comment. So my question is, was I in the wrong? Was he? Were we both? Am I taking this too seriously? Does anyone have similar experiences or insights to share? I would be very grateful.

(Also, this wasn't the first incident like this. A few weeks earlier he was standing about 10 feet in front of the shomen with his back to it, talking to another student. I had just grabbed a bokken and was walking to the other side of the mat. I didn't realize at the time that it wasn't proper etiquette to walk between the sensei and the shomen, but instead of gently telling me this he stopped me and said "I don't want you walking behind me" like I was some sort of thug that was going to jack him. He said it in a very unsparing tone as though I had just kicked his dog. Between these two incidents I wonder just how he really is.)
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Old 01-01-2008, 08:44 AM   #2
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Sure, there are always different and better ways to handle situations. For one to say "he was right", or to confirm and support your side is not really possible here on a forum.

Consider the following though.

1. It is his dojo.
2. He has something that you want (aikido).
3. He makes the rules.

Sort of sounds like the conversations I have with my kids! My house, my support, my rules!

So, in the "big picture"...sensei rules! and the bottom line is either you accept them, swallow your pride, ego what not, and you continue on with your training under those conditions, or you go away.

It is as simple as that! It is not a question of what is proper, aiki, or what a "polite and proper person would do". it is his house.

I would assume that if he was like this alot, then he probably would not have many students, either that or what he teaches is so good that everyone is willing to look past the "grumpy ole sensei" and stick it out for what he has to offer.

You are not going to change sensei, so why bother validating if he is right or wrong in his choice of behavior?

You are there to change/improve yourself.

What good would it do for a bunch of us to say "Wow, Andrew, you are right in how you feel!"

Sure, I might make a different choice of words, or explain things in a different way, but then again, maybe not! It depends on many things.

Sounds like you got your feelings hurt some, and that happens.

If you are going to make a long term study of budo though, I will tell you that you will run into many personalities, politics, and what not. Having patience and a thick skin helps a bunch.

Hope that helps!

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Old 01-01-2008, 08:56 AM   #3
crbateman
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Firstly, what is considered proper or improper in the dojo is almost entirely the prerogative of the instructor, and they are all different. Yours obviously is serious about certain things, and you will have to learn what they are. Often, it is easier to ask a senior student "off the mat" for some pointers. Someone on more even terms with the instructor might persuade him to compose a written outline of these requirements, to be given to all new students, and perhaps posted in the changing room, but he is not obligated to do so. Rather, it is your obligation to absorb them.

Generally, it is not considered good form to dialog with the instructor on the mat unless he asks you to. The sort of thing you mentioned above would better be asked of him after the class is over, and after asking the instructor if you might get further clarification from him on something. To suggest without being asked that "this is the way that we do it up north" could be considered disrespectful. As a general rule, as a student, you should leave your ego at the door when you arrive, and to expect that the instructor perhaps has not done the same. This is his privilege.

Remember also that the typical and traditional instructor/student relationship usually transcends the vendor/customer thing that many people adopt after they have paid money for something. You have every right to take your wallet and go elsewhere if you choose, but that's where the entitlement ends.

Everybody has to find what works in their own dojo, but it's usually wise to defer to a lot of smiles and bows, and keep the mouth shut until asked to do otherwise.
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Old 01-01-2008, 10:29 AM   #4
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

To me, there are two sides to this. One is that the Sensei certainly has every right to define how everything is done in his own dojo. No question. If one is going to practice there, one should abide by the rules, simple.

But. I personally would not want to study in a place where information and "correction" is conveyed through condescension, negativity, inflated authority, and infantilizing the students. Not my cup of tea. For me, one of my goals is to help empower my students, not show them how powerful I think I am.

Larry Novick
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Old 01-01-2008, 12:44 PM   #5
Dan O'Day
 
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

I'm still new in the aikido world and over the past four years I've committed almost every on the mat faux paux possible.

I was fortunate most of the time in that the various instructors readily assessed my errors as those of ignorance and not disrespect. Thus they were supportive yet assertive with their corrections which was an offer of respect to me, the student.

After two years of training I moved to a different state and tried a couple dojos out until I found the one I'm currently at. The first new dojo for me, was not for me. There was an etiquette correction which occurred that did not seem to be offered in the same spirit as those I had received prior at my initial dojo.

I didn't take it personally as I was quickly able to see that the environment at this dojo was...hmmm...say, a bit on the military side and hey! I'm from Northern California where we're all like totally mellow, dude.

Anyway...it was no big deal. To me aikido is far larger than any one or two senseis and their particular approaches to etiquette and general teacher/student relationships.

So I "shopped around" for another dojo and found just what I was looking for.

And since then I have continued to receive a correction here and there and I welcome them. How am I supposed to know finer points of etiquette unless some one instructs me. And if the intent of that instructor is of good will - which is easily discernable - then I am grateful for the lesson.

One thing I have to remember is that all humans are human. Senseis too have their rough days, maybe challenging things going on in their lives just like anyone else, and that may foster a sharp retort or somewhat disrespectful seeming attitude.

But one thing I've really found which helps me deal with all of this is to revel in my newness. Accept heartily that I do not know much and why should I? I'm new! This is all new stuff to me. It's exciting and making mistakes is all part of the learning process.

As time has gone on I've made less mistakes and certainly have learned enough to no longer be new to the point of being "blindly new" and I have welcomed the responsibilities which come with that.

It's all a continual learning process, of course. And that's what is so exciting. There is no final level of mastery.

I have a calligraphy which was given to me by a wonderful sensei who has trained for over fifty years. I'm a bit rough with the translation but the basic message is, "through our training we constantly polish ourselves like the river polishes the rocks in its path".

Yes. My translating abilities have a way to go, the message is much more poetic than my interpretation but the theme is correct.

Happy New Year, all.
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Old 01-01-2008, 02:13 PM   #6
Aristeia
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Here's the thing. The comment needs to be taken in the wider context - which we don't have. My best guess based on the incident about walking behind sensei is that this dojo has a pretty traditional mindset - many aikido dojo do and in fact it's what attracts some people to the art. That said, when I think about the traditional dojo I've been in, the idea of making a lighthearted offhand remark to sensei is just not appropriate. Most people coming into that environment pick that up really quickly and adjust to the culture. Sometimes other people take longer to realise that once class bows in you are operating under quite different social norms than day to day life.

Is it possible Andrew that you make what you consider off hand remarks semi regularly and that perhaps this is one in a series -so sensei is trying to tell you via certain cues - tone of voice, severity etc that that is not how we do things around here?

End of the day, as others have said - his house, his rules. And of course there is always the option of having a conversation with him about it off the mat.

"When your only tool is a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail"
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Old 01-01-2008, 04:24 PM   #7
Jonathan Lewis
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Andrew, In my admittedly inexpert opinion, you can't expect anyone else to know how you are feeling about your comment. I can't possibly know since I wasn't there, however from your description, to me your comment sounds extremely rude, unsafe, and counter to the purpose of a dojo.
Rude - you got some expert advise (if you don't consider it expert perhaps you should not be studying there?) When the expert gives you information a response such as "Well, my way would work too" on the face of it sounds like a petulant child.
Unsafe - It is next to impossible to explain all the reasons behind why we do something a particular way. If you need all the reasons before you follow instruction, you will eventually be hurt or hurt someone else. In this particular case, under 'real conditions (tm)' a slash to the face is less life threatening than a proper shomen, however in the dojo it is far MORE dangerous as it is far, far more likely to result in an injury to your partners eye. This distancing will not be tolerated by any responsible Aikido teacher.
Counter to the purpose - You are there to learn. First consider the instruction deeply, try to find the reasons for it on your own, then, eventually you make it part of your own way or not. Don't just treat serious instruction in an offhand manner.
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Old 01-01-2008, 04:44 PM   #8
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

A good book to help out with the whole etiquette thing. "In the Dojo" by Dave Lowry.

It will not lay down the gospel as to what is right and what is wrong, but it does a good job explaining the meaning behind many of the things we do.

I bought it this week, and read it in a couple of hours. I've been doing this for a while, and there was much I did not know!

Well worth the 15.00 USD or so it will cost to obtain it.

it may not help you avoid issues such as above, as it does not say "this is the way you do this"...but with a good overview on "WHY" we do the things we do, it might help you understand and make better choices.

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Old 01-01-2008, 06:02 PM   #9
Cypher
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Andrew, I dont know you personally, and what everyone here said about all dojo's and every sensei being different in their own way is very true. But dont think that you made a serious mistake by saying " This is effective too", depending on the mood of things and the way it sounded to the sensei could have lead him to misunderstand what your intentions were. My sensei has a very good sense of humor with us, and we joke back with him. But yet sometimes we all make certain comments that in his eyes may seem a little disrespectful and he corrects us, Aikido style. So dont sweat it man, just remember that it is his house and he does make the rules, and that everyone is human including the Sensei.

Tony,
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Old 01-01-2008, 06:22 PM   #10
Fred Little
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Jonathan Lewis wrote: View Post
Andrew, In my admittedly inexpert opinion, you can't expect anyone else to know how you are feeling about your comment. I can't possibly know since I wasn't there, however from your description, to me your comment sounds extremely rude, unsafe, and counter to the purpose of a dojo.
I have to concur with Jonathan on this one.

Over the years, I've only thrown one student out of the dojo. I did so after an incident in which a potentially serious injury occurred as a direct result of his willful refusal to make a specific change in technique in response to a correction.

My only error was not throwing him out immediately and I won't make the same mistake again.

Bokken and jo are weapons in their own right, not merely stand-ins for weapons.

My current view is that unless a student has extensive professional or avocational background in the use of sharp-edged and pointy tools over a period of many years, there is no basis for a discussion, much less a disagreement. And if the student does have that experience, the question doesn't even arise.

As for walking between the instructor and the shomen, my response is to simply say: "Don't do that again. If you want to talk about why after class, that's fine, but don't ever do that again."

Yes, that tone has made people walk away. Better that they walked away before someone got hurt as a result of their metacognitive failure than after. That was a gain, not a loss.

FL
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Old 01-01-2008, 11:24 PM   #11
Cypher
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Well you also have to remember that Andrew in no way questioned or argued the sensei's knowledge or ability, even if the sensei thought he was. Now that being said if the sensei thought he was being a smart ass then maybe thats a heads up that any comments, other than ?'s about what you are doing, should be left for the end of class. And yes, things can happen as a result of comments made during class such as injuries, but as I said before we are all human.

Tony,
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Old 01-02-2008, 09:26 AM   #12
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Andrew, it kind of sounds to me like you've just bumped up against the point where martial arts etiquette stops being quaint and starts being real. When people start training at a Japanese dojo, they look on the uniforms and bowing and so on as cultural artifacts: it's interesting, but it's window dressing. In fact, while you could argue that some aspects of Japanese martial arts etiquette are mostly or entirely cultural, other aspects are functional and are based on what was needed to assure mutual safety in an armed (stratum of) society.

Take the bokken thing: a lot of aikido dojos are a little casual about this, but in general, one of the most important rules of partner weapons practice is no improvising. You are working with real weapons capable of delivering serious or fatal injuries, not foam boffers, and therefore it is critical that you not deviate from your role in the kata or practice. Instructors are used to newbies who err out of incompetence, but they really won't tolerate a willful deviation -- nor should they.

Walking behind someone is a violation of a similar stricture of etiquette, one that came about for functional safety reasons. Your reaction to the situation was indignation and to be angry that the instructor treated you like "some sort of thug". In fact, his reaction was that of someone who is trained to take weapons and the people holding them seriously. When you put yourself in that mindset, you can see how walking behind someone with a weapon is rude -- you force them to either trust you or confront you. And if your thought about that is, "Well...why wouldn't he trust me?" -- ask yourself if you'd feel okay if he asked you to give him your wallet, not to use anything in it, but just to keep for a bit. Regardless of how you felt about him, you'd probably be somewhat taken aback and feel rather uncomfortable, put on the spot, and wondering what the point was. That's an incomplete analogy, but it's the best I can come up with. Trust can be extended, but it should never be demanded.

Finally, while I haven't read the Lowry book, I'll take the step of recommending it -- if anyone can explain the whys of dojo etiquette, he can.
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Old 01-02-2008, 09:47 AM   #13
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Andrew Riegle wrote: View Post
Long story short, I've been doing aikido for about 4 months and I really enjoy it. My sensei is a very good one and usually very kind one. But the other day something happened that I thought was quite rude and made me question if I should even train with him anymore. We were practicing with the bokken and I was practicing the overhead swing. Instead of bringing it out all the way to simulate crushing the skull I only brought it out far enough to have slashed his face. He told me to extend my arm more, and while I had no intention of disobeying him, I lightheartedly let out an offhand comment saying that the face slash would be effective too. And in a real fight, of course it would, barring a face mask on the opponent or him being able to step back very swiftly. I know that he was trying to teach me proper form and that ultimately the longer extension is more effective, and I wasn't really even arguing with him, but instead of making light of my comment he said sternly "You're not arguing with me, are you? I didn't think so."

To be honest this was like a slap in the face. I thought there were a thousand things he could have said in that situation and that he chose one of the most confrontational things. I'll admit I probably shouldn't have said what I did, but it was a harmless comment. So my question is, was I in the wrong? Was he? Were we both? Am I taking this too seriously? Does anyone have similar experiences or insights to share? I would be very grateful.

(Also, this wasn't the first incident like this. A few weeks earlier he was standing about 10 feet in front of the shomen with his back to it, talking to another student. I had just grabbed a bokken and was walking to the other side of the mat. I didn't realize at the time that it wasn't proper etiquette to walk between the sensei and the shomen, but instead of gently telling me this he stopped me and said "I don't want you walking behind me" like I was some sort of thug that was going to jack him. He said it in a very unsparing tone as though I had just kicked his dog. Between these two incidents I wonder just how he really is.)
I'd like to echo the idea that different dojos/instructors have different methods and ideas for etiquette. My sensei is usually very jolly while teaching, but there are times where he gets serious; I've read him as saying at some point a teacher has to apply pressure to his or her students, particularly if they think the student is serious about the training itself and not just doing it as some mild hobby. The first time my teacher was stern with me was a bit of a shock too. I'm often very casual (mom was a hippy) and tend to think everything should be fun, even when being serious. Still, it's valuable to experience these kinds of things. It's surprising how many people get uncomfortable when someone is being very direct in a serious tone. I can't read your sensei's mind so it's hard to be sure, but it could be he's trying to instill a greater sense of discipline. Add the fact that in many regards Aikido tends to have a very traditional Japanese tone, and it's no wonder he reacted the way he did during the sword work. My sensei was expected to sit in a particular way and look in a particular way and when he didn't, his sensei became irate. To many westerners this would seem inapropriate, but to the familial head of a style of aikijujutsu, it can be perfectly normal and expected.
If you're having trouble with adjusting to your sensei's behavior, and if it seems appropriate, talk to him about it. I think if you frame it in terms of not being used to that kind of interaction and express a sincere desire to understand and respect where he's coming from, your sensei will probably be able to shed some light on the situation. It might be better to ask a sempai first though, depending on how formal your dojo is.
Gambatte!
Matt

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Old 01-02-2008, 10:26 AM   #14
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
Andrew, it kind of sounds to me like you've just bumped up against the point where martial arts etiquette stops being quaint and starts being real. When people start training at a Japanese dojo, they look on the uniforms and bowing and so on as cultural artifacts: it's interesting, but it's window dressing.
This is pretty interesting stuff to me. I agree with you and think a lot of people view the cultural affectations as superfluous to martial training. It's my opinion that when applied meaningfully, they are more than mere dogma. Apart from the psychological affect of creating a particular state of mind, bowing, knowing where to walk, etc. help create a sense of spacial and temporal awareness (ie-maai).
When we don't know what is considered appropriate it can seem like a social mine-field. We're forced to pay attention and learn on our own in order to suite the tastes of our "masters." From what I understand, one of the main lessons of an uchi-deshi is how to read their sensei and respond before being told how. Uchi-deshi roles are just an extream form of "normal" deshi, and to me this translates directly into reading our partners in the world around us and is more important than knowing how to do ikkyo, etc. To my mind, the biggest aspect of learning martial arts is increasing awareness, both in the passive sense of evaluating the situation and in the active sense of interacting with it. After a while, dojo etiquette starts to become dogmatic again because one already knows what to do, and that begins to become more and more superfluous to learning itself, but it still helps to create a state of mind and practice that abstract, but still usefull, social maai.
Nearly everyone I've ever met tends to begin with their own sense of "good" etiquette and proceeds from there. In my experience, being able to adapt quickly to the etiquette of others is usually the first step in preventing conflict. This can include everything from speech patterns to body language, but adapting to new forms of etiquette has given me a far more enriched outlook not only on my view of the world around me, but of myself and it's taught me not to take myself so seriously as I have in the past. I'm getting a little tangential, but I think these ideas are overlooked pretty often and for me they've been invaluable.
Best regards,
Matthew

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Old 01-02-2008, 12:00 PM   #15
Tom Fish
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

It is also important to remember that in both cases that offended Andrew, weapons were involved. It has been my personal experience that practice with weapons has required a level of maturity that includes a serious attitude. The attention that the instructor should be providing for safety, may require the students adherence to a strict no nonsense approach to classroom behavior. In any case, learning the proper dojo etiquette will not prove detrimental to your learning environment.
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Old 01-02-2008, 12:41 PM   #16
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Matthew Gano wrote: View Post
This is pretty interesting stuff to me. I agree with you and think a lot of people view the cultural affectations as superfluous to martial training. It's my opinion that when applied meaningfully, they are more than mere dogma. Apart from the psychological affect of creating a particular state of mind, bowing, knowing where to walk, etc. help create a sense of spacial and temporal awareness (ie-maai).
...
Nearly everyone I've ever met tends to begin with their own sense of "good" etiquette and proceeds from there. In my experience, being able to adapt quickly to the etiquette of others is usually the first step in preventing conflict. This can include everything from speech patterns to body language, but adapting to new forms of etiquette has given me a far more enriched outlook not only on my view of the world around me, but of myself and it's taught me not to take myself so seriously as I have in the past. I'm getting a little tangential, but I think these ideas are overlooked pretty often and for me they've been invaluable.
I don't think it's tangential at all -- it's just that in modern Western society, many people don't understand the real reason for etiquette. It's not so you can one-up other people with your knowledge of which fork to use, it's so you can get along with other people, because both you and they know what certain behaviors mean and what is expected in different situations. In the world of Miss Manners, this means not irking people in social situations, or being able to operate smoothly within the workplace; in the martial classes of feudal Japan, it meant knowing which behaviors were threatening and constituted a challenge, and which behaviors were safe. And of course, if you're going to try and figure out which behaviors are threatening, all kinds of practical things come into it, like: who's holding a weapon, what kind of weapon, where are you standing relative to each other, which way are you facing, etc. -- maai and other related stuff. So you can see that the etiquette -- reishiki -- has intensely practical roots. When you violate reishiki, it's not just a matter of behaving rudely -- most likely, you have also threatened someone (possibly unknowingly) or exposed yourself in a way so as to invite an attack.
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Old 01-02-2008, 12:54 PM   #17
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Aikido and Daito ryu begin and end with etiquette...
-Kondo Sensei

Best,
Ron

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Old 01-02-2008, 12:57 PM   #18
Fred Little
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
When you violate reishiki, it's not just a matter of behaving rudely -- most likely, you have also threatened someone (possibly unknowingly) or exposed yourself in a way so as to invite an attack.
Very much so.

A few years back, I was standing on a cocktail lounge patio having a friendly conversation with a retired USMC officer. As I was emphasizing a particular statement, I pointed at him. He leaned in and said, very quietly, "Please don't point at me."

He was serious, and I knew he was serious, but I've lived in New York long enough that talking with the hands has become quasi instinctive. I did it again. He reached out with a very soft palm and pushed my finger to one side, then said: "I asked you not to point at me. If it happens again, I'm not going to ask."

I apologized and thanked him. It didn't happen again. Aside from another hour or so of very interesting conversation that wouldn't have occurred otherwise, I also remain grateful for both the insight into a professional's sense of ma-ai and threat he provided and the professional restraint with which he provided it.

Make of that what you will.

FL
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Old 01-02-2008, 01:19 PM   #19
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

I make of it that you don't point at that marine!

Best,
Ron

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Old 01-02-2008, 01:21 PM   #20
DonMagee
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Now my interest is peaked, I want to know why he doesn't want people pointing at him.

I can see another long sleepless night imaging reasons.

- Don
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" - Albert Einstein
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Old 01-02-2008, 01:30 PM   #21
ChrisMoses
Dojo: TNBBC (Icho Ryu Aiki Budo), Shinto Ryu IaiBattojutsu
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Don Magee wrote: View Post
Now my interest is peaked, I want to know why he doesn't want people pointing at him.

I can see another long sleepless night imaging reasons.
Well according to Freud...

Chris Moses
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Old 01-02-2008, 01:42 PM   #22
Ron Tisdale
Dojo: Doshinkan dojo in Roxborough, Pa
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Yeah, but sometimes to smoke a cigar, is just...

Oh you know...

B,
R

Ron Tisdale
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Old 01-02-2008, 01:49 PM   #23
Fred Little
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post
Yeah, but sometimes to smoke a cigar, is just...
....considerably less expensive than firing a few clips on the target range.

FL
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Old 01-02-2008, 01:56 PM   #24
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

Quote:
Don Magee wrote: View Post
Now my interest is peaked, I want to know why he doesn't want people pointing at him.

I can see another long sleepless night imaging reasons.
Heh. Not wanting to be rude, but a similar point to worry over at night is why some people find it offensive that others spit on the sidewalk. I mean.... why on earth would anyone even think that?

FWIW

Mike
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Old 01-02-2008, 02:43 PM   #25
Dennis Hooker
Dojo: Shindai Dojo, Orlando Fl.
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Re: Dojo etiquette?

I was eating a meal with Sensei and a few others about 30 years ago. It was my habit to pick up the food with chopsticks and place the chopsticks in my mouth much like I did with a spoon or fork. Sensei said “don’t eat like that”. I said OK not having any idea what he was talking about. I checked my chin and shirt front for sloppy eating and found nothing. So I proceeded to eat again and Sensei said “don’t eat like that”. I said OK and not wanting to be a complete idiot I put down the bowl of vegetables and picked the bowl of rice thinking how can I mess this up. I placed the chopsticks in my mouth and sensei gently leaned over and gently tapped my hand and the chopsticks went into my throat gagging me slightly and sensei said “don’t eat like that, not polite and dangerous”. I now eat much differently with the chopsticks.

Dennis

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