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Dojo Etiquette


On arrival at the dojo you will first need to "bow in". When you enter any karate dojo anywhere in the world you must bow in, sometimes there is a shrine at the designated ‘front’ of the dojo this is referred to as the “Shomen”. Regardless of how many times you enter or leave the dojo during the course of your training, you must always bow at the Shomen first. This is done by standing at the dojo entrance with your feet are together, keep your legs straight and your arms at your sides, bend forward at the waist to about 45 degrees, keep your eyes looking downward and do not let your arms move or leave your side, pause for a second at the bottom of the bow then unbend. The entire bow should take only a few seconds, but it should be performed with the utmost courtesy and respect.

The Line Up

At the beginning of each class you will hear either the Sensei (the instructor) or the most senior Sempai (senior student) say “line up”. On hearing this command you must move quickly and quietly to stand in appropriate place of rank within the class. The line up is in rank order from right to left facing the ‘front’ of the dojo. As a result unless you are actually teaching the class, you will always have a more senior student to your immediate right, this could even be a student who wears the same colour of belt as you, but who graded to that level before you did. To your immediate left will be a student of similar or lesser rank and so on down the line until finally at the end of the line you will find the newest or most junior student in the class.   

Arriving Late

Arriving late at a karate dojo is very bad manners however this may be unavoidable sometimes. If you arrive after the class has lined up you should bow in quietly and then kneel to one side of the dojo entrance. Do not make any noise but wait quietly until the Sensei acknowledges you and invites you to join the class. If asked why you are late, whatever the reasons the answer is always “I have no excuse Sensei.”  This may not happen right away and it is important to remember that you must remain kneeling where you are until you are invited in, at which time you may be asked to perform some task as a penance for being late (usually press ups). 
Once you are invited to join the class, you must first bow while still kneeling, then join the class by finding a place in the end of the row (where the junior ranks are) unless some other space is indicated to you. This may or may not be your normal place of rank within the class, but in a karate dojo as in life, arriving late usually results is some penalty. 

The Standing Bow 

The standing bow for is used not only to bow into and out of the dojo at the beginning or end of each class, but it is also used for example when bowing to another student, or a Sensei before performing any form of partner training. The standing bow is also performed prior to the beginning of each kata, and at the end of each kata, and it must never be omitted or performed half heartedly as it is extremely important that all of your karate training and all of your katas begin and end with courtesy. When bowing always look downward, looking into your opponents eyes or “never taking your eyes off your enemy” is a Samurai tradition and has no place in karate. As you will not have enemies at the dojo, nor do you need to fear the Sensei or other students, always look downwards.


The "seiza" or "kneeling position" is very common and is used most often at the end of each class, or perhaps if you are instructed to sit and watch a demonstration of some kind.  To get into the seiza position from a standing stance, bend down on the balls of both feet then first place your left knee on the ground, then your right knee, then sit down and tuck your feet underneath you. Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed with your knees in a line with the knees of the person on your right or your left, rest your open hands comfortably on the upper part of your thighs.  

Etiquette During Class 

Once the training starts it is very important to show the respect to the Sensei and the rest of the class. Do not talk, chew gum or lean on walls when watching demonstrations. Some techniques can be very hard for either a beginner or the lower ranks students to grasp. However always do your best, to do otherwise would be disrespectful to your fellow students and your instructor(s) who have come to train with you. 
When moving from one area of the dojo to another always do so quickly and quietly, if passing through a door always allow more senior grades to enter first.  When  watching a demonstration, do so silently without leaning on the walls or doing anything that would distract others. If you have a questions about any of the techniques that are being taught during class never call out, instead always raise you hand and wait to be acknowledged. 
When training with a partner always be sure and bow properly before you begin and after you finish your training together. This applies every time you change partners regardless of their rank. 

The Kiai 

Sooner or later you will learn be expect to use a “kiai” (pronounced “Key-Eye”) a cry or shout that you will have probably witnessed during martial arts demonstrations, e.g. when an individual breaks board or bricks with their hands, or in Asian Martial Arts films. A kiai is not unique to karate, but it is a sound that will be unique to each individual student. This sound is usually expressed during the maximum point of attack or defence, e.g. at the end of a set of five punches or blocks, and at set points in katas. In the beginning most students will simply say the word “kiai” but in fact the word "kiai" is a Japanese word that when translated into English literally means, “yell”. 
Do not be afraid to kiai loudly! The overall tone of a class is often set by the level of spirit in the class, which can often be raised with a strong kiai on your part. So you if you have a strong kiai it can spur others to work harder as well. On the other hand, if your spirit is poor, or your kiai weak, you might actually bring down the class spirit, so always do your very best. In the end your own personal kiai will be as unique as you are, never be embarrassed by what you think it sounds like, if there is spirit and conviction in your actions then your kiai will always be strong. Always remember “spirit first then technique”. 


“Oss” is a sign of respect and is often used in Karate. It is a multi purpose words that can mean “yes”, “I understand” or just to simply show respect. It is used in the in the following situations:
a. upon receiving any advice or command from the Sensei, the student must reply by answering "Oss" to show they understand what is expected of them. 
b. when bowing at the start and finish of Class 
c. when bowing to your partner during Kumite 

Final Points of Etiquette 

Not only for health and safety reasons but for respect to Sensei and your fellow students, finger and toe nails must be kept clean and short. Jewellery (rings, bracelets, neck chains, watches etc) must not be worn during training. If you cannot or do not wish to take a ring off, then tape must be wrapped around it. Your Gi should  be kept clean, ironed and in good condition. Training and Licence Fees should be paid promptly. Finally when in the Dojo do not smoke, swear, chew, spit or commit any other act likely to offend the etiquette of the Dojo.

The End of Class 

When your class is at an end you will be told to line up again, quickly line up in the same rank order as you were at the start of your class.  The entire class will kneel in the seiza position and bow to the Sensei, this is done at the command “Sensei ni rei” (literally “Bow to Sensei”). This done as a sign of respect to Sensei without whom there would be no dojo for you to train in and therefore no one who could pass the art of karate on to you. In return Sensei will bow to the entire class as a sign of respect to the students who come to train, because without students to teach there would be no one for sensei to pass their knowledge on to. Sensei will then rise to their feet and the students facing Sensei should then rise up in rank order, i.e. black belts, then brown belts, blue, etc the last person to their feet will be the most junior/newest student. 

Exiting the Dojo 

When your class is finished be sure that you exit the dojo in the same manner as you entered it, with courtesy and respect ensuring that you bow out correctly facing in towards the Shomen. 
A dojo ,is a term which literally means "place of the Way". Initially, Dojos were buildings added to temples. The term can refer to a formal training place for any Japanese art but typically it is considered the formal gathering place for students of a martial art style to conduct training, examinations and other related encounters.

With thanks to Ian Pointer for this feature

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