"A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind."
Any group has expectations for behavior, actions that are expected, or considered rude. This is especially true among warrior societies where unnecessary conflict among trained individuals can result in serious injury or death. Even today, in militaries around the world, good order and discipline are important aspects of every soldiers training. So too in ancient Japan, did feudal lords have a vested interest in minimizing conflict and discord among the warrior caste. Ultimately any samurai injured or killed because of conflict during peace, was a warrior unable to be deployed on the field of battle in times of need. Thus Bushido arose as an important aspect of samurai training. Reiho (etiquette, respect, or courtesy) was an important aspect of that moral training. In modern times, this concept continues to be an important part of Japanese martial arts. Schools will often have a Reishiki policy, where they outline the expectations for how students should behave in order to keep good order and discipline within the training environment, and show each other the courtesy and respect that will minimize the potential for violence or unnecessary conflict within the training community.
O’sensei, the founder of Aikido, had a set of ‘Rules for training’ that many of his students took with them to their own schools when they became teachers themselves.
- Aikido decides life and death in a single strike, so students must carefully follow the instructor’s teaching and not compete to see who is the strongest.
- Aikido is the way that teaches how one can deal with several enemies. Students must train themselves to be alert not just to the front, but to all sides and the back.
- Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
- The instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Its versatile applications must be discovered by each student through incessant practice and training.
- In daily practice first begin by moving your body and then progress to more intensive practice. Never force anything unnaturally or unreasonably. If this rule is followed, then even elderly people will not hurt themselves and they can train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
- The purpose of aikido is to train mind and body and to produce sincere, earnest people. Since all the techniques are to be transmitted person-to-person, do not randomly reveal them to others, for this might lead to their being used by hoodlums.
While these rules offer valuable guidance for our training, they were written principly for Japanese students, within the context of Japanese society at the time. Basic Reishiki was common practice throughout society and didn’t need to be explicitly specified. As the training moved out of its native Japan, and students from other cultures began to train, some of these implicit assumptions needed to be stated more clearly for people who weren’t raised within Japanese society.
When I started my training, my teacher’s reishiki policy included many of the sentiments found in O’Sensei’s rules for training, but also included practice guidance for how to behave in the training space. Including instructions such as:
- Keep your uniform clean, your nails short and remove jewelry before practicing.
- Upon entering the Dojo hallway, remove your shoes.
- Make sure your feet are clean before entering mat.
- To show respect for the Dojo, please avoid leaning on walls and doorways.
- Be early to class. 15 minutes is on time, 30 is early.
- Bow when getting on and off the mat.
- While on the mat always address the instructor as sensei.
- Always greet the sensei upon entering the mat to begin training.
- Always bow to your partner before you begin to practise and after you have completed practise.
- Say thank you often.
- Pay close, silent attention to instruction and leave the mat for water, etc. - only during practicing time (not during instruction).
- When in doubt, ask a senior student or your instructor. “The only inappropriate question is the one not asked.”
- It is the responsibility of every student to cooperate in creating a positive attitude of harmony and respect.
The posted policy ended with the reminder that “Aiki is the harmony of relationships.” speaking to the importance of etiquette in fostering a positive and healthy training environment.
As we move forward and the training reaches more people from different cultural backgrounds and with different lived experiences. As we become more aware of the unique perspectives and challenges that different people face, I believe our approach to how we offer the training has to adapt and evolved to these new circumstances. In my own offering, I start my reishiki policy by saying:
“This is a safe space, we strive to provide an environment where everyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability. We will respect your right to self-respect and dignity and ask that while you join us here, that you offer others the same. If at any time, any aspect of the training makes you uncomfortable, you ALWAYS have the right to abstain from the practice until you are ready to rejoin.”
In addition to the points made by O’Sensei in his Rules for Training, and by my instructor, I also include guidance such as:
- Please avoid standing with your hands on your hips or with your arms crossed in front of your body.
- You may ask for clarification at any point in your training, but idle chatter should be saved until after class.
- When receiving personal instruction during class, sit in seiza and watch intently. Bow formally to the instructor when the personal instruction is finished.
- Be sure to properly bandage any open wounds, let the sensei and your training partners know if you have an injury that you’re training with. If you do bleed on the mat, inform the sensei and anyone training nearby, then excuse yourself to bandage the wound and clean up the mat before returning to practice.
- Please consider your representation of our training community when interacting with others outside of the dojo.
- Lastly, though we offer our practice sincere effort and solemn respect, we should also train with an open hearted joy and celebration in the gift of the present moment. While visiting other schools, please train in accordance with their traditions
Some modern practitioners are dismissive of traditions that don’t seem relevant in today’s society. This isn’t ancient Japan, and most of us aren’t Japanese, so it’s understandable why we might question the virtue of continuing with Japanese traditions. Hopefully in this short exploration of the role of reishiki, I’ve been able to show how etiquette, respect and courtesy help contribute to safety and a positive & healthy training environment where each of us can grow, in our skill as aikidoka, and as human beings.
This blog post was prepared by aspen apGaia, friend of Nairobi Aikikai with editing assistance by Imungu Kalevera (Nairobi Aikikai). Largely, the views represented herein reflect his wealth of experience in Aikido.