Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Aikido Dojo Etiquette

A couple of people have asked me for a few tips on correct etiquette in the dojo. Etiquette describes the standards of behaviour expected from people practising in the dojo and it has two purposes:

1) Safety
For example, when the Sensei claps his hands, students should stop practising. It may be that the Sensei has seen someone do something hazardous and wants to correct it before any damage is done. Naturally, it is bad etiquette for anyone other than the Sensei to clap their hands during practice.

2) Politeness
There is more to politeness than just the trivia of daily life. I mean, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider it polite to raise your little finger when drinking tea. But it does matter that you adopt a serious and respectful approach to the study of a martial art. When you enter the dojo you may be feeling angry after an argument or frustrated after a hard day at work. But for the next two hours, you have to put that behind you. The etiquette of the dojo is one way in which you show yourself prepared for serious practice. It shows both your respect for the art which you are studying and your respect for the people with whom you are practising. If you need a quick overview, see the Dojo Etiquette page on this site.

Different dojos may adopt some slightly different conventions, in particular in regard to bowing in and bowing out of practice. Some dojos, for example, display a picture of the founder of Aikido (O-Sensei) or of the founder of that particular school of Aikido (for example, Tohei Sensei, the founder of Ki Aikido). If a picture is displayed, it is normal to bow to that picture when stepping onto or off the mat. The entire class may also bow towards the picture at the start and end of practice.

This video provides one example of ‘bowing in’ at the start of a class…

Another common point of difference is found in the use of Japanese phrases at the start or end of a lesson. In some dojos, no Japanese is used and the class may simply bow silently to the teacher at the start of a class and either bow silently at the end or bow and say “Thank you, Sensei”. Other dojos (and this is the case at the Hartland dojo) bow in using the phrase “Onegaishimasu” (the pronunciation is, approximately: Oh-ne-guy-shmass) which means “Please” or  “Please, let’s begin”. And we end practice by saying, “Domo arigatou gozaimashita” (pronounced: Doe-mow, Arigat-oh, goes-aye-mash-ta) which means, “Thank you very much”. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember the Japanese phrases. A respectful mumble will suffice at first! J However, if you want to practise your pronunciation, I recommend this site:


  1. Your onegaishimasu definition is way off. The full phrase is Yoroshiku onegaishimasu (よろしくお願いします) Which means more like "I am in your debt", "Please help me", "please take care of me" and about half a dozen other translations. It's one of those wonderfully idiomatic Japanese phrases. You pronunciation guide os quire rough too. Both the I and U of shimasu *are* pronounced, but depending on dialect, they can be fleeting. Ask any Japanese person to say the word slowly and clearly and you will hear them.

    "Domo" どうも, has a *long* initial vowel, so either mark it with a macron or use oo or ou (doomo, doumo). The long vowel is important, because ども means something completely else. どうもありがとうございます is extremely respectful and どもありがとうございます is not. Depending on the person you are speaking to, domo can sound incredibly disrespectful.

  2. Your splitting of syllables is also incorrect. Japanese is a syllabic language. O-ne-ga-i-shi-ma-su... a-ri-ga-to go-za-i-ma-su. "goes-eye-mash-ta" is plai wrong. "Go-zigh-ma-shta", if you insist on dropping the glide vowels, is far closer. But with "mashita" you will still hear a small "ih" between sh and ta.

    Token Japanese is better than no Japanese I suppose.

  3. Thank you for your comments. Bear in mind, though, that it is my hope to assist people with zero knowledge of Japanese to pronounce these phrases. We are by no means aiming at fluency! ;-) It is generally far easier to use mnemonics that approximate the pronunciation than to attempt absolutely correct pronunciation. I am studying the basics of Japanese myself so I have some personal experience of the problems both of pronunciation and of translation. I must have read about a dozen different translations of 'onegaishimasu' in different courses and books and my own feeling is that such is the difference in the expression of Japanese phrases (particularly when related to anything involving politeness) that literal translation is not an attainable goal and a very loose approximation is sufficient. By the way, I did check with a native Japanese speaker before writing the above piece and she did not raise the same objections that you have. At any rate, if I can help students even to make an attempt at basic Japanese expressions I will be fairly happy.

    Best wishes