Corner Dojo – Etiquette and Process

In any karate dojo one of the most important rules of etiquette is behaviour.

Since by nature we all learn by trial and error, many things will be forgiven in a dojo, but bad behaviour is definitely not one of them. This rule applies to every student within the dojo society regardless of their rank, in fact the higher the rank, the less tolerance there is for any breach of etiquette what so ever. Starting with the sensei or “teacher” down through the sempais or “assistants” in the black belt ranks, and then finally through the coloured belt ranks.

Known as the Kohai …. it is the responsibility of each student to make sure that those who follow in their footsteps, do so with the highest possible level of personal behaviour. It is very important to remember, however, that correction for acts of misbehaviour always come from the top down, not the bottom up.

The single most important technique in Karate is the bow and the first lesson you will ever learn once you have been accepted into any karate school is how to enter and exit the Dojo or “training hall” properly. 

Karate dojo’s will have a shrine at the designated front of the dojo, this is referred to as the Shomen and regardless of how many times you enter or leave the dojo during the course of your daily training, you must always bow to the shomen first. This is done by standing at the dojo entrance and bowing towards the shomen …..The entire bow should take only a few seconds, but it should be performed with the utmost courtesy and respect. When entering or leaving the dojo with a large group of students, do not push or shove, but instead patiently wait your turn. If the opportunity presents its self always allow those senior students in the group to enter or exit the dojo first, since in a karate dojo everything is a reflection of your life.

Remember that when bowing to a partner in training or kumite … you keep your eyes on them but when bowing to the sensei or to the shomen then you must keep your eyes down as a sign of respect.


In a karate dojo, as is it is in life, it is bad manners to be late.

Sometimes, this may be unavoidable, in which case you will be required to bow in quietly and then kneel in seiza just to one side of the dojo entrance. If you arrive while everyone else is also kneeling in seiza or reciting the dojo kun, do not make any noise what so ever, just wait quietly until the sensei or senior instructor acknowledges you and invites you to join the class. 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. 

Once you are invited to join the class, you must first bow while still kneeling, then get up quickly and join the class by finding a place in the last row unless some other space is indicated to you. This may or may not be your normal place of rank within that particular class, but as I mentioned earlier, in a karate dojo as in life, arriving late usually requires you to pay a price for your tardiness.


At the beginning of each class you will hear the most senior student present call, “line up”. Upon hearing this command you must move quickly and quietly to stand in “heisoku dachi” or “informal stance” at your appropriate place of rank within that particular class. Depending on the size of the class you will often find your place within the rank of students will vary from class to class. This is to be expected since the more senior students there are in a class, the further down the line you will be.


The line up is done in rank order from right to left facing the shomen at 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 would have achieved that rank before you did. To your immediate left you will then find 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. If you are ever required to start a new row due to the number of students ahead of you, be sure to start the row by standing behind the student on the extreme right end of the line in front of you, be sure that the line you start is of the same width as those in front of you, and that you are lined up directly behind the student in front of you.


Upon joining a karate dojo you will find that no one gets special treatment. Everyone starts at the bottom. By that I mean that even the President of a large company who may be well known and respected, or for that matter even your boss at your place of work; if he or she were to join your dojo they would find that despite their rank within the business community, even they cannot simply join a dojo and without any previous training move to the head of the line just because of their status, or wealth outside of the dojo. In a karate dojo everyone starts at the bottom – where you go from there is entirely up to you.


The seiza or “kneeling position” is used most often at the beginning and the end of each class, or when you are instructed to sit and watch a demonstration of some kind. At the beginning of each class and before any form of training, the entire class will kneel in the seiza position and bow first to the Shomen and then to the sensei. This first bow is done as a sign of deep respect to the memory of the long line of Masters and Sensei who came before you and who in turn passed the art of Karate down to your sensei. In return the sensei bows to the entire class as a sign of deep respect to the students who come to train, because without students to teach there would be no one for the sensei to pass their knowledge on to.

 When you are bowing to the Shomen or to your sensei you should remain respectfully silent. Respect by all students regardless of their rank for the past, the present, and the future is the best way of assuring that the art of Karate will be passed intact to the next generation.

Next will be the the command to meditate. When ”mokusoh” is called, you must close your eyes, lower your gaze, tuck your chin in towards your chest, relax and quietly begin taking long slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. It is important to learn to breath not just with the upper portion of your lungs but also from your lower abdomen or “hara” as the Japanese call it. Your “hara” is the lowest part of you abdomen and is located approximately three fingers widths below your navel. By learning to breath from here you will develop greater power and speed as your karate training progresses.

It is during this meditative process that you want to “quiet your mind” and to try and rid yourself of all thoughts unrelated to your karate training, you must seek to find an inner sense of peace, or a relaxed state of being, this will help you to stay focused throughout the training that is about to begin. If you use the time spent in ”mokusoh” to properly focus your mind prior to each class, you will over time notice a definite increase in the quality of your techniques.

Mokusoh yame. This is the command to stop meditating. When “mokusoh yame” is called open your eyes immediately and sit up straight. When your turn comes quickly rise up by starting with your right foot, then your left foot and stand in “heiko dachi” or “ready stance” and await further instructions. It is usually at this time that the sensei or a sempai will lead the class in the “dojo kun” or dojo creed.

 The “dojo kun” can best be described as a verbal affirmation of certain principles or truths. It is important that you believe in what you say, and you must then use this belief to help you do your very best, not only in the training that lies ahead but also in your daily life outside of the dojo.


Etiquette during class. Once the training starts it is very important to put aside all unrelated thoughts. You must make every effort to only concentrate on the specific task at hand and especially on improving the quality of your own techniques. On seeing what cannot be seen. In the beginning this will be a very hard concept for you to grasp but you must push yourself both physical as well as mentally if your karate is ever going to improve. In short, always do your best. In fact to do otherwise would be disrespectful not only to yourself, but also to your classmates and your instructor who have come to train with you.

When moving from one area of the dojo to another always do it quickly and quietly. When changing positions in line be sure not to cut through the lines or to pass in front of anyone else, instead go behind and around them. Whenever you watch a demonstration, do so respectfully and 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 your hand and wait to be acknowledged, then ask your question in the politest possible terms.

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.

Kiai …..Sooner or later you will learn to perform a “kiai” or “spirit cry”.

A kiai is not unique to karate, but it is a sound that will be unique to each individual student. This sound does not come from the throat, but instead it originates deep in your abdomen or “tanden” and is usually expressed during the maximum point of attack or defence in Karate technique or kata. In the beginning most students will simply say the word “kiai” but in fact “kiai” is simply a Japanese word that when translated into English literally means, “yell”.

So what is a kiai …….. My personal definition is that a kiai is a unique personal vocalization brought about by a strong emotional feeling. In karate a kiai is most often used at the moment when the students maximum physical, mental and or spiritual power is required in combination with a specific movement or technique. What you will learn to do over the course of your training, is to draw on all your mental, physical and spiritual energy and focus and release this energy for maximum power and effect at the appropriate moment in your kata or during class. Don’t 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 will often 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.



If basic techniques are the heart of karate then kata is the soul of Karate.

Kata is a series of pre-determined defensive and offensive movements and techniques that have been handed down from past masters as a means of helping a student to understand, and cope with, their personal physical limitations, while at the same time helping the student to develop a strong spirit, and a peaceful mind through the art of karate. In the end kata is all about control – physical, mental, and spiritual control. If you do kata often enough you will finally come to understand what this means.

When your class is at an end and “Line Up!” is called once again, be sure and quickly line up in in the same manner and rank order as you were at the start of your class. Finish as you started, with a positive attitude and a willing desire to always do your best no matter what lies ahead.

It is very important that the lessons you learn at each class leave the dojo with you. How you use and apply these lessons in your everyday life is up to you, but your progress depends on you remembering them and building upon them.

In truth “class” never ends.


Clean up …………..After each class there is usually some cleaning required in the dojo.

Try and take an active part rather than sit back and watch others do the work.

In many dojos these tasks are often performed by the most senior students since they know that respect for the dojo or training hall is just as important as respect for your teachers and fellow students.


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 by bowing to the Shomen