"The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." -- Master Funakoshi Gichin
In traditional martial arts training, the etiquette of the dojo (training hall) is an important aspect of the practice. Etiquette makes the dojo a special place, and allows us to show love and respect to each other. It is an important way of keeping our own egos in check, and promoting good relations. You will learn the details over time and they will become natural. Please don't feel intimidated by the idea of making an error in dojo etiquette! But here are some starting guidelines.
Bowing is a standard gesture of respect in Japan. It is not an act of subservience, and has no religious significance. A bow should never be rushed; take the time to properly acknowledge the person to whom you are bowing.
"Osu" is an abbreviated form of the Japanese phrase "oshi shinobu", which means "to have patience" or "to persevere". It can have several layers of meaning in different contexts, but in Seido it can be used to mean "yes", "I understand", "hello", "goodbye", and most importantly, "I'll try my best".
It is pronounced something like "oh-sue" without the "oo" at the end -- "oh-ss". Note that the use of "osu" is not universal across martial arts schools; in some contexts it is considered overly "rough". So be aware if you go visting. We love it, though.
Our space is only a dojo when we are in it. What makes it a dojo is our agreement that it is a special place. Please show respect to the space by bowing to the shinzen (symbolic front of the dojo) and saying a loud "Osu" when you enter and leave.
Do not wear shoes or outerwear (coats, etc.) on the dojo floor.
Bow and say "Osu" when you step on to or off of the dojo floor proper.
If you arrive late for class, sit down in seiza (kneeling posture) just inside the door, in a meditative posture with your eyes closed, until acknowledged by the instructor.
If you have to leave class early, please speak with the instructor before class. Never just walk out of class.
If you come to class with an injury, or sustain one during class, you must inform your instructor.
When moving across the dojo floor, always walk behind the line of students -- do not walk in front of or cross through the line.
If you are instructed to sit during class, always sit in seiza first; if instructed to sit and relax, bow first, then change to a cross-legged posture. (If you have knee problems, you may sit with your legs crossed at all times.)
Avoid idle chatter in class. Speak only to ask a relevant question, in reply to your instructors or seniors, or to your training partner during a partner drill. Respect your instructors by focusing your attention on them.
If you are in the room when another class is starting or ending (for example, you are waiting for your class to start while the previous one ends), sit respectfully in seiza while they perform the opening or closing bows.
If you are unable to attend class for some unusual period of time, please let your instructor know.
Please remember that you will be "up close and personal" with your classmates. I wish it didn't have to be said, but it does: please shower or bathe daily. (Even if you're not coming to class!) As an absolute maximum, if it has been more than 48 hours since your last shower, please shower before coming to class. Please do not be that student that no one wants to partner with because of poor personal hygiene.
Please keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed and clean. Untrimmed nails can scratch or cut your training partners.
Please avoid strongly scented body care or laundry products.
Please remove all jewelry (including piercings) prior to class. This is to prevent injury to you and your training partners, as well as to preserve the proper aesthetic. If piercing jewelry cannot be removed, place a band-aid or tape over it.
Wedding rings can be an exception, but should still be taped over if possible. We're not going to make you have a fight with your spouse just to train! Some students use the tie strings of their gi to keep their rings with them while protecting them from damage while training.
We do not require students to immediately purchase a unform; especially for kids, there's no point in spending the money when the interest may only last a few weeks. You can train in a plain t-shirt and sweatpants at first, or if you have a uniform from previous martial arts training that's fine. But once you decide to really join our classes you will need to purchase a training uniform ("gi").
It is an important part of the aesthetic that we all wear the same, rather plain uniform. Please make sure you get a white karate gi -- not a jujitsu or judo gi, not a tae kwon do uniform, not black or blue or natural "unbleached" cotton.
Buying and caring for a gi: Karate gi prices can range from under $30 to in excess of $300, mostly based on the weight and quality of the fabric. A lightweight gi will not last as long but may be suitable for kids who will outgrow them. Adult students may want to invest in a middle-weight gi, slightly more costly but longer lasting.
Gi suitable for beginning students are available online from kungfu4less.com or warrioremporium.com. If buying on-line, the seller should have a size chart, gi sizes are their own thing. Locally, gi can be purchased at the Kiyota Company, 2326 N. Charles Street in Charles Village (tell Mr. Kiyota that you're a Seido karate student and he'll make sure you get the right type), or Warrior Emporium, 66 Alco Place in Lansdowne. Jun Shihan Tom usually has a limited number of donated used gi available.
You probably want to get a 100% cotton gi, though young kids who don't sweat as much might get away with a poly/cotton blend. A student gi will usually come with a white belt. (If you're buying a more expensive heavyweight gi, manufacturers assume you already have a belt.)
Note that cotton gi are not preshrunk, it takes about two cycles of hot water wash and high heat drying to bring one down to size. For best results, warm or hot water wash with line drying is preferred after that. Cotton/poly blends are less finicky about laundry shrinkage, but tend to hold skin oils more, so have their own laundry challenges.
For outdoor summer training, please purchase one of our Catonsville Seido Karate t-shirt designs, which will be worn with (white) gi pants and your belt. Since we started frequent outdoor training during the covid pandemic we have been allowing blue or black gi pants with a t-shirt, but this is strictly a local and temporary policy.
When you join the World Seido Karate Organization, you will buy the logo patches for your gi. Patches last a long time, they will likely outlast your gi and can be transferred to a new one.
Please wear a clean gi to class. The gi must be washed regularly. (In my graduate school days, when I had only one gi and limited access to a washing machine, I would wash it in the sink with dish soap, wring it, and hang it outside or over the bathtub to air dry. Also works for hotel travel!) Do not use chlorine bleach, it will eat the fabric. Please avoid strongly scented laundry products. Occasional use of non-chlorine ("oxygen" type) bleach, and/or borax laundry booster, may be useful.
Generally, do not wash your obi (belt). The obi wears naturally, this is an important part of the "wabi sabi" aesthetic. Of course if you're training outdoors and your obi gets muddy, or you go to beach training and it gets soaked in seawater and covered in sand, you can give it a hand wash in the sink and hang it up to dry. But never throw it in the washing machine or dryer.
Addressing instructors and senior students
The instructor titles used in Seido Karate are:
- Kaicho -- the chairman and founder of the WSKO, Tadashi Nakamura, 9th degree black belt
- Hanshi -- 8th degree black belts: Hanshi Charles Martin, Hanshi Renzie Hanham, and Hanshi Andy Barber. Kaicho's top students, and living legends of the martial arts world.
- Nidaime -- the vice-chairman of the World Seido Karate Organization, Akira Nakamura, 8th degree black belt. Kaicho's son and designated successor.
- Suseki Shihan -- 7th degree black belt
- Sei Shihan -- 6th degree black belt (upper division)
- Jun Shihan -- 6th degree black belt (lower division)
- Kyoshi -- 5th degree black belt
- Sensei -- 4th degree black belt
- Senpai -- 3rd degree black belt, or lower
Always address and refer to instructors and black belts by their title, such as "Sei Shihan Kate", "Jun Shihan Sandy", "Kyoshi Tom", or "Sensei David." Or just "Sei Shihan", et cetera. (Some prefer to be addressed by their last name -- e.g., "Sensei Smith". Please follow their preference.) Always address your instructors by their title in the dojo or at dojo-related events. Even outside of the dojo, if you don't have another social relationship, only address them by name alone if invited to do so. (It is better to be conservative on such matters than to accidently give offense. Remember that Seido is an international community and American informality shouldn't be taken for granted.)
When you greet or say farewell to your instructor, bow and say "Osu, Sei Shihan", "Osu, Kyoshi", or "Osu, Sensei", as appropriate.
When an instructor or senior student gives you an instruction or corrects your technique, acknowledge it with "Osu, Sei Shihan" (or Kyoshi, Sensei, etc.)
Promotion testing is held several times a year and is by invitation. You should not request to test; your instructor will know when you are ready.