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DOJO ETIQUETTE

The dojo is a safe, sacred space where we explore unsafe things. We create this safety and sacredness together by behaving differently on the mat than we would in the outside world

BOWING

There is a lot of bowing and formality in aikido. it serves multiple purposes, but I think the most helpful way to think about bowing is that it serves as layers of consent. And the most helpful way to think about formality is safety. 

Training is hard! You're going to be hit, pushed, and thrown. You are also likely to get your buttons pushed, and push the buttons of your partners. By bowing before you get on the mat, you are showing respect to the art, the space, and gratitude to the lineage of teachers that make this dojo possible. You are also expressing your initial consent to being in a martial environment, in which there is an expectation that you'll work with everybody in the class, certainly be touched and maybe harmed, and deal with challenges like the warrior in training you are. 

By bowing in together to start class, we pay homage to the teachers and the art, and we renew our consent to work together as martial artists. This means we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, fully own our bodies and spirits, challenge one another, and keep one another safe. 

Bowing to the teacher after a demonstration is respectful. It is also an important opportunity to remember your commitment to simply do what the teacher is demonstrating, and suspend judgment, opinions, negative self talk, and worry. 

Lastly, bowing to one another and saying the Japanese phrase onegaishimasu is expressly offering your body and spirit to your partner so that they can train. You are in service to your partner in two ways. First, you need to train honestly and with full commitment. Training with reservations doesn't just shortchange you, it hurts your partner's training. Secondly, you need to be careful and keep your partner safe. Throwing your partner into someone else, bending them in ways their body isn't meant to go, and letting anger creep into your practice can all cause injury. 

If your religious beliefs make this type of bowing problematic, that is okay. We can work out another gesture that communicates this meaning together. 

HIERARCHY AND AUTHORITY

Rank and the student teacher relationship are an important part of the dojo. I also think they are an opportunity to be thoughtful about what leadership is and how it functions.

Aikido needs the leadership of a teacher and senior students to thrive more than other martial arts because it is not competitive. At the same time, the purpose of training in any martial art is to build the student's discernment, confidence, and sense of empowerment. And we live in a cultural moment that increasingly mistrusts authority for good reasons. 

Fundamentally, the power you give a teacher or senior student is yours to give, it is only a good idea to give it when it is to your benefit, and you can revoke it at any time. While on the mat, do consider whether or not you are open and letting the teacher and more senior students teach you. This attitude of openness to learning, or beginner's mind, is the most important part of training. It comes from the student. I cannot demand it, and it cannot be replaced by customs or etiquette. 

We do use two customs to encourage that openness. On the mat, we call the teacher "sensei," which simply means "teacher" in Japanese but is a mild honorific--it connotes respect for teaching. After the sensei demonstrates, either to the group or one-on-one, students bow to them. These two customs do not replace an open attitude but they can be a good reminder. 

These two customs have been abused millions of times, in many communities of practice. If bowing to an authority figure or calling the teacher sensei brings up discomfort in you, that is understandable in this moment. Come talk to me about it. 

Also remember that these customs are only useful on the mat. Please do not bow or refer to the teacher as sensei off the mat. 

Lastly, if you are a more advanced student, please pay attention to whether or not you are being helpful, and refrain from teaching people who are not giving you consent and an open attitude. 

QUIET STUDY

Unless a technique is very new to most or all of the students in class, teaching will be done using relatively little explanation. There are good reasons for this. Please help create an environment that is supportive of quiet study by refraining from talking on the mat most of the time. 

Quiet study is effective. The best way to learn aikido is to watch the teacher, and earnestly try to do what you saw. Explanations can obscure as much as they illuminate! Simple, direct observation allows even those of us who are new at this an opportunity to find the movement in their own bodies without being "taught at" all the time. 

Secondly, the purpose of training is to increase our awareness of ourselves and others, and talking can be a social crutch that we reach for to create comfort in a situation that should be uncomfortable, or to distract ourselves from how much we are communicating without words through training. 

Do use common sense! If someone is hurting you, for example, say something. 

EVERYTHING ELSE

All dojo etiquette is about creating an environment that is safe for serious martial study. By safe, I mean two things. Dojo etiquette keeps us physically safe. It also creates a special social contract that makes it spiritually safe to take chances, go deep, and grow. 

Physical safety means taking total responsibility for your body and the bodies of your training partners. When you step on the mat, be prepared to take a different kind of responsibility for your body than you would anywhere else, and to treat your partners' bodies with care. Then let that attitude of care and responsibility inform every single behavior on the mat. This will lead to more formal behavior. Being on time in a clean uniform with trimmed nails; standing up straight; sitting in seiza if possible, and cross-legged if not are all ways to display your attitude of care. Similarly, maintaining a sense of martial awareness--moving if someone is coming at you, not bumping your body or a weapon into stuff, quickly moving to the sides of the room when the teacher claps--these are ways to nonverbally communicate readiness. Conversely, spacing out during demonstrations, leaning against walls, swearing or otherwise "losing it" on the mat, not getting out of the way, not being clean and ready to train when class starts... these are all ways to communicate to your partners that you are not ready to care for their bodies and your own. 

Spiritual safety is a more elusive concept, and I invite everyone to help this dojo define it. I would start by saying that it is much easier for members to take chances, be open, and push themselves in an environment that everybody earnestly believes in. Behaving like you believe in the dojo could mean always setting aside time after class to help clean up, taking your own training seriously, or helping a classmate that is having a hard time. But it's a real knife edge! It can also mean noticing that you're judging others about not cleaning up as well as you would, or resisting the urge to give unsolicited advice to someone who didn't ask. 

I am providing this open prompt about physical and spiritual safety instead of a list of rules because no list of rules is long enough to account for any thoughtless thing any of us might do, and because any list of rules can be weaponized, and that would decrease the spiritual safety of the dojo. 

Never hesitate to ask questions or tell me how things are going with any aspect of your training. 

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