New students entering a dojo for the first time find themselves bombarded with what seem like odd and strange rituals ; bowing, use of Japanese terminology, titles such as ‘Sensei’, seasoned students kneeling or running around wearing their white ‘pyjamas’, and, in the case of Yoshinkan Aikido, the ever prevelant shout of ‘OSU !’ In this article we hope to remove some of the supposed mysticism surrounding the experience within a dojo and explain the ‘reiho’ or ‘etiquette’ used as well as the reasons why.
The question often asked is : ‘why do we bother with all of this etiquette ?’. Firstly, as we are studying a Japanese martial art we are showing respect to the Japanese culture in which the art was created and paying homage to the founders of Aikido and all of those who have come before us to help keep the art alive and promote it.
Secondly, one of the most important aspects of the study of Aikido is learning to discipline one’s own behaviour and exercise self-control. The etiquette we observe in our dojo helps to foster these characteristics, both on and off the mat.
‘Reiho’ literally means ‘the way to behave’. Just as in the West we have certain customs of etiquette at work, home, and social events, so the East has similar customs that are distinct to their culture. For example, in the West, when you meet someone, you would normally shake their hand or perhaps give them a kiss, depending on the familiarity of the person and / or relationship. In the East, the custom upon meeting someone is to bow.
On the subject of bowing, it is often confusing for students in the West, most of whom are not Japanese and/or have never been to Japan, to know when it is appropriate to bow. In the dojo, bowing is a way of paying respect, saying ‘Hello’, ‘Thank You’, or ‘I’ll try harder’ or any other multitude of sentiments. In a traditonial martial arts dojo, it is customary to bow upon entering the dojo (‘place of the way’) to signify that you are entering something special, where you train the body and the mind with 100% focus and where the distractions of the outside world can be put aside for the duration of your training. It is also customary to bow when you first get on the mat to signify that you are about to begin your training. In Yoshinkan Aikido, you would perform ‘seiza rei’ or ‘kneeling bow’ when you first set foot on the mat and last leave the mat. You also bow to your training partner before you start training and when you finish training as a way to thank them for training with you. Lastly, you should bow to your teacher (‘Sensei’) or senior student (‘Sempai’) when they give you instruction as a way to thank them for taking the time to teach you.
Accompanied with the bow, specifically in Yoshinkan Aikido, is ‘OSU !’ What is ‘Osu’ and and what does it mean ? An entire seperate article could be written about ‘Osu’. In short, ‘Osu’ is a term used in Yoshinkan Aikido (and some Karate styles) which can mean ‘Yes’ or ‘I understand’ or ‘I’ll do my best’. ‘Osu’, when written in the original Chinese, is comprised of two characters. The first character is defined as ‘push’ and the second character means ‘endure’ or ‘persevere’. ‘Osu’ when said in a strong manner and with spirit, means to push yourself to endure any hardship, whether in training or in life.
In short, when you are training in the dojo and not sure how to reply to someone, simply bow and give a strong ‘OSU !’