Etiquette (Reishiki)

The martial arts are chock full of various customs and practices that form a system of etiquette observed to varying degrees by different martial arts systems and martial arts schools. These customs can vary greatly from one martial art to another. Some styles pay very little attention to etiquette while others are deeply immersed in rules of etiquette.

We wish to convey the most common forms of etiquette that you will encounter in a Tensoku Ryu Dojo and that are commonly practiced in traditional Japanese martial arts systems. Again, each martial arts system will have somewhat different rules and practices regarding Reishiki.

Reishiki has evolved for two primary reasons. The first is the one most people think of and that is to show respect to those with more experience or training. This is important, but it is the less important of the two primary reasons. The ultimate reason for the development and institution of Reishiki rules is to observe, promote, and help ensure student safety. Reishiki rules have evolved primarily to lessen the likelihood of injury for those practicing in a Dojo. You will find that the more serious the potential accidental injury threat becomes, the more stringent will be the rules of Reishiki. For example, the Reishiki rules when training with the Katana are generally quite rigid and strict to help ensure someone does not receive a disfiguring or life-threatening injury.

Students should observe the following Reishiki within all Tensoku Ryu Dojo.

Ritsu Rei (Standing Bow)

Ritsu Rei is performed by adopting either Heisoku Dachi or Musubi Dachi and then bending forward from the waist to about 30 degrees of forward-lean. The exact angle is not of critical importance. The arms should rest comfortably on the outside of the thighs and travel down the legs as the bow progresses. The eyes should be directly ahead to take in a complete view of what is in front of you, but also to make maximum use of your peripheral vision. In Japan, a more junior person may bow deeply until they are looking directly at the floor. We avoid doing this as it takes our eyes off of a potential adversary.

Ritsu Rei should be performed in many different situations that you will naturally encounter during your training. When entering a formal training area students should face the area and perform Ritsu Rei before entering. On exiting the same area, students should again turn to face the area, perform Ritsu Rei, and then step directly back and out of the training area before turning to leave. This formal bow is also used when two students wish to practice together. Both students use Ritsu Rei as a way of showing respect for one another and to formally invite one another to participate in a mutual exercise.

Ritsu Rei is also performed when encountering any Black Belt (from any style or school) for the first time in a given day or training session and is intended to be a form of respect and greeting. It is also customary to perform Ritsu Rei toward any Black Belt when departing. This is simply a formal “see you later” gesture. When bowing to a black belt you are simply showing respect for the training and knowledge acquired by those who have gone before you. It is not intended to be a sign of subservience. Please note that the Black Belt may or may not acknowledge your Ritsu Rei – it depends on what they are currently doing at the moment when you elect to bow. Black Belts always strive to return this respectful gesture, but it is not always possible.

In some Dojo, you will find a place of high respect or honor called a Kamiza. In Japan, this often is a place to honor ancestors and to serve as a focus for Buddhist or Shinto prayer and meditation. Outside of Japan the Kamiza often has a more secular purpose as a place to show respect for prior masters or to honor precepts or cultural elements of the Dojo primary martial arts system. The Kamiza is generally highly conspicuous and commonly displays pictures of prior masters, scrolls, Katana, plants, or any number of other elements that are culturally important to the Dojo. It is customary to turn and bow to the Kamiza (if one is present) as a sign of respect and friendship when entering and leaving a Dojo – even if it is not your customary Dojo. It is also customary to bow again when entering or leaving any formal training area within the Dojo. When in doubt follow the customs exhibited by those familiar with the Dojo or ask what is customary for those visiting the Dojo.

Za Rei (Seated Bow)

Za Rei is a formalized bow initiated from Seiza. From Seiza, extend the open left hand onto the floor before you, then extend the open right hand to form a triangle with the left hand. Both hands should be relatively flat on the floor. Now perform a deep bow until the forehead nearly touches your outstretched hands. Straighten back up and then quickly retract the right hand back to your right thigh. Subsequently, retract the left hand back to the left thigh to return to Seiza.

When performing Za Rei the right hand must be the last hand extended and the first hand retracted. This has an extremely practical purpose related to the use of the Katana. For related reasons, the bow is generally relatively quick and not an extended or protracted bow (though there may be some situations where an extended bow is appropriate). Simply bow for a few seconds and then proceed.

Za Rei is used extensively to show respect to a training partner when beginning an exercise from Seiza, during Iaido (Katana) training, and during belt presentation ceremonies. Students who acquire the Yellow Belt ranking will be expected to perform Za Rei during their first belt presentation ceremony.

Pass on the Right

Another element of etiquette is how one passes another in the Dojo. When passing another person it is customary to pass them to their right side. If they are facing you, then you will pass with your right side toward their right side. If they are facing away then you will pass their right side with your left side nearest the person.

At times when you cannot pass the person on the right (for example, if they are near a wall or if two people are talking and facing one another – you will pass one of them on his or her left side) then you should excuse yourself as you go by. This is usually accomplished by extending your open right hand forward at waist level and bowing slightly as you proceed. You may wish to say “Sumimasen,” “Pardon me,” or if you have interrupted those involved, “Shitsurei shimasu.” In many cases when you are casually passing by you need not say anything.

Shaking Hands

At various times you will want or need to shake the hands of a more senior practitioner. There is a proper way to execute this common demonstration of respect. You begin by extending your right hand and grasping the right hand of the other person as would be done in a normal handshake. You then place your open left hand on top of your extended right hand so your palm rests on top of your extended right hand in the vicinity of the thumb. Your hand will cover the area on top of both your hand and the senior person’s hand. The more senior person will not place their hand on top but will instead keep it back and by their side.

The purposes of this handshake are to a) show respect to the other person, b) demonstrate you are not hiding any weapons behind your back (antiquated, but still a nice gesture), and c) to thank, recognize, or extend a greeting to the other person.

There are times when using this handshake is quite important. At the end of a belt presentation ceremony, you will shake the hand of your instructor and/or the head instructor as their way of congratulating you. You should not forget your manners here. If you shake the hand of a black belt you should not forget to show them the respect they have earned.

In practice, you should become accustomed to using this form of handshake even in group classes whenever you shake the hand of anyone who outranks you (even by as little as a single stripe). As you gain in rank more junior people will shake your hand in this manner as well.

Note: Sanitizing and/or washing hands is prudent following any handshake and might be mandatory when the flu or other forms of contagion are present in the local geographic area. In severe conditions, handshaking should be avoided and a simple Ritsu Rei should be used in substitution. Etiquette should remain subservient to safety.

Class Etiquette

Here are some things you will want to observe during class activities.

  • Do not interrupt or correct the Sensei
  • When you hear the command “Narande” quickly and quietly line up in one or more rows and face the training area’s octagon angle one. You should line up by rank as follows:
    • The highest-ranking individuals are in the front rows, the lowest ranking individuals are in the back rows.
    • Within a row, the highest-ranking individuals are on the right while the lowest ranking individuals are on the left.
    • In some Dojo where there is limited access to a training area then the highest-ranking individuals in a row may be nearest the exit, while the lowest-ranking individuals are furthest from the exit. This is not typical but can occur in confined spaces.
  • Upon hearing the command “Kiotsuke” you should turn and focus your attention on Sensei. You will also want to establish Heisoku Dachi or Musubi Dachi (depending on the formality of the situation). This is the “come to attention” command and suggests that both your body and your mind should be attentive.
  • You should ask clarifying questions if you do not understand what is expected or being taught. Your questions should be courteous and respectful. You should allow Sensei to fully complete his or her thoughts and instructions before asking questions.
  • If Sensei says “Yame” (or perhaps “Stop”, “Break” or some similar phrase) you should immediately cease what you are doing. This doesn’t mean to stop after you’ve completed your planned punch. You must stop what you are doing immediately.
  • Over time you will likely hear the command “Kamaete” quite frequently. This is your Sensei (or perhaps a training partner) reminding you that you need to keep your guard up and in its proper position.
  • You should not offer corrections or instruction to other students unless you are participating in partnered exercises. When working with a partner it is expected that the two partners will offer suggestions and constructive feedback to one another.
  • When Sensei begins talking you should fall silent, turn to face Sensei, and provide Sensei with your full attention. You will know from the tone and voice inflection of the Sensei whether he or she is speaking to you alone, to you and your partner, or the entire class.
  • Do not stop participating or move to the sidelines to avoid practicing. The only exceptions would be if you are feeling ill or have suffered an injury. Otherwise, you should view all training as beneficial and remain engaged in activities until Sensei has asked you to stop.
  • Be ever vigilant for potential safety problems and intervene immediately if you believe there is an imminent risk of injury. If you feel you cannot or should not intervene then you should inform Sensei of your concern.
  • Demonstrate continued respect to everyone in the Dojo including but not limited to Sensei, fellow class participants, other practitioners practicing in the Dojo, instructors, parents, and visitors.
  • When paired up to work with another practitioner you and the other person should bow toward one another before you begin working. This is a formal agreement that the two of you agree to participate in a joint training effort. After your training efforts, you should both once again bow to one another as a means of saying, “Thank you for the opportunity to train together.”
  • Do not remove any part of your uniform unless it has become exceptionally damaged or is a potential cause for injury.
  • Do not eat, drink fluids other than water, smoke, or chew gum while in class.
  • Avoid distractive behaviors such as laughing, giggling, using foul language, expressing outrage or anger, jumping or bouncing about, or otherwise acting in a way that may be disruptive to other students.
  • Avoid wearing jewelry during class. This includes earrings, bracelets, necklaces, body piercing jewelry, and rings. Wedding rings may be worn if they have no sharp edges or protrusions. The intent is to ensure that nobody, including yourself, is harmed if the jewelry is impacted or pulled during training activities.
  • Toenails and fingernails should be well-trimmed and cut short. If your occupation or other activities require that you maintain long nails then please ensure you notify any training partners that you have long nails before you begin training with them.
  • Please ensure you will not need to visit the restroom during class activities. While this may not always be avoidable, it should not be a common occurrence. However, do not maintain a full bladder or suffer intestinal distress during training as a blow to these areas could be dangerous or result in an unfortunate event.

One final point about class etiquette. You should avoid becoming angry. You may be struck harder than expected or struck when or where you did not expect. In most cases, these will be accidents or miscommunication events. You should learn to take them in stride. If you believe that someone is doing these things deliberately please inform Sensei who will investigate. You do not need to become angry.


A salutation is, as the root of the word suggests, a salute. Bowing is a form of salutation. So is a military-style salute. You will find numerous ways in the martial arts and in general life experiences where salutes are exchanged between two or more individuals.

Within Tensoku Ryu we have a standardized salutation that is performed at the beginning and end of each class and the start of a Kata. A different salutation is used at the end of a Kata.

Our standardized salutation consists of the following sequence of events.

  • Stand with your feet together (adopting Heisoku Dachi).
  • Step with your left leg toward local octagon angel three to form Heiko Dachi as you open then raise both hands to Chudan (mid-chest) level. Press the open palms and fingers of each hand into the opposite hand. The fingers should point directly upward. Both hands should be placed along the line that stretches from your mother line to the local octagon angle one. Pause in this position for roughly one second. This position is meant to signify that you seek only peace.
  • Lower both hands in the direction of local octagon angle one while keeping your elbows at your sides. Your hands will slowly separate until only your fingertips are touching. Stop lowering your hands when your forearms are parallel to the floor. Your hands, arms, and chest wall should now outline your center triangle. Hold this position for approximately two seconds. This position is meant to convey the concept of centering, suggest you constantly keep yourself centered (in all of its connotations), and to signify that you will abide by the principles and concepts of Tensoku Ryu.
  • Rotate your right hand so the palm faces downward. Now rotate your left hand so the palm faces downward as the back of your right-hand slides under the palm of your left hand. Now close the right hand to make a fist. Cover the fist with your open left hand. You should now have the traditional covered weapons salutation. Hold this position again for roughly two seconds. This position signifies that you seek no conflict but are always armed with nothing more than your bare hands. It also suggests that you prefer to hide rather than brandish those weapons.
  • Slide your left leg in toward the right leg to again establish Heisoku Dachi as you close both hands and pull the hands back until they are slightly above each respective hip. Your fists should be oriented vertically with the thumb on top. This is merely a momentary transitional movement and should not be held as a separate posture.
  • Now step back with the left leg toward the local octagon angle three and again establish Heiko Dachi. As you settle into this stance extend your closed vertically-oriented fists directly forward toward angle one while keeping the forearms parallel both to the floor and one another. Stop moving the arms forward when your elbows again rest at your sides. You will be in the Yoi posture which should again be held for approximately two seconds. This signifies that you are ready for what comes next and concludes the salutation.

You should note that your instructor will be doing a mirrored version of these movements. When you move your left leg, the instructor, who is facing you, will move his or her right leg. This is to avoid confusion for new students and so that everyone seems to be moving in the same direction relative to the room.

This salutation is performed at the beginning and the conclusion of each class or lesson. It is also performed at the beginning of most Kata. But an abbreviated salutation is done at the end of a Kata. This closing salutation consists only of establishing the Yoi posture described in the final two steps of the opening salutation.

There are several additional salutations we employ depending on what we are doing. Most of these other salutations deal with weapons of various types where another salutation is either not practical or possible. Therefore each weapon type typically has its unique salutation. Those salutations are covered in our training for individual weapons.

Here is a video providing a demonstration of the salutation and some additional insights regarding the purpose and uses of the salutation.


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