We have had an influx of hanshi; with Sueno sensei visiting us two weeks ago and Sumi sensei here on a stopover last week. Everyone was keen to treat them with the respect that they are due and to demonstrate the level of reigi that high ranking teachers would expect in Japan. I received a number of questions on the subject and a request to put some thoughts into a blog piece explaining the correct approach to etiquette in this and other situations.
Just to clarify the terminology, reigi is the concept of etiquette and reiho is its physical manifestation. Some aspects of reiho are technical and unique to kendo or Japan. The angles to which you bow to your teachers and kamiza and to your opponent are prescribed and have to be learned. There are rules to govern the location of joseki or kamiza in a dojo and the correct places for students and teachers to sit. The gorei commands at the beginning and end of each practice are with one or two variations a set standard that we invariably follow. However if you think about it logically, the demonstration of etiquette in kendo is based on common sense and common courtesy that would be second nature in most cultures.
It is however probably fair to say that some people are better at it than others. Those with ethnic roots in Eastern Europe or the Middle East tend to grasp the concept of respect for teachers and elders more easily than do their peers from Western Europe, but everyone would probably agree with the logic of many of kendo’s standard rules.
In the dojo we do not chat amongst ourselves, so that we can hear the instructor. We ask permission before taking off our men and leaving the dojo, so that someone is aware in case of medical emergencies. We do not step over people’s shinai, as a shinai represents the sword and the sword is “The soul of the samurai”. We do not lean against the wall or slump, as the dojo is a place of physical and spiritual training and we need to maintain a spirit of readiness and awareness.
Translating this common sense approach to the way we treat senior visitors, we should aim to give our best in keiko. When we cross the dojo to thank sensei, we should do so immediately after rei. Remember start with the most senior teacher and work your way down the line. Don’t ask questions. If sensei has some advice for you, he will give it automatically.
It is accepted practice to take care of senior visitor’s bogu and deliver it packed with his folded hakama and keikogi to the exit. Decide beforehand who is going to do this.
If sensei would prefer to take care of his own equipment, then allow him to do so. Of course this may be politeness on his part, so insist once or twice before you give in. In this case don’t be surprised if other junior teachers also refuse your kind offer of help. Whilst I am usually grateful for this sort of attention, I would not dream of taking advantage of it if my senior teacher has said no. To do so would be discourteous.
So although many aspects of kendo etiquette can be learned from text books or by asking your instructor, it is difficult to go wrong if you follow the basic rules of human courtesy.