By Jerry Dalien, Rokudan

This is an excerpt from the book “Judo: The Life, The Way, The Concept”.

The word Dojo has many meanings, such as exercise hall, practice hall or place of learning the way. It formally was used by Buddhist monks in reference to worship, it also could be a meditation hall or club. As you can see it can mean a great many things to the martial arts that you are studying. Our sport being Judo, we refer to it as a Judo Dojo.

The Traditional Japanese Dojo

haraigos Judo Etiquette by Jerry Dalien So many of the potential western students that wish to take a martial art see a sign or talk to a buddy, think they can walk right in with their shoes on and say “Hey, I am here to sign up for classes. How much is it going to cost?, when do I start?, and when do I make my Black Belt?” This may be very true for a commercial school. The truth of the matter is you pay a lot and get nothing much in return.

In a traditional Judo Dojo you have to be accepted as a student by the instructor first and foremost. Your first contact with the Sensei might come as a great shock to you. You must understand the fundamental difference between a commercial school and a Dojo. The truth is that you have come to him for instruction, he has not come to you. The source of the conflict that it is the Sensei’s Dojo and as the instructor, he runs his Dojo by his rules.

As a beginner you will probably think that Dojo is just a Japanese word for martial arts school. Nothing could be further from the truth. One factor that a new student of Judo should keep in mind is the Dojo is not a school, and its purpose is many fold. The prime objective of a Judo Dojo is the continuance of Judo. The Sensei is obliged to instruct his students, as he was taught by his former Sensei. The students he teaches are left up to the Sensei. The Sensei does not have to accept new students If he wishes not to do so. If you are accepted as a student of a Dojo and the Sensei feels that you will be a great credit to Judo and his Dojo you should feel very honored to be accepted as one of his students.

As a student you are expected to attend every class possible and make the most of each and every training session. You should always be loyal to your Dojo and your Sensei. If you wish to travel to or visit another Dojo in your area always ask the permission of your Sensei before doing so. If he or she says no, then take It for what it is worth and do not ask why, as his reasons are his own and best left alone. Some of the reasons may be the Dojo you wish to visit does not Instruct good Judo, or they teach techniques that are beyond your limits, etc.

Proper Japanese etiquette (reishiki) must always be upheld at the highest level There are too many rules for you to learn all at once. In time you will learn them. Your instructor can be any Black Belt rank, the higher ranked your instructor the more respect should be shown to them.

A great myth is that there is a religion that goes along with Judo not true. There is no religion taught with Judo. Please keep in mind that Judo came from Japan and it is a Japanese sport, and it has many Japanese customs along with it. These may seem very strange to a Westerner, even ridiculous to some. That’s the point, those who feel that way have no business in a Judo Dojo. The Sensei of such a Dojo is not satisfied with having you like the place and want to study there, He wants love at first sight. For you do not truly join a Dojo, you own a part of it. Don’t look for a window full of trophies, as we don’t sell trophies. We promote and teach the old method of Judo that my former Sensei’s taught me. Judo is not like other sports. You put in to it, and get back two to three times what you gave.

The Judo Dojo should always have ample room so that the players have at least eight feet between players for safety. The ceiling should be high enough that a tall player can do a high throw such as Kata Guruma (shoulder wheel) safely. The mat surface of the Dojo should be kept clean and in good repair at all times. You as students should help the Sensei by vacuuming and mopping occasionally to keep the Tatami clean. The Sensei has many things to do to keep the Dojo going. Any help is greatly appreciated by him to keep the Dojo clean.

Many mat types may be used. It depends on what the Dojo can afford. The more traditional Judo clubs will have Judo Tatami’s (rice straw mats, three feet by 6 feet by 2 inches thick, with vinyl covering). These are very expensive, and should be left in place whenever possible. If these are not affordable, school wrestling mat can be used.

A good sized Dojo should have at least a fifty foot area. This is to have enough room for people to work out without getting hurt. A Judo Dojo with little or no space to work out will hamper development of high skill levels.

The Dojo should always be a place for serious study of Judo. When you enter any Dojo you should enter with a clean mind, and pay attention to all instruction given. All students must be on their best behavior at all times in the Dojo: each student should set a high standard of discipline. The higher ranked students are expected to set an example while in the Dojo for the lower grade students to follow.

Among the traditional fixtures of any Judo Dojo is a NAFUDAKAKE or name board. All members of the Dojo are listed on the board according to belt rank, with the most senior ranks listed first, then moving down the board. For the board to be of any use it must be kept up to date. Not many American Judo Dojos use this item in the Dojo. Also there should always be a picture of Jigoro Kano in the KAMIZA area (JOSEKI) seat of honor. There should also be an area for all Judoka to put their shoes or slippers prior to going on the mat surface.

If you are a spectator at a Judo Dojo remember you are a guest and expected to act like one at all times. Instructors take a dim view of spectators who sit and talk to others in the Dojo spectator area and disrupt classes. A Judo Dojo is a place for practice and many Judo Dojos do not have a space for spectators. If you are not offered a seat do not be offended, as you are a guest and the purpose of the Dojo is to train Judo players and not entertain you. If you are a parent and you are setting on the sidelines, you are not to give them any instructions from the sidelines and at no time are you allowed to go on the mat to help instruct your child. Many instructors will ask you to leave the Dojo. When you or your child is at the Dojo, it is up to the Sensei, not you, to give instruction.

From the very first time you enter any Dojo, you are expected to show and learn the proper reishiki (etiquette or mat manners). The western culture of Judo reishiki in some Dojo’s has long gotten away from the proper way of reishiki. There are many reasons for this: some being laziness of the instructor; many feel that it has nothing to do with the techniques of Judo, so they omit it; lack of interest on the student’s part; lack of proper instruction on the instructors part. It should be stressed to all players or Judoka from the youngest up into Sensei ranks as well. True Judoka will want to learn all that they can, not just Nagewaza (throwing techniques) but all forms including the Japanese terms and influences as well as reishiki.


Through very specific customs an orderly, functional and efficient method of conduct has been laid down for use in all Dojo. One of the very first items of etiquette which the Deshi (student) must learn is when they enter or leave any Dojo, they must perform a Ritsu Rei (standing bow) in and out of the Dojo. This Rei is not just a physical thing to do, but is also mentally done. By this I mean that when entering the Dojo each Deshi (student) clears his or her mind of all evil and negative thoughts, and feels good about themselves with the good thoughts in mind to be a better person for what they are about to learn, or what they have learned at the Dojo before leaving.

The second time that they are required to Rei is when they are about to enter or leave the mat area. Also at this time their minds should be clean and fresh with desire to learn and to become at ease with themselves.

The third time they Rei is before and after working out with a partner. This is done with much respect as you are asking your training partner for the pleasure of working out with you, also you are saying I come with a clean mind, and have no intention of hurting you; in the event I or you should suffer injury, no ill feelings shall exist between us.

Entering the Dojo

When you are ready to enter the Dojo, you are expected to make a Ritsu-Rei (standing bow) at the entrance of the Dojo. Upon entering you should face the mat area towards the Kamiza (the wall with Professor Kano’s picture), when doing this ritsu rei(standing bow). When you have donned your Judogi (if you change at the Dojo) and you are about to enter the mat area, you will again perform a ritsu rei before entering on the mat area. After you have gotten on the mat area you should take up the proper seiza (kneeling-seated) position in the proper place according to your belt rank. You should never sit in a anza (cross legged) position until told to do so by the Sensei. You should never start any taiso (warm-up exercises) or do any ukemi (falling practice) until the Sensei has formally opened the class.

Opening and Closing of Classes

Before opening or closing of any class session, all students and instructors shall take their proper positions on the mat area according to proper reishiki. The four sides of a Dojo are very important in reishiki, for each has a specific code of ethics to follow.

The KAMIZA is the highest point of honor in a Dojo. It is the upper seat or seat of honor in which proper reishiki is reserved for the highest dan holders. At no time while in a Dojo may a Judoka stand with his back to the Kamiza, nor at any time sit in the Kamiza area. Even while doing taiso (calisthenics), your back should never be towards the Kamiza. Only the senior sensei of the Dojo can have his back to the Kamiza.

In proper reishiki no instructor or black belt below the rank of ninth dan should be allowed to sit with his back to the Kamiza for opening or closing the class.

Joseki is the second most important area of a Dojo. In proper reishiki, if the instructor of the Dojo is below the rank of ninth dan he or she should be placed to the right of the Kamiza in the joseki area. Only those equal in rank sit in this area. If the sensei wishes he may have any of the black belts sit next to him on his left side. In proper reishiki all lesser ranks should always be on the left side.

Shimoseki is the third ranked area of importance in the Dojo. It is the place all lower ranked black belts should sit. For example, if the instructor is a sixth or seventh dan he would sit in the middle of the Joseki area facing the Shimoseki area and all lower ranking black belts would sit facing him.

Shimoza is the lowest ranked area of the Dojo. All Mudansha (a person of senior age from 17 years and older and less than a Black Belt rank) should be lined up from right to left in order of rank, the highest sitting to the right and then down to the lowest rank of the players.

After all the Senior ranked mudansha have been seated in line then should come all the shonen and yonen ranked players according to belt rank. After the senior aged players the shonen and yonen line up according to rank not age.

All students and assistant Instructors shall take their position in the proper area of the Dojo and sit in a seiza position (kneeling seated) and the senior instructor shall take his place to the right facing the Kamiza in the proper place of the Joseki at the beginning and end of the class. The senior Judoka, if one is seated in the Shimoseki, shall give the verbal command of “Kamiza- Ni”, which is a preparatory command at which time any students sitting in the Shimoseki shall turn half left and face the Kamiza, and anyone sitting in the Joseki will turn half right to face the Kamiza, and everyone will observe a pause of a 8 to 10 seconds until the senior student once again shall give the command of “REI”. When this command is given all those sitting on the mat area shall simultaneously make a correct ZAREI (kneeling bow) to the Kamiza.

The next command should come after another slight pause of another 8 to 10 seconds. The senior student will again give the preparatory command of “Sensei ni”, at which time those in the Shimoseki will make a half right turn to face the Joseki area and everyone in the Joseki area will make a half left turn to face the Shimoseki. Then the senior ranked student will say, “REI”, at which time the instructor and students shall all bow at the same time. At the end of the class they will repeat the process, but with “Sensei Ni, Rei” first and then with “Kamiza Ni -Rei” closing the class. Note: it is improper for the students to stand before the instructor stands. Remain seated until all Black belts are standing and then at that time the rest of the students may stand.

Correct Sitting While in a Dojo

When in any Dojo you are to remain seated in the correct Seiza (kneeling seated) unless the Sensei tells you to sit some other way. The proper way to sit is ether the Seiza, or Anza (cross legged). At no time is anyone below the rank of Black Belt rank is ever allowed to sit in the Kamiza area of the Dojo.

When you are seated in a Dojo it is improper to sit with your feet and legs stretched out in front of you, or to lay back on the mat in any manner, unless you are engaged in some kind of special training, or doing a special type of Taiso. It is also improper to lean back with one or both hands on the mat behind you.

So many of the western Dojo’s I have visited embarrass me because of the lack of reishiki. It is totally relaxed or even totally absent from the Dojo. Not only do the Deshi (students) walk onto and off the mat area when they please without the proper Rel, but they also fail to show respect for the instructors or fellow students. Some just lay on the mats, freely talking or playing around and even chewing gum. At Judo Tournaments you can look how many Judoka (players) walk around, or lay around, the contest area. It all goes back to the instructors at the Dojo level. I have seen people lying around the mat area drinking soft drinks, chewing gum, with their Uwagi (Jacket) open and half hanging off their bodies, or not wearing one at all, or they will be walking around dragging their Obi’s (belt) behind them on the ground. This just shows the lack of respect some people have for Judo, and their instructors. It is everyone’s responsibility who sees someone committing violations like these to tell these people to get straight and start acting like a true Judoka should.

The Sensei

In proper Japanese, the word Sensei means Instructor or Honored Teacher. I do not like to call myself a teacher as I believe that I can not teach my students anything that they do not like to learn or don’t want to learn. I prefer the term instructor better, as I feel that if the Deshi wants to learn something all you have to do is provide them with the basic knowledge and guide them through the basics. I can not place their hands or feet for them every step of the way. They must take that knowledge and teach themselves what works and what doesn’t work for them.

In proper reishiki one is not called a Sensei until achieving the rank of godan (5th degree black belt). But very few Western Dojo’s have black belts that have attained the rank of godan so it would be proper to call a shodan rank (first degree black belt) a Sensei if he was the instructor of a Dojo.

As I said, in the Japanese language Sensei means “Instructor or Honored Teacher”. Therefore we use this term in Judo also. Your instructor shall always be called Sensei, or Mr., Mrs., or Ms., (last name), for example Jones Sensei, but never by a first name. When there is more than one black belt in the Dojo only the Senior Instructor should be called Sensei. All others addressed formally with Mr., Ms. Also, your Sensei may be distinguished from other instructors with his or her surname and Sensei, as in: “Smith Sensei”.

In proper reishiki, if your Sensei is speaking with another, and you wish to speak to him, you walk to within 3 or 4 feet, stop, and wait for the Sensei to recognize you. Then Rei and state your business. After you are through, take a step back, Rei and leave.

Remember, it is not proper to call a black belt by their first name. Always address them formally as Mr./Mrs./Ms. Jones. Also it is not proper to address a black belt below the rank of godan (5th Dan) as Sensei. However because so few Dojos have a godan or higher instructor, it is permissible to call your senior instructor Sensei if he is at least a shodan (1st Dan). It is not proper to call a person below the rank of shodan “Sensei”.

Proper Presentation and Reception of Awards

This is the most often seen breach of etiquette in the western worlds martial arts, by a great many players, including some Black Belts; again this is due to lack of training in basic Judo at the Dojo. This chapter is hopefully going to help you in this area. I hope that it will help you with some of the things that you may not have been taught at the local level or maybe you have forgotten. In most Dojo’s there are short ceremonies that are used to present promotions or awards. It improves the ceremony if it is conducted in proper etiquette. This will honor both the person presenting the award and the person receiving the award. There are many ways to present awards, and following are a few of the more commonly accepted. Remember that the person presenting the award should never go to the person receiving It That person should approach the presenter.

The person, official, or guest of honor who is going to present the awards should always be properly introduced by name and position; for example, “Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting the awards for this event will be The Honorable Jim Brown, Governor of Washington.” Or if he is a noted Judo player, “will be Jigoro Kano, Shihan.”

Following the announcement of the presenter, an aid should be present to assist the person by handing him the award to be given. An announcer calls the person to be awarded, and what award and division of contest if appropriate. The person receiving the award then positions themselves approximately six feet in front of the official presenting the award. If more than one person will receive an award they should be lined up in position of awards such as 1, 2, 3, or 3, 2, 1. Once your name is called you step briskly to the official and stop about 3 feet in front of him, pause and execute a ritsu rei (standing bow), take one more step forward and stop. At this time the presenter will take one step forward towards the person receiving the award, return the ritsu rei, and then present the award by ether handing it or in the case of a medal placing around the neck. The presenter may or may not also shake hands; either is proper etiquette but it should be the choice of the presenter. After the presentation both people should take one step backwards to the original position and execute the ritsu rei to each other.

If the award is a trophy, the same procedures will happen except the presentation. In this case the official will take the trophy in both hands with his arms shoulder high with the top of the trophy in his left side. He will perform the ritsu rei holding the trophy up and then present to the person receiving the award. After they both step back the contestant will bow in the same manner holding the trophy shoulder high. and return to his original position.

If an award stand is used, such as a trilevel stand, the same procedures for announcing the official will be made. As the people receiving are called they should move behind the appropriate position of the stand. As their names are called to be awarded they should take the appropriate place on the stand, step to the front when the official moves forward, bend at the waist and hold the bow while the official hangs the medal around your neck, then stand, ritsu rei and step back on the stand. Contestants will stay on the stand until all awards have been made for that division. Then they may step down from the awards stand.

During any ceremony at a tournament, players shall be in complete Judogi, and not have a sweat shirt or Jacket over the gi. Just report in the complete Judogi only. Also you should have some type or footwear for when you are not in the mat area. Some type of slippers are best since they can be quickly taken off and put on. Never wear any type of foot wear on the contest area.

In proper etiquette at a tournament all contestants line up in a single line facing the Kamiza (or head table area) by Dojo across the mat area. All officials will line up facing the contestants. A designated official will command “REI” and at one time all contestants and officials will perform ritsu rei. Next all officials will turn and face the Kamiza and again execute the Ritsu Rei.

Every effort should be made to preserve the traditional standards of judo. Well disciplined Judo Players will be aware of these standards. Well trained classes of Judo players will display the proper reishiki of Judo. If we do not keep the true basic values of Judo alive, then we as Judo players will lose it for future Judoka. It is very important for each player to take responsibility to preserve these traditional forms of reishiki. Each of you should do your part.