Dojo Etiquette

The Karate Dojo is a sacred space. Below are some notes on Dojo Etiquette, which will assist navigating this sacred space.


Karate begins and ends with courtesy. Bowing is a sign of respect, both to your Instructors and fellow students. A lesson begins and ends with the Dojo Captain or highest grade present, declaring "Sensei ni rei", To Sensei (teacher), we (the students) bow. The Instructor also bows - there is mutual courtesy.

As a rule, the higher the grade, the greater the respect shown, because higher grades have trained longer and have acquired a deeper understanding of the art. Respect is not assumed, it must be shown. Lack of bowing indicates disrespect, rather than ignorance.

  • Always bow on entering and leaving the dojo.
  • Always bow to dan grades when they enter and leave the dojo.
  • Juniors must always bow first to their seniors.
  • Respect must be shown to the Sensei, visitors to the club and fellow students whatever their grade.

Karate customs may appear a little strange to the beginner, but in truth, they differ very little from traditional Western considerations. Don’t feel embarrassed about bowing. It is taken as quite natural in Karate and in Japanese culture, whether inside or outside of the Dojo. Failure to observe this courtesy is in effect an insult to your fellow student - remember that.

Bow, don’t worry about other people, they don’t understand, and you are just beginning to.


Decorum should be observed at all times.

Any behaviour inside or immediately outside the dojo that is likely to offend the etiquette of the dojo is not allowed.

Students should refrain from talking in the dojo, but if they must then they should speak quietly Footwear should be removed before entering the dojo.

Gis (Karate Suits) should be clean and in a good state of repair, with an association badge.

In the dojo, there should be no:

  • Foul language.
  • Smoking.
  • Eating, drinking or chewing gum.

Phones should be silenced.

The Dojo Captain

It is the job of the Dojo Captain to ensure that the etiquette of a club is correct, and he/she is empowered by the Instructor to verbally reprimand any student found wanting in this regard.

If there is a point of Karate that the student is unsure of, the correct procedure is to ask a Sempai (senior friend / senior student). Your Instructors normally concern themselves with any personal inquiries from students, with the highest grades at the club, as clearly they have uncertainties sometimes.


"Oss" is a word of many meanings. Regarding etiquette, bowing is a visual sign of respect, to say "Oss" when bowing may be viewed as a sign of verbal respect. "Oss" is often used by a student when corrected by his Instructor, for example, it means that he understands and acknowledges the instruction. There is much less distance between students and students, than between students and Instructors. One student may greet another with "Oss David", for example, or "Oss Sempai" if addressing a higher grade peer, whereas the same individual would always communicate with his Instructor with "Oss Sensei".


Remove all personal adornments prior to training. Ensure your phone is either switched off or on silent mode. Toenails and fingernails should always be kept clean and short. Care of feet is of fundamental importance, and yet often neglected. Verrucas and athlete’s foot are highly contagious, and clearly one should not train if either is contracted. Ensure your Gi (karate suit) is scrupulously clean and your belt (Obi) is tied correctly.

Courtesy - Punctuality Is Evidence Of Sincerity

The thoughtful student will always arrive early to allow time to get changed and prepare for the forthcoming lesson. Some Instructors will not allow students to train even if only one minute late, regardless of excuse or reason.

Only under exceptional circumstances, if unavoidably late for the lesson, students should quietly enter the dojo, kneel and wait for instructions from the Sensei.