Notes on Dojo Etiquette


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”, 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, not ignorance.

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.


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. There is much less distance between students than between students and Instructors. One student may greet another with “Oss David” for example, or “Oss Sempai” if addressing a higher grade, 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) does not become too dirty, and your belt (Obi) is tied correctly.

Courtesy. Punctuality is evidence of sincerity.

Some Instructors will not allow students to train even if only one minute late, regardless of excuse. The thoughtful student will always arrive early to prepare for the forthcoming lesson. If there is a point of Karate that the student is unsure of, the correct procedure is to ask a Sempai (senior friend). Your Instructors normally concern themselves with any personal enquiries from students, with the highest grades at the club as clearly they have uncertainties sometimes. 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, whether in or out of the Dojo, and 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.