Would You Walk Up and Slap Sensei in the Face?

Of course not. But, in this last installment on protocol, I encourage you to view most of the topics presented below with exactly that question in mind. You see, anytime you put on your Maine Traditional Karate (MTK) gi, or a gi-tee, or even interact with anyone aware that you study martial arts at MTK, you are a direct representative of Sensei Steve Apsega and that which he teaches. To ignore any of our traditional protocols is akin to walking up to Sensei Steve and slapping him right across the kisser. SMACKAROOSKI … Thud (you hitting the floor unconscious)

Where most of the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito Karate and Kobudo Federation’s senior leadership will be descending upon us in a couple short months, please take note of some of the following expectations that are …. well …. expected. For a more complete list of dojo etiquette and class protocols (e.g., bowing in ceremony, partner drills, bowing out, etc), you can look in the student section of our website under the General Reference menu.

Be on Time: For goodness sake, if you will be attending a training camp event, please plan to be there at least 10 – 15 minutes before it starts. Unexpected circumstances come up for everyone, but some among us are well-known for never being on time.  There is no fashionably late for a karate event. By arriving late for class or at a training event, you are sending the message that the teaching you are about to receive and those who are providing it are simply not important enough to you to be where you need to on time. If you are a parent who is guilty as charged, please make whatever arrangements you need to in order to be sure your student is not walking into the training hall after things have started. It is disruptive to the training process, disrespectful to Sensei, and would be super duper, really, really, really bad.

Think about it. Barring an unforeseen, legitimate barrier to a timely arrival, what possible excuse is there for being late? Kaicho Isao Kise will watch you come in and think, “I travelled halfway around the world to provide this training and I am here on time. Hanshi Shipes must not feel it is important to teach common courtesy.” He may then glance over at Hanshi Shipes who is busy thinking, “I put my full support behind bringing the President of the OSMKKF to Maine AND I came all the way from Texas to share decades of expertise and students are wandering in when they feel like it. Hmm. Perhaps I should think twice before putting my faith in Sensei Steve.” Meanwhile, Sensei Steve stands dejected in the corner, depressed over the realization that one or more of his students simply did not care enough to avoid embarrassing him in front of two members of our lineage. OK, perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

So, what are you supposed to do if you come in late to class? After you have signed in and put on your obi, you should kneel quietly at the back of the dojo. Sensei or the instructor for the day will invite you into the group when appropriate. You need to wait patiently.

Be Presentable: I am told by knowledgeable sources that there are these two marvelous inventions called a washing machine and an iron. Use them – especially for training seminars. Our appearance reflects upon Sensei. Do not iron or wash your obi – you’ll regret it.

Feedback: This one is actually VERY IMPORTANT!! Accept and implement any feedback given to you by a higher rank – especially from the many senior Dan who will be present. Do not say, “that’s not the way our Sensei teaches that.” If you do not understand what you are being told, definitely ask for clarification so you can perform as instructed. Otherwise, extend thanks for the correction (Domo Ariagato Gozaimasu), try to do what you have been shown, and make a note to ask Sensei privately about the matter later or in regular class. If Sensei does not understand why the correction was offered, he will seek clarification from Hanshi Shipes at an appropriate time.

Obi/Gi: If your gi and obi do not need to be readjusted at least once during training, you need to work harder. Gi tops come out from under belts. Obi knots loosen. Gi ties come undone. If you need to fix your gi or belt, turn to the right, away from the instructor. Keep turning until you are not facing any black belt. Adjust what you need to and then turn back around to the right.

With so many black belts likely to be at our training with Kaicho, you will find yourself in the situation where you cannot turn in any direction and not be facing a black belt. DON’T DESPAIR!!!! There actually is protocol for that as well. Simply turn away from your immediate instructor and kneel. Fix things the best you can while kneeling then stand back up, turn to the right to face your instructor, and get back to work.

Do not feel self-conscious about kneeling to adjust your garments. I almost guarantee that you will see our brown belts do it several times over the course of our training weekend.

Sounding OffBe LOUD AND PROUD … but humble …. but LOUD and PROUD … but humbly so.  Geez, just be Loprumble.  There are regional differences within our federation on this one, so it is not wrong to remain attentively quiet during instruction, but we are taught to acknowledge our teachers with a Hai (Sensei, Hanshi, Kaicho, etc) when they have shared something.  So, to show that you have heard and understand what you are being taught, let the person know with a grateful “Hai” followed by the appropriate title.  See http://mainetraditionalkarate.com/blog/hai-sensei/ for a refresher.

Onegai ShimasuThis one is a personal pet peeve of mine when it does not happen, so it will be included here, because, you know, I’m the one writing this blog.  I feel that “Onegai Shimasu,” generally taken to mean “please teach me,” ranks or ties for rank as the most important phrase we utter in the dojo.

Before any partner exercise, bow to your partner, 30 degrees –  eyes down, and shake hands with two hands.  Why eyes down – because we trust the people we work with and demonstrate this by placing ourselves in the vulnerable position of losing awareness of what normally could be a potential threat.  Why two hands – because we are demonstrating to our partner that we hold no weapons and are not hiding anything else behind our backs.

At the same times this happens, each participant says to the partner, “Onegai Shimasu” regardless of any, or degree of, difference in rank.  This simple phrase is a sign of mutual respect to each other and a commitment to working together toward personal betterment.  You are acknowledging that lessons to be learned come in many shapes and sizes. (see http://mainetraditionalkarate.com/blog/have-you-hugged-your-sensei-today/ )

Make Mistakes with Grace: or Sarah, or Sophia, or Kelly or pretty much any other member of the dojo including Sensei.  Nobody likes to mess up.  Everybody does it.  There is no need to fuss, whine, or cry.  Please do not stamp your feet, pout, or hang your head.  We are all in this to learn. We often demonstrate more about our character by how we fail rather than by how we succeed.

The Bottom Line:

In any circumstance where you are not sure what to do, simply be as respectful as possible. Protocol is mostly about attitude.

Okay, that would have been a good place to end, but I’ve got to tell this story about a training I went to with Master Kise and Kaicho several years ago.  It definitely is a visual so I won’t do it justice but I’ll try.

Master Kise was wandering down through the students as the group was performing the basic exercises.  He comes up behind one of our students at the time named Sam.  Well he’s still named Sam as far as I know, but I mean he was also a student then.  At any rate, Master Kise, ever so stealthily, reaches up and tugs the outer gi tie on Sam’s gi.  Sam’s gi falls open at the side causing him to look down at half his gi top falling off his body.  He quickly realizes such a presentation is not acceptable.  Almost as quickly, he realizes that gi tops do not just pop open.

With an annoyed, yet puzzled, look on his face, Sam looks up to find himself face-to-face with Grandmaster Fusei Kise himself.  All at the same time, Sam (a) wiped the annoyance from his face, grabbed his gi to pull it closed, and tried to bow at the same time.  As he tried to bow,  Sam realized that he shouldn’t be fixing his gi in the direction of Master Kise.  With a look of horror on his face, Sam tried to whip around to his right, while bowing, while trying to hold his gi shut.  He failed miserably on all fronts and the rest of his gi top fell open.  At this point, what could he really do?

I’ll tell you.  With an expression that was somewhere between a smirk and exasperation, Sam just kind of put up his hands and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “you win.  I pretty much failed in every way possible.”  Master Kise simply started laughing as he patted Sam on the shoulder as if to say, “it’s okay, thanks for making the effort.”

So, when Kaicho comes to visit, be respectful, do your best, but most important, do not wind yourself up so much about doing what is “right” that you don’t enjoy an experience that you can tell fond stories about for years to come.

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