One of the most important practices in a traditional Japanese karate dojo is the observance of the opening and closing ceremonies. This very formal ritual serves to bookend practice and contextualize the training. At the Charles Fink Karate Dojo, these ceremonies are performed in seiza (formal seated position) but on some occasions, they are performed in musubi dachi (formal standing position). In either case, the ceremonies are performed with serenity and composure and include a period of mokuso (see this blog entry).
The ceremonies include a series of bows. My observation is that the selection of bows performed varies from association to association and even from dojo to dojo. This can be explained by the differences in organizational structures and by the variety of people present in the dojo at the time of the bow. At the very least, shomen ni and otagai ni (see below) are performed and appear to be universally consistent. Other bows are then added.
The following is a list of bows that can be performed in opening and closing ceremonies. This does not mean to suggest that all these bows should be performed every time. The bowing ceremony is typically performed by a senior student who provides direction. Each direction is followed by the command rei which means “respect” and is demonstrated through the bow. It is generally accepted that the same bows are performed at the beginning and at the end of class.
the (opening and closing) ceremonies are performed with serenity and composure
Shomen ni1: the shomen is the ceremonial front of the hall. This bow serves to acknowledge the space in which we train.
Kami ni taeshite2: kami are deities (gods). Many Japanese martial arts find their roots steeped in Shinto practices. This is an effect of the early practitioners of the arts being of the Shinto faith. As a result, Shinto traditions have influenced the development of the culture and rituals of the dojo. This is comparable to the work schedule in Canada. As a result of Christian influences early in Canada’s development, many Canadians enjoy a day off at Christmas and Easter – regardless of one’s faith. The Charles Fink Karate Dojo has a Shinto shrine (briefly discussed here) on display for historical and educational purposes. When the shrine doors are open, we must acknowledge the gods but since our Dojo is secular, the doors remain permanently closed.
Ryuso ni taeshite: the ryuso is the founder of the school or style (ryu). As practitioners of Goju Ryu, our founder is Miyagi Chojun of Okinawa.
Kaiso ni taeshite: the kaiso is the founder of the association (kai). As proud members of the Gojukai and the Seiwa Kai, we acknowledge both founders Gogen Yamaguchi and Shuji Tasaki respectively.
Shuseki Shihan ni taeshite: shuseki shihan translates to “chief instructor”. If the chief instructor of the school is present, he is acknowledged. The term shuseki is not always used. Often the chief instructor is acknowledged simply by name: Fujiwara shihan ni taeshite or Fujiwara sensei ni taeshite. Note: some associations use the term saiko shihan (highest/supreme master).
Shihan ni taeshite: individual shihan, or masters, can be acknowledged individually by name. However, in the case that multiple masters are present, it may be that only the very senior masters are acknowledged by name. The other masters are recognized collectively using the phrase shihan gata ni taeshite, meaning “all other masters”.
Jokyo ni taeshite: the teaching rank jokyo is an honourific title that refers to journeyman instructors. These instructors are beyond the level of apprentice but are not yet masters. These instructors typically hold the rank of yondan (4th level).
Shidoin ni taeshite: the teaching rank shidoin is an honourific title that refers to intermediate instructors. These are licenced instructors and typically hold the rank of sandan (3rd level).
Sensei ni taeshite: this acknowledges all the instructors present, regardless of rank or title. They can be acknowledged by name or, in the case of multiple bows, the instructors can be recognized collectively using the phrase sensei gata ni, meaning “all other instructors”.
Otagai ni: “towards each other”. This allows everyone in the room to acknowledge everyone else in the room with one collective bow. This replaces the obligation that everyone individually bows to everyone else which, in the case of large classes, would take an exorbitant amount of time.
This is not an exhaustive list.
At the Charles Fink Karate Dojo, we use the following bows on a day-to-day basis and adjustments are made when special guests visit:
Some dojo include the Dojo Kun (club creed) in the closing ceremonies. This is a practice I wish to reinstate in due time.
1 The Japanese term ni means towards. Shomen ni: towards shomen (or the front of the hall)
2 The suffix taeshite suggests added reverence – similar to vous as opposed to tu in French