Cardinal Rules for Dojo Visitors

Many players like to visit other clubs while on business trips or vacation.  Since every club tends to have different rules, culture and expectations, players can sometimes be caught making an etiquette faux pas.  By doing so, they can damage the reputation of their home club and coach.  A recent etiquette no-no prompted my colleague, Steve Scott, to put together what I’m calling the cardinal rules for dojo visitors.  I  was so impressed with the list that I asked for permission to post them in my blog.  So, here it goes.

1. If you plan on visiting another dojo, call ahead and get permission from the coach, instructor or sensei before you go. When calling, inquire if there is a drop-in or mat fee, or if there is any restriction on proper attire (for example, some clubs may only allow a white judogi, while others have other rules). When calling, be respectful and don’t boast or make any claims that could be construed as arrogant or disrespectful. Even if you think you’re the baddest man (or woman) on the planet, it’s best not to mention it.

2. Another thing to remember when making the initial call is to inquire if your belt rank is recognized by the club you intend to visit. Some clubs may recognize ranks from only a specific organization, and if this is the case, respect their rules and wear a white belt. Also, inquire as to how you should refer to the head instructor. Some people want to be called sensei, while others prefer coach or others may prefer something else. In any case, when in doubt, either use the word sensei or the formal title (Mr. or Ms.) and their last name (Mr. Smith, for example).

3. When you show up, show up early (never be late) and make it a point to introduce yourself to the head coach or instructor. Make it a point to both bow and shake his or her hand when you first meet the instructor.

4. As far as bowing goes, it’s always better to bow too much than not enough (or at all). When entering the dojo area of the gym or building, bow as you enter the room. Bow on and off the mat and bow to all of your workout partners before and after training with them. Be sure to bow to the instructor as you approach him or if he stops to offer some instruction to you on the mat during practice.

5. Always thank the instructor is he or she gives you instruction on the mat, and be sure to thank every partner you work with after working our with them. For example, after a round or randori, bow and thank your partner for the good workout as you shake his hand before going on to another training partner.

6. When entering the mat, as a guest, it’s a good idea to immediately walk up to the instructor and bow and shake his hand. As you do, thank him for allowing you to train with his or her club. Make sure you do the same thing after practice. Bow and shake the instructor’s hand and thank him for his hospitality. If you have to leave the mat, ask permission from the instructor first. Don’t just walk off the mat without permission-that’s a major breach of etiquette.

7. Show up clean and free from odor. Always have a clean training uniform on and make sure that you wear some type of flip-flops or sandals when off the mat. Bring your own towel.

8. You’re a guest-remember that. Never correct another student unless he or she is doing something dangerous or stupid. Let the instructor, coach or sensei do that. When drilling with a training partner or when doing randori, don’t stop and start coaching him or her. Keep your mouth closed and work out. Again, let the coach do his job. It’s his or her club, not yours.

9. You came in for a good workout, so get one. Give as good as you take. If somebody cheap shots you in practice, don’t get mad, just get even. Get serious and get it on, but do it with a smile and be polite about it. The cheap shot could have been done to you to see how you would react. Stand up for yourself, but don’t go overboard. Like I said, don’t get mad, just get even. And whatever you do, don’t be a “mat bully.” We’ve seen those guys come in once in a while and I (as a coach) and the people on our mat make sure they don’t come back. A few years ago, at the start of the randori period, a visiting black belt quickly picked a teenage green belt as his first partner. As the coach, I made sure to keep a close eye on what developed. And, sure enough, this adult black belt was going overboard and beating up on that lighter, weaker and less-skilled teenager during randori. After about 2 minutes, I ended the round (scheduled for 5 minutes) and made sure that the visiting black belt got one of our black belts as his next randori partner. Our visitor got a lesson in how to breakfall and tap out. He ended up going one round after another with the brown and black belts who were on the mat. After only 3 5-minute rounds of getting his butt handed to him, he claimed he had a back injury and asked to sit down. He never came back. Good.

10. Work out for the entire practice. Don’t stand around like you are important, waiting for the randori period. Do all the drills, mat games and everything else the rest of the group does. No one is too good to pick and choose what he wants to do at practice, except for the coach, instructor or sensei in charge of the workout.

11. Always be humble, but don’t be a wimp. It’s better to (as Teddy Roosevelt said) speak softly and carry a big stick. Give respect and earn respect. That’s an unspoken truth that goes on in every good dojo.

12. When sitting on the mat, make sure to sit at attention or sit with your legs crossed. Don’t lie on the mat or sit with your legs stretched out.

13. Always pay attention when the sensei, coach, instructor or higher rank demonstrates a move or teaches something. Even if you know it, pay attention. You never know, someone out there may actually know something you don’t and you may actually learn it.

14. Never, ever assume, just because you may be a higher rank than the instructor at the club you are visiting, that you are now in charge. It’s his dojo, not yours. If the instructor asks you to show a technique, take it for the compliment that it is and show something that the group might find interesting or useful. Don’t show off, just teach the move and make sure that you publicly thank the instructor for allowing you to teach the move at his or her club after you are done teaching it.

15. Never, ever, speak badly about anyone else when visiting another dojo, club or gym. Ours is a small world and word gets around if you snipe about someone. And, as in the case that came to my attention, don’t claim to represent a club or make any other claims that you can’t back up or aren’t true.


6 thoughts on “Cardinal Rules for Dojo Visitors

  1. Agree with all points listed. And I would certainly encourage anyone visiting to feel welcome to visit our dojo (Kokushi Dojo in Westwood, NJ, head sensei/coach Mr. David Otani), also encourage anyone in San Diego to visit Mr. Lafon’s club, as my daughters and I had the pleasure several years ago, we were given a very nice welcome (and got some good workouts!). Remember that Judo is about training, technique, randori, fighting, self-defense, exercise, but most importantly Judo is about respect and courtesy.

  2. 16) Best not to embarrass the club coach, even if you can, unless they’re trying to embarrass you, in which case it’s probably not a club you want to be associated with anyway…

    just my 2c worth

  3. Dr. Martin Bregnan told me that when visiting a club for the first time, don’t be superior in randori or ne waza. In other words, regardless if one’s ability is superior, let yourself be thrown or defeated. Give a decent showing but always take the fall. The second class? Be more aggressive but still humble. The third class? Now a person is free to exert himself/herself, but do it with class!

  4. Important information a great reminder for those of us of a certain age and critical for others Thanks

  5. I disagree with 9. You came in for a good workout, so get one. Give as good as you take. If somebody cheap shots you in practice, don’t get mad, just get even. Piss poor…

  6. Shake hands can be considered as a breach of etiquette too. The older sensei in my club don`t allow hand shaking.

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