What is Karate Etiquette and How Can You Benefit From It?

Etiquette teaches us respect and courtesy, but ultimately, it's about training your mind

What is Karate Etiquette? What is Karate Etiquette?

The Dojo should be treated like a special place where students should hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior. Whenever or wherever you train Karate, you should follow certain etiquette and manners called Reigi in Japanese. Each Dojo has its rules, as what to do and what not to do in the Dojo.

The Dojo is a place where you learn to develop both the techniques and the spirit of Karate. The goal of Karate is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of etiquette. Here is a guide on proper general etiquette observed in a typical Karate Dojo.

What is Karate etiquette?

Training in Karate is a serious matter, requiring serious commitment and effort, but also seriousness of attitude and behavior.

Governing one’s behavior is a central concept in all of the Japanese culture, and especially in the martial arts. Students should participate enthusiastically in class, doing the very best they can do.

Etiquette in the Karate class is where it all begins, and it represents the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave both inside and outside the Dojo.Traditionally, those rules were not written, and new Karate students were expected to learn proper conduct by observing other students.

Etiquette varies from Karate Dojo to Dojo, but the points below should give you an understanding of etiquette within a traditional Karate Dojo.

What is the difference between Okinawan and Japanese etiquette?

Okinawa wasn’t a part of Japan until the mid-1800s during the Edo Period. Before then it was its own nation known as the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Strongly influenced by its relation with China, Ryukyu had their own culture, religion, and language, so it’s not surprising that Okinawans are less attuned to the customs and etiquette of mainland Japan.

Whether it's in the context of martial arts or in daily life, mainland Japanese tends to be more strict, formal, disciplined and follow etiquette much more rigorously.

On the other hand, Okinawans are way more relax and loose than mainland Japanese. They have a very optimistic, cheerful and easy-going approach towards life and Karate training. They observe Dojo etiquette but it way less formal about it than in mainland Japan.

Why is Karate etiquette so important?

On the surface, Karate etiquette might appear to have to do with good manners and politeness. It is, but it's also more profound than that.

Of course, etiquette gives us protocol and orderly ways to behave in a Karate class, it teaches us respect and courtesy, but ultimately, etiquette is about training your mind.

Provide a Structured Environment

At the elementary level, etiquette gives us a set of rules for the proper functioning of a class. There has to be a certain level of rules or structure for students to follow in order to ensure a safe and fertile class environment.

Show Respect

Etiquette helps us treat others with respect, consideration, and dignity. It is a way by which we can practice sincere gratitude and manifest our honest desire to learn.

Develop Mindfulness

More than being an action or a set of actions, etiquette is a state a mind that cultivates mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way to do things mindfully - in and out of the Dojo - with all your being. It teaches us to put our heart and soul in every moment, in every action, and fully experience each succession of moments.

Promotes Self-Discipline

By applying etiquette in various ways like obeying rules and developing good manners, the student will learn to control themselves and show integrity. Self-discipline is a skill that is useful in both life and martial arts.

What is the proper etiquette prior to training?

Before you arrive at the Dojo, there are a few things you can do to ensure you'll be ready for a class.


Karate uniform etiquette
The Karate uniform or Karate-Gi should be well taken care of.

Taking care of your Karate-gi or uniform is part of the spiritual practice of Karate. Your Karate uniforms should be clean, neat, and folded correctly. You don't want to attend class with a wrinkled uniform.

If you have any tears or holes in your uniform, you have to repair them. Don't show up with a ripped gi.

Don't wear a shirt or a camisole under your uniform, respect the clothing and the culture where it comes from. If you're a woman, a sports bra can be worn under the gi.

Never throw your belt, avoid playing with it as it is a symbol of your spirit.

Except for training events outside the Dojo, uniforms and belts should not be worn outside the Dojo. For children, uniform without belts may be worn to and from class.

Cleanliness and hygiene

Practice good personal hygiene is a must at the Dojo and in daily life. Keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed and without sharp edges to avoid hurting anyone. Keep your hands and feet clean. You should wash your hands before and after class. If you have smelly feet, apply antiperspirant or deodorant spray.

If you have a cut or a wound, cover it with an adhesive bandage. If you have long hair, it should be neatly tied up. To avoid the risk of injuries, jewelry (necklaces, rings, etc.) should not be worn during class. Don't wear strong fragrances, perfumes, or colognes as it can bother your classmates.

What is the proper etiquette in the Dojo?

Karate is not a sport. It is a discipline, an educational process for training the mind, body, and spirit.

The Karate Dojo is not a gym, it's a place where the Way is taught and practiced. The correct attitude of respect, sincerity, and modesty, and the proper atmosphere are essential to the learning process. Since Karate is a martial art, etiquette and Dojo's rules essential to the safety of each individual.

Dojo Kun

Karate Dojo Kun
Example of a Shotokan Karate Dojo-Kun.

Some Dojo recites, at the beginning and/or the end of each training, the Dojo Kun or Dojo Rules, which states the basic philosophy of your Dojo or style.

If your Dojo has a Dojo Kun, be sure to know it by heart and understand its true meaning and implications.

Proper Behavior

Your Karate Dojo is a sacred place in which you learn and train. Having the proper attitude and behavior is important in creating a positive and earnest atmosphere.

Arrive on time

You should arrive to class on time, mentally and physically ready to perform. Being late for class is disruptive and discourteous. Punctuality is essential not only to the individual but also to the entire class. Arriving 10 to 15 minutes before class begins allows you ample time to change clothes and prepare mentally for the training.

If you are running late

Students who do arrive late for a class should quickly get changed, and then stand and wait patiently at the edge of the training floor until welcomed to join the class by the Sensei. Don't hesitate to go to a class even when running late, it's better to attend a part of a class, rather than miss the class altogether.

No shoes in the Dojo

You should remove your shoes upon entering the Dojo. Shoes are not worn on the Karate training floor. For security and tradition, you should be barefoot during training unless a medical issue requires you to wear footwear. Shoes should be neatly placed on a shelf or at the designated place. That's also training.

In the locker room

Before a Karate class when you change, put belongings neatly and together at the designated place. You can speak in the changing room, but not loudly. Also, turn your cellular phones off or into silent mode to avoid distracting the class in case you have a call.

Be serious, but just enough

Maintaining an attitude appropriate for practice is mandatory. You don't need to be deadly serious, you should enjoy your time at the Dojo. However, everybody should work hard and gives its best.

Be attentive

Pay attention to what is going on in the Dojo - learning how to maintain focus is also part of your training. When the teacher is showing a drill or if you are waiting for others to finish their exercise, always observe, this is also a great way to learn. Students should try not to distract themselves or others from the seriousness that training deserves.

No eating or drinking

Don't drink and eat on the training floor, unless you partake in a seminar or special event where you were told to do so.

Body posture

Students should maintain a dignified posture, keeping their bodies upright in a neutral position whenever they are moving, sitting, or standing. Don't cross your arms, don't put your hands on the hips and don't balance on one leg. Students should not lean against walls, lie down on the floor, or sit with legs sprawled out (unless stretching).

Movements in the Dojo

Avoid walking in front of other students or the Sensei, go behind them as much as possible. If you can't, bow before passing in front of them. If you need to go to the bathroom, ask permission first. If permission is granted, bow before leaving the training area, and bow once again when you come back.

Leaving the class

If you need to leave during class, look at your Sensei and bow. When he gives you his permission to leave, bow again and proceed to the locker room calmly and promptly. Once you finished changing clothing, exit the Dojo silently. If you need to re-enter during class, bow, sit in seiza and look at your Sensei. This will indicate to him that you want permission to rejoin the class.

Talking during class

There should be no talking while the teacher is giving instructions or explaining movements or techniques. There should be no talking while training or practicing drills with your partner or group. If you have to speak (asking a question related to training for example), do it quietly and maintain an attitude appropriate for serious practice.

Talking can be a disturbance to the other students, and social conversation should be saved for later. Swearing is unwelcomed in a Dojo.


Students should never lose their temper during training. One should train with intensity but without anger or hostility. There is no place for ego in the Dojo.

Bowing before and after entering the Dojo

Bowing is a sign of reverence and humility. Upon entering the Dojo, bow respectfully to show reverence for the place of learning. Bow with your heart and soul, not mechanically or as a formality. Taking a moment to bow sincerely as you enter the Dojo also prepares your mind for the training.

It gives you the opportunity to make a separation between the busy outside life (noise, traffic, crown, etc.) and focusses your mind in the now.

Upon entering the Dojo, leave your problems or worries at the door. When leaving the Dojo bow again.

Uniform etiquette

Make sure that your gi is clean, and wear it properly. Your outer appearance is a direct reflexion of your inner self.

Gi tops must be of the appropriate size and must be worn with the left lapel folding over the right one. Your belt should be tied below the navel in a proper, firm, square knot.

During the summer months, your Sensei may allow students to wear a t-shirt and gi pants instead of the full uniform.

Class Opening and Closing

In traditional Karate, the opening and closing protocol is based on courtesy, respect, and mindfulness and has a great influence on your mind as well as on the good proceedings of the class.

Lining up
Karate etiquette lining up
Lining up properly at the beginning and end of a Karate class is a great way to dicipline the mind.

When your Sensei calls “let's begin” or “Line up”, make a straight line facing the front of the Dojo.

Some Dojo asks students to lineup according to ranks, some don't. Follow your Dojo's way of doing.

Stand properly with your arms along your body. Your uniform and belt should be well adjusted, and you should look neat.

Seiza or kneeling time

When your Sensei calls "Seiza", slowly get down in seiza position, so that knees are aligned with the person next to you. You should form a straight line.

Keep your back straight and maintain the posture. Do not talk, patiently wait for the next instructions.

Mokuso or Meditation

When your Sensei calls "Mokuso", put your hands in Hokkaijoin position (zen meditation Mundra), lower your gaze to around 3 feet in front of you.

Breathe slowly, bring your mind in the present moment and relax. Maintain proper posture until you hear "Mokuso yame!" (finish meditation) or "Hai!" (ok).

Bowing, bowing, bowing

It can be different in your Dojo, but traditionally at the beginning and the end of a class, you bow three times.

When you hear:

- "Shomen ni rei!", Sensei and students alike bows to the front of the room, the shomen. Everyone is bowing as a sign of respect, and as a way to pay homage to the founder of the style and the ancient Masters.

- "Sensei ni rei!", Students bow to the Sensei. Some schools say "Onegaishimasu" during bowing. It roughly translates as, “Please,” (please teach me, please help me, etc.).

- "Otagai ni rei", Sensei and students bow to each other, simultaneously. This is a way of displaying our appreciation to everyone for being present and helping us study Karate.

Stand up

Wait until the Sensei gives the instruction to stand up. Rise and bow. Depending on the school, students will for a line or lines or with form a circle. Follow your Dojo's tradition in that regard.

Proper etiquette during training

Bowing to a training partner shows an intention to work hard, to improve ourselves but also to help the partner, without any intention to hurt them physically or emotionally.

After Sensei's instruction

Right after your sensei has finished giving instruction, showing a technique or a drill, politely bow towards him. If you belong to a Japanese Karate style, you say "Oss" as you bow. In Okinawa and Okinawan styles, you never say it, you say "Hai" instead.

When working with a partner

Every single time you team up with a partner for training, whether it's for drills, kumite or anything else, you bow at each other and say "Onegaishimasu" (please).

End of Class

At the end of the class, line up correctly as you did at the beginning of the class. Take a deep, silent breath and let go fatigue and tiredness. Your sensei will call for Mokuso and Bowing. Even if you are tired, act nobly and mindfully, don't rush.

What is the parents and visitors Etiquette?

Parents and visitors are welcome but are expected to watch the class quietly and not to distract the participants.

Please do not talk to your child during class. If there is an issue you feel needs to be addressed, please discuss with the Sensei in private. Don't forget to close or mute your phone.


Karate being a martial art, its etiquette and manners are based upon respect, humility as well as common sense.

An old Master once said, "Karate starts and ends with respect". Respect for all those which have gone before you, Karateka of past and present, and respect for yourself. Without respect, you cannot do kendo safely.

The most convenient way to learn Karate etiquette and manners is to observe your Sensei and Sempai.

In order to obtain the substantial benefits of Karate, each practitioner has to take the fundamental principles of etiquette and make them a common element of their everyday life.

Without etiquette and respect, we would a bunch of individuals punching and kicking one another. Through the values of etiquette, we are all working together, as comrades and partners, to develop our Karate as well as ourselves.

What benefit did you get from practicing Karate etiquette?

P.S. If you really want to improve your Karate, you should definitely check out this article I wrote about my favorite equipment for training Karate at home.

Thank you for reading!
Hey, it's Martin, I hope you liked this article! I will share on this website information related to Karate, Martial Arts, Self-Defense, Health, Spirituality and more! Please read my bio, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Hi, my name is Martin Jutras. I've been studying and practicing Karate, practical self-defense and Zen Buddhism for more than 35 years.

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