I just emailed a note to my students about people walking up to our dojo entrance, and I thought I would share it with the rest of my few but engaging readers:
This Friday let’s look at jujutsu. I’ll figure out which sets of kata to consider today…
Just a reminder: I’ve discussed this before but…
When a senior student or teacher enters, you should stop training and acknowledge his/her presence. Don’t just ignore him. That’s kind of rude. Like, if your boss walked in or your superior officer stepped into the room, you just ignore him and keep on playing with your Nintendo? Uh-uh. Stop what you’re doing. Ideally, a bow and greeting is proper. Or at least a “Hello, Clark, or Joe, or Joel…” Juniors can take the cue from the seniors if you don’t know who a returning senior is or not. It’s basic dojo etiquette. Come to think of it, it’s really basic etiquette, period. A woman steps into the room, you stand up, right? Officer on the deck? You snap to attention. This is not stiff formality. It’s basic, basic etiquette.
At the Choufukan, if Ono sensei walks in, we all stop immediately, and bow to him, saying “Good evening” (or “Good afternoon..”). We do the same if a senior student walks in, and even if a white belt comes in late, we say hello. We pay attention to the entrance. That’s where fellow students or attackers will most likely come from. Don’t ignore the castle gates.
When someone appears at the doorstep to our training hall, you should (especially the more senior students) take the initiative and invite them to come in out of the cold and dark, invite them to sit on the benches closest to the door, and if they don’t know about the etiquette, ask them politely to take off their outside footwear, at the least. Don’t get verklempt if they don’t bow to the kamiza. A lot of decent people don’t know how to act in a traditional dojo. Always be polite unless they appear to be really weird, scuzzy street people types or have various ticks and odd behavior that implies something is a bit off in their heads. Assess and decide. That’s part of martial arts. If they appear to be “normal” and/or potential students, by all means invite them in. When in doubt, simply go up, smile, and ask, “Hi, can I help you?” It always pays to be polite and friendly, and it doesn’t cost you anything and we may get a potential student. The reply will give you a good indicator of whether or not the person is “normal” or really a head case that needs to be shepherded away.
The street we’re on is near the university area, and there’s a lot of odd people that tend to gather around this spot at night. Our training is a private affair and we do not have to allow people we don’t want into the dojo. We have every right to ask people to leave the doorsteps if they look like trouble. We are not a mental health clinic or any other public institution. We don’t have to let everybody into or close to our training hall.
The bizarre ones usually walk away if you approach them. If they don’t and start to act up, at least you stopped them at the door. If your Spider-sense tells you that this intruder is off his meds, politely ask him to leave. I can help with that. The last time we had a run-in with some weirdo, all I needed to do was show him my cell phone and tell the guy I was going to speed dial 911 for the cops to take him away because he was disturbing our class. That was enough to get him to apologize and very, very quickly leave…a clear sign that he had previous run-ins with the law and didn’t want to get his ass hauled off again. Do not confront anyone with physical threats. Do not touch them. Do not initiate any physical violence. Try to be calm unless he starts to get agitated and starts talking about ninjas coming out of the walls or something, and if so, firmly ask him to leave. But do not touch them unless you end up in a truly defensive situation. Remember, a lot of these underclass guys are not very hygienic. They can carry diseases, blood born pathogens, communicable diseases, vermin and cooties. They may bite. They may have concealed weapons. They may have open scabs and fleas, or really bad dandruff and BO. Keep a safe distance (again, martial arts training) and let law enforcement take care of the situation whenever possible.
To repeat, all of this is part of martial arts training. To NOT acknowledge someone right at your doorstep is either a) arrogant or b) really stupid, from a martial arts heiho sense. And it’s not solely the teacher’s responsibility to take care of the situation first. I may be busy teaching, working with an individual student, and so on. Besides, you guys are supposed to be the first line of defense. I can always step in if the visitor has questions or wants to see me. But you should practice this.
The dojo should be a safe social environment for all students because there’s potential for injury enough as it is. It shouldn’t be aggravated by having some stranger intrude on us in a negative way. It can only be safe if all of us treat it like a temporary home, where we are safe as long as we all protect the entrance from nutcases but allow potential new students a view of training. You may empathize with people who have serious mental and emotional issues, but having them disrupt a martial arts training environment is not proper or fitting.