64. A note to my students…

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…

Regarding visitors:

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.


11 thoughts on “64. A note to my students…

  1. Good article. Back in my Combat Hapkido days we’d have many people stop by and my instructor would always either hand over instruction to one of his black belts to greet the guest or ask the black belt to greet the guest for him. As a result we had a lot of people join the class (if only short term). He was a master of making people feel welcome in our dojang.

    As for creeps lurking around the dojo…I had an experience with that. And the guy was clearly off his rocker. I wrote about it here: http://kyokushinblog.com/?p=239 (hope its ok to plug my blog so blatantly…..just figured it was relevant).

    1. I checked the link. Nice description of a dangerous situation that was defused properly.
      I think part of the motivation for this note to my students was from thinking about the incident that happened a few months ago, and also reading a book by Rory Miller (http://chirontraining.com/Site/Home.html). He wrote “Meditations on Violence,” which I found very, very educational.


  2. When I went to see Katsuyuki Kondo at the Shimbukan in Tokyo the entire class stopped when they saw me coming down the hall and everyone executed a formal kneeling bow – that was actually standard for anyone (known or unknown) entering the dojo. A little intimidating, but nobody got ignored!

  3. I’ve always had one of the seniors that was closest to the entry greet, welcome, (& check out) anyone that came into our dojo. No one is every ignored. In all my years of practice in many countries I’ve never seen a whole dojo stop and acknowledge someone unless the person in charge stops everyone to greet someone that they want to welcome. I have mixed feelings about doing that with everyone who comes in. Something new for me to think about….

    1. Chuck,
      Your dojo seems to be running pretty well with at least a prearranged system in place with regards to people entering the dojo. I just wanted to kick my own students in the rear end for not showing a little bit of respect for people showing up who are obviously seniors to them, and to remind them that they have a responsibility for safeguarding the dojo. It’s not supposed to be all on my shoulders. It might be too much of a “local Hawaii” thing where you just hang out, but it’s not acceptable in a dojo.

    2. I’m not in the position of being in charge in a dojo yet, but like Chuck I’m uncomfortable with the idea of the whole dojo stopping what they’re doing to greet a visitor, though I agree that no one should be left for long. Mine are weapons-based arts; it would be dangerous to stop what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean we’re oblivious, but our response is measured and on our time. I think it says a lot about what the priorities are — people come and go but the ryu soldiers on.*

      The followup post might be how to behave when you wander into a dojo. We had someone walk by the signs listing the class times (we were clearly not what he was looking for), past the signs saying to take off your shoes, past the umpteen million chairs provided outside the prominent shoe closet, reach the edge of the deck where we were in extremis with very large weapons, and throw himself down on the floor in an abasing bow, still wearing his shoes.

      Really, that’s not the best first impression.


      * Of course I have to say here that I could be interpreting this completely wrong, in which case I’m sure I’ll be swiftly and lovingly corrected . . . . ^_^

      1. Beth,

        …Reminds me of when I was training with Quintin Chambers sensei up in a mountaintop park. This young man ran up the steep road to the park for exercise (he said), something I’ve done a couple of times when I was younger and crazier and suffered shin splints for weeks afterwards. He ran up to us, bare-chested, and asked if he could join. Donn Draeger was training with us at the time and he fielded the request. Something about this guy with manic eyes wasn’t quite right, so Draeger said, well, no. Maybe not, but he was free to watch and see what he thought, and we would think about his request. He watched and then ran back down the slope. We thought that was the end of the story. But next week, he was back, arriving before any of us got there, practicing some kind of very stiff karate kata, probably to impress us with his zeal. Then when we started training, he locked his legs on a tree trunk and started doing situps, punching the air and kiai-ing with each situp. He would, from time to time, look our way to see if we were impressed. Draeger looked at him, then he looked at us, shaking his head and trying to keep himself from laughing. Trying to show off how tough you are is not a way to impress somebody who’d trained with Kimura Masahiko and Mifune Kyuzo of the Kodokan Judo.

        …Of course, that doesn’t beat this fellow who came up to me when I was assisting judo training at a college club on the East Coast. I was the only Asian guy so of course, he asked me, in all seriousness, if I could walk on rice paper (like David Carradine in the TV series “Kung Fu”). Not a good way to start a training session.


  4. At our Judojo, there are just too many folks practicing to stop, but a senior yudansha will always go over and talk to someone, and sensei will stop class and introduce a very senior teacher. For folks joining us for practice, our yudansha always point them out. I was welcomed back after a long lay off in that manner and it is both an honor and humbling.

    Our jujutsu dojo has far fewer people, and the teacher and/or seniors will go over and welcome any visitors.

    I kind of agree with Beth – training as a whole should not be interrupted by everyone for any visitor. Visitors should realize that it is first and foremost a training hall, that people in training should focus on training first. Kinda like at the range.

    As far as weirdos, problem children, etc. We are one street off a major “skid row” area in Portland. Since I actually teach people how to deal with these folks, they get some practice. I have had to deal with one or two folks, but since I am off duty it always involves being nice, until its time to be firm, and then to call the cops. Never had to get physical with anyone questionable at the dojo – which is good, because I don’t like to put in work when I am off duty!

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