Rei – Respect, Etiquette. An essential part of Budo practice and yet often misunderstood. I wish to speak about this from my own perspective and understanding based on studying Budo far from Japan.

Rei has many aspects.

A beginner’s first impression of Rei would likely be focused on the physical act of bowing.

Firstly upon entering the Dojo. This signifies honoring the space, fellow students, teacher and tradition. It should also help the student leave their cares behind and enter into a space where they can focus and learn. Put differently ‘To Leave their Ego at the door’.

Katori Shinto Ryu and Takemusu Aikido share a similar method of bowing to the Kamiza. The Shinto ritual of clapping twice between bowing is observed at the beginning and end of classes I teach. From what I understand, it is believed in Shinto that this has the effect of clearing negative energies or spirits from the space. Another more practical function is to get everyone together as students studying something they deeply wish to learn. If people are able to do this with the correct timing this may help make the session go more smoothly.

We also bow to each other before and after training together. This should help encourage mutual respect, hopefully making training safer.

For me this mutual respect is essential. It is however no guarantee, while etiquette may help achieve mutual respect in a Dojo, it is possible to follow these steps as empty gestures bowing to your partner and then throwing them into the mat with no concern for their well being.

While it is important that respect is shown to the teacher without whom there would be no class, the teacher must have respect for his/her students and by doing so help create an atmosphere of mutual respect.

This being said it is vital for a student to follow the teachers lead. A good student of Budo must try to absorb the form by repeating movements over and over gain. Only then can he/she be conditioned by it and perhaps learn the essence of the art.

Martial Arts are dangerous at the best of times. Without respect for each other a lot more injuries are likely to occur. Injuries will of course happen even with the best intentions but it should be a lot less. Rei should encourage students and teachers to accept each other’s training levels, flexibility or lack thereof, strengths and weaknesses. A simple example being to know or feel a person ability of ukemi before throwing them. Challenging them a bit maybe, but not too much.

For me learning etiquette is an interesting experience. For example going to a seminar or visiting another Dojo and not being 100% sure where to sit. For this I found it is best to go with the flow and if at all possible to be informed before hand.

So Rei is many things, and can differ. I feel that the overall purpose is the same in all traditional arts. To honor the Tradition, the Sensei, the Space and  fellow students.


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