Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why do we.........observe reishiki?



In general terms reishiki refers to the demonstration of good etiquette or ‘correct behaviours’ in a traditional martial art dojo or club. This can be anything from knowing the correct way to enter or leave the training area, how to address your sensei, knowing where and how to stand in line, to showing good manners and respect to your fellow students. Each club will have its own variation on reishiki but at the heart of all reishiki is the concept of respect (for your club, for your sensei and for each other).

In more specific terms reishiki refers to the opening and closing ceremonies that most traditional martial art clubs observe and this is the definition of reishiki that I want to discuss in this post. The word reishiki is made up of rei (bow or respect) and shiki (ceremony) and is all about setting the right tone for the class and preparing the students mentally for the training ahead. I have been involved in seminars or classes where reishiki has consisted of nothing more than a quick standing bow to sensei at the beginning and ending of class to a rather elaborate and prolonged standing , walking, kneeling, presenting the sword, bowing, more standing, walking backwards, more kneeling, bowing, standing etc. etc .etc - like a rather complicated and precisely executed kata. I had the feeling my head would be cut off if I got it wrong!

These, of course, are two extremes of the bowing ceremony.  A ceremony that is too short does not adequately prepare the students mentally for the training to come. One that is too complicated is just unnecessary and time consuming (in my opinion).

So, what should a reishiki ceremony help the student to achieve?

When we enter a dojo or training hall we are entering a world that is different to the one outside. Our roles and responsibilities inside the dojo are often very different to the ones we have outside. You may be very senior in your career and be in charge of many staff but in the dojo you may be the new white belt. On the other hand you may be an unskilled manual worker outside but a senior black belt inside the dojo. It is important to be able to leave your external roles and responsibilities outside the dojo and assume your ‘internal’ ones. A reishiki ceremony is one way of helping you to make this separation of external and internal roles. The wearing of a gi is another.

Participating in a martial art requires us to learn about and practice violence towards other human beings. Though the mindset of the martial artist should be purely about defending oneself, the techniques often needed to do that are inherently dangerous and violent. It is imperative that training is done is a controlled and mutually respectful environment that is free from ego and machismo. Reishiki helps to create this respectful environment.

When practising a martial art we are benefiting from the skill and teachings of our martial arts forebears, people who devoted most of their time to developing and perfecting techniques and encoding them in ways that we can remember today. Reishiki is a way in which we remember and honour the founders of our system and also honour the sensei that teaches us that system today.

How does reishiki achieve these things?

A typical reishiki ceremony:

Sensei gives the following commands:

1.       Seiretsu. The students are called to line up in grade order. This is the time when you have to address your position in the dojo and let go of external roles which become unimportant in this context.

2.       Seiza.  The students sit in a formal kneeling position. In some clubs the students may be sitting opposite the shomen or shinzen (shrine). In clubs that meet in a school gym or other temporary ‘dojo’ the students may face a symbolic shomen i.e. face a direction that sensei points to. Other clubs may miss this stage out altogether and just face sensei.

3.       Mokuso. The students close their eyes and observe a few moments of meditation. The idea of this is to let the students clear their minds of distracting (outside) thoughts and prepare for the training ahead.  See ‘Why do we…….perform mokuso’

4.       Mokuso yame. The students stop meditating and open their eyes.

The senior student (or a student chosen by sensei) will then give the commands:

a.       Shomen ni rei. The students bow to the shomen in order to remember and show respect to their founder.  In clubs where there is no longer any connection or communication with their Japanese origins this step may be omitted altogether.

b.      Sensei ni rei.  The students bow to sensei to show their respect to him/her and show that they are ready to listen and learn.

c.       Otaga ni rei. The students and sensei bow to each other in a mutual display of respect and courtesy. Remember, in martial arts bowing is about showing respect not subservience.

At this point the students may say words such as onegaishimasu or osu (note that osu is a contraction of the word onegaishimasu). This basically means "please let me train with you." It's an entreaty often used in asking the other person to teach you, and that you are ready to accept the other person's teaching.

Sensei then gives the following commands:

5.       Kiritsu. The students stand up with feet together and arms by their side.

6.       Rei. The students perform a small standing bow to end the ceremony.

The whole ceremony is then repeated at the end of the lesson with the gesture Arigatou gazaimashita which means thank you.

Though each class begins and ends with reishiki it must be remembered that good manners, courtesy and respect must permeate throughout the class. This keeps the class civilised, controlled and safe at all times and keeps big egos in check.

Do you have any particular reishiki rules or behaviours to share?



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10 comments:

Charles James said...

Awesome post Sue!

SueC said...

Thanks Charles ;-)

John Coles said...

Excellent explanation Sue-san.

SueC said...

Thank you John-san

The Strongest Karate said...

Ah, I've always liked your "Why do we...?" series. Glad to see another one.

In our school it isn't too formal:

Line up, seiza, mokuso, shomen ni rei, senpai ni rei, otaga ni rei, otaga ni arigato gozaimashita (all out "osu" between each - kyokushin is big on "osu-ing").

The only tricky part is during the random class when our mokuso lasts for a long time and it becomes difficult to stand up quickly!


-Brett

SueC said...

Hi Brett, standing up from seiza - yeah I have that problem too!

Charles James said...

After some thought and some other research I believe reishiki also promotes a level of social skills that promote an ability to respectfully communicate with others especially when avoidance is not possible and deescalation is. Something to think about.

SueC said...

Good thought Charles, thanks

Katica Ribel said...

Our school is pretty formal in that we follow most of the list you described. We line up, bow to the sensei, seiza, mokuso, then recite our karate oath, stand up and rei again. Then class begins, I love it because it really does help to separate your professional life and allows me to enter my "karate" life, where I'm a beginner. :)

Sue Wharton said...

Hi Katica, nice to hear from you, I'm glad reishiki works for you, I think it's so important. Thanks for commenting.

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