Monday, 27 October 2014

Courtesy in the Karate Do Context

The ongoing theme of manners and respect are and will continue to be prevalent throughout this blog as good manners are of the utmost importance in Japanese martial arts. Ginchin Funakoshi Sensei (founder of 松濤館Shoto-kan Karate Do) stated that, “Karate Do begins and ends with courtesy.” This statement is very profound and in fact courtesy can be found in every aspect of most traditional styles of Karate Do. From the way one enters and leaves the 道場 Dojo, Training Hall, to the way a 空手家 Karate Ka, Practitioner of Karate Do conducts themselves in the course of their daily life, ‘Courtesy’ can be found in every breath and every action of intent. 
It is believed by many that acting in such a way brings honour to the individual. However, during my time in Japan, it seems to me that people don’t perform this kind of genuine courtesy in order to bring honour to themselves, but rather because it is natural for them to act in that specific manner in the given situation. This may bring honour to their community, Dojo, and their Snesei but, make no mistake, their courteous actions are not, in any way, performed to draw attention to themselves.
Furthermore, In my experience, showing proper manners through specific etiquette is a requirement for effective communication in Japan. So much so in fact, that different speech patterns were developed in the language to demonstrate this in everyday dealings with each other (see previous blog on Keigo). This concept of courtesy in daily life is known as 礼儀作法 Reigi Sahou, The Application of Courtesy. More accurately, the first two kanji mean Courtesy and the last two kanji mean Manners or Etiquette. When placed together they mean the practice of 'good' manners through courteous actions. In his book, ‘Bushido the Soul of Japan; An Exposition of Japanese Thought’ (1909) Nitobe Inazo discusses the many aspects of Japanese courtesy in the Budo context. It is a bit of a difficult read but I highly recommend it to any serious Karate Ka. In fact, over half of the book is dedicated to things such as Politeness, Sincerity, Honour and Self-control all of which are connected to Courtesy. Through out the text which is a collection of letters and essays Nitobe compares Eastern and Western philosophies on these subjects and reflects on them in detail.

In Japan humility is considered to be the highest from of courtesy (also addressed in the blog on Keigo, note the section on Kenjyogo). Humility can be shown in many ways. The following example of how to enter the Dojo by (R. Rowell, 2011) is but one example:
Before entering the Dojo, remove your shoes, tuck in the Shoelaces and place them in a neat row in a provided spot. After changing into your uniform, approach the Dojo entrance and face slightly toward the front. Make a simple bow (立礼) Ritsurei. Then enter stepping with the Lower Seat Foot (下座の足) Shimoza no Ashi, the foot farthest away from the front, into the Dojo first.
In this example the first sign of courtesy is the removal of the footwear and placing them in a neat row. Note the care given to tuck in the shoelaces. This simple act of paying attention to the little details speaks volumes of the care given to courtesy. This act of removing one’s footwear and placing them neatly in the spot provided would typically be done in the 玄関 Genkan area of the Dojo. It is each student’s responsibility to do this with their own footwear. Sometimes the spot provided is not large enough and the shoes can get pretty messy. No matter the age or the seniority of the student, arranging all of the footwear in neat rows is a sign of this courtesy. In Japan slippers are typically provided for use in the toilets and washrooms. This sign of courtesy applies to this footwear as well.
The entrance of Sojo University during a SHS Karate Do Tournament

Slippers lined up in the Washroom at Buntoku SHS Kumamoto, Japan
 The next sign of courtesy in this example is the process by which one should enter the Dojo training area; with a Ritsu Rei, a standing bow toward the 正面 Shoumen, Front wall considered to be the most honoured place in the Dojo and entering with the Shimoza no Ashi, I believe this would be your left foot because it is the foot furthest from the front of the room and if you were carrying a sword, it would be worn on the left side of your body, stepping with the left leg first would prevent you from drawing the sword smoothly.
One may show an even deeper level of courtesy by entering with the Shimoza no Ashi then, after performing the Ritsu Rei, Standing bow, shifting to the side and kneeling in the 星座 Seiza position (tucking your feet under your knees) and performing a 座礼 Zarei, seated bow toward the Shoumen before then proceeding to the 下席 Shimoseki, lower area of the Dojo to prepare for class.
If someone arrives to class late and the class has already started, even if the Karate Ka in attendance are just seated in a Seiza and not yet practicing, the courteous way to enter the Dojo is to perform the seated bow after entering with the Shimoza no Ashi and then while remaining seated in Seiza turn to face the Eastern wall and perform 座禅 Zazen meditation; Seated contemplation quietly until the Sensei calls on you and allows you to enter the class.
Note: even if you are late by only a couple of minutes it is very rude to run into the Dojo in a hurry neglecting your manners. This will be considered even ruder than just being late for class. Perform the most proper and courteous entrance you can and remain seated facing the wall until called upon, no matter how long it takes.
Once in the Dojo one must move to the appropriate area of the Dojo depending on a number of things including seniority. It is polite to move to the back far end (South Western area) of the Dojo if visiting for the first time. Going directly to the Kamiza may be taken as an insult. Being invited to the Kamiza by the Sensei is a complement and a sign of respect. In this case one should act accordingly.
To further deepen our understanding of the importance of courtesy some Dojo have rules of conduct called 訓 Kun, Teachings. The International Chito-Ryu Karate Do Dojo have a list of five rules of conduct that Karate Ka are expected to follow in order to display their deep understanding of the importance of courtesy in every aspect of their daily life. Many Okinawan and Japanese 流派 Ryuha and 会派 Kaiha, Styles or Groups of Karate Do have similar Kun teachings focusing on manners, cleanliness, self-control and strength of character. In some schools these Dojo Kun are recited in unison before or after training sessions. Students are not only expected to memorize them but also make efforts in their daily life to be true to them. Therefore, the students don’t just recite them to remember but more so to reinforce in their hearts and minds as a kind of promise that they make to themselves, their Sensei, and fellow Karate Ka.
(Chito-Ryu Dojo Go Kun displayed in the Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo Kumamoto, Japan)
1. 礼儀を重んずべし
2. 態度を正すべし
3. 言語を謹むべし
4. 意気を盛んにすべし
5. 清潔を旨とすべし 
The 5 Chito-Ryu Dojo Teachings
1. Must honour and respect manners
2. Must have correct behaviour
3. Must have respectful speech
4. Must have a thriving spirit
5. Must make efforts of cleanliness
It can be seen in the rules of conduct listed above that one must make effort to always be courteous by showing the proper respect through their actions and speech patterns as discussed in earlier posts.
Courtesy can also be interpreted as an act of 心 Shin the Spirit. The development of three important things occurs, “through the course of continued, long-term Karate Do practice in the Dojo the Spirit, the Body and Technique are developed and refined." (Chito-Ryu Soke, T. Chitose, personal conversation, 2007)

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