Dear martial arts and Internet friends!

With the start of your membership / course you will get to know a martial art that inspires on the one hand because of its athletic aspects and furthermore includes the possibilities for in depth studies. As in all other sports and clubs there are also with us certain social conventions of which lack of knowledge often discourages newcomers.

Because Karate-Do comes from the Asian cultural area, there are conventions associated with it that initially appear strange to us occidentally influenced people. But at closer view these are nothing else but an expression of particular respect for the martial art that we practice and the people with whom we practice it. In addition they constitute the base on which – for those who open themselves for it – Karate-Do might become more than a martial art, namely a way in which we develop our thoughts and feelings and gain deeper, wiser insights into the course of life.

Thus it appears that it’s not our ame to imitate Japanese conventions, but that it would be a loss to separate the sportive part of Karate-Do from its cultural roots and aspects. These in fact represent an enrichment of our western influenced thoughts and actions.

In this text the most important conventions will be discussed. With knowledge of these you can avoid blunders and irritating our karateka. Furthermore it contains a list of the fundamental linguistic definitions that are of importance in and around the training. The first one is a characterization of the place where everything happens: the Dojo.

Dojo – place of enlightenment

The term Dojo nowadays means primarily a gym in which a martial art is being performed but this place represents more than a simple gym. In some clubs the walls are decorated with one or more photos of great masters but even this is not comparable with a Dojo as it existed in the past.

The reason for this is probably mostly commercial. Many martial arts schools, which nowadays are clubs, are dependent on public buildings which cannot easily be modified according to their own ideas. Only in a few cases can Dojos still be found whose characteristics of interior design already indicate that it is a special place. But what does a “real”, classic Dojo look like? Is there actually a definite form for this place of enlightenment as it is called in Zen-Buddhism?

From the historical records at least we know that the room layout followed specific rules. On the left side of the room, viewed from the entrance, the students took a seat to perform the initial greeting. This side was so determined for the Kyu ranks. Opposite were located the Sensei, as is still common nowadays, whose duty it was to supervise the training. The entrance side itself was the place for the Dan ranks who actively followed the instructions. And finally there is another side opposite the entrance. In former times there was a little shrine or an altar for a divinity. On this side only, specially honored guests took a seat, e.g. great masters. Considering that in the past the Dojos were to be found in temples and monasteries, which in many cases were also used for meditating, one can easily imagine that back then the atmosphere was different than it is today in one of our “normal” Dojos.

But one should not think that today’s Dojo is worse compared to the traditional one. Because in the same way that everything in nature continuously lives through changes, so also the Karate-Do with all its diversity, and this includes the Dojo, must develop itself further to adapt flexibly to each new situation.

But much more essential than the formalities is the etiquette that dominates a Dojo. That’s why nowadays it should still be attempted to maintain friendly cooperation in the place of enlightenment. What is special is not the Dojo itself but the purpose of the get-together – to learn a martial art.

To make this concrete and summarize: each karateka should behave in a dignified way in the Dojo showing respect for the Karate-Do, the training partners and the place. It does not contradict enjoyment of the training and fun with the training partners to keep one’s temper and e.g. avoid noisy and obtrusive behavior.

In clothing a certain simplicity should be reflected. Not by chance is the Karate Gi white. Earrings, bracelets and other jewelry should be removed before the training for safety reasons. From a traditional perspective strictly speaking there should not be worn any T-Shirts or similar under the Karate Gi. During regular training indeed this is not viewed that strictly anymore, but it should be respected e.g. during seminars or at belt exams. There exists an exception from this guideline for female participants.

The greeting

The greeting (Rei) is an essential element in Karate-Do. The way of greeting reflects the character of the karateka. Because of this one greets with dignity and concentration, never superficially or lacking in concentration. The greeting might be performed standing (Ritsu-Rei) or their sitting (Za-Rei). A karateka bows when they stand opposite to their partner during training (otagai ni rei). Here the greeting is the expression of respect and politeness towards the other one.

Furthermore the bow takes place at the beginning and end of each training. When entering the Dojo one bows at the threshold. Here this bow does not count as a greeting to one person, but expresses an inner attitude of modesty which is the indispensable base for all studies. At the end of the training this bow takes place again. A karateka never leaves the Dojo with their back turned towards it. As described above, the Dojo itself requires a certain appreciation due to its importance.

In the training itself, there are two more kinds of greetings that can be seen before and after the training. During these, the Sensei stands in front of the students, who themselves stand in a row. With the command “seiza!” he first of all crouches down, after which the students follow and then the sensei puts first the left knee and then the right on the floor. This order comes from the time of the Samurai and was because of carrying the long sword. With the command “Mokuzo!” all close their eyes to prepare themselves for the training; with “Mokuzo-Yame!” this phase of meditation is finished. If there are guests present in the Dojo, the Sensei turns around (without standing up) and greets these with “Shomen ni rei” (shomen = front, ni = to, rei = greeting), whereupon the students sitting behind him of course bow as well. During this bow again the left palm of hand is put on the floor first, followed by the right. This order is because of the attempt at this time to keep the right hand at the sword as long as possible. In doing so, the hands form a triangle with the thumbs. Afterwards he turns back again to the students. Representing the training group the karateka with the highest rank greets the Sensei with “Sensei ni rei”, for what he thanks with “oss” and a bow. Following this first the Sensei stands up, after him the students. The completion of this ritual is represented by another bow standing. Important here is especially to kneel down and to stand up. To kneel down and to stand up too early is a gross discourtesy.

Oss – more than a Greeting

The term Oss is the Japanese spelling of two characters. The first is Osu, which affects the pronunciation of the whole word. This literally means push or press. The second character Shinobu has the meaning of bear, suffer, sustain.

In Karate-Do this word Oss should be and is used for almost anything. Usual meanings are Thanks, Please, I understood and also as a greeting to another karateka. If it is said with a bow, it expresses respect, trust and sympathy to the other person or shows the Sensei that what he said has been understood.

The word "Oss" is only used between people during Sensei ni Rei or Otagai ni Rei. It shows firstly the attempt to want to follow the path of Karate-Do and secondly is used in appreciation at the end of the lesson.

Behavior in Training

The behavior in the training itself should be marked by the same respect and restraint, as is the interpersonal behavior. In the end it is nothing else, because any kind of disturbance will distract and annoy the karatekas and of course the Sensei.

So (of course) one should make sure that one does not come too late to training . If it happens, don’t make a big issue about it - explanations are unnecessary. In this case enter the Dojo, greet the Sensei, wait for his confirmation and join the training group on the left. Whether the late one does a short warm-up gymnastics for oneself or participates, directly is up to them. The same pertains to a short absence from the training. In this case, one does not just run out, but rather speaks to the Sensei, greets and leaves the group. Simple running in or out or pushing oneself into the group is deemed to be extremely rude.

In the training itself one should try to have trouble and focus on oneself and one’s exercises. Comments, interjections and unnecessary questions are taboo; the training is not a discussion forum! Important comprehension and essential questions are desirable as they may beneficial for all the group. After training the Sensei is available for further questions, opinions or suggestions.

If you just have a "time out" because others are on to an exercise just concentrate on pursuing this group. Here you will either remain standing or go into the "knee seat”. "Hanging out" on the floor (eg with straight legs or cross-legged) or on a bench to rest while others sweat is not considered polite. Allthough it is incomprehensible for us, sitting on the ground and showing your bare feet is an insult to a Japanese man! This should be considered especially on courses with foreign coaches.

Lack of attention (to the above-mentioned group or achievements of the Sensei) expresses indifference and is an insult to the performers. A fact that is no different in our culture.

Karate-Do is a physically demanding martial art that often brings us to our limits. Therefore, don’t give up too soon when it becomes unpleasant, but prove yourself iron will. However, the decision to stop an exercise remains with yourself. Should this happen (eg as in dizziness, knee pain etc.) then not without giving a signal to the Sensei.


Ultimately, everything which was described here, can be brought to a common denominator: one should behave outside and inside the training in a way that expresses 4 things: respect, courtesy, modesty and dignity.

Of course a question arises, what will happen if one disregards the etiquette in one or another case. Briefly: In most cases nothing will happen. Perhaps one of the training partners or the Sensei will give a friendly discreet hint. In this case one should be sure at least that one has made a blunder.

Ultimately, the etiquette is not a set of laws monitored by someone and which would cause sanctions. The etiquette governs interpersonal interaction and therefore relates to good behavior in every individual, without which a social community cannot operate. How the behavior of each individual looks is a matter of sensitivity and the ability to control ones spontaneous impulses. However, one should also be clear that repeated failures correspond to the bull in the china shop and soon the motivation of the Sensei to train and promote the person concerned will decrease massively. In everyday life we shrink back from people, who are continually on the wrong side of us. Furthermore one who reveals this indifference to the feelings of others would not get a laudable testimonial.

Finally it should be noted that the etiquettes do not limit but enrich us. It is an expression of appreciation of our training partners and the Karate-Do and should therefore be in the interest of everyone who expresses interest in martial arts.

Introduction to the karate-language

The pronunciation in japanese

The pronunciation is based on english spelling.

a as in cat
ch as in church
e as in help
h as in German word "Dach" (english: roof)
i as in pin
j as in "Germany" or journey
n double n slightly nasal
o as in cold
r as in romanic or slavic
s as in mass
sh as in shop
u as in butcher
y as in yellow
z as in rose


Counting from 1 to 10: (ending vocals are not emphasized, sometimes omitted)

one ichi
two ni
three san
four shi/yon
five go
six roku
seven shichi/nana
eight hachi
nine kyu/ku
ten ju


Close the eyes; concentration exercise!
Rei! Greet!
In front of the Sensei!
Stop! End!
Commando back to the initial position!
Kneel down!
Chudan-gamae proceed left/right with arms to the starting position in Zenkutsu-dachi (elementary grade, leg techniques and combinations)
Gedan-gamae proceed left/right with Gedan-barai to the starting position in Zenkutsu-dachi (elementary grade)
Kumite-gamae left/right leg back to Zenkutsu-dachi, reach back with Gedan-barai (starting position for partner-training)

Tackle scale (target region of partner)

Chudan middle grade (belt up to the neck)
Gedan lower grade (up to the belt)
Jodan upper grade (head)
Hanmi skewed position in Zenkutsu-dachi the upper body is turned at a 45 degree angle
Hachiji-Dachi upright position feet parallel
Kokutsu-dachi defensive position, backward position
Kiba-dachi spread position, straddle position
Kamae combat position
Shizentai starting / initial position
Zenkutsu-dachi footstep position, forward position some techniques
Age-uke defence upper grade
Choku-zuki straight stroke out of Hachiji-dachi
Empi-uchi elbow hit
defence lower grade
inverted fist stroke - e.g. left leg, right fist
fast kick, rebound kick
straight, stretched kick
richot stroke with angled hip
drop kick with the front leg
forwards kick
circular kick
circular defence with the arm
fingertip hit
attack stroke - e.g. right leg, right fist
double kick with step between
double fist stroke
triple fist stroke, one upper grade, two middle grade
edge of hand stroke
edge of hand defence
defence middle grade from outside (soto) to inside with arm (ude)
Uchi-ude-uke defence middle grade from inside (uchi) to outside with arm (ude)
Uraken-uchi knuckle stroke (also Riken-uchi)
reverse circular kick
back kick
back kick with whole body turn
side kick
elementary grade
fighting grade
one-off attack, defence and counter-attack
third-time attack, third-time defence. After third-time defence counter-attack. Attack and defence must be carried out strongly! Goal: development of maximum stability and balance
the same five times
Kaeshi-Ippon-Kumite several consectuive alternate attacks and defence. Fighting order: attack - defence and attack (the fist not drawn back) - defence and counter-attack (take back front foot and fist together). This form serves to train reaction
Jiyu-Ippon-Kumite real attack and similar defence (once). Goal: development of feeling for distance and timing
Okuri-Ippon-Kumite combination training. Order 1. Attack with announcement - defence with counter-attack and avoidance. 2. Attack without announcement - defence and counter-attack
Jiyu-Kumite free fight
Shiai Tournament Kata display in the form of shadow fight , which contains all basic techniques in a fixed combination.

Explanation of further Japanese terms

Dan master grade
Dojo practice room, Club Hara
Tanden stomach, centre of weight (power)
Karateka Karate expert (male/female)
Karate-gi Karate-clothing
Kiai greatest use of power (audible breathing out, similar to a fighting cry)
Kime greatest use under full tension and greatest fighting spirit
Kyu pupil grade
Sensei master