Guide to Dojo Etiquette




The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the characters of its participants.
-- Gichin Funakoshi, Founder of Shotokan Karatedo

Training in unarmed combat is a serious matter, requiring serious commitment and effort, but also seriousness of attitude and behavior. As a karateka, a student of karate-do, learning both the physical techniques and the philosophy of the martial arts, you are expected to always treat others with courtesy and respect, both in the dojo and elsewhere.

Our karate practices always open and close with ceremonies that express our respect for our teachers and our traditions.  At the close of a class we join our voices in reciting and rededicating ourselves to the dojo oath or kun:

 To seek perfection of character
 To be sincere, honest and respect others
 To refrain from violent behavior
 To show strong spirit and endeavor to excel

Karateka are expected, at the very least, to refrain from arrogant, boastful, or mean-spirited actions that show disregard for the safety or feelings of others.  The dojo kun remind us to try our best both in class and in all other things, to work toward being the best people we can be, in both thought and actions.

Rules of Conduct (Taitaikiyo):

Stepping into a karate dojo (training hall/place of The Way) for the first time is understandably disorienting for many people.  The students are dressed in odd costumes, bowing and grunting toward one another, and the teachers give commands using unfamiliar Japanese terms.  The dojo is certainly no ordinary gymnasium.  Visitors should treat the dojo as they would a university classroom, waiting politely and patiently for a student or teacher to find an appropriate opportunity to break away and assist them with their questions.  Students should treat the dojo with as much respect.

Training in the martial arts is demanding, but equally rewarding. Karateka should strive to become physically strong, but also mentally and spiritually strong, with a clear mind and an indomitable will. Give your best effort in class, practice each day for at least fifteen minutes, and set personal goals to help you to see the progress you are making. Your instructors can show you the way, but ultimately you must walk the path.  Understand your responsibilities as a student, following the rules of this guide, and show character in all aspects of your training and your daily life.   

Respect benefits the one showing it far more than the one receiving it.
-- Ansei Ueshiro, Shotokan Karatedo Master

Karate practice puts intense demands on the physical, mental, and emotional abilities of students.  Students must be in the right frame of mind to meet these demands and maintain concentration, self-control, and safety.

  • Proper etiquette is not only a matter of tradition, but also to help students concentrate on training.  Carelessness and distraction puts everyone at greater risk of injury. 

  • A student should demonstrate proper etiquette for their own benefit, as an aspect of their effort to gain greater self-mastery and as a way of showing their appreciation for being able to participate in something so fascinating, enjoyable, and rewarding.

  • Proper dojo etiquette is founded on self-discipline and respect for others. These principles should carry over into the world outside the dojo.

Table of Contents

Entering the Dojo
Dress Code
On the Training Floor
Body Posture
Staying Focused
Physical Conditioning
Learning and Teaching
Lining up
Final Thoughts
Dojo Protocols
Dojo Responsibilities
Free-Sparring Rules


Entering the Dojo

  • Always stop and bow when entering or leaving the viewing/training area of the dojo.  One may bow to the room in general or direct the bow toward the most senior person present while saying “Osu!”

    • “Osu” (pronounced OS) is a term used by martial artists to show respect toward their fellows and toward the art itself.  It is an announcement of a student’s readiness to receive instruction and work hard. It should be said with great spirit, showing the seriousness and enthusiasm of the student.

    • The bow (rei) is the traditional Japanese gesture of respect and formal greeting. One bows by bending at the waist 30 degrees, keeping the back and neck straight.  The eyes should follow the path of the head downwards unless one is bowing to a training partner, in which case the two people maintain focus on one another as they both bow.  We bow to show our respect for the art, our instructors, our fellow classmates, and ourselves.

    • Bowing to a training partner shows an intention to work hard to improve ourselves but also to help the partner, without any intention to hurt them physically or emotionally. 

    • Bowing when entering or leaving the dojo also reminds us that the dojo is a special place where our minds should be focused on our training. Social conversation can be saved for later. Students should speak quietly and maintain an attitude appropriate for serious practice.

  • Students should arrive to class on time, mentally and physically ready to perform.  Being late for class is disruptive and discourteous.  Punctuality is important for the individual and for the whole group.  Arriving 10 to 15 minutes before class begins allows students ample time to change clothes and stretch.

    • Students who do arrive late for a class should quickly get changed, warm up, meditate, bow, say “Osu”, and then stand and wait patiently at the edge of the training floor until welcomed to join the class by the instructor.  Students should not wave to the instructor even if they think they have not yet been noticed.

    • Students should not hesitate to go to a class even when running late.  It is better to attend a part of a class, even if for only ½ an hour, rather than miss the class altogether. We are imperfect and we cannot control all of the circumstances of our lives.  However, students should not be late for class on a regular basis and should always try to arrive for class on time.

  • Students should remove their shoes upon entering the dojo. Shoes are not worn on the karate training floor unless appropriate for a specific class (i.e. Kickboxing). One may wear socks to cross the training floor to use a changing room. Students should be barefoot during training unless a medical issue requires footwear. Shoes should be neatly placed on the shelf or in your gear bag and not left on the floor.

  • Student should put belongings neatly to the side, and should turn their cellular phones off or into silent mode. The dojo is not responsible for personal items that are lost or stolen, so it is best that anything valuable be left at home or in a locked car.

  • Personal business should be dealt with outside of class times and should not interrupt training.  If a student has free time before a class begins, the time should be spent doing warm-up exercises and stretches. 

Dress Code

  • Students should wear a karate uniform (gi) when training at the dojo. Beginners may wear plain, loose-fitting workout clothing until they have the opportunity to purchase a gi.

    • Students are expected to proudly wear their USKL patch on the left panel of their gi top.

    • T-shirts are not traditionally worn under the gi top and men are expected to follow this tradition.  However, if an undershirt must be worn, only plain white T-shirts are acceptable.  Women and girls are expected to wear a white T-shirt or sports bra under their gi top.

      • Sweatbands or headbands (hatchimaki) may be worn.  Soft knee braces may be worn under the gi pants if they are needed. ANY other hardware or support equipment that a student wishes to use (e. g. wrist braces, casts, splints) must be approved by the instructor.

      • Students should take pride in their appearance and maintain a high level of personal hygiene.  Training often requires close contact between students and nobody enjoys training with someone who appears dirty or might scratch them accidentally.  Fingernails and toenails should be cut short; hands and feet should be clean; long hair should be tied back; and gis should be clean and in relatively good shape. 

      • Jewelry, watches, glasses, or anything that might either impede a student’s training or hurt a training partner during practice should not be worn.

      • If one’s uniform comes loose during training, one should turn away from the instructor (usually by facing the observation area) or from one’s partner and correct the problem quickly.  Student should respect their belts as symbols of their efforts in training.

On the Training Floor

  • The Dojo should be treated like a special place where students should hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior than they otherwise might.  We should all strive to lift up the people around us by being civil, giving, supportive, and helpful, both inside and outside of the dojo.

    • The highest level of trust and respect should be given to instructors and training partners.  Discouraging and unsupportive behavior has no place in the dojo.  Students should treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated. 

    • Students should not swear, laugh, talk or otherwise be disruptive during class.  Students should not lounge or appear inattentive during training.  The dojo is not a place for horseplay or fooling around, or for reckless, careless, or dangerous behavior.

      • While students should enjoy their training, they should treat it as a subject of serious study and not as a game.  A karate-ka is always alert and well-mannered.  A senior rank (i.e. a black belt) is not a ticket to ignore dojo etiquette.  Quite the opposite, senior students are expected to set a good example for others.  Students should try not to distract themselves or others from the seriousness that training deserves. 

      • Idle talking or chatting during class is not allowed. Even when asking a question of the instructor, students should keep their comments brief and to the point.  In advanced classes, where students know each other well, it is understandable that the atmosphere before and after class will be more informal and social.  However, once the class begins, all students should focus on serious training.

      • Student should never lose their temper during training.  One should train with intensity but without anger or hostility.  There is no place for ego in the dojo. 

    • Eating and drinking are not permitted on the training floor. Loud or offensive speech is also unwelcome.

    • Instructors should be addressed in a formal manner: Sensei Ty Aponte, for example, might be addressed as Sensei, Sensei Ty, or Sensei Aponte.  While in the dojo, students should not address instructors using only their first name as they might when elsewhere.

    • In general, students should not leave the class without the instructor’s permission.  If one must leave, students should take care not to in front of other students.   A departing student should quickly walk behind the last row of students and then to the side of the training floor.

    • Students are responsible for using the restroom prior to training.   However, if one must, one may raise a hand, bow, and leave the floor when given permission by the instructor.   Students should remember that it is unhealthy to train on a full stomach, and to avoid large meals within one hour of training.   A small snack prior to exercise may help to provide sustained energy.

Body Posture

  • Students should maintain a dignified posture, keeping their bodies upright whenever they are moving, sitting, or standing -- trying to emulate the manner of a samurai.

    • Students should not lean against walls, lie down on the floor, or sit with legs sprawled out (unless stretching).

    • When sitting, students should either be in formal seiza position (preferable) or informal cross-legged position (acceptable).  Instructors should be informed of any knee problems that limit tolerance of sitting. When one drops down into seiza, the left knee should be put down first and the back should remain straight.

    • Students should not stand with crossed arms or with hands on hips. If one needs to yawn, the head should be turned away from the instructor and the mouth covered.  Even when unintentional, these actions appear to show disrespect toward the instructor. 

Staying Focused

  • Observers are welcome but are expected to watch the class quietly and to not distract the participants.

  • Students should refrain from unnecessary talking, remaining attentive to the instructor while class is in session.

    • Students sometimes lose focus during class because of exhaustion. Just as one must learn to maintain attention and hard work despite fatigue and boredom at school or at work, karateka must learn to work through physical and mental exhaustion in their training.

    • Students should acknowledge any instructions from an instructor or sempai with the word “Osu” (and a bow when appropriate). 

    • Students are permitted to ask instructors for clarification but should save questions that might interrupt the energy and flow of the class until after the class is over.  In Japan, students don’t traditionally ask any questions during class; they simply watch and follow as carefully as they can.  

      • All directions by the instructor should be followed.  Students will not be asked to do anything that the instructor has not done before.  If students cannot keep up, they should still do the best they can.

      • If an instructor asks “understand?” or “any questions?” it is permissible for a student to raise a hand and ask a question.  

      • When unsure what to do, one should try to figure it out through observation, especially of more senior students.  During partner training one might quietly ask one’s partner for guidance. 

      • If one does ask a question about the technique being taught, it should be brief and to the point.  Repeated questions can be disruptive and can unbalance the class energy.   

Physical Conditioning

  • Students should participate enthusiastically in class, doing the very best they can do. Remember that instructors will not ask a student to do things that they think are beyond that student’s capabilities.

    • Ill or injured students should not practice without the permission of the instructor.  Students should inform instructors of any serious medical issues (and, in some cases, whether they have their doctor’s permission to practice karate).  If injuries occur during a class, students should report them to the instructor before leaving the dojo.  Instructors should have emergency contact information for all students.

    • If a student lacks the strength or endurance to keep up with a class, the student may bow, step back from the other students, raise a hand and, after being recognized by the instructor, ask to briefly step away.  If a student feels near fainting or collapsing, the student should simply bow and step off to the side of the training floor to recover.  If a student feels nauseated, the student should bow and go to the nearest toilet.  If necessary for recovery, it is permissible for the student to retire to a dressing room, apply water to the face, or step outside the building for fresh air. 

    • Students are welcome to return to class if possible, standing at the side of the training floor, bowing and saying “Osu”, and waiting to be recognized and welcomed back by the instructor.  If the condition is more serious, the instructor should be informed. 

Learning and Teaching

  • Junior students (kohai) should look to their seniors (sempai) for guidance on what they should be doing during a class and for models of how to they should behave in the dojo.  Kohai should sit and stand when and where their seniors do, always positioned to the left of the next most senior student.

    • Sempai are expected to provide guidance and exemplify model behavior for their kohai, protecting them from injury, helping them to learn, and treating them with respect and consideration.  Sempai should remember that they were once beginners too, unsure of what to do and grateful that their sempai took the time to help them. 

    • Students should not teach new kata to one another unless given permission to do so by an instructor.  However, students may help one another with basic techniques (kihon), sets, and drills.

    • Students should accept (and are welcome to ask for) council and advice from their sempai (brown and black belts).  Junior students should also practice with their sempai (brown and black belts) as much as possible, during and between classes, in order to improve faster.

    • Brown and black belt students are welcome to help out as a sempai.  If students see a need, they should feel free to take the initiative and ask to help in a beginning or intermediate class.  Being a class sempai helps students to develop confidence, leadership qualities, and more refined basic skills.   

    • Students should not debate any issue on the training floor, unless invited to do so by the instructor, and should save discussions for before or after class.

  • It shows disrespect for a student requires repeated corrections on the same technique or point of etiquette.  Students should take advice to heart, remembering it after class (writing it down if necessary), and practicing it on their own.

  • Student should practice basic techniques (kihon waza) and kata consistently outside of class, even if for just a few minutes each day.  Independent training will enhance and improve one’s skill and physical conditioning.

  • In addition to the physical fighting techniques of karate (bujutsu), students should learn about the culture and philosophy of the martial arts (the way or budo). Students must become familiar with the basic Japanese vocabulary used in class.  Independent study is encouraged and high-quality books on the history and philosophy of the martial arts can (and will be) recommended by instructors. 

  • Student should maintain copies of all important organizational documents given to them by email or as handouts, including rank requirements, written tests, and Japanese terminology.  Students should consider keeping a personal journal in which to write about topics such as what they are learning from their training at USKL on their journey toward a black belt, or what valuable lessons they are learning from studying the martial arts.  Students should read all of the materials given to them and refer back to them occasionally.

Lining Up

  • Whenever students are asked to line up, such as when the class is first called to order, students should quickly line up according to rank facing the front of the dojo (shomen). When students are asked to switch to other lineups for training they should also move in as quickly and orderly a manner as possible.

    • Lining up by rank means that the most senior student stands at the far right of the training floor and all other students fall in to the left in a straight line in order of descending rank.  If the instructor calls for a staggered line, the most senior student should take one step forward, as should every second student (positions 1, 3, 5, etc.).  Spacing should be even and should be sufficient to allow all students to turn in place to bow to the senpai without stepping out of position.

  • Each class generally begins and ends with a brief moment of meditation. Symbolically we meditate at the beginning of class to quiet the mind and clear away distractions: worries, anger and/or frustrations. With each breath, students should see themselves dissolving any obstacles that may impede their training.  At the end of the class, meditation closes the circle, allowing a smooth transition back to our everyday activities and allowing us to reflect on what we have learned.


  • Students should make a commitment to attend classes on a regular basis; consistency is imperative for proper learning and belt advancement.  Consistency also demonstrates dedication to training.   It is expected that life will get in the way of training at times and prolonged absences can weaken resolve and lead to excuses like “I’ll start training again next month.”  The dojo is always ready to welcome students back, no matter how long they have been away.  Students should take care of whatever issue interrupted their training and return as soon as possible. 

    • If a student is unable to attend a class regularly, the situation should be discussed with the instructor.

  • If students know that they will have to miss the beginning or the end of a class, it is best to inform the instructor in advance, if possible. It is discourteous and disruptive for students to appear to come and go as they please.

    • Instructors and senior students should be made aware prior to class starting of a student’s need to leave class early or to exercise caution about an injury or medical condition.

  • Students should inform their instructors of any intention to visit another dojo other than when expressly invited by a USKL instructor, such as for a seminar.

  • Students should pay their appropriate class dues and testing fees promptly.  The dojo follows an honor system, meaning that students must keep track of and meet their responsibilities to supporting the dojo.

  • Tournament competition is not required throughout training, although it is encouraged for those healthy enough to participate.  Competitions provide further incentive to polish basic skills, give students a chance to see how their skills compare to those of students from other dojos, and to see how well they can apply what they’ve learned.  Competition is the closest thing to real fighting without being real and it inspires students to reach for new heights and strive for something other than rank.

  • Karate seminars are encouraged but not required of kyu ranks.  Black belts must attend at least one seminar per year.  Seminars provide students with an excellent opportunity to enhance overall skills and become more well-rounded.  Seminars improve motivation, inspire excellence in training, and are great social events.

Final Thoughts

  • Students should memorize the dojo kun and apply them to daily life.

  • Students must try to follow all of the dojo rules.  USKL reserves the right to terminate any student’s membership for serious rule violations.

  • Unprovoked fighting or bullying by a student outside of the dojo will not be tolerated and is considered sufficient grounds for an immediate expulsion.

  • It is everyone's responsibility to ensure that the dojo is clean, tidy, and safe at all times.  Students should inform their instructors of any hazards they find in or around the dojo.

These rules are nearly universal within the Traditional Martial Arts community and are designed to help the dojo function smoothly.  Many of these rules are based on common sense, courteous manners, and the traditions of Japan, the birthplace of karate. 

In our dojo, as in most, we have a deep respect for tradition as well as a willingness to compromise where appropriate.  However, there is never justification for laziness, carelessness, or cruelty. 

The dojo is not merely a gym for physical exercise – it is sacred to our students and it should be treated as such by all who visit.  Students should take pride in their dojo and make it a place where they practice their best manners. 

Again, all students are expected to show courtesy and respect for others as outlined in these dojo rules. Senior students sometimes become too familiar with the dojo and their peers, finding it funny to disregard dojo rules.  All karate-ka, however, whether black belt or beginner, train in the same dojo on the same floor. All practice the same techniques and aspire toward the same ideals. All are governed by these same rules of etiquette.

-- Shihan Ty Aponte

Dojo Protocols

  1. No Foul Language
    • In and about the Dojo, students will refrain from the use of obscene words or gestures.
  2. No Disrespect
    • Disrespect to instructors, students, parents, visitors or those passing by, WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.
  3. No Harassment
    • Students will not tease, embarrass, humiliate, harass, intimidate or impose any psychological or physical stress on other members, or those visiting or passing by the Dojo. Do not act recklessly or argue with others. Remember, you come to here to practice, not to satisfy your ego.
  4. No Horseplay
    • Any type of horseplay is prohibited in and around the Dojo. The training area is not a playground.
  5. No Bullying
    • No karate student shall ever take undue advantage of a lower rank karate student.
  6. No Smoking
    • There will be absolutely NO SMOKING in the Dojo or in the doorway of the Dojo by students or visitors. If you must smoke, please stand off to one side of the doorway to prevent the smoke from entering the Dojo.
  7. No Intoxication
    • Any student under the influence of alcohol or any drug or other controlled substance while training will be IMMEDIATELY TERMINATED.
  8. No Handling the Property of Others
    • Students will not handle or remove any items from the Dojo that are not their personal possessions, unless permission from management or the rightful owner has been granted to handle or remove them.
  9. No Leaving Property
    • Do not leave clothing, shoes, or other personal items in the dressing room. Anything left for over 7 days may be sent to charity.
  10. No Forgetting to Sign In
    • Students must “sign in” on the class attendance sheet in order to get credit for classes attended. This is usually done before class, but can be done after class to avoid delays in beginning the class. Remember, test grading recognizes the amount of training time since your prior examination. Don’t forget to sign in!
  11. Train Twice/Week
    • In order to maintain our high standards of training and competence, students are encouraged to attend at least two training sessions per week or better, however, once a week is better than none.
  12. Keep Posted
    • Students are responsible for keeping current with items posted on the bulletin board or email posts. This includes announcements of: special class, seminars, tournaments, social events, etc. and other items of interest.
  13. Support Functions
    • Try your best to support all functions sponsored or attended by USKL whenever possible. This includes dojo social events, seminars, demonstrations, tournaments, and other designated functions.
  14. Tournaments
    • Students should notify us if you plan to enter tournaments or exhibitions not sponsored or fully attended by USKL.
  15. Permission to Train Elsewhere
    • USKL students at ranks lower than Black Belt may not join other martial arts clubs unless prior permission is granted. Outside training should not interfere with a student's training and responsibilities at USKL.
  16. Teaching Away From the Dojo
    • Students may not teach others away from the Dojo, unless permission is granted.
  17. Suspension or Removal of Student
    • Our Dojo takes pride in our teachings, strict discipline and high spirits. Any student not complying with our ideals can be detrimental to the spirit and future progress of this dojo. Those students not complying are subject to being suspended or removed as members of USKL.


Dojo Responsibilities

  1. Pay Dues on Time

    • Make an effort to pay your training fees in a timely manner. If for any reason you are unable to meet your financial obligation, please contact the business manager to seek assistance in the matter.
  2. Examinations & Fees

    • All rank examination fees must be paid either prior to the date of the examination or on that date. Tuition fees must be up to date prior to the date of examination.
  3. Kyu Tests

    • Beginning with January, Kyu testing for White-Orange belts is held every three months. Green – Purple belts every four months, Brown and Black belts every six months. See:  “Adult Rank Requirement Guide”
  4. Make-up Examinations

    • The head instructor may choose to schedule a make-up examination for any member prior to or after the regular examination date, if arrangements are made in advance, and there are compelling and valid reasons.
  5. Bi-Annual Dan Examinations

    • Dan (black belt) testing is held twice a year: June and December.
    • See the Adult Rank Requirement Guide for eligibility requirements.
    • If a student fails a Dan test, he or she may retake the test again in six months. The candidate will likely retest only on the area that was deficient.

Free-Sparring Rules

  1. Black Belt Supervision
    • ANY karate free-sparring, by any rank, MUST be supervised by a non-participating black belt present on the training floor! 
  2. Unacceptable Targets
    • The following targets are not acceptable for contact during free-sparring sessions: Head, Face, Neck, Spine, Groin, Joints. 
    • Safety first:
      • Always protect yourself and others from injury.
      • USKL cannot take responsibility for unexpected injuries. I will clarify that the issue here is contact.
      • The head/face is an open and viable target but not open to the point of making uncontrolled physical contact.
      • Accidents can happen this is why all parties must remain alert and on guard (protect yourself) at all times when engaged with a sparring partner.
      • Always demonstrate good sportsmanship.
  3. No Excessive Contact
    • No Excessive Contact or Potentially Excessive Contact (revealed by attitude or body language) at any time.
  4. Unacceptable Techniques
    • The following techniques are not acceptable:
      • Techniques which are deemed inherently dangerous or that are performed with the intent to cause injury
        • Strikes against the joints and vital points (e.g. eyes, nose, throat, neck, temples, top of the head) that can injure or kill
      • Blind or wildly uncontrolled techniques
      • Sweeps, throws, and takedowns (other than when done with accuracy, care, and consideration)
      • Techniques which are not taught by USKL or are not within the framework of Traditional (dojo or tournament style) free sparring
        • Grappling, full contact striking (elbows, knees), and boxing punches (uppercut, hook, overhead) should not be used unless requested by the sensei
  5. Equipment Allowed
    • The following protective equipment is allowed in the dojo:
      • Mouthpiece, Groin cup, Chest protector, Face mask,
      • Hand or fist guards, Forearm guards, Shin guards.
      • However, donning all of this protective equipment does not give someone the OK to spar full contact. The gear is more for the safety of your sparring partner than yourself.