Reishiki – Etiquette in Kyokushin Karate

Reishiki refers to the example of etiquette or ‘correct behaviours’ in the traditional martial art dojo.

I was just about to write a piece on dojo etiquette,reishiki
as it was a strong theme from Monday’s class at Contact Kicks dojo. Sensei Steve Fogarasi was instilling in us the importance of etiquette. Not just from a formal perspective, but from the position that it creates a person who is poised, confident looking and exudes respect.

As I was reflecting on the class I saw a blog piece by the self-proclaimed Karate Nerd, Jesse Enkamp which really exemplified much of what I was hoping to write about. I encourage you to read Jesse’s post, titled What it Means to Be the Black Belt You Were Meant to Be, but I feel the title should have been, “What it Means to be the Karate-ka You Were Meant to be” as this should be a part of your training from day one.

Respect, honor, loyalty, humility, self-control,integrity, honesty… are all the building blocks of Karate, no mater what your style. Etiquette can be defined as forms, manners, and ceremonies – the proper way to behave, clean dogi, properly tied belt, etc., but it’s so much more then that. It begins with probably the first thing we learn in Kyokushin. OSU !

“Osu!” is so much more than a word of understanding, direction etc. As Sensei Fogarasi explains to us, Osu comes from a longer phrase known as Osu no Seishin”.  “Osu!” is a combination of two different kanji. The verb ‘osu’ which means “push”, and ‘shinobu’ which means “to endure”. Together, these two kanji form a new compound word, which symbolizes “combat spirit”, “the importance of patience, determination and perseverance” “the necessity to overcome all obstacles”, “advancing with a positive attitude”, “not showing pain or exhaustion”. Essentially “the spirit of determination and perseverance is the meaning of “Osu!”.

From there Sensei spoke to us, and drilled us, on correct behaviour, stances and aspects of etiquette. For example the correct way to enter or leave the dojo, how to address your sensei, senpai and kohai, knowing where and how to stand in line, to showing respect to your fellow students, and most importantly, to yourself.

Zarei (seated bow)

Zarei (seated bow)

Dojo etiquette helps us leave our external roles and responsibilities outside the dojo. Etiquette is a way to honour the founders of our style and honour the Sensei that teaches us. It teaches respect and self-control, it sets the dojo apart from ordinary life.  In terms of karate, the practice of reishiki sets the dojo as a place to recognize practices and hierarchies not normally considered in everyday life. You could be a lawyer in your work life, but a white belt in the dojo.

But, what does all of this bowing, stances, yelling have to do with life? Well, besides knowing what to do if you’re ever traveling to a foreign country dojo, it builds within us a foundation that will be recognized in our daily lives. You will walk differently, talk differently and behave differently. In a way that others will respect and want to aspire to. You might not be standing at attention (or perhaps you will), but you will carry yourself in a way that others will not help but notice.

It reminds me of Bushido’s Eight Virtues. The 7 virtues or principles that the Samurai strove to achieve. These are:

  • Rectitude (Kanji_GI, gi) – rightness or practice; exact conformity to truth, or to the rules prescribed for moral conduct, either by divine or human laws; (moral) uprightness, integrity; honesty; morality; straightness.
  • Courage (Kanji_Yu, yu) – the quality of a confident character not to be afraid or intimidated easily but without being incautious or inconsiderate; the ability to do things which one finds frightening.
  • Benevolence (Kanji_Jin, jin) – disposition to do good; charitable kindness; an altruistic gift or act.
  • Respect (Kanji_Rei, rei) – an attitude of consideration or high regard; good opinion, honour, or admiration; polite greetings.
  • Honesty (Kanji_Makoto, makoto or shin) – the act, quality, or condition of being honest; to be truthful.
  • Honour (Kanji_Meiyo, meiyo) – an objectification of praiseworthiness, respect (for example: something that represents praiseworthiness, respect).
  • Loyalty (Kanji_chugi, chugi) – unswerving in allegiance; faithful in allegiance to one’s lawful sovereign or government; faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due; faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product; the state of being loyal; fidelity.

Dojo etiquette development can be the building blocks of successful emotional growth in young students as well. Building integrity, honesty, empathy, leadership, and responsibility, to name just a few. Along with increased self-confidence and the ability to relate to others, karate students with traditional dojo etiquette develop enhanced social skills and experience less anxiety when handling peer pressure.

The word “etiquette” can sound pretentious to some and seem intrusive to our sense of individuality and freedom. But the concept of etiquette is essential in life, and particularly in work and business. Social-media platforms, like Facebook, have blurred the lines of appropriateness, so now more then ever it is important that we not forget to be respectful not only to each other, but to ourselves.


Kyokushinkai zarei

Comments 8

  1. desertbuddha30

    Wow, I’m so happy you touched on the subject of “oss” and also mentioned Karate By Jesse. In my new found BJJ world, I was confused by the term “oss” and sought out sources for understanding. I found Karate By Jesse’s article on it which I really enjoy. What I find very interesting is his section on when you should never say “oss”. Now, I’m not a feminist at all and when I read that women should never say it I thought, “Ok! If it’s disrespectful for me as a girl to chime in whenever the guys do, then I won’t do it.” (even though, no-one really cares.)

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts on “oss” and when you should/shoudn’t say it. Do you think it’s waaayyyy over rated (like “Om” in Yoga.)?


    1. themartialway

      Firstly, thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. It makes me really happy that people are enjoying my articles and that they are creating conversation.

      As to your question, I liked Jesse’s definitions of OSU. However, I don’t entirely agree with all the comments around when not to say it. He is certainly correct that it can be over used, but I haven’t seen this. Perhaps because it has been adopted by styles I am not familiar with. Kyokushin is the style that really brought the term into the dojo, but other styles have taken it on. For example, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) schools use it a lot.

      The part I struggle with is “Never say it to a Japanese person – unless he is younger than you, or wants you to say it (and when it comes to women, don’t say it at all.)”. I have many Japanese friends, and lot of whom are female. I brought this up in conversation with them and their response was that it was non-sense. My very good friend Nori (who is a karate-ka) uses the term with me a lot. He is younger than me, but higher in rank. Even when he texts me about meeting for dinner, he will end the text in OSU! For him, he tells me, it is a sign of respect for his friend and fellow karate-ka. You can see Nori fight here:

      My female Japanese friends said they don’t use it, because it is not a common part of Japanese vernacular outside of the dojo. But, they told me that female karate-ka freely use it in the dojo and to one another, but regardless of your gender that it is generally reserved to answer or address someone of higher rank/status/age than you.

      This all being said, when you use any term over and over again, it becomes programmed into your subconscious. So, even I have responded to people with Osu!, instead of “yes”, like in my workplace, and they have looked at me like I had two heads! lol

      This also happened when I was working with a trainer in a fitness class. I automatically responded with Osu! many times. He inquired about it and when I explained it to him he loved it, and has started using it himself in his classes because he feels it puts you in a strong frame of mind. Not bad for someone who doesn’t do karate at all.

      I hope this answers your question, and I would love to have your feedback.

      Respectfully, Scott.

  2. desertbuddha30

    In the age of the internet, it is also (i believe) the age of misinformation. I enjoyed hearing that females use it in the dojo. I guess, with so many martial arts out there, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact lineage and usage for “Oss”. I did like Jesse’s bit about it being from military background; I found that quite interesting. I guess, it just depends on the individual. I probably won’t be using it outside my dojo (unless I’m out with my fellow BJJ friends). I’ve heard our guys use it in response to the teacher to acknowledge that they heard and understood what was being said. I really like using is when I leave as my “good-bye”. With the changing times and a modern world, we tend to lose sight of the deeper meaning and history of a phrase. I personally don’t like to use a word or phrase just because i hear everyone else saying it; it needs to have a deep meaning for me as well.

    okay, enough babble. and yes! I did get your e-mail 🙂

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