Custom, Courtesy & Protocol

Understanding Custom, Courtesy and Protocol is very important part of our style.


Custom: Custom as defined by Webster is a usual practice or habitual way of behaving or a social convention carried on by tradition .

Courtesy: Courtesy as defined by Webster as an act or usage intended to honor or compliment.

Protocol: Protocol as defined by Webster is a code of ceremonial forms and courtesies, of precedence, etc. accepted as proper and correct in official dealings.


Within our style we are very concerned with how we continue to utilize the Customs that were handed down from Master to Master. The bows we do at the beginning and end of class, the way we hold our glasses when we toast (Kampai) our seniors, how we show respect towards our seniors as well as our juniors and the other customs that we continue to entertain within our system. In our Customs we have certain Courtesies and Protocols that we follow.

In the following sections we will go over some standard Customs, Protocols and Courtesies. I have listed a few different areas such as The Main Dojo in Okinawa, Common Practices, and Greeting Outside the Dojo. These may not fit every dojo situation and are not all inclusive but are a good starting point for the student to learn from.

The Main Dojo Okinawa, Japan

  • Before Entering the second step going into the Main Dojo ensure you remove your shoes.
  • If your Gi is not on do a standing bow turn right go into the bathroom and change into your gi.
  • Come to the upper level of the dojo and sit and do a seated bow towards the front of the Dojo.
  • Stand and do a standing bow towards the front of the Dojo.
  • Look for Master Kise immediately, get approximately 3 to 4 feet away and do a standing bow with the appropriate greeting, Hanshi konbanwa (good evening) Hanshi Ohio (Good Morning) or Hanshi konichiwa (good afternoon).
  • If Master is not there then you should find Kaicho Isao or the senior black belt and ensure you follow the same as number.
  • If Master Kise should reach out to shake your hand ensure that you reach with 2 hands, and bow as you shake his hand. This should be done any time you shake a seniors hand. as noted in the picture above.
  • Before you leave ensure that you bow to the Master in full gi before you go. Hanshi Domo arigato Gozimasu, Sayonara.
  • Do your proper seated bow before you go to the changing room to remove your gi.

Here are some key points to remember

Never walk up to the Hanshi or Kaicho and tap him on the shoulder! Move to where the Master or Isao Kaicho can see you bow and say Gomenisai and then ask your question once they recognizes you. (Never invade their space)

If you are not sure what to do always ask.

If you are not sure if you should bow then bow. You can never bow to much.

Always show the greatest amount of respect at all times. BE HUMBLE!

If you are out with the Master continue to show the respect at all times. Don’t get lazy with your custom or courtesy just because you are out with him.

Never drink even a sip of your drink until the Master drinks his or in the case of eating do not eat until the Master eats unless he directs you to do so.

Normally when drinking you always start with a Kampai (toast) first. To Kampai:

  • Ensure you hold your glass with 2 hands with your left hand on the bottom of your glass.
  • Ensure your glass is lower than the Masters when you touch glasses.
  • Bow at the same time you Kampai. 

A Kampai is a tradition that must carried out properly.

I did not cover ones like how to bow in right at the begining of class and just after the class finishes because your Sensei, I’m sure, will cover those areas. There are many other customs that should be obeyed but if you always show the ultimate in respect you will do fine when your with the Master or Isao

If you have any questions on some of the customs etc. at the Main Dojo please drop me an email at craig(@)

Common Practices

Each Dojo may be a little different in their rules but basically they are all very close. Here are some rules of etiquette that I thought would be important to mention. I am sure that your Dojo may have a lot of these rules and maybe more but the concept is still the same.

  • All members shall not use profanity in the Dojo.
  • All members shall remove their shoes before walking on the Dojo floor.
  • All members shall bow when coming onto the deck and leaving the deck.
  • All members shall bow to Sensei when entering and leaving the Dojo with the appropriate greeting or sayonara.
  • Personal cleanliness and hygiene is to be observed at all times.
  • Keep fingernails and toenails short.
  • Keep you Gi clean and neat at all times.
  • Do not criticize other members
  • Do not wear rings, jewelry or other metal ornaments onto the Karate deck. (wedding bands are an exception)
  • Do not practice while intoxicated.
  • Do not take soda cans or candy onto the Karate Deck.
  • No one will be allowed to chew gum during class.
  • Excessive laughter or loud talking on the Karate deck or in the Dojo will not be permitted.
  • Always look after your junior and lend a helping hand to those below you in rank and knowledge.
  • Be on time for class.
  • The Karate head instructor is to be referred to as Sensei, or Shihan.
  • Refrain from misusing your knowledge.
  • A report of any and all fights you engage in must be made to your Sensei within 24 hours or at the next class.
  • Do not show anyone who is not a club member any Karate techniques, and do not demonstrate Karate in public except in authorized demonstrations.
  • No one is to teach someone else a kata unless he has the approval of Sensei.
  • No rank is permanent. Sensei may take it away if he feels you are not living up to the standards of that rank or if you are not a member in good standing with the dojo.
  • Do not leave personal belongings, clothing, or uniforms in the Dojo overnight.
  • No smoking anywhere in the Dojo, ever. (Sensei would like students not to smoke, it hinders your training)
  • Signs and periodic postings are to be observed.
  • If a lower belt is teaching class, they represent Sensei. Give them the proper respect.
  • Try to promote the true meaning of Karate by developing:
    • Health – physical development
    • Character – mental development
    • Skill – proficiency in contest
    • Respect – courtesy in contest
    • Humility – never losing sight of your short comings
  • Always follow the chain of command when making requests or asking questions. You will save yourself embarrassment and push-ups

Greeting Outside the Dojo

A common mistake outside the dojo is a lot of students tend to think that once they are in their street clothes they don’t need to bow or show the respect that they show in the dojo. No mater if you are in the dojo or outside the dojo; the Master is still the Master, the sensei is still the sensei and the sempai is still the sempai and the respect and custom should still be there. The bowing and proper greeting should still be done.

Respect is a 2 way street. Always remember to earn respect one must give respect !


There are many more customs and courtesies that should be adhered to. The ones above are just some to help you in your training. I hope this helps you to understand the discipline that we are working towards. If you have any questions about these areas please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at craig(@)

Shihan Craig Hodgkins