A Comprehensive Guide to Karate Etiquette

A karateka bowing - an example of karate etiquette

If you have just started karate and don’t know how to act properly in the dojo, this karate etiquette guide will help you behave like a veteran of the place in no time. Gradually and unconsciously, these etiquettes will become part of you and, perhaps in a small way, make you a better person.


  1. Your attitude
  2. Respect
  3. Dress code
  4. Arriving at the dojo
  5. If you are late
  6. Leaving the dojo
  7. If you have to leave early
  8. Class opening ceremony
  9. Class closing ceremony
  10. During class
  11. Videos on karate etiquette

Your attitude

Whatever you do in life, your attitude is what matters the most.

When you enter the dojo, whether you are just a white belt or already a blackbelt in another martial art, a cleaner or a boss of a Fortune 500 company, it is of utmost importance that you have an open mind.

A full cup is a cup that can take no more. If you think you know already, you will be there to observe and make judgments and are unlikely to learn anything new.

So please empty your cup, have an open mind, and be willing to listen and try out new things. Every instructor has something unique to learn from.

Leave behind all problems and negative feelings outside the dojo.


Karate begins and ends with respect‘ and that is what you are expected to show in and out of the dojo.

Your instructor should be treated with respect at all times, in the dojo and privately. He should be called ‘SENSEI’ meaning ‘the one who has come before in life’ even privately.

Your fellow karatekas should also be treated with respect at all times, regardless of their levels. Without them, you wouldn’t have a partner to train with and progress. Bowing before and after each partnered exercise and at the end of each session.

Show respect to the dojo, your place of training, by bowing when entering.

Show respect to the equipment that helps you with your training by bowing before using it.

Dress code

Your uniform (gi) should be neat and clean and if torn should be mended accordingly.

Belt (obi) should be worn at all times during training unless an exercise requires otherwise. However, you should not wear your belt outside of the dojo. You should never wash your belt, it is said to contain your spirit.

Your body and feet should always be clean before entering the dojo.

Fingernails and toenails should be trimmed.

Long hair should be neatly tied up.

No rings, jewelry, or watches should be worn during training.

Do not chew gums.

Do not wear strong perfume or fragrances.

Do not come to training if you are sick with something contagious.

Never come to training after you have consumed drugs or alcohol.

Arriving at the dojo

Always aim to arrive at the dojo with plenty of time to sign in, change into your gi, and ideally allow about 5 minutes spare before the class is due to start.

Take your shoes off at the door.

Bow upon entering the dojo. This is a way of showing respect to your place of training. It is also the time when you tell yourself, you’ve entered the dojo and it’s time to leave everything else behind and focus on your training.

At some dojos, you would say ‘Onegaishimasu‘ when bowing. Onegaishimasu means ‘If you please’, ‘Do me this favor’, or ‘With all due respect I beg you to do this favor for me’. In the karate context, it can mean ‘Please teach me’.

At some dojos, you would say ‘OOS‘ or ‘OSU‘ or ‘OSS‘ when bowing. Interestingly, this is not a Japanese term and it is not used in traditional karate dojos in Okinawa. But it is used in many karate dojos and has many meanings: acknowledgment, I understand, did you get it, hello, goodbye, thank you, etc.

Bow to the instructor. This is to show your respect to the instructor. Most karate instructors do it not for money but because they love karate.

Bow to the black belts. In some dojos, you are expected to bow to all black belts, whether they are young or older, higher rank or lower rank than you. But some dojos are more relaxed and you are not expected to bow to black belts. Just observe and follow.

Inform your instructor if you have any injuries before class starts. This is so that your instructor is aware and can give you modified instructions if necessary.

Turn off your phone, keep it on silent or leave it in your car.

If you are late

If you are late, please bow as you enter the dojo as usual.

If the class has just started warm-up exercises, kneel near the front, facing your instructor, and wait until your instructor bows to you and motions for you to join in. Bow and say ‘onegaishimasu’ or ‘oos’ then get up and join the class.

If the class has finished warm-up exercises, go to the back of the dojo and do the warm-up exercises by yourself. Upon finishing, assume the kneeling position and wait until your instructor bows to you and motions for you to join in. Bow and say ‘onegaishimasu’ or ‘oos’ then get up and join the class.

Leaving the dojo

When leaving the dojo at the end of class, turn around, face the dojo, bow, and say ‘OOS’ or ‘arigato gozaimashita’ meaning ‘thank you very much’ or ‘sayonara’ meaning goodbye.

If you are exiting the door at the same time as other students, as a courtesy, let senior students go first.

If you have to leave early

If you have to leave early, please inform your instructor before the class commences.

At the time you have to leave, bow to your instructor and wait for his acknowledgment before leaving.

Bow and leave as per above.

Class opening ceremony

Shugo: Line up. When you hear your instructor or a senior student calls out shugo, line up in the order of seniority. The most senior student should be at the beginning of the line.

Kiotsuke: Stand to attention, feet in Musubi Dachi, hands straight down by your sides with the middle fingers aligning with the seams of the pants.

Seiza: Kneel. To do a seiza properly, come down on the left side and come up on the right side. In the final position, your hands should be resting high on your lap, close to the hip, the left big toe crosses over the right one and your knees are aligned with those of the person on your right.

Mokuso: Meditate. Close your eyes, relax and take a few deep and gentle breaths and empty your mind.

Mokuso yame: Finish meditating. Open your eyes.

Shomen ni, rei: Face the front of the dojo and bow.

Sensei ni, rei: Face your teacher and bow while saying aloud ‘onegaishimasu’ meaning please teach me.

Shomen ni: Face the front of the dojo.

Kiritsu: Stand up in order of seniority. Come up on your right side and stand in Musubi Dachi.

Class closing ceremony

Shugo: Line up in the order of seniority as you do at the beginning of the class.

Kiotsuke: Stand to attention, feet in Musubi Dachi, hands down by your sides with the middle fingers aligning with the seams of the pants.

Seiza: Kneel. See instructions above.

Mokuso: Meditate. Close your eyes, relax and take a few deep and gentle breaths and leave everything in the dojo behind.

Mokuso yame: Finish meditating, open your eyes.

Dojo kun: Reciting the dojo kun. Repeat after the most senior student loudly with spirit and in unison.

Shomen ni rei: Face the front of the dojo and bow.

Sensei ni rei: Face your teacher and bow while saying aloud ‘arigato gozaimashita’ meaning thank you very much.

Otagai ni rei: Face your partner and bow while saying aloud aloud ‘arigato gozaimashita’ meaning thank you very much. This is to say thank you and show respect to your partners who have turned up to train with you.

Shomen ni: Face the front of the dojo

Kiritsu: Stand up in order of seniority and bow.

During class

Always acknowledge after receiving instructions from your instructor by saying ‘hai’ or ‘OOS’.

Do not interrupt your instructor unnecessarily when he or she is giving instructions. If you need to ask a question, wait until there is an appropriate gap and raise your hand.

Do not talk even quietly with other students while your instructor is giving instructions.

When receiving personal instructions from your instructors, wait until he or she finishes and then bow and say ‘arigato gozaimasu’ or ‘OOS’.

If you are called up to help with a demonstration of a technique, bow and say ‘onegaishimasu’ or ‘OOS’. Bow at the end and say ‘arigato gozaimasu’ or ‘OOS’.

Bow to your partner at the begging and the end of each partnered exercise.

Bow at the begging and at the end of each kata.

When practicing a kata with the whole class, hold the last move until you are told to finish off.

Follow your instructor’s instructions exactly for safety reasons. If there is anything that is unclear or you find not working for you, ask for clarification.

Depending on the dojo, but generally, unless you are a blackbelt, do not offer instructions to other students unless you have been specifically asked by your instructor.

If you are asked to count, count and then do your technique. You can count in whatever language you are comfortable with but count loud and clear and with a good spirit.

In sparring, always spar to the level of your partner and remember yours and your partner’s safety is of the highest priority.

Work hard, push yourself and try your best but stay safe. It’s not about being better than someone else, it’s about being better than you were the day before.

Videos on karate etiquette

If you would like a visual guide, below are two informative videos on karate etiquette. They are not complete but cover the most important parts for you to start.


Traditional Karate-Do: Okinawa Goju Ryu Vol. 1: The Fundamental Techniques

General Martial Arts Etiquette and Procedures

Dojo Etiquette

Japanese Karate Sensei Explains DOJO RULES ???? (Yusuke Nagano) ???????? – YouTube

Karate Concepts: Etiquette – YouTube


I haven't trained in karate for long but it has given me so much and definitely has made me a better person. The more I train, the more I realize that karate is more about mastering your mind than mastering your physical form. If learning karate is like learning a language, I am still at the alphabet stage and I am sharing with you on this blog bits and pieces that I pick up a long the way. I hope you find them useful and wish you all the best with your karate journey!

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