“What do I call you people?”

By Hali Serrian

While seemingly a simple question of introductions, knowing what to call one of your dojo-mates can be rather complex, most especially if you find that you’ve become friends with them outside of the dojo.

In our dojo, we call white belts by their first names. This is because they are technically a guest in our dojo, and not a part of the hierarchy which requires the use of surnames. This is also why we do not ask our white belts to sweep the floor or refill the water cooler. Once a white belt has tested, they are an official member of our dojo and we begin referring to them by Mr. or Ms. and their surname. This shows respect to them as a peer in martial arts training. And of course we remember that Yoshukai is all about respect. And manners.

So, we call white belts by their first names and everyone else by their last names, plus Mr./Ms. How is that difficult or complex? Well, the trouble really comes when we move outside the dojo walls. For instance, when we travel to Summer or Winter Camp, we often caravan and meet up at a restaurant for lunch. Well, we’re not in the dojo, so what do we call each other? The semi-unwritten/assumed rule is that since we are going to an event where karate is going to happen, the event has already begun and so we should refer to each other by our ‘karate names’, generally surnames.

Well, what if we’re at a party with a bunch of karate people? That depends. Do you only see that person in the dojo, excepting this party? You should probably call them by their karate name, unless told otherwise. Are you friends in real life? Do you see each other outside the dojo to hang out and such? You’re probably good to call them by their first name, since that’s usually what friends do.

One of the most interesting ‘rules’ (once again unwritten) about what to call dojo-mates is in conversation, including stories about people who are not present at the time. I’ve heard people flow between stories, switching between first names and surnames, all dependent on the context of the conversation. Conversations about stuff that happened at class the other day? Surnames. Conversations about when they all went out to dinner afterward? First names.

So at its simplest and most boiled down, there is only one rule about what to call people in your life who also do karate. If your current situation or conversation has anything to do with karate, you call the person by their surname. If not, and you’re friends, roommates, married, or share some other relationship outside of the dojo, feel free to call them whatever you like, as long as it’s appropriate.

Face Front

By Erik Hofmeister

“Kiyotsuke!  Face front!  Rei!”  This series of commands is given regularly in the dojo and occasionally at WYKKO events.  What, exactly, is going on here?  This series of commands is given when a high-ranked student enters the dojo.  It calls everyone to attention in the room and asks that they bow to the entering student.  This shows respect to the student who is entering, and also serves to let those in the room know what high ranks are around.  It also calls for humility on the part of the student being bowed to- they should not be eager to be bowed to.  Some students feel embarrassed being bowed to, and that’s good.  It suggests an appropriate dose of humility.  A student who shies away from being bowed to on entering the dojo, in contrast, may be insecure or inappropriately uncomfortable with being bowed to.  A student who can’t wait to get to a rank where they are bowed to probably needs a serious attitude adjustment before promotion.

The face front command is given only the first time a student enters the dojo for class around that time.  If there was a noon class where a student was bowed to, then the evening class would also call for a face front and bow to that student.  However, a student who enters the dojo at 5pm and stays for a 6pm class would not be bowed to again.  The exception to this is when changing styles.  For example, for the 7pm judo class, students will bow to me as a brown belt.  Once I change and enter for Yoshukai class at 8pm, another bow is given as this is a different context.

Generally, the first student to notice the incoming student should issue the command.  If multiple students notice the incoming student at once, it is up to the higher-ranked student to issue the command.  Students should be aware of what high-ranks are ‘around’ and not yet entered the dojo.  I will almost always face the door after I have entered the dojo, so that I can be aware of brown belt and higher ranked students who enter so I can issue the call.  If you know there is a higher-ranked student who is aware of the door, it is probably best to wait a beat before issuing the call, to make sure the higher-ranked student has the opportunity to call “face front”.

There are three venues worth considering: the local dojo, official closed WYKKO events, and open events.

Each dojo may have its own rules on when to call “face front”.  Most use it for blackbelts.  Some may use it solely for the head instructor.  At Athens Yoshukai, we use the command any time a brown belt or higher-ranked student enters the dojo.  This prepares the brown belt for having the respect given to black belts, and also aligns with several other WYKKO schools.  As we have had more brown belts for longer than black belts, it also gives other students an opportunity to ‘practice’ bowing to the front when a high rank comes in.

At WYKKO events (Summer Camp, Winter Camp, Traditional Tournament), students with the Shihan rank are bowed to.  If you are in doubt, defer to a higher-rank student to issue the command.  Typically the call will be issued by those of Sandan rank and higher, but this is not a rule (see above guide about deferring to higher-ranks to issue the command, though!).

At open events (Dothan Tournament, Athens Tournament, Panama City Tournament, Superfights), there is not usually the face front command.  If a sufficiently high-ranked student (i.e. Shihan) decides to issue the command, however, everyone should comply.  This is more typically done when Kaicho or Soke enter into an open event.  However, there seems to be some variability in application of this rule.

The face front command is designed to show respect to those particularly high-ranked students who are entering the dojo or practice area.  When in doubt, students should defer to higher-ranked students to issue the command.