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.