“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.