I’ll be the first to admit that I break dojo rules. Remembering to bow on and off the mat. I show up late, although extremely rare. I’ll admit that I occasionally let a curse word or five slip on the mat. So I write the following acknowledging that I am a work in progress at following house rules, even after 19 years of living in it, but I do try my best.
After just about a year as a jiu jitsu Black belt and celebrating my 19th year as a judoka, I’m still attempting to figure out what I can offer my students exclusively. How can I express my unique interpretation of judo and jiu jitsu effectively so that my students can benefit from my journey, a question I routinely ask myself. And upon thinking about this question, I have found several different responses, a true rabbit hole, but the one I am currently hung up on is the idea of dojo rules, or what I call House Rules.
My dojo, Portland Judo and PDXBJJ, is actually a judo dojo first. We are expected to show up on time for class, which I feel is essentially 15-20 minutes before class. We bow on and off the mat, we bow to each other before training, and we have a traditional bow in procedure to start and end all classes. We clean the mats religiously, we play music with no swearing, we don’t lie down on the mats or lean on walls, we are expected to carry ourselves at a certain minimum of dojo character. If you have ever been to a very traditional Japanese judo, I would say we follow about 70-75% of those rules, we’re from Hawaii after all…
But the idea I have had recently is this: While I may not agree, or even adhere, to all House Rules, it is still my responsibility as a Professor, Sensei, and Founder, to speak for the House. Meaning, the dojo cannot enforce it’s own rules, it requires constant diligence and attention, by myself and fellow students, to maintain a certain amount of dojo etiquette standards. A true group effort that must be spearheaded, followed, and enforced by all.
An example of a few House Rules I attempt to follow rigorously:
– Showing up to class on time. As the individual teaching the class, I always try to arrive around 30 minutes before the class is scheduled to start. This allows me enough time to down some coffee, cue the music, change in to my gi, and either clean the toilet or check my Instagram. I usually go for the latter.
– Showing up in a clean, washed uniform. Look, there is no excuse for breaking this rule. WASH YOUR GI. If you’re training hard enough, you won’t even want to double up on wearing a sweaty gi. Don’t do it. If a student of mine even has a suspected dirty gi, which rarely ever happens, they get the boot off the mat.
– Basic Hygiene. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and cutting your nails will get you 98% of the way there. DO THESE.
– Respecting people as people, not students. These people allow me an avenue to perfect my craft, pay their dojo dues, and offer me their time. Regardless of belt rank, there is a certain amount of respect one must have for another while in the dojo. House Rules, respect everyone as a person first.
– Conducting myself in a professional manner. This is one that, believe it or not, I really try to execute on and learn the most from. I take my students’ time seriously, they aren’t here for anything less than my full attention and best effort. I owe them my efforts while they are in attendance of my class. I am responsible for their flaws, their strengths, and pushing them out of their comfort zones. I am responsible for their safety, both physically and mentally, and I take that responsibility to the highest degree.
How do you create a set of House Rules that is accessible and clear to everyone? The honest answer is, you can’t. It’s impossible to please everyone. Some House Rules will be easy to follow, others will be difficult. The best thing I can do, and what I can control, is to make an honest effort to formulate and maintain the House Rules that are positive and synergistic to my students’ training. So how do you go about enforcing and maintaining the House Rules?
I have learned, over the past 8 years as a dojo owner, to approach the majority of situations as if the individual has no idea that an offense has occurred. We’ve all seen someone step on the mat with their shoes, forget to bow on or off the mat, or curse out of frustration. These are commonalities, I believe, that can be found in every dojo. But most often than not, the individual that is breaking certain House Rules has no idea that they are out of line. A simple, plain discussion about the standards of the dojo will do for about 99.9% of issues. Give the person the benefit of the doubt, remind yourself that they may not know what they do not know.
Perhaps the individual had no idea that a certain House Rule was even in place! For example, in all of my classes, I usually try to keep talking while live fighting to an absolute minimum. I believe a student should be focused on the action at hand, not talking or commenting during a live randori session. If there is a crossing of this line, I would verbally speak to the individual, something along the lines of, “Hey, you fought great during that last round. But what we need to improve on is not talking during the fight. You should be focused on the matter at hand, not having a conversation about it.”
If we look at the example above, I would first choose to positively reinforce the person. “Hey, great fight!” Second, I choose to use the word “we” instead of “you” because it sounds less like an accusation and more like a group effort. “We” need to improve on doing this, not just “You”. Lastly, I make it a point to be sure the person knows to stay focused and quietly work.
This is my go to method for the majority of House Rule breakers. Talking to them directly and clearly, all the while understanding that this person may not have even known that a House Rule, or common etiquette gesture was disrespected. Simple and easy.
It’s important to note that House Rules change not only by the dojo or academy, but also by the specific instructor of the specific class. Even different instructors in the same dojo may enforce, or turn a blind eye to, different House Rules. As an individual who frequently travels and trains all over the World, I believe this is an important factor to remember. Personally, if I ever find myself in doubt on how to conduct myself, I automatically resort back to the highest House Rules I know. That way, I’m giving myself the best chance to not make a faux pas and offend the house, instructor, or student.
How do you adhere to House Rules and what are some rules that are specific to your dojo or academy? How to you conduct yourself when visiting another school? What House Rules do you see most often broken?