Kendo begins and ends with rei.

While the character "Rei" is usually translated as bowing, more literally it means courtesy. It also encompasses the related concepts of rei-gi and rei-ho.

Rei-gi means manners or etiquette, referring to the techniques or actions of showing courtesy and respect, while rei-ho is a term that expresses the rules or concepts of courtesy and respect. For more on rei-ho see basic concepts.

Rei-gi is an extremely important part of kendo. The basic rules come from the formal, highly stylized social system of Japan. Simply stated, rei-gi is based on respect - for one's sensei, fellow kenshi, equipment, etc.

In practice, it is not that simple. There is a prescribed method for virtually every action, and failure to adhere to proper behavior may taken as a sign of poor instruction or, in some cases, as a severe insult. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), this is America, where the rules of social conduct are much less rigid. Nonetheless, it is essential to know basic etiquette in kendo.

Conduct in the Dojo
  1. Arrive early and be prepared to start practice on time.
  2. Stop and bow when entering or leaving the dojo.
  3. Greet everyone at the first opportunity, especially the sensei and your seniors. Examples: ohayo gozaimasu (good morning), kon nichi wa (good day), konban wa (good evening). This is known as aisatsu.
  4. Pay respect to everyone when departing, especially to the sensei and your seniors. Examples: oyasumi nasai (good night), sayonara (goodbye).
  5. When addressing instructors, use the title sensei.
  6. Be attentive; listen carefully to instructions, and respond promptly.
  7. Be aware of seniors members and follow their lead. Do not sit down, stand up, finish bowing, or remove your equipment before your seniors. When lining up, position yourself relative to your seniors. For example, when seated, line up your men and kote, as well as your knees, to those of your senior.
  8. Be aware of junior members and take care of them.
  9. Always sit or stand properly when in the dojo. Do not slouch or lean against anything; especially, do not lean on your shinai.
  10. Avoid walking in front of sensei, or in front of kenshi seated in the seiza position.
  11. Never deliver the traditional courtesies in a casual, off-hand manner.
Apparel and Equipment
  1. Always handle your apparel and bogu respectfully. Make sure they are packed neatly and properly, without dangling strings or straps. Know how to fold your keikogi and hakama.
  2. Always handle your shinai respectfully. Do not lean on it, rest it on the floor, twirl it, or drag it. Make sure it is well-maintained, free of splinters and with tightened tsuru and nakayui.
  3. Wear your keikogi and hakama neatly. Make sure the keikogi is smooth, not bulging, in the front and back. When putting on the hakama, put your left leg in first; when removing the hakama, remove your right leg first.
  4. Know how to wear your bogu neatly, and how to tie them securely. When putting on kote, put the left one on first; when removing kote, remove the right one first.
  5. Do not wear jewelery during practice.
Conduct during Practice
  1. When practicing with your seniors, show your appreciation by saying onegai shimasu at the beginning and arigatou gozaimashita at the end.
  2. Perform ritsu-rei (standing bow) and za-rei (seated bow) properly. Do not bend or arch your neck or back. Hold the bow briefly before returning to your original position.
  3. Do not crawl to adjust your position when in seiza or sonkyo; instead, stand up and move.
  4. Practice diligently. Do not sit down during practice unless you are fixing your equipment. Do not engage in idle conversation. Do not let sensei remain idle when they are available for practice.
  5. Apply yourself wholeheartedly to learning, and to improving your kendo to the best of your ability.
Aisatsu (salutations)
Aisatsu is extremely important in kendo. The phrase is usually translated as "greetings," but aisatsu are also used for other situations such as thanking an individual both before and after keiko, commending someone for their efforts, etc. Aisatsu are usually accompanied by a bow. A missed aisatsu will be noticed, and if you routinely fail to offer aisatsu you will be considered at best uneducated, at worst ill mannered or even rude.

Here are some common phrases. Be sure to learn the top four for Norwalk keiko. Use the next three at daytime events. You may also hear the bottom phrases at the dojo or at kendo events.

konbanwa   good evening (greeting)
oyasuminasai   good night (taking leave)
onegaishimasu   (customary phrase before practicing with a sensei or senior)
arigato gozaimashita   thank you

ohayo gozaimasu   good morning
konnichiwa   good day
sayonara   goodbye

osakini shitsurei shimasu   excuse me for leaving before you
otsukaresama desu   (customary phrase after a hard practice)
itadakimasu   (customary phrase before eating a meal)
gochisosama deshita   (customary phrase after eating a meal)  

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