The Martial Way begins and ends with proper respect. Etiquette is an essential element of aikido training. Proper bowing, proper handling of weapons, and proper carrying of oneself are all forms of misogi, cleansing of the spirit. Mastering aikido requires not only practicing techniques, but also loss of the ego through purification of the inner self. It is only through reigi-sahou that the aikidoka can reach a true state of personal dignity.
Reigi-sahou is a way of life as well as a way of thinking. Respect for others, respect for the training hall, and respect for weapons comes from the continual training in life-or-death situations. Aikidokawho do not show respect and compassion for those who are not yet as far along on the path are missing the true meaning of aikido. Sahou teaches us not only to show respect for those who came before us, but also to nurture all who are committed to developing their body, mind, and spirit. The expression of respect for all people and things is in the spirit of universal love which is at the heart of aikido.
Many non-Japanese aikidoka have come to view reigi-sahou as too traditional and formal and have therefore dispensed with many principles, considering them to be mere formalities. However, there are reasons for each rule of etiquette and all of them are integral parts of the training experience. For example, one’s instructor should be referred to as “Sensei” at all times, not just on the training floor. Talking needlessly during practice detracts from the training and experiences that should be taking place. Wearing jewelry in class shows a lack of respect for the safety of others as well as for oneself and for one’s Sensei. Modification of any of these tenants of reigi-sahou changes the art and practice of aikido.
Training in budo, the martial way, begins and ends with reigi, proper respect. When practicing, we show respect for the art which we are studying, for those who came before us on the path, for those who give us the gift of training with us, and for the place in which we train. For, without these elements, we would not be able to follow the path of aikido. A bow in eastern tradition shows respect for others in a similar manner to the handshake in western tradition, both are also derived from the practice of demonstrating to others that one is unarmed. Bowing serves to remind one of his/her vulnerability to others as well as nature. It is in no way a demonstration of subservience, but rather a way of practicing mindfulness.
Aikido training requires one to subdue the ego. If one is uncomfortable bowing to another without feeling that he is submitting to another, then there is little hope of making progress on the path towards losing the ego. Ironically, it is through being unable to bow to others that one is truly submitting to the power of their own sense of self-importance.