If you look up the Japanese word reigi (礼儀), or "courtesy" in the dictionary, you will find that it is defined as "a code of conduct based on attentiveness, respect, and modesty in interpersonal relationships.” To put this in very simple terms, it means to treat people with respect.
As you may know, in the martial arts, we say, "Rei ni hajimari, Rei ni owaru" (beginning and ending with courtesy). At the beginning and end of training, the teacher and students bow to each other. Of course, this "courtesy" taught through Budo is not just about bowing to each other. It is about thanking the person you are training with, respecting the place where you are learning, appreciating the teachers who created the martial art style that you are practicing, and giving respect to the teachers who are passing it on and teaching it to you, which are all helping you to grow and improve.
Recently, with the development of the internet, it is common for all of us to keep in touch through social media services like LINE or by email . At Chiseikan, we also use a group LINE chat to keep in touch with each other and to receive notices of absence and tardiness for all students.
However, since the beginning of this year, there have been a number of unfortunate incidents that have occurred in the use of this LINE service. There have been a number of cases in which people have cancelled their membership in our Dojo only by sending a message of their withdrawal through LINE. Some did not come to the Dojo to say goodbye in person, even if they had been practicing with us for a year or two, or in one case for nearly 10 years. After these things happened, I felt deeply disappointed for a while, wondering if my teaching was not at a high enough level that students did not feel it was worth coming to the Dojo to say their goodbyes in person. I felt sad that the students and their parents, whom I had cherished like members of my own family, thought so little of me as their teacher.
These incidents reminded me of a time when I was learning tea ceremony. I took these classes in a private home of an elderly (in her 80s) female teacher. In Japan it is customary to give seasonal gifts, and at that time I wondered what I could give her as a seasonal greeting that would make her happy. I was sure that she had probably received many types of sweets from her other students. However, when I carefully looked around the room where we practiced tea ceremony, I noticed that my teacher always had several clean, washed, and ironed rags ready for use during and after our practice. So instead of more sweets, I decided to bring laundry detergent as a token of my appreciation. When I came to practice that day with my present, Sensei had also prepared a seasonal gift for me in return. She had prepared a small package of kaishi (paper used in the tea ceremony to put sweets on) for me to use. This exchange was a tangible way for me to express my gratitude to my teacher and for her to express her gratitude to me for attending her classes and studying under her guidance. When I stopped practicing tea ceremony with her because I was moving to a different city, I went to visit her in person and thanked her for her guidance together with a final gift of gratitude. Sensei said, "If you ever return, please contact me and I will prepare tea for you. Please come and have a cup of tea." She sent me off with warm words of encouragement, and both of us were able to have a warm feeling about each other because of this.
I don't think that respecting this type of relationship has anything to do with nationality or cultural differences. This is because the former students who said their goodbyes only by LINE were all Japanese. On the other hand, some of our students who came from overseas for only a short period of time, even as short as two months, brought handwritten thank-you letters and thank-you gifts with them to their last practice. Other students from overseas didn’t prepare such letters or gifts (which is perfectly OK), but they still came to visit the Dojo to say goodbye in person.
My assumption when I started Chiseikan Dojo was that Japanese people would understand such common sense and courtesy, and I never thought I would have to teach these things to them. However, I’ve now realized that I still need to firmly teach my existing students about these things so that they don't make others feel the same way that I felt.
I think that the people who behaved in this way usually use LINE or e-mail for their daily communications, and because of this, their behaviors probably felt like common sense to them. If they lived far away in other prefectures or were living overseas, it may be unavoidable to send their goodbye messages in this way. But if they are in Japan, they may not have realized that they can use the convenient services of postal mail and courier services to deliver their appreciation. In this convenient world, the act of taking the time and effort to write a letter can be an important form of gratitude, don't you think?
At the beginning, I wrote that "courtesy" means to treat people with respect. This month, I will assign the students in Chiseikan Dojo a homework assignment to learn this "courtesy" by expressing their gratitude to those close to them who they do not usually express such feelings to clearly. This is an exercise in expressing gratitude not only to family and friends, but also to those who direct traffic on the streets and help you to walk down a road safely, to the newspaper delivery person, and to other people around us who we tend to take for granted. There are many ways to do this, including words, letters, and gifts. After a month, I will then ask each student to share how they felt when they expressed their gratitude, and how their feelings changed because of this. How many people will be able to properly express their feelings of gratitude? I am very much looking forward to their stories and experiences, and I will also do my best to make a good presentation from my own efforts this month.
Based on all of these experiences I’ve recently had, I learned that it is essential to include lessons in morals (Toku) when teaching Budo, and not just the techniques themselves.