You’ve all done it. You turn up for the first time in a new place. It could be a new job or a new hobby, or just a bar that you’ve never been to before. You find yourself taking sidelong glances at other people.

Am I dressed right?

Is there something I should be doing?

What if I say the wrong thing?

The good news is that when joining a Shorinji Kempo club it’s possible to avoid all that uncertainty – or at least most of it – by doing a little research beforehand. All Kempo dojos across the country follow the same simple rules of behaviour, so even if you aren’t planning to join us in Bristol, this article can still help you.

Arriving

There is no need to buy a dogi (that’s the white pyjama things) straight away. Just wear sensible exercise clothes – loose fitting so you can move, and with trousers short enough that you won’t fall over the ends of them when you move. Make sure your clothes are clean. Nobody likes training with a smelly partner!

You’ll want to remove your jewellery, watches, and so on, and tie your hair back if it’s long. That’s for two reasons – if someone gets their fingers caught around something, it’ll hurt, and also you might break something. Glasses are fine though! We also prefer if your fingernails are short and clean, to reduce the risk of scratches and broken nails.

Take off your shoes and socks at the door. We train barefoot, and we don’t want to be treading on anything nasty that’s been tracked in from outside, so there’s no shoes in the dojo.

Gassho rei
Gassho rei

As you enter, pause just inside the door. Put all your things down and make gassho rei towards the front of the room. It feels a bit odd to start with, but once you’ve been coming a while it becomes a signal to your brain that you are now in the training space. You can leave all your worries outside and concentrate only on training. Sometimes in life that can be a relief!

If you have bags and things, put them neatly at the back of the dojo out of the way.

In The Session

The sensei (teacher) will stand at the front and shout – it’s spelled “seiretsu” but sounds more like “sir ritz!”. At this point people will run to line up.

Join the grid – try to line yourself up with other people in front and to the right. There’s no formal ordering, so you can stand where you like. Any time you’re standing – whether in the grid or just listening to sensei – try to stand in kesshu gamae. It makes it clear that you are paying attention.

Stand in kesshu gamae when listening to instructions or explanations.
Kesshu gamae

For your first session, I recommend being in the second row so you have someone to copy in front of you, but are close enough to see the sensei clearly. The person in the front corner has a few special jobs to do, so I’d avoid that spot until you’ve been a few times.

You’ll notice that there is a lot of gassho rei going on. Do this every time someone shouts “rei!”, and stop when someone says “naorei”. If you want to know more about the meaning of gassho rei and why we do that instead of bowing, read this article.

Most Kempo sessions start with warm up and basics, then move on to meditation, philosophy, and more complex techniques. No two sessions are ever identical, so for this bit you’ll have to copy what others are doing. The sensei will explain all the movements as the session progresses, but don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand.

At The End

The end of a Kempo session is similar to the start – everyone lines up, and there is lots of gassho rei. Just remember to rei whenever anyone shouts “rei” and you’ll be fine.

When you leave, carry your shoes and things to the door, pause and rei the front of the dojo like you did on the way in. You can put your shoes on again outside the door.

We hope you enjoyed your first session and we’ll see you again soon!

So Now You Know

Above all, don’t worry. Anyone who does Shorinji Kempo is very forgiving, and we all remember what it’s like to be new. If you do something wrong, someone will tell you, but nobody is going to blame you for not knowing the rules on your first session!

So, now that you know how to behave without embarrassing yourself, why not come along and try it out?

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