Karate Rituals

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In karate there are a lot of really strange practices, most of which have meaning behind them, but for one reason or another the meaning was not passed along or properly conveyed to foreign students. Seeing what some of these practices have become is absolutely insane and the Western reasons for doing them have completely distorted the original meaning.
 
Wooden airplane made by the Melanesian people.
 
Shomen (正面) is a good example of this. I would compare this practice in a lot of ways to how the people of Melanesia would build wooden planes after WW2 and make sacrifices to the planes in hopes that they would come back and drop food. First of all, a Shomen is an object that is at the front of a dojo, it’s not a blank wall or the front of the basketball court or racquetball court. A proper shomen usually takes up a large portion of the wall, it has shelves, pictures, and sometimes personal items from the people who have gone before. A lesser version of this is a kamidana (kamiza/神棚), which is a shelf that acts as a simplified version of the shomen. Sometimes even a shinden (神傳) is put up (looks like a miniature temple) which also serves as a substitute shomen. So the real point of the shomen is to show respect to those who have gone before, namely your sensei’s sensei and his teachers. They shouldn’t be generic by any means; they should be very specific to the lineage of that dojo.
 
Shomen from the Shinjikan Dojo in Okinawa (Toyama Zenshu Hanshi's dojo)
 
So what to do if the front wall is blank? There are two acceptable methods for handling a non-shomen situation. First is to skip the shomen ni rei (正面に礼) and just do a sensei ni rei (先生に礼) instead. This puts the sensei, who is at the front of the room as the “person who has gone before”…. odd that is what sensei actually translates to! The second one is to do a mutual bow throughout the group with otagai ni rei (お互いに礼). The whole point of the bowing in ritual is to show respect to the people who have gone before, the one who is currently teaching, and each other.
 
Never blindly do things in your karate practice. Everything has a purpose, always question this and find the correct answer.
 
Gambatte Kudasai!
Scot