How To Correctly Greet A Sensei (Martial Arts Etiquette)

Martial arts are a great way to get some exercise and learn practical self-defense at the same time.

Some martial arts are better for learning how to protect yourself in a fight, while others will be better for competitive sports where you are battling other skilled combatants. 

How To Correctly Greet A Sensei

There are lots of different types of martial arts, as those that come from China and Japan will often be taught by an individual called a Sensei.

Sensei is an honorific term used to describe a teacher who runs a dojo for Karate, Judo  or other forms of martial arts. 

It is traditional for the students at a dojo to treat their Sensei with the utmost respect.

While things can be more relaxed depending on the dojo you go to, it is a good idea to observe the proper etiquette when addressing your Sensei.

In this guide, we will tell you what this etiquette entails and how you should greet your sensei under various circumstances. 

Why Is Karate Etiquette So Important?

Learning the correct etiquette for addressing your teacher and fellow students in Karate or any other martial art is about more than just respect.

Many martial arts are seen as far more than just a sport or a means of self-defense, but also a way of life. 

Karate aims to teach both physical and mental discipline, and this doesn’t only apply when you are in the dojo.

Many of the skills learned in karate or other martial arts can be transferred to your real life as well.

Observing the proper etiquette is simply a means of embodying the ethos of your chosen martial art.

It is about showing respect to your Sensei for passing on his or her knowledge and showing an eagerness to learn. 

What Should You Say When Bowing?

Bowing when you enter the Dojo is the most basic aspect of karate etiquette.

Generally, when you bow to your sensei or to other students, you should accompany the bow with the single word ‘Osu’.

The literal translation of this word is ‘pushing through’, making it a sign of endurance and a willingness to commit to your practice. 

You should bow and say ‘Osu’ from the moment you enter the Dojo as a greeting to your sensei, your fellow students and the dojo itself.

You should also say this word when acknowledging corrections or feedback from your sensei as a means of assuring them you are paying attention. 

There is another word that you should say when bowing, which is ‘Onegaishimasu’. The meaning of this phrase translates literally to ‘please teach me’.

This word should be used to show respect to your sensei in two different situations. The first time is during the opening sequence of your lesson. 

You should also use the word Onegaishimasu when asking for help from your sensei.

It is considered a respectful way of seeking assistance, or asking for feedback on a particular movement or strike. 

At the end of your training session, it is a good idea to say the phrase ‘Arigatou gozaimasu’. 

This simply means thank you in Japanese and will indicate your gratitude for the lesson you just had.

You can also use this phrase after receiving advice from your Sensei to show your appreciation. 

It should be noted that you shouldn’t say this phrase if your Sensei isn’t Japanese or has asked you to say thank you differently.

Each sensei may have slightly different rituals at the beginning of their lessons, so you should always defer to them when asking about the proper etiquette during lessons. 

The Two Types Of Bow In Karate

The Two Types Of Bow In Karate

There are two different bows commonly used in Karate and other forms of martial arts (see also ‘7 Most Common Martial Arts‘).

We will cover both of them in this section, including the different circumstances under which you would use them. 

The Rei Bow

For this bow, you should start by standing up straight with both your heels touching each other and your feet forming a V shape with a 45° angle.

Keeping your knees and elbows straight with your open palms resting on your legs, face your sensei and bow.

You should bow a full 45°, so your eyes are now facing the ground, keep your knees and elbows straight for the whole time. 

Lift your body back up to face the person you are bowing to, and the bow is now complete. You should say Ozu when doing this bow. 

The Seiza 

A Seiza is another type of bow, also known as a karate bow. For this movement, you should lower yourself into a sitting position on the floor. Place your left knee on the floor first and then your right.

Now sit back, so you are resting on your back feet with your large toes slightly overlapping.

Your back should be completely straight at a 90° angle to the floor. Keep your hands open with your palms flat against your legs. 

Greeting Your Sensei When Late

You will need to follow a slightly different procedure when greeting your Sensei if you are late to your lesson. Arriving late is a sign of disrespect and should be avoided if possible.

However, if you are late, you should still go to practice, as skipping class entirely is even more disrespectful. 

When you arrive late, enter the class quietly without disturbing any of the other students.

Sit quietly in the corner, adopting the Seiza position we covered above.

Wait for your instructor to acknowledge your presence and invite you to join the rest of the session. 


Following the steps we have covered above will help you to know how you should greet and address your sensei during martial arts lessons.

None of the above  is universal, and different martial arts may have slightly different rituals and routines for addressing the teacher. However, next time you are at Karate class you can use the etiquette we have described when talking to your Sensei.

Doing so will show respect and an awareness of the cultural practices you are engaging in.

Christopher Anderson
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