The following question was asked by a confused Dan grade, upon his return from an SKU sponsored training/study trip to Japan. While there he had trained at both a JKA & an SKIF dojo. His dilemma arose when he noticed that there was disagreement between the two major factions. One of the groups had the senior grades line up with highest graded Karate-ka standing on the far right of the dojo. While the other group had them line up from the left.
He asked me “Which is the correct method?”
Strictly for the purpose of illustration to answer his question fully, if we detail the methodology that is being used by the current JKA HQ regime.
Is where the Highest Ranking student will assume a front row position at the far right side of the Dojo Joseki. In other words as they look towards the Instructor they will be on the front row on the far right of the Dojo looking towards Shomen. Therefore, as the Instructor looks towards the class, the Highest Ranking student will be on the front row on the left hand side of the dojo, the Joseki.
All other Karate-Ka will stand in line and in descending rank order. They will be to the left of their fellow senior Karate-Ka, as shown in the diagram: 1. If there are several Karate-Ka in the class who are of the same grade status, then seniority is based upon when the student’s grade was achieved. If there are many Karate-Ka who are of the same grade and seniority then the elder of the Karate-Ka within that graded group will be deemed to be the senior rank.
I need at this point to make the distinction between the JKA old guard and that of the new JKA HQ regime, which have made a shift from lining up from the left, towards lining up from the right as detailed above. This shift however, has not been accepted wholesale by the JKA organisation as there are still JKA affiliates around the world, who on their websites, are still stating that students should line up from the left.
To adjudicate between left or right, or even to just find a rationale, then we need to look towards what is done and why in the Traditional Japanese Dojo’s from more socially senior Martial Arts, such as Kendo & Iaido, where the spiritual & cultural influences are more openly acknowledged. All most everything in the martial arts is done for a reason, and the theory behind lining up in the dojo from the left is strongly based hundreds of years earlier in the spiritual and cultural heritage of the country. The Japanese have long held the belief that the left is a more dominant, and is a more important position, than that of the right. The significance of lining up from the left in a bushido a samurai setting was one of practicality. In modern personnel security parlance, it was the equivalent of, “keeping the principle secure.” By adopting the lining up the seniors from the front left position, the samurai was keeping their higher ranking officials, or in the dojo setting the sensei, the furthest away from the entrance of the dojo, as it was considered to be the weakest area in the dojo, if one was to be subjected to a surprise attack.
There are however, no such compelling arguments available to explain the reason for lining up from the right or for changing to it. Having coached at dojos around the world I am never thrown when presented by this discrepancy and I never insist that the dojo change what they believe to be correct. I do however, introduce the historical rationale for lining up from the left and then leave it up to the dojo instructor to make the choice, as generally speaking it does not impact up on nor does it limit the training methodology employed by the dojo. And that was exactly the explanation that I gave to my Dan Grade, “If it doesn't affect the efficiency of ones learning or our enjoyment of training; then does it really matter?”
diagram: 1 right to left
2: Dojo Captain or Visitors.
3: Highest Ranking Student.
4: Lowest Ranking Student or Ungraded Novice.
diagram: 2 left to right