What is the purpose of etiquette and why does it matter that we use certain words more often than others, act in certain ways instead of others, and so on? How do we take charge of our relationships on and off the mat towards the ultimate goal of daily Aikido training: Masagatsu Agatsu.
Belief Influences Behavior.
Everyone is familiar with this pop psychology reference. It's a pretty obvious idea that we all behave in ways that reflect our beliefs. Behaviors of course mean anything we take past the thought of it including actions, words, gestures, etc...
In Aikido, traveling from dojo to dojo, one might come to realize that there are so many variations on etiquette, and of course, the repercussions associated with making a mistake. It would be an easy thing to decide that one person's approach is the right or wrong one, but in reality, it is the underlying current of the purpose of etiquette that matters most: mutual respect.
For example (we can stick with Japan since Aikido is a traditional Japanese martial art): in Japan we have a number of suffixes that are often added to a person's name when speaking to or about them.
Kun or Chan: often denotes extreme familiarity, often someone your own age that you are friends with, even romantically.
San: the golden standard for "Mr." and its equivalents, where respect is shown (in Judo for example, calling someone -san is a show of great respect).
Sama: one step up from san, someone who commands great respect, often in places of authority over you.
Sempai/Kohai: these are usually taken together because the two individuals who represent these terms are linked. In our dojo for example, a sempai is anyone who has been training longer than you and a kohai is, of course, the opposite. However, there is tremendous responsibility placed on this coupling in a dojo, as sempai is responsible for ensuring that kohai is practicing safely, growing while they train together, and that they share in the daily/weekly/monthly/yearly practice. Kohai of course, is the one who looks up to the sempai as a guide when it comes to technique, etiquette, and their overall dojo journey.
NOTE: It's critical to understand that this relationship is not determined by default and always true in our dojo, as these "lifelong assignations" often breed complacency and a sense of "built-in leadership" on the part of sempai that kohai must simply accept - this of course, is nonsensical. To continue being a sempai, one must consistently demonstrate an eagerness to support, encourage, and build-up kohai. A kohai must always be vigilant in honoring the sempai/kohai relationship, that a sempai does not take advantage of it - if they do - this is no sempai, but a pretender who has simply paid their dues longer than you.
Sensei: this is a delicate one for a number of reasons. While it's important to keep the Japanese application of the word Sensei in perspective, we must also recognize that for most of us, we are not Japanese and never will be; and that's OKAY. In Japan, "sensei" is a term used for anyone you are learning from or coming to for expertise. For example: in Japan, school teachers, doctors, and of course martial arts instructors, are called sensei.
Behavior Influences Belief.
The corollary to the first concept and often missed and woefully undervalued. We often talk about this idea when it comes to diets, fitness, or any other routine we are trying to establish. How we behave, as a result of our beliefs, of course reinforces those beliefs. Often, however, we are in situations, whether by our own determination, or by another's influence, to behave in a way that is inconsistent with our beliefs (even if only slightly).
For example: you move from one city to another and join a new dojo. Well, in your previous dojo, etiquette might have dictated that you bow when entering the dojo, remove your shoes, and proceed to change for class. In your new dojo, it could be that the chief instructor has an office by the front door, and it is expected that you also bow in the direction of the office before changing for class (for those who think this is "over