The ceremonies described below are the opening and closing bows (reiho) used for Iaido at Matsu Kai Dojo. It is intended as a simple instruction guide for both new students and new to-ban. I hope that by understanding the reiho that you can become more comfortable with it and, as a result, have a better practice.
To-ban is the person who announces reiho. This very important task may be assigned to any student in the dojo that day. In many ways to-ban sets the tone for the practice. A strong, well organized reiho gives everyone a sense of focus and excitement. Therefore, each person should prepare carefully for the time they will be called upon to be to-ban.
To-ban must know the commands and their order and should announce them with confidence, clarity, spirit, and proper timing. The announcements need not be loud or sharp as long as they are clear and give a sense of control and command. A proper announcement should almost compel everyone in the dojo to comply yet should not be brash, arrogant or offensive.
Opening Reiho (Ceremony)
Here are the commands (in order) and what they mean:
- SEIZETE (say ZETs) – “line up (in rank order)” – Rank order is from sensei’s left in order of dan (higher dans first). Where dan rank is the same the one that has been with the dojo longer is usually considered senior. If both are the same (or similar) then age is the final determiner (older being higher). Everyone should arrange themselves to the left of the most senior student in a straight line. If a student is in the dojo for the first time, to-ban should allow some extra time for people to assemble. This allows the students to shuffle into a new order. However, if this takes too long a senior student or sensei will assign a position to the new person. In the case of a large class, people should form two or more lines (as required) with the children in the front row and the adults behind. To-ban sets the maai (distance) from the students to sensei. This is done by simply taking the proper place to the right of sensei. Maai is somewhat a matter of taste with a close maai creating an intimate feeling and far maai creating a more formal feeling. It also depends on the size of the class with a large class needing somewhat more maai than a small one. Everyone should watch carefully and adjust maai to match the senior student(s) or as sensei indicates. Seating arrangements for visiting sensei, assistant teachers, and seniors are handled by sensei.
- SHYOMEN-NI-REI (show men ni RAY): – bow to the dojo center: When to-ban announces shyomen, everyone turns to shyomen and moves their sword from the left hand to the right. In the process the sword is turned upside down and backward as a sign of respect and non-aggression. There should be a pause until to-ban senses that everyone is ready to bow. Special attention must be paid to the sensei who may have to turn around completely to get into position but, other than waiting for sensei, don’t make this pause too long. Once everyone is ready, to-ban announces rei. Everyone bows, returns their sword back to their left side, and turns back to face sensei without further announcement.
- SEIZA (say ZA) – invitation to sit – To-ban should pause here to determine (by watching) if sensei will sit first or wait for the announcement. If sensei sits then to-ban waits until sensei is settled. Otherwise, to-ban announces seiza after a brief pause. If sensei waits for the announcement everyone should wait until sensei is almost seated before starting seiza. This is a sign of respect that should not be overlooked.
If the situation is very formal (e.g., visiting teachers) or if students wish to be very respectful they may also wait until their seniors begin to sit before they begin. However, be careful not to create a wave. Junior students should be just slightly behind the seniors as it is important not to waste valuable practice time.
After sitting each person should once again move the sword to their right side and place it on the floor with the edge facing inward, the entire sword straight forward, and the tsuba level with their knees.
- MOKKSO (mock SO): -eyes closed (for meditation) – When to-ban announces mokkso everyone should close their eyes (or almost close them) and fold their hands into a mediation position. Traditionally, the left hand is placed gently in the right palm with the thumbs just touching.It is important to remain still and to try to clear your mind for practice. Give yourself permission to set life’s worries aside for the length of this practice. Try to bring positive feelings and energy into the dojo. It will help your practice and will rub off on your fellow students.
To-ban is responsible for the length of mokkso and it should not be rushed. Around five deep slow breaths are usually good although this varies with the feeling in the dojo. New to-ban should discuss with sensei if the length of their mokkso is adequate.
- (MOKKSO) YAME (mock so YAMA): – meditation stop (is over) – When to-ban announces this command everyone should open their eyes and reposition their hands in normal seiza posture.
- SENSEI-NI REI (sen-say-knee RAY): bow to sensei: To-ban should pause slightly after shinza-ni-rei to give everyone a moment to focus on this important bow. Then, to-ban should syncopate the command. It should be sensei-ni (pause) REI. Do not run the two together.It is considered polite for students to bow slightly sooner than sensei and to delay rising just slightly so they are behind as sensei rises.
- TO REI (TO rei): – bow to your sword: This important bow should be done carefully and according to the teaching of you sensei. Please be sure to ask sempai or sensei about to-rei. Once you have completed to-rei you should stand and be ready to start practice.
Most activities in the closing ceremony are the same as in the opening but the order is a little different.
- TO REI (TO rei): – bow to your sword: This bow is similar to the opening to-rei but it is not the same. Again, please be sure to ask sempai or sensei about how to perform this to-rei. Once you have completed to-rei you should wait for to-ban to announce seizetes.
- SEIZETES (say ZETs): As in opening reiho.
- SEIZA (say ZA): As in opening reiho.
- MOKKSO (mock SO): As in opening reiho.
- MOKKSO YAME (mock so YAMA): As in opening reiho.
- SENSEI-NI REI (sen-say-knee RAY): As in opening reiho.
- OTAGAINI REI (o-toe-guy-a-knee RAY) or SOGONI-REI (so-go-knee RAY) – bow to each other: The top student turns to their right, the next person to the left, next right, next left and so on down the line. Then everyone bows to the person they are facing. Then each person turns to the person on the other side of them and bows. After bowing to each person you turn back to sensei.
Sensei may choose to address the class at this point. You should try to sit straight and listen carefully.
- REI (RAY): When sensei is finished speaking to-ban calls for a final REI. It is sometimes a challenge to know when sensei is finished speaking but to-ban should err on the side of caution rather than announce before sensei is done speaking.
Individual REI (optional): If you wish you may approach and bow individually with those who helped you during this practice. You should do this in approximately rank order – higher ranks first. Remember that everyone else is doing this as well so be considerate and wait your chance. It is acceptable to join in with a number of others in these bows.
This is your chance to ask questions on technique, history, etiquette, and so on. The strength of your Iaido is not only in your physical skill but in your knowledge and understanding. Sensei is your guide in these areas. Through careful questions (and subsequent thought) you can greatly improve your practice.