A dojo is a place of learning.
Shotokan karate itself has a tradition for how karateka conduct themselves.
The protocol we follow during our class is an expression of our interest in upholding Japanese tradition in our karate training.
Before entering the dojo floor, we take our shoes off.
Any time we enter or leave the dojo, we bow toward shomen, as a sign of respect for everything that the dojo means to us.
Shomen is the front wall of the room; sho means "true" and men means "face". Bowing is a Japanese custom for displaying respect, humility, and lack of arrogance. It is not a matter of "bowing down" to a superior; as you notice, black belts bow to lower belts and vice versa.
When class begins, we line up shoulder to shoulder, in rank order, with higher ranks to the right, lower ranks to the left. Sempai (senior student) will then issue commands:
Seiza ("kneel down"): done in rank order, starting with the higher ranks first.
Mokusoh ("meditate"): we take one minute to empty our minds and prepare for maximum concentration during class.
Mokusoh yame ("stop meditating"): gently return the focus from your inner self back to the environment you are in.
Shomen ni rei ("bow to shomen"): we bow as a sign of respect and thanks to the founder of Shotokan and the ancestors.
Sensei ni rei ("bow to sensei"): the entire class bows to the teacher. If sensei is not present, the command will be senpai ni rei, thus bowing to the leader of that day's class.
Senpai ni rei ("bow to senpai"): the entire class bows to senpai. This is a way of giving thanks to everyone for being present and helping us learn karate.
When a karateka arrives late, he/she warms up and stretches prior to entering the dojo. Then the karateka comes inside, bows and waits for sensei's or senpai's permission to join the class.
When class is over, sensei or senpai will ask us to line up. Then we go through seiza and mokusoh.
After mokusoh, we bow to shomen, sensei and senpai. After that we stand up, in order of rank, and bow once again.