Shinto Clapping and Aikido.

In this opening scene we see a traditional Aikido style dojo with a shrine at the front to which students bow and participate in Shinto clapping or Hakushu as it is traditionally referred to.

Hakushu is used as a part of the ceremony of worship to a deity in the Japanese Shinto religion. The correct form of clapping is considered to the necessary as a part of the right etiquette to worship that deity. It is suggested that it was an ancient custom that has been passed down through the generations to clap hands upon receiving a gift.

Along with clapping, bowing is also a part of the same ritual to a Shinto deity.

For western people this may or may not be a problem for you. Most Aikido dojo’s participate in bowing, often to a portrait of O’Sensei and or any of his students. My own dojo has a portrait of Abbe Sensei to which students bow in towards at the beginning of the class, student then bow in to the Sensei and then finally to each other. When spoken to by a Sensei, often an attitude of reverence is held (hand over heart). I have never had any issue with this as I feel it simply shows respect to the Sensei and the founder and current leadership of the Aikido organization. I find this type of bowing to have no real difference to the way you have to bow in to a magistrate when you enter  courtroom as a sign of respect.

Clapping or Hakushu for me could be a problem. If I went along to an Aikido dojo where that was practiced I would likely not participate. It is my observation that few Western dojos incorporate clapping into their opening ceremony or at any other time. Although our Aikido organisation does use the single clap to call people to attention and to tell people to stop the technique they are doing and to give their attention to the Sensei, I have no issue with that. I do have an issue however with being made to participate in a style of clapping which is specifically designed to call the attention of a Shinto deity to a persons request.

I love my Japanese friends dearly and love participating in Aikido with them, yet as an evangelical Christian (Adventist), I would feel hypocritical in openly participating in the religious ceremonies of another religion. I suspect many who are involved in Judaism, Christianity and Islam might feel the same way, whilst we respect each other, we also respect the differences that we also have.

I am not sure how I would view clapping as an Atheist, Hopeful Atheist or as an Agnostic. Perhaps I may join in because I would not be worried one way or another, or maybe I would not because again I don’t want to be perceived to be something that I am not.

I would love to hear your experience with clapping in a western Aikido dojo, how you find it and what your response to it is? If you choose to clap and are not a part of the Shinto religion, I would find it interesting to hear how you were able to reconcile that into your training, or if you simply don’t consider it an issue at all?

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5 thoughts on “Shinto Clapping and Aikido.

  1. I’m an atheist, and for me it’s no more of a problem appearing to join in with things like this than it is appearing to join in with christian things. I don’t think people mistake me for a christian because I return their christmas wishes, or for a muslim when I don’t eat in front of them during ramadan.

    In our dojo we have 2 teachers, and one teacher uses the clapping but the other doesn’t. I do as the teacher does, and it doesn’t bother me.

    I thought this article was interesting, and it’s the first time I’ve commented, but actually I also wanted to stop lurking as I’ve been reading your blog for a while and often enjoy your posts.

    Alex.

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  2. Ahhh… where to begin…

    I have trained in Shinto Dojo in Japan and clapping opened all classes. Participants were never made to clap the choice was yours.

    It is important to note O Sensei was Shinto and an active member of a Shinto sect that was known to have ideas similar to Christian values and that Aikido is a direct expression of those values. It is what transformed Daito Ryu to Aikido.

    Hence to extend your logic to avoiding clapping should actually extend to a prohibition on practicing Aikido altogether.

    In its evolution as a Budo Aikido added the dimension of reconciliation and restoring balance rather than defeating the enemy. Budo as love. Direct principles of the Shinto sect. The techniques do not matter. “The purpose of Aikido is to develop sincere and earnest people.”, said the Founder.

    If there is no threat to your belief system practicing Aikido then there is no threat at practicing at a dojo that claps. Train with them with joy and simply don’t clap.

    Otherwise you are changing Aikido rather than accepting it as it is and letting it change you!

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  3. Hakushu is the general word for clapping of any sort. Although it is written with the same Sinitic ideographs in Japanese Shinto clapping is pronounced kashiwade 柏手, also written hikite 引手 and the supposed effect kanjoh 勧請.

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  4. My understanding is that Kami, the gods of Shintoism, are endemic to Japan. Jinja, or shrines, were made, and continue to be made, so that the Kami can have a place to stay, and worshipers can have a place to pray. Clapping at a Shinto shrine is meant to awake the kami, so that you can pray to him. The key point, for me anyways, is that Kami are endemic to Japan. They cannot exist outside of Japan. Or, if they do exist outside of Japan, it is not of their own choice or volition–someone kidnapped them and made them prisoner in a kamidana. Hence, for me, I do not clap.

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