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?