I have read this page about reishiki ("dojo etiquette") and have a question about zarei (the kneeling bow at the beginning or end of the class).

Many sites describe a difference in zarei for women and men in how close the knees are:

Traditionally, women sit with the knees together while men separate them slightly. Some martial arts, notably kendō and iaidō, may prescribe up to two fist widths of distance between the knees.

But my question is about the proper position of the hands on the upper leg: where should you put them? And is there a difference between men and women?

I have heard that you should put them on the end of your judogi-jacket. I have also heard stories about putting them high up your leg, or almost at your knees. enter image description here


2 Answers 2


1. Seiza gender differences

The prescribed gender differences in seiza one sometimes hears stem from traditional Japanese seating etiquette, analogous to sitting sidesaddle/astride in equestrianism, or with legs crossed/spread on a chair.

These differences are echoed in texts on other traditional Japanese practices which involve seiza e.g. buddhism, chado, shodo, ikebana, kabuki, kyudo, aikido, kendo, karate and appears to have been the norm in the Kodokan from its earliest days to the present:

Kodokan's women's section, 1934-1935 Summer Course for Women, 2018

However, with the rise of feminism in the 20th century, discriminatory practices in judo have been abandoned in many societies (e.g. gender-segregated training, striped belts for women etc), and as such nowadays few dojos outside of Japan expect women to sit differently from men in seiza during judo sessions.

This was not always the case, something which many people took umbridge with in the past:

These are the male sensei who seem to have the knack of teaching women, especially those women who have strong feminist consciousnesses--the women who resent striped belts and sitting with their knees modestly pressed together in seiza.

  • Black Belt "What do these women want?" (Apr. 1975) (p.22)

In Joshi or Woman’s Judo, persons who hold a blackbelt rank are awarded a special black belt that has a white stripe down the center. This belt is only awarded to a woman. And represents the Pure form of Judo as they do not rely on strength like most men do. However most woman prefer a normal black belt like men.

Note that in Japan there is also traditionally a proscription against women sitting cross-legged (agura):

The Seiza (formal sitting) should be the rule of the Dojo. Women are not allowed to sit cross-legged at any time. Even when resting during the session, you must maintain good deportment.

2. Hand placement in seiza

Traditionally in seiza, there is no gender difference in the placement of the hands on the thighs:

[The bows are performed] in the same way, in both men and women, except for the difference in the opening of the knees...

As for where exactly to place them, long as your hands are resting on your thighs there should be no qualms. Different texts sometimes state different specific positions:

The upper body should be straight, the shoulders not square but in a natural manner and the hands placed on mid-thighs. This is called the Seiza.

Rest your hands lightly on your thighs at the place where they join your hips.

But many don't specify at all:

3. Hand placement in zarei

Traditionally in zarei there is a slight difference in the position of hands between men and women when performing the more casual version of the bow (senrei), but it is generally something more akin to futsūrei which is performed in judo, with the hands forming a triangle in front of the knees:

And, in the case of a woman, align both hands at the kneecaps and attach it to the floor as shown below.

enter image description here


In the case of men, the position at which they put their hands when bent is different from that of women.
Men stand parallel to each other in front of their knees, keeping their hands apart.
The other points are the same as women.

enter image description here


The traditional way to sit for men is indeed with 2 fists in between. Women can choose to close their legs but should definitely not be forced to.

The placing of the hands is with your hands facing each other, placed on the end of your Judogi. You put your elbows outward. When you bow you simply place your hands in front of you the same way they are placed on your tighs.

  • 1
    Ok, so for the hands there is no difference between genders. and it should be on the end of the gi. Do you have a source url for it? Oct 14, 2013 at 10:08
  • These are the traditional rules, but the rules may vary depending on the dojo. Some dojo's decided to modernize and have their own greeting, but in the dojo I train we honour the traditional rules.
    – MilanSxD
    Oct 15, 2013 at 13:37
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    The reason for modernizing the greeting is because the Seiza is mostly uncomfortable for European/American practitioners, since they are often not used to the Seiza since young ages. This means that their joints are not flexible enough to sit correctly. The reason for the difference between man and woman in modern European/American practitioners regarding the closing of the legs is because Europe and America are more set on seperating male and female. This has been the case for many things. In Japan however, you are treated the same in martial arts since a student is a student.
    – MilanSxD
    Oct 15, 2013 at 13:49
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    @MilanSxD: Tell me then, why do women in Japan often have to wear a white stripe on their (black) belts? Jul 14, 2016 at 21:32
  • 3
    @PhilipKlöcking I think you'll be happy to learn that in 2017, the All Japan Judo Federation has abolished the white stripe for female black belts, on March the 13th. That said, the original reason for the stripe was that in most of Japan's history, women were seen as inferior in martial arts. Underrepresented, rarely in top class and in general less interested. In 2017 they had to acknowledge the achievements of the female Judoka, thus abolishing the white stripe rule, which was abolished for the rest of the world in 1999.
    – MilanSxD
    Apr 10, 2019 at 13:12

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