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Formal Seating Arrangement for Martial Arts Related Picture Taking
by Major William R. Hayes, USMC (Ret. )
"I was recently asked, by a fellow Martial Artist, if there was a formal seating arrangement for Martial Arts related picture taking. Not knowing the answer I went searching. It took 2 minutes and one phone call. This is the response I got from my good friend Major William R. Hayes, USMC (Ret. ) . "Wayne Wayland
This note is in response to your question to me the other day regarding whether or not there is a formal protocol for picture-taking involving martial artists. The answer is yes and no. To begin with, the earlier generation of Okinawans often didn't care that much when it came to photos except where family or government or school (gaku) photos were involved (in those cases the sempai-kohai relationship is more important for several reasons. However, the Japanese penchant for organization has leached into even this aspect of Okinawan life more and more recently and we now often see evidence of strict protocol infused when photos are taken (but, the eternal caveat applies - not always). One might see strict protocol observed when a photo is taken during the opening of a new dojo, the anniversary of a dojo, a group promotion ceremony, or a visit by a distinguished senior, etc.
When such protocol is observed the general rule is that the senior is in the center and the next senior person is placed to the most senior person's right, then the next senior person is placed to the senior person's left and then back and forth you go until you have the most junior persons on each end. If there is a distinguished host or non-martial artist guest present (say the Mayor of the Village or City) then that person is placed in the center with the senior martial artist to his right, the next senior to the host's left, and back and forth.
It is also appropriate to have photos with all seniors off on the right side with the students grouped together (usually in several rows) to their left. As I mentioned to you over the phone, it was also the case with a few old Sensei during the early days of photography on Okinawa (during which time rank and title certificates were not handed out) that photos were used to help establish who were the most senior of their students. A photo showing XXX standing next to his Sensei while YYY was in the background occasionally helped determine the next successor after the Sensei died. Such photos were not entirely dispositive of the issue of succession but they certainly helped determine the answer to the question of succession.
All in all it would be nice to see a return to some semblance of protocol (even though it's not an Okinawan penchant) since, in the final analysis, the practice reflects some appreciation for seniority. However, most photos that we get to see are taken at events such as tournaments, and awards ceremonies, where most attendees just don't feel the need for the strict protocol mentioned above. Hope that helps.