Understanding Etiquette

Etiquette is the system of behavior that governs everything that we do in a Traditional Martial Art. We define etiquette as:

“behaving in a manner better than expected.”

Another way to think about etiquette is as those behaviors that are motivated by respect.

When do we practice etiquette? As martial artists, the expectation is that we practice etiquette all the time, whether in uniform or out, at the dojang or at home, on the job or in the classroom.

How do we practice etiquette? Here are some good, concrete ways we practice etiquette and show respect at the dojang.

Etiquette Before Class

  1. Be on time.
  2. Be clean and well groomed. (That includes your uniform.)
  3. Do not interrupt instructors or classes that may be going on when you arrive.
  4. Conversations before and after classes (or on the sidelines during a class) must be in very quiet voices.
  5. Wait until you are invited to enter the practice space, even if you get to the dojang early before your class. The practice space belongs to your instructors, so treat it as you would someone else’s house and wait to be invited in.
  6. If you arrive late, wait at the edge of the mat until the instructor acknowledges you, then ask, “Sir/Ma’am, may I please enter class?” in a nice loud voice. Recite rule number one to yourself while you wait.

Yes, parents, we mean you, too. It is very difficult to expect good etiquette from children when they do not see it modeled by their parents. Most parents understand that they are the responsible party in getting a child to class on time in a clean uniform. But look for the less obvious ways you model etiquette. Please call your child’s instructors by their titles (or “sir” and “ma’am”). Please keep your voices low before, after, and during classes and be the one to remind your child to do so, too.

Etiquette During Class

  1. Use titles to address your instructors or high-ranking students. If you don’t know or have forgotten someone’s title, you may call them “Sir” or “Ma’am,” as in “Sir, I have forgotten your title. Could you please remind me?”
  2. Whenever you are instructed, bow. Bowing in martial arts is a sign of respect, like a salute, and not an act of worship. In Korean, we ask you to bow by saying “Kyoung Ryeh,” and we do so entering the practice space, at the beginning of each class, before many types of specific practice (like forms and techniques), and again at the end of class. For most of our bows, we say “Kuk Sool!” as we are bowing.
  3. Keep your focus on your instructor. This may be an instructor at the head of the entire class, or it may be someone who is working with you individually in a smaller group. Pay attention to whomever is instructing you.
  4. Do not touch or play on any equipment unless specifically asked to do so.

General Dojang Etiquette

  1. Leave shoes and cell phones in the lobby. Students may leave personal belongings in the baskets and bookshelves, but cell phones MUST be off.
  2. Students should not eat, drink, or chew gum in the practice area. If a student is in the dojang for long enough that he or she needs to eat between classes, that student or that student’s parent needs to be meticulous about cleaning up.
  3. Weapons are an important part of the Kuk Sool Won™ curriculum. Never touch a weapon that does not belong to you unless specifically invited to do so. Students will be taught weapons etiquette when they begin learning a weapon, and any student who has been taught weapons etiquette will be held to those standards every time he or she practices that weapon.

Etiquette is the structure within which we learn Kuk Sool Won™ and the most important component of self-defense. It governs and supports everything we do, both in the dojang and outside. Remember that martial arts etiquette is based on respect: respect for students, respect for instructors, respect for our school, and respect for yourself.

(Special thanks and a tip of the hat to one of my first and most-effective teachers of etiquette, Mr. Richard Scarry and his helper, Polite Elephant.)

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