What is Etiquette? The subject of etiquette has concerned philosophers and writers across civilisations for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, all developed rules for social conduct.
Etiquette involves a series of customs that govern accepted behaviour in particular social groups or social situations. Some forms of etiquette may have very ancient origins whilst newer social situations also require etiquette and so it evolves in response, for example internet forum etiquette. Etiquette varies from culture to culture but every society throughout the world has it.
Sportsmanship may be considered a particular type of etiquette. Appropriate, polite and fair behaviour while participating in a sport, playing by the rules, respecting ones opponent and being gracious in defeat.
Why bother? Etiquette allows social interactions to run smoothly and help us to know what behaviour to expect from others, it is an important part of our non-verbal communication, sending unspoken messages to those around us.
Children need to learn how to be courteous, and respectful to others so they can have smooth social interactions. In order for these skills to become part of them, they need to be put into practice regularly.
Good sportsmanship, not only allows participants in a sporting event or competition to expect fair treatment, but gives a sense of fellowship with other competitors.
Martial arts etiquette is usually based around that of the cultures from which the arts have developed. For those of us not raised in the oriental culture, martial arts etiquette may seem a little alien at first, whereas those whose culture more closely resembles that of their art will find it less so. However as practitioners of the same art, we all need to follow the same code of conduct.
Taekwon-do etiquette Let's start from the beginning; the student entering the dojang bows to the instructor or senior grade in the room, if there is no senior they should bow towards the association flag if there is one. Why? This demonstrates respect to the instructor or the association. One might argue that the association is not a person and does not know it is being bowed to so why bother? Well if there is anyone else in the room you are demonstrating to them your respect for your association. If you are entirely alone as you enter, then you can please yourself whether to bow or not, but it is often still good practice, as following that ritual it puts you in the right frame of mind to begin your training.
If the instructor enters the dojang after you, stop what you are doing and bow towards him or her. If you have seen the instructor and others have not, you should call the class to attention and have them all bow.
Bow when addressing or being addressed by, your instructor or senior. When approaching the instructor to speak you should bow first, and when walking away, bow, then take 3 steps backwards before turning. Bow again when leaving the dojang.
How to bow; in Taekwon-Do we bow in charyot stance, heels together, feet at 45 degrees, hands closed into fists with elbows slightly bent. The bow should be about 15 degrees and eye contact is maintained. The junior rank should begin to bow first and should not come up until the senior has done so.
Some Taekwon-do groups bow in Japanese style with hands flat or even slapped, against their thighs. I was in attendance at a seminar conducted by General Choi in 1996 when someone bowed to him this way. General Choi gave quite a stern lecture saying “no, this is not how we bow, why do you bow like this? This is not Korean bow, this is not Taekwon-do bow” and he mimicked the thigh slapping bow before demonstrating as I have described above.
Addressing instructors and seniors; black belts of higher rank than you should always be addressed as Sir or Miss in the dojang. Outside of the dojang, they may invite you to call them by their first name or they may not. If they do however, this does not mean that you should refer to them by their first name in the dojang.
NB. An official at a competition should be treated as your senior when you are a competitor, even if they are of lower rank.
Sitting; during a lesson or seminar if you are asked to sit, students should sit with the soles of their feet together or with legs crossed, or kneel, they should not have their feet extended in front of them as in oriental culture showing the soles of your feet is rude.
Straightening doboks; if your dobok needs straightening during class, turn briefly away from the instructor to adjust it, but do not turn your back on the instructor, turn to the side.
Shaking hands; the left hand supports the right elbow, as a sign of respect to one’s senior. The lower rank should also bow while shaking hands. The lower rank should not offer their hand first but should wait until the senior does so, and they should not have too firm a grip. Opening doors; the junior grade should hold the door open for the senior and allow them to enter first. Giving or receiving; when giving or receiving something from your senior two hands should be used, as with the handshake, the left supports the arm of the right, or two hands hold the object. The use of two hands either way shows that you are giving your full attention. You should also bow.
Dining; at lunch during a competition break for example, if a more senior grade than any currently there comes in the room, everyone should stand. If a more senior grade than yourself enters you do not have to stand unless they are then the most senior in the room. Lower grades should wait for the most senior rank to begin eating first even, if the senior tells you to go ahead and start. I have noticed that one or two of the parents of my child students observe aspects of our etiquette, such as bowing in and out of the room, I find this really nice, as it not only sets an example to their children, but shows that they feel part of our Taekwon-do family
Adherence to traditions and demonstrations of respect are what sets martial artists apart. It is for the juniors in rank to ensure that their seniors are suitably respected with use of correct etiquette, it should not be for the seniors to remind them or to have to ask for adherence to etiquette.
When you choose to take part in Taekwon-do, you take it all on board, not just some parts of it. Etiquette is a big part of Taekwon-do so let's embrace it.