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Etiquette in Soo Bahk Do Pt. 3 “The Dojang, the opening ceremony“

by Steven Lemner

In this third installment I would like to share my insights to etiquette within a Dojang relating to the beginning ceremony of traditional classes. These concepts and etiquettes can apply to many traditional martial arts systems with various differences based on the country of origin and martial systems. (Here I will use my tradition in the Moo Duk Kwan.)

As stated in the second part on etiquette, communication in multiple levels is vital. This can be verbal, nonverbal, and in written format.

Communication etiquette is even more important in the times that we live today. With the many forms of communication it is imperative that we approach it in the right manner to maintain the integrity and respect of its format and its delivery of its message.

Beginning with one of the traditions of etiquette in a traditional martial arts studio, bowing when entering the training area. Many practice this etiquette, however, there are some that don’t understand its value in meaning.

The action of bowing upon entering a training area in a martial arts studio is to come to the realization that as we enter, we will leave our self behind. We enter with the mindset of being able to better understand ourselves through the lessons that we receive from the instructor. It also is a sign of humility in the fact that everyone that enters the training area are the same. We are all students there to learn and to grow no matter what our background is, or our rank.

Each person that enters the dojang has something to give, and are given something to be received. As an instructor, when I enter the studio I always try to take the mindset that

I am first there to share insights/ lessons, but also learn from the students that I teach. Because of this mindset, I use them as the mirror to my teaching methods effectiveness.

There can be many different types of individuals in a Dojang from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and abilities. It is through the action of this initial bow in that it reminds us of our humility and to remain open and respectful of everything that is given and received.

Next, in the traditional martial arts Dojang, is the lineup of the students for the bow in. This ceremony has multiple etiquettes that should be practiced.

The first one is the lineup itself. Students line up according to rank seniority. This is based on martial arts tradition which connects the student to the arts history and their lineage.

The most senior member takes the place at the far right front position. It is their responsibility to make sure everyone from their rank down is in their proper position. They are also responsible for conducting all the protocols, commands for the bow in the ceremony. This connects the members to their historical lineage, which in the Moo Duk Kwan is so important.

It is during this Bow in ceremony that many things happen. First the flag of the country is shown respect and remembered with the right hand over the heart while standing in an attention stance.

This demonstrates respect for the country of which we reside. In the Moo Duk Kwan tradition as an example, on the far right when facing the flags there is the country of origin. This is there to remind us of where the art came from. Both of the national flags ( Kuk Gi) are treated with respect and dignity.

The flag of the school founded to teach the art , in this case, Soo Bahk Do, is in the center between the two national flags, and slightly lower in position. With the many parts of the systems flag, as well as the national flags there are many meanings behind each part to be understood and respected.

The flag of the system relates our philosophy to which we share as practitioners.

In our system, the picture of the founder, Hwang Kee hangs in honor. It reminds us of the intent and mission that we have to carry to future generations for which he created it for.

Next, the senior member calls the commands for recognition to the instructor of the class. This is done with a traditional bow. Its interesting to note that this same etiquette process is seen in many schools throughout Asia to pay respect to teachers.

It’s important to note also that in this etiquette process, in martial arts, the bow is not only directed to the instructor, but rather reminds us of where the instructor came from, their past, or lineage.

This connects us to our past, to its very core origin, past even the founder of the art, to those that inspired him to create the art that we practice. So the instructors role in this process is vital to maintain its dignity and decorum through proper etiquette in their presentation.

The instructor sets the tone and develops the energy of the class as a representative of the art. So the example that is set is one of respect and professionalism.

This ceremony contains many meanings and etiquette processes to be maintained so that we are connected to our history and traditions. This is Moo Do etiquette which also reminds us that as martial artist we should hold ourselves to a higher level of awareness of these traditions.


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