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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The importance of Martial Arts Etiquette in everyday life.....

Wu De, Dojo Kun,....whatever you prefer to call it, "Martial Virtue" is a very important aspect to learning martial arts and important life skills. When I was a youngster on my first day of Karate training, I thought "Cool! I get to learn how to break boards, and beat bullies up, and look cool!". That first day, was my first taste of "Dojo Kun"....the rules, the ettiquette, and the morals of Karate (and other martial arts). The first thing I learned, was not to punch or kick.....but to *bow*. We learned to come into the Dojo with a humble heart and open mind. We learned that bowing to another was a greeting, a token of mutual respect, a way of saying "please" and "thank you".  We learned more Dojo Kun as the months passed, and soon it became a natural part of training. When I think about it....there were a lot of etiquette factors, but we remembered them. It wasn't that it was hundreds of rules to follow....instead, it all boiled down to polite courtesy.

Times have changed, and so have training methods. Many eclectic fighting styles are out there and the popularity of MMA (mixed martial arts) has skyrocketed. However, these days, some people might have the idea that the "old ways" of respect and etiquette are outdated. When I was learning Karate, we knew what happened if you spoke to others or was moving around aimlessly while Sensei lectured or got pushups. it was rare that Sensei ever gave out pushups, because we all knew the rules. But when those those pushups were given, the offending student immediately did them without complaint, apologized for holding up the class, and it never happened again. 

These days, I meet people that see nothing wrong with talking with others while their teacher is speaking or demonstrating. I've even met people that are proud about how brave they were about back-talking their teacher. I've met people that see nothing wrong with people roughhousing, arguing, belittling others,  standing in disrespectful postures (arms crossed, hands on hips) or even sitting down and playing with stuff on the floor while their teachers are lecturing or demonstrating. I've even heard of students that tell the teacher what they should be learning, or threatening to quit if they don't get the belt they want or the special treatment they think they deserve.

Granted, each school is different. I know of schools where the teacher's first name is used, not their title. I've been to schools where bowing is not required. That's great...but the basic tenets of courtesy are followed. That's all that Wu De is....courtesy, acknowledgment, gratitude, and respect for students and teachers.

But what are these "basic tenets"? Well, as I said, each school is different, but the common factors are:

  1. Respect your teachers
  2. Respect your classmates
  3. Do your best in classes, don't be lazy
  4. Be the best you can be
  5. Come to class ready.....uniform clean and body clean, have all necessary gear
  6. Work together to keep the school clean and neat. Don't expect the the seniors and teachers to do it all for you.
  7. We are all training together for a common purpose. Work together to make training a good learning experience
  8. Do not get angry at other students for silly reasons. 
  9. Use proper titles if your school requires it.
  10. Don't be arrogant or over confident in your skills. We all have much to improve upon.
  11. Set good examples for lower ranked students
  12. Be patient in your training. Do not demand more knowledge from the teachers. If you're ready, the teachers will teach you.
  13. Be humble, don't brag
  14. Don't be afraid to speak to your teachers about questions or concerns you may have. To fear a negative response from your teacher, is unneeded fear. A good teacher will listen and work with you, so long as you don't do rule #12
  15. Don't think of any concept or technique as "simple"....again, we all have much to improve upon.
  16. Be honest in your training. Are you *really* pushing that stance down, or are you watching others do it and assuming you are as well? Your classmates are not doing your work for hard on your OWN improvement and be honest with yourself. Leave your ego out of your training.
  17. Don't take corrections from teachers so personally.
  18. Be grateful for the opportunity to train in your art.

Some schools carry many more rules of etiquette, some less, but it boils down to courtesy and basic morals. As for the people that threaten to quit their Dojo if they don't get taught the kobudo kata they want so badly, or if they don't get to test for the next belt they think they so rightly deserve....think about it.....there IS a reason why you're not being taught it yet. You're not ready for it! Oh, you might *think* you're ready, but that's merely ego pushing itself into the limelight. Train hard and show your teacher how hard you are willing to work, don't sit around and wait for for it. Teachers are happy to teach, so long as you're willing to work and take corrections. You'll be surprised sometimes, how much the teachers will teach you when you show the willingness to learn.  As I've always said to my own students: "If I took my Master's corrections personally and got mad because I got corrected, that would be like saying I was better that my Master. How arrogant that would be! In that case, I would be teaching my Master! And I don't see that happening until the day I leave this Earth...."

So far, I've spoke of just the student's responsibilities in Wu De or Dojo Kun. However, it is a two-way street. Teachers should also take the above listed rules to heart as well, with certain additions, such as:
  1. Be patient in your teaching. Do not demand perfection from your students....instead, demand that they try their best to be the best people they can be. Your definition of "perfect" is probably different than your students. Be the experienced guide, not the dictator, along the path..
  2. Do not destroy the student's trust in you.
  3. You are the example for your students.
  4. Encourage the students, do not belittle them.
  5. Make classes enjoyable yet disciplined......don't sacrifice Dojo Kun to have fun.
  6. If your students are working hard to learn, work just as hard to teach! 
  7. Be balanced and honest in your teaching. If your student is not quite ready for the next kata (or boxing combo, or whatever else), then don't teach it to them yet and give them good pointers on how to improve their current skillset. Don't teach anything merely because a student demands it of you, and be ready to stick to your guns.

There's so much more Wu De for both teacher and student....and as I mentioned, each school differs. Learn the protocol for your school or gym, and stick to it as best you can. For me, protocol and etiquette is much, much more than antiquated, old style customs.....they're what make a martial system an "art" as opposed to just a "beat people up" art. You may argue "Well  MMA (or insert fighting-only system here) doesn't have all that outdated etiquette junk!". Well, to these people, I ask.....when was the last time you tried talking back to your coach? When was the last time you didn't say thank you to your training or sparring partner? When was the last time you purposefully was lazy in your training session?  Did you get disciplined when you were being lazy? Well, then.....Not quite so outdated, is it?

Courtesy, Respect, Gratitude. That's all Wu De or Dojo Kun is. Whatever you call it, the etiquette forms a wonderful network between students and teachers, and with other arts as well. Remember, your art is only as strong as its practitioners.....if the practitioners are weak in manners, then the art becomes weak. If you brag a lot about your skill, then blame others when you're defeated, you're not a warrior, martial artist or even a're just bragging and blaming, that's it...period.  Manners of the Martial Arts are what really tests us.

"Are you merely just 'all fists', or are you 'all finesse'?"
Martial Etiquette is what gives us our finesse.

A few sites with Wu De or Dojo Kun examples:
My school's Wu De:


Terry said...

Nicely said.

I think about these things all too often, so it's nice to be reminded that others spare a thought for it (& hence place value by it) too.

Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

Thanks, Terry. I forgot to add that "etiquette" is "etiquette" always....too many times I've seen good manners with ulterior motives. Remember that old sit-com called "leave it to Beaver?" That character "Eddie Haskell" that was so drippy polite to adults, but was just a rude obnoxious teen out of earshot of the adults? That's kind of how I see it, when people use good manners as a mode of getting their way. Martial artists should remember that good manners won't win a trophy nor will it win any selfish will win win true respect from others...and that, I think, is more valuable than some trophy that will eventually break or fade with age. :)

wushumad said...

Nice article.

How to conduct oneself, both in and out of training, is a type of training itself - training in values such as self-discipline, respect for others, respect for self, humility and patience just to name a few...

Michele said...

Excellent post. Thank you for sharing.

You made me think about the arms crossed posture. I wonder if I will catch myself standing arms crossed out of habit. After reading your article, I will be more aware.

Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

Michele, thank you for your input! I sometimes stand around with my arms crossed as well, and will catch myself. With hands on hips thoug, sometimes it can be a positive can signal "I'm ready for action!" or "let's do it! Let's move!".....but, it also depends on other subtle body cues as well. Eye contact, smiles (or lack of), hands fisted or open....these can add to the message of any body posture. Most times we don't even notice how we posture ourselves....but we're self aware of it, it really pushes our skill (any skill, not just martial arts) to greater, positive levels. :)