Drawing upon multiple resources, including personal experience, I’ve put together a quick guide and explanation of etiquette. Because etiquette is literally the foundation upon which martial arts exists, and plays a huge role in every aspect of human life, it’s important that I place the proper amount of emphasize on it. Let me start by quoting a good description I was able to find regarding the meaning and purpose behind what we call etiquette.
“Etiquette or "Ye" in Korean is an essential spirit in Taekwon-Do training. Taekwon-Do practice must begin and end with etiquette. Ye is an abbreviation of Kyongnye. Ye denotes the way that all human beings must follow. It’s considered the fundamental base on which human spirit stands. That is respect for humanity. Etiquette is an expression, through actions, of one's mind respecting the other party's personality, constituting a lofty and valuable basic attitude in a person. A code of etiquette is aimed at encouraging Taekwondoist to behave themselves like a person of etiquette, always trying hard to cultivate a righteous and decent character in them so that everyone throughout the world may follow their examples. Children especially need far more discipline and order. The child’s overflowing enthusiasm can be tempered only through reinforced moral education, which starts by the training of etiquette.
Etiquette should be based on an upright mind and modest attitude. One should get rid of mean attitudes, showing only modest attitudes, which is an important part of etiquette. Decent and accurate speech, graceful conduct, upright and moderate attitudes are all the essentials of etiquette deserving a healthy modern life. Etiquette is also the source of maintaining harmony and solidarity for community life.”
Since “the martial arts” are made up of systems that teach physical and mental skills to students, in groups, or one on one, they need to be based on a desirable learning environment that works for both the teacher and the student. Because of this need, these arts have developed a behavioral etiquette based around the tenants or core beliefs of each system. This governing behavior encourages courtesy, humility, and respect through the entire process of learning and remains at the core of those arts.
Students must be allowed to thrive side by side, and in order to achieve this all students will be required to immerse themselves into the practice of this etiquette. Everyone involved must address and treat each other in a courteous and respectful manor. By keeping a solid foundation based on proper etiquette, a rewarding system is maintained that acknowledges those who work hard and helps keep structure and order for those trying to learn. Examples describing etiquette standards can be found all over and I just happen to have a few.
“Centuries old principles of oriental custom deem it disrespectful to sit down before one’s elder or senior sits down, or stand up before one’s elder or senior stands up. Traditional taekwondo classes employ examples of this type of etiquette and respect including: juniors always bowing prior to the senior bowing, juniors bowing lower than their senior does, rising up after the senior rises up, as well as kneeling down and standing up after the senior. It’s also considered disrespectful to issue commands to one’s senior. Therefore, the senior student only issues commands for the class to perform a particular motion after the instructor has already completed that motion.”
The etiquette we observe begins as soon as you step into the training area or what’s called the dojang for taekwondo. To encourage a respect for the dojang, the area where all students share challenges, work hard to improve upon themselves and help each other achieve goals, we start by acknowledging our appreciation for the art, the training space, its contents and those who occupy the dojang by bowing on the way in. This custom is also repeated any time a student or instructor must leave the dojang or re-enters. Upon walking out of the training area a student will stop at the doorway, turn and face the inside of the room and its occupants, bow, and then continue to step out.
It shouldn’t be a challenge to engage in proper etiquette because throughout the entire process of learning any martial art everyone is working and training with one another to achieve a common goal, learning the art and becoming better at it.
Be courteous by remaining silent while another speaks, show respect by shaking hands with fellow students, provide encouragement to those who struggle, and do your best to act in a civilized manner. Refer to instructors by their last names only (Mr. Hill, Mr. Smith, Mrs. Johns etc.) and answer questions as Yes or No Sir/Mam. Bow to senior ranks to acknowledge mutual respect and strive to be the best student possible.
Here are some great guidelines I was able to gather in order to give you a deeper insight into the etiquette that should be observed while in class.
The most senior student’s responsibility is to assist the instructor by leading the class and issuing commands to the class on behalf of the instructor. It’s also the responsibility of the most senior colored belt students to ensure that those commands are followed in a rapid no nonsense manner. When represented properly, students will attempt to emulate examples of etiquette and respect set by their seniors and in a highly disciplined traditional martial arts class, this behavior is always present, and the responsibility falling upon the senior colored belt students becomes well known and understood.
We always bow to our partner before and after we practice together. We bow to the instructor at the beginning and end of the class. We should wait until the instructor raises their head before we raise ours. We should always bow when they approach or leave a senior. When leaving a senior grade we should bow, take three steps back and then turn. We bow when entering and leaving the Dojang.
Never call a senior by their first name. Always Master, Mr., Miss or Ma’am. This applies both inside and outside of Taekwondo. If we meet our instructor in the street we still must call them by their second name otherwise they are just empty words in the Dojang.
When shaking hands with a senior place the back of the left hand under the right elbow and always wait until a senior offers to shake your hand.
We should always offer our seat to a senior if they are without one. Never sit down before your seniors are seated.
We should always stand up when a senior enters the room or approaches us. We never stand with our hands on our hips when in the presence of a senior.
WHEN NOT TO ASK A QUESTION
When learning in class it may become tempting to burst into a question. Refrain from doing so until the instructor asks if anyone has a question. Interrupting or speaking out of turn is considered disrespectful. Save questions for the proper time and if needed until after class when the instructor can address them.
NOT GETTING PERSONAL WITH THE INSTRUCTOR
One big faux pas is trying to get to know the instructor personally. Never ask what they did on the weekend, how life is or ask about who they are dating. Try to keep all questions within the context of the art itself. The student / instructor relationship is one of mutual respect but not personal. Becoming personal can damage this relationship.
QUICK TIPS FOR DOJANG ETIQUETTE
1. When students bow they should first stand to attention bending the elbows slightly.
2. In the dojang, while sitting in the company of senior members (senior means higher ranking TKD students or an elderly person) one must maintain proper posture. In case of any senior member entering the room one must stand immediately and bow. You take your seat only after the senior member has sat down.
3. When entering a dojang, bow first to the Instructor, then the assistant instructors and the flag. Even when visiting other martial arts dojangs, students must show proper respect and observe the traits of modesty and courtesy at all times.
4. In the dojang, you should refrain from making excessive noise and attempt to build a serious training environment.
5. Keep your uniform clean and neat out of respect for the art, yourself and all who aid in your learning.
6. Keep yourself clean and neat out of respect for all those you train with and are instructed by.
As reference for you I have found the official rules of etiquette established on May 7th 1971 by the Korean Taekwondo Association. As a courtesy I have included the entire list in this handbook so that new students and old alike can read about the formal expectations that this organization felt strong enough about that they created the list for all students to abide by. Though the scope of this guide is only to cover the expectations for this program and the behavior to be observed while involved, it gives a fascinating look into how etiquette should transcend beyond the classroom. As you read through the list, ask yourself if you or you know anyone who acts in the manners described.
KOREAN TAEKWONDO ASSOCIATION RULES OF ETIQUETTE
1 THE GREETING
There are two types of greetings in TAEKWONDO; the standing greeting (bow) & the kneeling greeting. Rendering standing greetings when a superior enters the room. Rendering kneeling greetings when after the standing greeting, if the superior sits on the floor. The standing greeting starts with the feet together. Arms to the side, fingers curled toward the legs so that the index fingers are touching the thumbs. Back straight, head and eyes to the front. To render a greeting with a bow: the back bent forward 15 degrees; head bent forward 45 degrees. After the bow, return to the standing position. To render a sitting greeting: by moving to the kneeling position; knees together, move the arms to the front & bend forward, place head on hands, then returns to the kneeling position.
2 TEACHER, STUDENT FORMALITIES DURING TRAINING
Before each training session, salute the flags with a low respectful bow. After saluting the flag, the lower ranking students must greet their superiors in order of rank, first the school master, the teacher, & then the individuals with a higher level of proficiency than oneself. During the training session, a student's behavior shall have control and show a high level of courtesy. Student uniforms will at all times be in serviceable condition. Uniforms will not to be worn in public except when absolutely necessary. It is important for the student to use discretion when speaking during the training session. Students should always use words implying respect & honor when speaking too superior. The superiors do not have to be so careful in their selection of words when speaking to students of lesser rank. While practitioners of TAEKWONDO are in uniform, the symbol of rank within the system takes precedence over respect for elders. However, when not in uniform, respect for age takes precedence over rank.
3 WEARING THE UNIFORM
Uniform neatness and cleanliness are of the utmost importance. During the training session, if an individual's uniform is to become out of place, he is to stop momentarily & turn so that others will not be able to see, then adjust the uniform. After the adjustments made, he returns to the practice.
4 HOME & SOCIAL BEHAVIOR
While in the home, at work, or while at social functions, it is important for the student to demonstrate high moral standards, and to show appropriate respect and consideration to others.
5 ETIQUETTE IN SPEECH
High levels of speech should always imply while speaking. The back should be straight, & the general attitude should be formal. The choice of words is important, being words of courtesy and respect. The voice should not be loud, & abusive words are not be tolerated. The student should be careful not to spit while speaking. The individual should not lose his integrity, wit, or sense of humor. The speaker should ensure to use the correct title for the person he is speaking too. Listening is essential & shows respect. It is not appropriate to stare or interrupt. It is not appropriate to touch the individual you are speaking to, & it is not correct to use hand gestures.
In social situations, it is important to be conscious of appearance. The type, fitting, & style of clothes should be conservative. During ceremonies & other formal occasions, the students of TAEKWONDO should always wear the appropriate attire. The shined shoes & a well-groomed appearance should be evident. In keeping with the rules of appearance, good habits result.
7 THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT WHILE IN CARS
The designated driver for a formal occasion always opens the car door for the superior. However, in the rear seat, the lower ranking individual gets into the car first. So as to allow the superior to depart the vehicle first once they have reached their destination.
8 SPEAKING ON THE PHONE
When calling someone, it is appropriate to state your name first, then asks for the person “to whom you wish to speak." When answering the telephone, state your name, then request the nature of the call. All conversations kept brief & to the point. It is important to have a note pad near the telephone in case there is a need to copy urgent messages.
9 TABLE MANNERS
When at the dinner table, all guests wait until the senior gives the signal to begin any course by picking up their silver-ware. When in small groups, all must be served, before eating cannot commence. However, at very large gatherings or parties, the guests began eating when given their plates, so the food does not get cold. Keep conversation's general at a small table. At a long table, it's OK to break the conversations up into two groups or more if feasible. At a business lunch or dinner, the guest waits for the host to start the business discussion. Do not put elbows on the table when eating, but it is appropriate to put elbows on the table when in conversations between courses. Sit straight in the chair and do not blow on hot food for cooling.
Introductions governed by three basic rules, & can be implemented in most situations. Introduce a male to a female, introduce an adult to a much older one of the same sex, & introduce the lower rank to the higher rank. Their introduction should be brief & not wordy or awkward. The host always shakes the hands of the guests upon arrival & departure. Females always have the choice to shake hands or not. Males should always shake hands with other males to whom being introduced, unless it is awkward to do so, for example leaning across others while seated at the dinner table.
Prior to visiting someone, an appointment should be made. Do not show up uninvited. Make it a point never to visit on holidays or Sundays, early in the morning, late at night, at meal time or day of inclement weather, unless specifically invited. Make the visits short, remember that you are guest, thank the host (ess) before to departing, it is a Korean custom to bring a gift when visiting someone’s home. The gift may only be: fruit, drink, flowers, etc.., or something to show your gratitude to be an invited guest.
12 GUIDING A HIGHER RANKING PERSON
When guiding a higher ranking person, walk to the front with slightly bent forward posture; this shows respect. At meetings be attentive to the needs of the superior, for example if he should need a pen or pad of paper. If not escorting a superior or superior's family, but are with a superior, always walk to the rear, open doors for the superior, and be attentive to the needs as previously mentioned.
13 SEATING ARRANGEMENTS AT CEREMONIES
While at formal ceremonies: the seat of honor is to the right of the chairperson, then the next highest position is to their left. At social gatherings, with a speaker present, the highest ranking persons have an opportunity to speak after the speaker. The highest ranking person will leave a crowded room first when the ceremony is over, followed by the others in order of rank.
14 DRINKING AND SMOKING
It is the privilege of the individual to drink as much as he or she wants in private. Showing the effects of too much to drink in public is totally unacceptable because in one way or another a drunk is always a problem. Never smoke in any place of worship or a religious ceremony out of doors; while in court; during the playing of the national anthem; or during the raising or lowering of the national flag. When greeting someone, remove cigarette from your mouth.
15 BEHAVIOR OF THE INSTRUCTORS
The TAEKWONDO instructor (s) is to set the example their students to follow. Instructors help their students to find solutions to their problems. Instructors should refrain from speaking to their students as though giving order, but is to be humble and sincere. Instructors are to avoid violence & the appearance of a pleasure seeker. Instructors should live a clean & productive life free of drugs & alcohol. They should involve themselves in community functions, practice justice, and unselfishness.
16 BEHAVIOR DURING SOCIAL EVENTS
In the event of social activities seating of head table will include not just the senior belts but also spouses. Recognize spouses & parents of senior belts with the same respect. Most Korean customs apply to most TAEKWONDO social events. If you have any questions or doubts on proper mannerisms please contact your instructor. If you are attending a social event especially were Korean instructors are to be present, ask questions before. Many of our norms maybe conceived in the wrong manner. As long as it seems you are making an honest effort. Most Koreans are honored in making an on the spot correction. Bottom line is to behave with self-respect, for you represent not only yourself but your dojang.