Have you ever walked into a karate school and wondered what hierarchies and rigid bows were all about? Are you currently a new member of the karate studio and wondering what all the foreign words and chants mean? Or are you an avid student still wondering what it all means when you enter your “Mini Martial Arts Experience” every Wednesday night at 6 pm? Many people share your confusion and many people wonder if it is all necessary.
This is your quick cheat sheet for “The Dos and Don’ts of Karate Etiquette.”
Depending on your school and karate style, some or all of the following may apply:
1. DO show respect for instructors and fellow members as you try to find your place in the group and see if the school fits YOUR goals and has YOUR best interests at heart. If the school meets your expectations, continue to train there and continue to show respect for instructors, club members and style traditions. If school doesn’t live up to your expectations then get out of there quicker than Bruce Lee can throw the One Inch Punch.
2. Open your mind to different ways of doing things. For the most part the practices and methods of karate have been passed down from generation to generation and thus carry many particular cultural traditions. In many ways these traditions help highlight the overall merits of the “karate experience“, in some they serve to distract you from your primary goal of starting karate in the first place. Be sure to explain why you want to start karate.
3. Try to learn more about your chosen martial arts cultural background. For example, Karate comes from Okinawa, Taekwondo from Korea, Kung Fu from China. By knowing where your art comes from, you can begin to learn some basic cultural knowledge about your chosen style. Your instructor should be able to help you find material for this.
4. DO your best to follow the instructions given by your instructor and to adjust to the class, at least while you are in the discovery phase to see if Karate is right for you. You will probably have a lot of questions and depending on the situation, it might be a bad time to ask your questions in the middle of class. However, make sure that you ask your instructor and other club members about anything that doesn’t make sense or is confusing before you go home. They should be more than willing to answer your questions and offer assistance.
5. DO NOT take karate etiquette too seriously. Bowing is just a form of greeting, like a handshake in the West. Some martial arts schools adhere to traditional values, others do not. This is no big deal. Your decision to join a particular school should be based on the quality of their martial arts program and on their customer service, not on the ritual etiquette they choose.
6. DO NOT give up your spiritual values or religious beliefs. Just because you started learning about some mysterious Chi power or miraculous feat, don’t suddenly think that you have found the answers to all your unanswered questions. While karate can provide some very enlightening wisdom and inspiration, you should always remember why you first enrolled in the martial arts. It may be to learn self-defense, to improve your health and fitness, or to join a beneficial activity with your child. I doubt you want to join a pseudo-religious cult.
7. DO NOT think that your instructor is a transcendental teacher or a sage, or even a demigod. Not him! He’s just another human like you. He happens to be very good at karate; You may be very good at playing the piano, singing songs or telling jokes. Know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses – even the karate instructor!
8. DON’T forget the value of humility. Despite my somewhat lighthearted view of karate etiquette, it’s still important to respect the martial arts environment and not be too outspoken. It’s like “actions speak louder than words” and too often martial arts club members get into trouble talking about things they don’t understand too quickly. It’s better to give your art of choice a fair chance and let your efforts in class at first do the talking until you feel that you’ve reached the point of being accepted and able to ask smart questions.
For many, martial arts is a completely foreign activity and takes time to adjust to a particular culture and artistic nuance. Give karate a chance and don’t give yourself a lethal blow without first paying your dues.
So there you have it. This is “Do’s and Don’ts in Karate Etiquette.”