Etiquette for the Dojang and its Relevance

Etiquette in the dojang is not to freeze you up socially, make you a different person, or paralyse you with indecision on how to act. 

Many of these guidelines may be foreign concepts you need get used to and to reflect on with time, but collectively they help you develop a mindset to complement your training and your martial preparedness. In essence, etiquette guidelines prompt you to walk up to the training hall (and to know it is a safe and welcoming place), but then to leave your worldly baggage at the door, and ready yourself for training. 

Irrespective of this extensive list, JDK instructors are some of the most casual and approachable people you will ever meet - don't let JDK's dojang etiquette guidelines put you off. Learn them in order to understand their lessons. 

  1. General Guidelines: You show respect for the art, to the instructors, to your fellow students, and to yourself by: 
    • coming early in order to warm up in preparation for class; or communicating ahead to inform your instructor that you can't come
    • revising material you learned in a previous class
    • having a clean and presentable uniform, 
      • having clean feet
      • practicing personal hygiene
    • keeping yourself and all your opponents safe: 
      • by practising all techniques with the greatest control
      • fingernails trimmed short, 
      • removing any jewellery before class,  
      • engaging in regular strengthening/flexibility/rehabilitation exercises, 
      • being well slept, and 
      • hydrating yourself.
  2. Greeting Instructors on Entering the Dojang: Upon entering the dojang, practitioners shall bow first to the ranking instructor in the room, and then continue to greet all instructors by rank in descending order. As you approach your instructor, greet him or her formally using Mr/Mrs/Ms prenominal titles or their official organisational title or the generic 'Sahbumnim' (Korean). For instructors of Japanese lineage use 'Sensei' and those who practice Traditional Chinese Arts, it will be 'Sifu'. When addressed by an instructor, respond quickly with 'sir' or 'ma'am' and avoid informal 'yeah' or 'nah' in this dojang or any other martial arts school. If you do not know the instructor's name, please use 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' until you are able to greet them properly by name. 
  3. Protocol for Bowing: Bowing is a form of greeting, but is not like a handshake. Dependant on the situation, a bow varies in angle of reclination, and duration. The bow can replace verbally saying 'thank you' or 'please'. The general purpose bow that we use often in the dojang is a bow from the waist of 30 degrees forward for a duration of about 3 seconds. When you bow, men keep your hands flat on your sides (women may choose to have palms on the front of their thighs), don't bob your head, and the eyes look slightly downward toward the angle you are bowing but maintains awareness of the person you are bowing to. If in interaction with a person who culturally bows in acknowledgement or greeting to you, it is customary to continue to return the bow, and not be on the receiving end of an unanswered bow - especially if the person bowing to you is older or senior to you. This may continue an exchange of 3 to 6 bows dependent on the situation, and may look comical to Western observers - but it is cultural protocol, and we will strive to observe the utmost courtesy to honour the lineage of our practice. 
    • A bow of 5 degrees is a cursory bow to convey a simple greeting or acknowledgement.
    • A bow of 15 degrees is used for common salutation.
    • A bow of 30 degrees is your respectful bow to communicate your appreciation.
    • A bow of 45 degrees is to communicate your deep respect, extreme gratitude or an apology.
    • A bow of 90 degrees is reserved for ceremonial occasions such as a visit to the shrine or Buddhist temple.
  4. Approaching Instructor in a Group: If you approach an instructor whilst in a group, allow the ranking member of your group to initiate the greeting or any conversation, unless you are invited by that ranking member or the instructor to speak.
  5. Stepping onto the Training Area: Please make sure you set aside footwear facing outwards and off the mat area before you step on the mat. Bow before stepping onto the mat.
  6. Regular Class Starts: When regular class is to begin, the instructor will clap his hands, at which time all students in the training area will stop what they are doing, move into standing formation based on seniority (highest ranking member to the front right as he faces forward), and wait for the commands to go to attention, adopt a ready stance, and then bow to the instructor. The highest ranking student will give the commands upon go ahead from instructor. Note: seniority is usually indicated by your belt rank. If you are in a line up with another person who is of similar rank, you may give deference as this is the most polite way to sort our seniority. If not, then seniority is indicated by time in rank, age, contribution to the arts/calibre of the practitioner, and in some cases your relationship to the person in line. 
  7. Formal Class Starts: When formal class is to begin, the instructor will clap his hands, at which time all students in the training area will stop what they are doing, move into kneeling formation based on seniority (highest ranking student member to the front right as he faces forward), assistant instructors will situation themselves on the left edge of the room facing both instructor and students, and students will wait for the commands to bow to the flags (or alternatively to kamidana), bow to instructor, and then bow to assistant instructors. To kneel properly, make sure there's a fist width between your knees, your right toe is crossed over your left, keep your back upright and your palms resting on your thighs. To bow you first extend your left hand in front of you, then your right to form a diamond shape on the floor. Bring your head to about a hand span of your hands. As you sit back up, pull your right hand first, then your left.
  8. Recitation of Tenets or Precepts: In addition to the bowing in ceremony which starts the class, the instructor or assistants may lead a recitation of precepts or tenets. Please be conscious of variations in different schools. 
  9. On Lateness: If you are late due to circumstances beyond your control, enter the dojang quietly and wait at the edge of the mat. Wait for an instructor to acknowledge you to bow in, and quietly line up to the left of the last student. If students have already begun warming up, take the cue from the instructor then join in as appropriate. Tardiness is disruptive, and habitual tardiness is inconsiderate to fellow students who have made an effort to be punctual.
  10. Talking in Class: Students should not extraneously talk, 'coach', or comment on fellow students' technique. Students however do create value by observing key success factors of a technique, discuss the difficulties you may be experiencing, and highlighting what you believe may work for you. You may share this if it doesn't disrupt the class at large, if it appropriate to the material and doesn't interrupt the instructor. Speak up especially to ensure safety for both your fellow trainees and yourself.
  11. On Having Fun: Enjoy yourself in class, but work with a serious attitude.
  12. Following Training Instruction: When you are asked to practice by yourself during the lesson, make every effort to follow the original instruction and scenario as was presented by your instructor. Repetition is key to understanding the art. You must endeavour to continue the same moves until your instructor relieves you from the exercise. Never self-modify the exercise without permission or without the instructor encouraging you to do so.
  13. Training is Not Up to Your Expectations: Do not request for special treatment, change of opponent, challenge an opponent, argue with the instructor, question his reasoning, or compare the differences between various instructors. If there is a safety issue regarding any of these issues, definitely inquire with the instructor. If not, please communicate with your partner and continue the exercise. 
  14. Walking Around a Group: If you have to walk within the premises, always choose to cross behind people who are practising, seated, or waiting instruction. Never cross between the instructor and the students he's teaching. If you are physically unable to cross behind a group, hold your right hand in front of you with palm facing to the left, drop the level of your head, apologise and cross.
  15. Compliance with General Orders: If you are asked to move into formation within the dojang, do so quickly. Please refrain from shouting 'Osu,' 'Osu-ah,' or 'Oss' in acknowledgement of that instruction, and refrain from responding in a language you are not familiar with. Swearing is not tolerated in a martial arts class. 
  16. Begin and End with a Bow: Before you engage any practice with your partner, bow first before you do so. When you are finished, bow to complete your session.
  17. Working as Instructor's Demonstration Partner: Similarly when your instructor asks you to help him/her with a demonstration or is asking to use you for partner work as part of the lesson, walk to face him, bow, and stand ready for his instruction. If the instructor has to turn away to face the class for an extended time, you may drop to your left knee, with two hands folded on your right. When the instructor turns back to you, get up quickly, and assume the ready position until told otherwise. Remember to bow when you are dismissed.
  18. Giving Things a Go: You will learn many things that may feel strange or weird to you at first. Take inspiration from the seniors you are training with. Try as best as you can to follow the instruction. Sometimes what is holding you back is your preconception of what you can do. Go beyond this by willing yourself to give it a go. If you are still unable to do so, ask for guidance. However, only ask about the issue at hand, not something that you already know or about issues that do not pertain to the training.
  19. Effort and Training: Train with diligence but do not over train. Do not complain that you're tired. Even if you're tired. Perseverance is the tenet you should nurture, but it is long term perseverance which is your aim for all activity of worth to you. 
  20. On Sparring: When you spar with your opponent, spar to your full potential but always have the utmost self-control to ensure safety for all involved. Never strike your training opponent with full power, or in anger, or inflict a deliberate injury. Accidents can and may happen, but it is up to each of us to control ourselves as best as we can in order to prevent them. If you believe if your senior is uncontrolled or showing excessive disregard, stop, bow out, and bring it to the instructor's attention immediately. If your junior is being uncontrolled, stop, inform the junior of such and continue. If the junior disregards the instruction or repeats this mistake, the senior should stop the match, bow out, and bring it to the instructors attention immediately. If your opponent is struggling, help them gain confidence in a collegiate and nurturing manner. Please read Deliberately Losing Your Sparring Match ...
  21. Acknowledging Technique: During a match, upon receiving a well executed technique that has scored well on your body, safely retreat from the match whilst keeping your guard up and ceasing any more attempts to score 'your own point', assume a ready position, indicate the position of the strike with the right hand, and bow to acknowledge the strike. Then return to the engagement in ready stance.
  22. Safety and Duty of Care: If you believe your safety or anyone else's safety may be compromised by any exercise or by the training environment, stop what you're doing, and bring it to the attention of the instructor. Everyone has a duty of care when it comes to safety in the dojang.
  23. Decorum in Dojang: Loud noise, chatter, bad language, horseplay, taunting your opponent, emotional outbursts, arguments, violence, smoking, gambling, eating, and criticising your instructor are all generally prohibited in the dojang. 
  24. Adjusting Dobok: Wait to adjust your dobok during the rest command. Bow and turn around towards the back of the classroom when you do so.
  25. On the Need to Exit the Training Area: Never leave the training area without permission from your instructor; this is especially important if you are not feeling well or are injured.
  26. Ending Bow: At the end of class, the entire dojang again returns to either standing or seated formation, may engage in a cool down session, with administrative messages or debriefing, may recite the Tenets of Taekwondo, or may offer an ending greeting. Please be conscious of the variances in different classes or schools.
  27. Stepping Off the Mat: Bow upon stepping off the mat. Put on your footwear immediately after leaving the mat, do not walk barefoot off the mat. 
  28. Clearing Up After Class: Always help clear up the dojang by cleaning mats, putting mats away, taking heavy bag down, clearing any clutter, and cleaning the area as needed.
  29. Gradings: Never request for a grading nor assume that you will be promoted after a grading. 
  30. Visiting External Schools or Seminars: Always seek permission before you train with another school. When you visit another school, do not go empty handed - please bring a small token of your appreciation. Please also request fee information and insist to pay for tuition, and sign whatever necessary waivers or consent form as required. Please note that other schools may not appreciate you wearing your patches nor your belt whilst training with them, please inquire of their protocol before you visit. 
  31. Entering Tournaments: You must get written confirmation to enter tournaments. You must also be an active member training for at least three months continuously before any event like this.
  32. Receiving Guests: Always show the same level of respect to other martial art instructors, and always extend a welcoming hand to anyone who visits our dojang. 
  33. On Provocation: Ignore provocation. Walk away when you can. Sincerely attempt to de-escalate. Avoid the fight. Be slow to anger but quick to respond. This is the Tenet of Self Control.
  34. Applying Your Art: Use Taekwondo to eschew unfairness and injustice, and to protect the weak and defenceless. 
  35. Decorum Outside Dojang: The contemplation of your journey along the way or your study of '道' is not an academic subject - it is an inner journey. The purpose is to submerge yourself in the journey to simply see how it unfolds, to discover its rewards by using its trials for self-improvement. The study of '道' is not limited to the time you spend in the dojang. As you leave the dojang, the self control, the duty of care, the courtesy, the integrity, the self perception, and the outward adherence to etiquette guidelines must all continue. So continue to greet your instructors when you see them out of the dojang. Continue to be a model student in all aspects of life. Continue to be that humble Taekwondo practitioner.

Note: Any indiscretion may affect your continued membership with JDK. If you cannot comply with any or all of the above, or if any of the above has failed you and is incompatible with your needs, please speak with your instructor. And if your instructor has not responded sufficiently to your queries, please direct your issue with any of JDK's committee members.

Beginners should also read the following:

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  • Make basic blocks part of an indispensable close quarter toolkit!
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  • Endow simple kicks with (more) stopping power.
  • Tap into martial philosophy & etiquette to get you into the zone.
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