Ettiquette is traditionally regarded as very important within the martial arts.
Before the gun, skill in close quarters combat was even more powerful a weapon than it is today.
A great deal of secrecy surrounded martial arts and it was considered an honour to be accepted as a student.
These arts are not sports: they were developed for martial purposes
Times have changed, but if we consider the subject matter then it is not hard to understand why respect is very important. To show a lack of respect suggests that one is unconcerned by the welfare of others and therefore unfit to be trusted with martial knowledge.
Those who fail to respect others often fail to respect themselves
None of this is to suggest that the classroom should be a dry, humourless place.
A sense of humour can help to make the training both more enjoyable and more productive.
Classes should be enjoyed, not endured
After all, let's not forget that neither are we in old China, nor are we members of a military academy.
Respecting the past does not mean that we have to live in it.
From a student's point of view, there are three main considerations with regards to respect in the classroom:
1. Respecting the Instructor
Try to follow the teacher's instructions as closely as possible.
Whatever prior ideas or experience a student might have are best left outside.
Remember to pick them back up on the way out so that you can see how they relate to what you learned in the classroom.
Ask questions of yourself as well as of the instructor
Strictly speaking, one's teacher should be refered to as 'Sifu', meaning 'teacher' or 'father in craft'.
Remember: your teacher is your link to the lineage of the arts that you study.
2. Respecting fellow Students
Your fellow students are your training partners.
They will play a large part in helping to shape your techniques and develop your understanding.
Try to do your best for them just as you would have them do for you.
The more you share, the more you learn
By sharing knowledge and experience with each other, the class and its students will develop faster.
Try to put your ego to one side; even an instructor can learn from a beginner.
3. Respecting the Art
When we bow, the student does so to thank the teacher, whilst the teacher thanks the student for carrying on the lineage. The bow is also to thank all of our predecessors, without whom our training would not be possible.
The instructor also bows to the student
An important point here is that it is the student who is expected to take the lead with regards to respect.
This is to show that we understand that we are only a small part of a great family tree. Like a tree, we recognise the importance of the root and so we return to our instructor for guidance and to get closer to the source of our nourishment.
As a final point on this issue, it is worth remembering that it is the spirit of respect that is most important.
Without it, the correct names will be hollow and the proper gestures will be empty.
Code of Conduct
Many martial arts have a code of conduct that is passed down to each generation
as a reminder to observe the proper morality.
Here is a translation of the code of conduct from the Ving Tsun (Wing Chun) Athletic Association
established by Great Grand Master Ip Man:
Remain disciplined - uphold yourself ethically as a martial artist
Practice courtesy and righteosness - serve the community and honour your family
Love your fellow students or classmates - be united and avoid conflicts
Limit your desires and pursuit of bodily pleasures - preserve the proper spirit
Train diligently and make it a habit - maintain your skills
Learn to develop spiritual tranquility - abstain from arguments and fights
Participate in society - be conservative, cultured and gentle in your manners
Help the weak and the very young - use your martial skill for the good of humanity
Pass on the tradition - preserve this Chinese art and its rules of conduct
Return to the top of the page