Bow in at the start of every class. Bow out at the end of each class. Say, “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, ma’am,” after the instructor is done speaking. Our dojo has quite a few rules like these which may seem out of place in the modern world. And yet, they are fundamental to the character growth we hope to inspire in our students. So what are all these rules and why do we use them?
Bowing is a tradition which is present in many cultures around the world. In Classical and up through Medieval Europe, people bowed to their lords or sovereigns. While the tradition has been mostly abandoned in the Western world, it is still alive in well in many Asian cultures. Our martial arts program is primarily based in Taekwondo, which is a martial art from Korea. In Korea, even today, people bow on a daily basis.
Why does bowing persist in many Asian cultures while it has faded in European cultures? It comes down to the difference in intent behind the bow. In Europe, only members of the nobility received a bow. However, in many Asian cultures, bowing was and is a matter of respect. A person may bow to a classmate, a business partner, or a teacher. Essentially, a bow is treated as a respectful greeting rather than an act of subservience.
When do we bow?
Students bow often during class. The moment they enter the dojo, students bow and say, “Hello, sir!” When the student leaves the dojo or receives a compliment from an instructor, they bow and say, “Thank you, sir!” However, students don’t only bow to instructors. They also bow to their fellow students before and after any sparring activities. That can be quite a bit of bowing, so why do our students bow?
Why do we bow?
It is our firm belief that martial arts training teaches much more than how to defend yourself. We emphasize character growth in our classes in addition to martial arts skill. When our students bow, they grow many character traits we emphasize like respect, focus, and sincerity.
Just as people bow in Korea as a sign of respect, so do our students. It shows that the person bowing accepts the other person and takes them seriously.
Bowing also shows that your focus is on the person receiving the bow. The student focuses their mind and body on the other person when they bow.
Bowing also shows sincerity to the other person. In Korea, people bow when exchanging objects as a sign of trust.
The Learning Mindset
Bowing helps the student enter the right mindset. Regardless of their background, everyone who enters the dojo floor is a martial arts student. Just like putting on a karate uniform makes a student feel like a martial arts student, bowing helps the student switch to a learning mindset.
Finally, bowing creates and maintains a student-teacher relationship. That relationship is important to maintain because it makes sure the student remains focused on learning. If you ever ran into your teacher at the grocery store when you were a child, you know how strange it can be when that paradigm shifts.
Saying “Sir” and “Ma’am”
In the dojo, students often use the terms “sir” and “ma’am” to address instructors and fellow students. While these terms have gained negative connotations in certain contexts, they are meant to be respectful in the dojo. Whether the terms are respectful often comes down to cultural differences.
In the American South, it is considered polite to call someone sir or ma’am. It is also common for people from other cultures who have learned English as a second language. Older generations also generally view the terms favorably. However, many younger generations have younger connotations of the terms. Outside the dojo, it is important to understand when to use these terms. We teach our younger students to speak this way when referring to elders outside the dojo, but parents are welcome to teach their children otherwise.
Why Do We Say “Sir” or “Ma’am?”
Sensei Basche from Basche’s Martial Arts is from a culture which views the use of “sir” and “ma’am” as polite and respectful. Much like bowing, we use this to teach our students respect.
Ending with a Positive Affirmation
Beyond bowing and saying, “Sir,” and “Ma’am,” we have the tradition of ending every class with a positive affirmation. Our instructors lead our students in saying, “Yes I can!” with claps in between each word.
Why Do We Do Positive Affirmations?
We end every class with a positive affirmation for several reasons. First, it encourages our students to do better for the next class. It can be frustrating if there’s a new technique a student hasn’t quite gotten down yet, but this encouragement tells our student that they can do the technique.
Beyond martial arts, positive affirmations keep our students in a positive mindset. People more easily focus on negative events than positive events, so we teach our students to stay positive for the sake of balance. This also helps our students grow, as they learn to stay positive no matter what life throws their way.
Basche’s Martial Arts has many traditions for students to follow. While these traditions may seem a bit out of place in this day and age, they serve important functions and help our students grow. These traditions teach our students respect and build a sense of belonging through a common culture here at the dojo.
August 4, 2023