The Dos and Don'ts of Karate Etiquette

Have you ever walked into a karate school and wondered what all of the rigid hierarchy and bowing is all about? Are you currently a new member of a karate studio and are wondering what all of the foreign words and chanting means? Or are you an avid student who still wonders what it all means when you enter your "Mini Martial Arts Experience" every Wednesday evening at 6pm? Lots of people share your confusion and many people wonder if it is all necessary.

Here is your quick cheat sheet to "The Dos and Don'ts of Karate Etiquette."

Depending on your karate school and style, some or all of the following may apply:

1. DO show respect to your instructor and fellow members while you try to find your place within the group and see if the school matches YOUR goals and has YOUR best interests at heart. If the school does meet your expectations then continue to train there and continue to show respect to the instructor, the club members and the traditions of the style. If the school doesn't meet your expectations then get out of there faster than Bruce Lee coult throw a One-Inch Punch.

2. DO open your mind to different ways of doing things. For the most part karate practices and methods have been transmitted down through the generations and as such carry a lot of cultural-specific traditions. In many ways these traditions help to accentuate the overall benefit of the "karate experience", in some ways they serve to distract you from your main goals for beginning karate in the first place. Be sure to be clear about why you want to start karate.

3. DO try to learn more about the background culture of your chosen martial art. For example, Karate is originally from Okinawa, Taekwondo is from Korea, Kung Fu is from China. By knowing where your art originated 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 directions given by your instructor and to fit in with the class, at least while you are in the discovery phase of seeing if Karate is for you. You will probably have lots of questions and depending on the situation it may be bad timing to ask your questions in the middle of the class. However, make sure that you ask your instructor and other club members about things that don't make sense or that are confusing before you go home. They should be more than willing to answer your questions and offer help.

5. DON'T take karate etiquette too seriously. A bow is simply a form of greeting, just like a handshake in the West. Some martial arts schools embrace traditional values, others don't. It's not a big deal either way. Your decision to join a particular school should be based on the quality of their martial arts programs and on their customer service, not on their chosen rituals of etiquette.

6. DON'T give up your spiritual values or religious beliefs. Just because you start learning about some mysterious Chi force or miraculous feats, don't suddenly think that you have found the answers to all of 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 was probably to learn self-defense, to improve your health and fitness, or to join in with a worthwhile activity together with your child. I doubt that you wanted to join a pseudo-religious cult.

7. DON'T think that your instructor is some transcendental guru or sage, or even a demi-God. He's not! He is just another human being like you. He happens to be very good at karate; you may be very good at playing the piano, singing a song or telling a joke. Recognize that all people have strengths and weaknesses - even karate instructors!

8. DON'T forget the value of humility. Despite my rather light-hearted look at karate etiquette, it is still important to be respectful in a martial arts environment and not to be too outspoken. As with anything "actions speak louder than words" and all too often members of martial arts clubs get into trouble by speaking out about things that they don't understand too soon. It is better to give your chosen art a fair chance and to let your efforts in class initially do the talking until you feel that you have reached the point of being accepted and are able to ask intelligent questions.

To many people martial arts are a completely foreign activity and it takes some time to acclimate themselves to the specific culture and nuances of the art. Give karate a chance and don't deliver yourself a killer blow without first paying your dues.

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