Courtesy – can be described as the act of politeness.
Synonyms in martial arts terms are etiquette and respect.
The very first item on a WKSA grading form is a box with the words ‘YEA EUE’
inside. This means martial arts etiquette, a code of conduct for the martial artist.
It’s placement there on the form is not an accident. Etiquette, respect and
courtesy are the absolute fundamentals of martial arts training.
Phrases you will hear within the dojahng when someone is demonstrating
courtesy are “Yes Sir,” “No Ma’am,” “Please,” “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.”
These are the cornerstones of courtesy and respect. They indicate that you have
good mental self-discipline and modesty, which we have already discussed as a
black belt quality. Also, having the courtesy to listen when someone is talking
will have a massive impact on your learning – and I mean REALLY listening. This
is not keeping quiet whilst actually just thinking about what you are going to say
next- properly paying attention. You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that
A very physical display of courtesy in martial arts is bowing when we enter the
dojahng, approach our instructors and train with our classmates. A sincere bow
means your body should be at 90 degrees to your legs, your head lower than
your heart, looking down. Movies (I have in mind James Bond’s ‘Man With The
Golden Gun in particular) may have us believe that you should look at
the eyes of the person you are bowing to in case they attack you. 1 – This shows
disrespect and that you do not trust the person. More importantly, 2 – why are
you bowing if you don’t trust them in the first place?
A sincere bow is NOT a bob of the head; a senior Master once threatened to cut
the heads off the people that merely bobbed their heads at our Grandmaster due
to the disrespect it would show him! I’m sure he didn’t mean it and was just
reinforcing his point, I hope (?).
The openness and show of trust that a bow indicates is visible in other areas of
Korean culture and between Kuk Sool Won™ students. When we shake hands
the left hand is also presented, fingers touching the right elbow, to show that
nothing is being concealed. This show of respect can be demonstrated in all
aspects of life, whether it is passing a weapon with both hands, the salt at the
dinner table, or money for example.
Incidentally, when passing an unsheathed bladed weapon, the courteous way to
do so is with the sharp edge facing back to you. The other way round may have
historically ended badly as it is a challenge to a duel! Likewise, when bowing in
class the edge is also placed facing away from the most senior thing in the room,
usually the national flags at the front.
One aspect of Korean courtesy I was not aware of until I visited the country in
2013 was the way they beckon people to them. We think nothing of calling
someone’s name and bending our index finger towards ourselves to get them to
come over. To Koreans this is the way you beckon a dog and it is disrespectful to
do it to a person, which obviously indicates you consider them to be on the same
level as a dog. The polite way is to have your hand palm down and use all your
I mentioned earlier how proper courtesy indicates good self-discipline. Apart
from creating a pleasant and respectful atmosphere to train in, the practice of
self-discipline to my mind is key to learning martial arts. This fundamental
attribute is often confused by people who think that instructors are on their high
horse by expecting to be called ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ and bowed to. This could not be
further from the truth. Quality instructors will bow to you and call your ‘Sir’ and
‘Ma’am’ exactly the same. If you show respect and self-discipline you will be
loved, welcomed, and treated as part of the family that WKSA is. You will learn
this wonderful martial art and become a more fulfilled person for it. It will
empower you and you will become confident and therefore respect yourself with
no need to prove yourself to others.
Imagine if we lived in a world where this was commonplace – I’d like that a lot.
To book a free trial class at Kuk Sool Won of Thetford click here.