How do we show respect in Taekwondo and other Martial Arts?

Respect in Taekwondo

Whenever we have a new student come in to try our classes, we ask them the question “What do you think Respect means?” It’s always interesting; some kids know how to articulate it and some don’t. But the definition we always give them is that “Respect is treating others the way that you want to be treated.” For a kid, that might mean not talking back to your parents, or not pushing other kids on the playground. For adults, it probably looks more like dealing with difficult coworkers or customers in a calm, polite way. But what exactly does respect look like in Taekwondo?

There are a few ways that we demonstrate respect in Taekwondo, in addition to not pushing other kids and being polite with difficult people.

BOWING: In Taekwondo, we bow for almost everything. It’s part of how we begin and end class; we bow to other students and instructors when we see them and when we work as partners. We also bow every time we hand something to someone else. No matter what age or rank you are there is always a reason that you will have to bow to someone else in class. For us, bowing is the most basic form of respect. It shows that you acknowledge the other person and that you appreciate their help in your training. (Additionally, if they are a higher rank, you are acknowledging their seniority.)

taekwondo bow

SHAKING HANDS: There is a special way to shake someone’s hand in Taekwondo. You always shake with your right hand, with the left hand placed palm down underneath your right elbow. As you shake the hand you bow your head slightly. The hand placement is an important tradition; when Taekwondo was first developed it was important to show that the hand your partner or opponent was shaking was empty and free of weapons. This demonstrated your honor, and respect for whoever you were about to fight. With the progression of time the reason for shaking hands in this way has gotten a little lost – very few people are out on the street carrying a Katana today! But we still shake hands in the traditional way to show respect to our partners and to honor our history.

GAM SAH MI DA: Gam sah mi da” means “Thank you” in Korean. We say it nearly as often as we bow as a verbal sign of respect. We are thanking the other person for training with us, for helping us to improve. And if it’s an instructor, we’re thanking them for the time and energy and showing that we appreciate their effort.

YES SIR/YES MA’AM: Whenever you address someone in Taekwondo, you add “Sir” or “Ma’am”. If you are asked a question or given an instruction, the correct response is “Yes Sir” (or Ma’am”; if you’re addressing someone directly you might say “Excuse me Ma’am”, or “Thank you Master Eric, Sir”. It doesn’t matter what rank you are, or if the other person is a higher or lower rank than you. You simply use “Sir” and “Ma’am” as a sign of respect to whoever you are speaking to.

These are just a few simple ways that we show respect in Taekwondo! And whether you are inside or outside of your dojang, the lesson of respect still applies. You should always address others politely; you say “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. And, in your adult life it’s a regular occurrence to shake someone’s hand in either a business or personal setting! Everything that you do within the Taekwondo school should come through in your actions everywhere else – and it all starts with respect.

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