Every martial art, and every organization or school, within it, is going to have a different set of behavioral expectations for its students. Within Asian martial arts, especially, there are certain things that are expected that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. For someone new to martial arts, or someone visiting another school, it can be difficult to know what you are supposed to do. While there are no standards, there are some things you can do that will help. Since I will be visiting another dojo, this week, myself, I figured I would share some of my thoughts on the topic.
Introduce Yourself in Advance
When visiting a school for the first time, whether you’re brand new to martial arts or not, it’s important to introduce yourself in advance. If you already know someone who knows the instructor, it’s best to have them reach out for you. This helps establish a connection to the instructor, and they will usually be more willing to open their school to you. Once this has been done, you should still contact the instructor, yourself. Again, this makes you seem more like an individual, and less like a nebulous “prospective student.” As always, be polite and respectful, and use proper grammar and spelling if you are using email or a letter to contact the instructor.
When in Doubt, Bow
Asian martial arts make extensive use of bowing, so if you are ever confused about whether you should bow or not, you might as well bow. There are certain times when you will most likely be expected to bow, though. When you enter the school, it’s often customary to bow–exactly where, and to whom/what may vary, but however you choose to do it should be fine, as a visitor. It is also customary to bow before you step onto the mat, or workout floor. Again, where, and to whom/what may vary, but you can observe what regular students do to get an idea. Most classes will start and end with some type of group bow-in/bow-out, and you will be expected to bow to your partner before and after practicing any type of drill with them.
Empty Your Cup
If you already hold rank in another martial art, you should bring a white belt with you. Remember that, unless the school is within the same organization as yours, you have no rank there. Put the white belt on, and line up wherever the other beginners line up. The instructor may ask you to wear your regular belt (he/she should know about your experience from your introductions), but don’t assume that they will. If they do, it’s important to keep a white belt attitude while you are in class, regardless of the color the belt around your waist is. All that said, it’s also important that you don’t keep your experience a secret. If any of the other students or instructors ask about your experience, you should let them know how long you have trained, and in what art. Similarly, there are some situations (like sparring) where it is important for your partner to know what your experience level is. Be humble, but honest.