Visiting the Taekwondo Dojo: Part 1
Hanshi’s instruction to me as a karateka at Blue Ridge Martial Arts Academy is now the gold standard for any other dojo experiences I may have. Our long distance training program has worked well these first few weeks, but there’s a huge martial arts world out there and it’s my job to start making connections.
Thanks to a colleague whose son trains in Taekwondo, I was welcomed at the American Taekwondo Association Black Belt Academy of Traverse City, Michigan this Tuesday night. Even though I’ve never been to another dojo, Hanshi routinely instructed his students about proper etiquette for this situation: I bowed when I entered, I bowed to each person I met, I referred to everyone as Sir or Ma’m, and I came equally prepared to watch or participate.
After initial salutations, an upper ranking student introduced me to several practitioners, gave me the tour, and then walked me into Master P’s office.
“Master P, this is Ms. Schultz,” said Mr. R.
“Ms. Schultz, how do you do?” said Master P, rising from his seat to return my bow and handshake. I must have been half a foot taller than him. “Have you trained before?”
“Yes, Sir. I train in Okinawan Shuri Ryu Karate and Shintoyoshinkai Jiu Jitsu.”
“Good,” he said.
“I’ll be at Interlochen until August and am interested in seeing what some of the schools in this area are doing.”
“Have you ever trained in Taewkondo?” he asked. He had a soft face and unassuming presence, but seemed always to reserve part of his thoughts for something else.
“No, Sir. But I brought my gi and I’m happy to try whatever the class is doing this evening,” I said.
“Good. That’s the right kind of attitude,” he said, smiling. He looked at Mr. R, my escort. “It’s black belt fitness night. We’ll do that for the first half of class, then we’ll work forms. Thank you Mr. R.”
I gripped my gear bag. Black belt fitness night?
We stepped out of the office. I bowed, Mr. R did not. This is one way a new karateka has of testing any given dojo’s unwritten rules. Up to that point, I’d deciphered the following: Don’t bow at the office door. Do bow at the main door, the first entryway, and every consecutive mat entrance after that. There was a back room, somewhere, and once I got to it I’d need to bow there, too—just in case.
Mr. R showed me the changing room and suggested I suit up. “Oh, and Ms. Schultz?”
“What rank are you?” asked Mr. R.
“Brown belt, Sir. But I brought my white belt to train in this evening. I don’t hold rank in your style and am happy to wear my white belt. It’s what I was taught, Sir.”
Mr. R cocked his head a little, then smiled. “That won’t be necessary, but…one moment.” He stepped inside Master P’s office again and said something to him.
Master P raised his voice and spoke from behind his desk: “What rank are you Ms. Schultz?”
“Sankyu, Sir. Brown belt. But I—”
“Then wear your brown belt.”
[To be continued tomorrow…]