Etiquette in Soo Bahk Do Pt.1 Connecting with others and culture
By Steven Lemner
Yeui 예의 (courtesy/ manners etiquette).
Martial arts etiquette is considered one of the highest levels of practice in the arts. It’s traditions connect us to our history, the origins of the art and culture. Various countries and cultures have many different “customs”/ etiquette's. Being aware of these helps us to feel part of the surroundings and in turn demonstrates to others our desire to be part of and connect. As a martial artist for all these years I seem to see this important custom and concept in all areas of my life and experiences. I have always been intrigued by Native American culture since I was young boy. Because of that, it drew me to want to learn and understand more about their culture. Over the years, I have been able to attend several Pow Wows. This is a celebration of Native American cultures in which people from different indigenous nations gather for the purpose of dancing, singing, and honoring the traditions of their ancestors. The term powwow, which derives from a curing ritual, originated in one of the Algonquian nations of the Northeast. I use this example outside of my martial arts training to share the common concept as an example.
When attending a Pow Wow there are certain etiquette's that should be followed. However even within the culture some etiquette has become less focused on to make others unfamiliar with its practices more comfortable to be able to participate and attend, some of these etiquette's are: 1. Always stand respectfully during special songs. These include the Grand Entry, flag songs, veteran’s songs or any other song the MC designates. During these songs, attendees should remove their hats. 2. The correct term for a dancer’s outfit is regalia – not costume. Never touch a dancer’s regalia. Many of the ornaments have religious meaning and are cherished family heirlooms. 3. Ask permission before taking photos of dancers in regalia. If the photo is for publication or commercial use, this should be explained before the photo is taken. 4. If you see a lost or dropped feather, do NOT pick it up. Notify the nearest staff member (identified by Pow Wow t-shirt) or Arena Director immediately. 5. Pointing with the fingers is considered poor manners by some tribes. If you must point, use your head and nod in the direction you wish to indicate. 6. Feel free to join in the inter-tribal dances by invitation of the MC. 7. Do not ever cross the arena floor! Do not go into drum circles. If a drum group is singing or about to sing, do not approach the drum. Stay on the perimeter of the arena floor. 8. The setting area around the dance circle with chairs are reserved for the elders and dancers. Guest sits outside that circle. As you can see in this example of just a few of the etiquette's there are several important areas that stand out. Honoring the past, (history), the elders, (seniors), the regalia, (Dobahk), the dance circle (the line up) to show a few examples that almost mirror that of martial arts. The common trait is respect. The action of proper etiquette demonstrates that respect.
At the last Pow Wow I attended, I was drawn to one dancer, whose energy, movement; regalia were in total harmony with the song and rhythm. Therefore, I decided I wanted to meet this man. I waited until he had finished his dance for that session and went to talk to him. I know that in the hot weather of the day and in full regalia, it takes an incredible amount of energy to maintain. These dancers perform all day in competition for two and a half days before a winner of each division is chosen.
As wife and me walked over toward him, he saw us and greeted us. I extended my hand to introduce my wife, and myself and told him that I wanted to meet him because of what I saw in his performance and his amazing regalia. He smiled and was more then happy to share his story. He began in the drum circle as a young boy. As time went on, he began to watch the dancers and listen to their stories and traditions of how they made their personal regalia. So began his journey to become a dancer. First, he asked the elders to teach him the proper dances and etiquette of each style. Therefore, he would practice on his own and when able to work within an elder to make sure he was correct. He also began to study the artistry of making each aspect of his regalia. From the complex bead-work to the feather design, leather work and patterns associated with his nation. He is of the Chippewa/ Ojibwe of northern Michigan.
His regalia slowly took shape until he was ready to begin completing. Watching, learning, listening the seasoned competitors. Taking advice from the elders to perfect his craft. It has taken him twenty-five years complete his regalia! Understanding the etiquette, I requested to have a picture taken with him and he was happy and honored to. I shared with him about my study of martial arts and he was just as intrigued. We are now connected and created a friendship. I thought to myself as I drove home how the training in the martial art was vital to so many things in my life and my “approach” to this simple connection was better because of “choon beh”. (Ready) and “yeui 예의 (courtesy/ manners/etiquette). Understanding etiquette demonstrates the awareness of the practitioner to their surroundings and others. Through simple, thoughtful actions in etiquette we relate our intentions and in some cases mutual unspoken communication.
As a martial arts instructor, it is important to share these lessons to students to help them understand and carry forward these etiquettes to provide a full development of awareness. It strengthens our personal Moo Do Ja Seh. Having the ability to demonstrate proper etiquette is not only important in regards to refinement and elegance in the martial arts, but it also demonstrates to other people that martial artists can change a negative situation into a positive one. Simple acts of respect begin small and grow into greater connections. As we see in our society, the need for respect is vital and sadly missing by some that set examples to children. This is seen in many daily simple actions. Opening a door for another, a simple thank you, a polite greeting with a positive attitude.
If we practice daily and we walk on the path of becoming skilled at proper martial arts etiquette, we would not have to wear a martial arts uniform or belt in public. People would notice you by your actions and the way you conduct yourself, and they would know that you have been properly trained as a martial artist. I hope that with that said, parents and adults will take notice of the etiquette practiced by martial artists, as will public and private schools, and enrollment in all the martial arts schools will flourish. This is our Moo Do Jaseh (martial arts posture/ our presence). Not too long ago parents sent their child to a martial arts school to learn how to protect themselves against bullies. While that is still true in some cases, parents now also send their children to a martial arts school for the discipline that is being taught and all the benefits that come from it. The art offers this value. These character traits are vital to creating a strong, visible example to others. Skill is essential, but without the support and foundation of its philosophy in action, it becomes empty. Etiquette helps to link the two. It relates the key concepts of Kyum son (humility), Chung Jik (honesty) to others. Watch for part 2