Martial Arts


Training in Korea
Part 5 of 5

By Master Todd Huddleston - 8th Dan
Yonsei Martial Arts Academy, New Orleans, LA

Etiquette and Protocol

When it comes to training in Korea, one cannot separate etiquette from the physical aspects of training. Etiquette is training and training is etiquette. This comes from the dominant Confucianism philosophy that is ingrained in Korean culture. First and foremost, I had to be accepted to train at the headquarters school. That meant I couldn't just walk off the street and announce I was going to start there next week. I had to know someone who knew the head master at headquarters who would introduce me to him. After meeting with the master, he would then decide if I could train or not. There was no other way for me to train there than this.

Fortunately, I did know someone who had already trained there who was able to set up a meeting for me. I went there on a Saturday, and was introduced to the head master. He looked at my black belt ID cards and, as is always done in Korea,  asked who my master was. I answered, but no one knew him since he was not a current member of the Korean Soo Bak Do Association or the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Association. This proved to be a big problem since there was no way to prove if my rank was legitimate. If my master was someone they knew and in good standing with their organization, I would more than likely be welcomed. If not, then things were difficult, which was my situation.

Soon afterwards, there was a lot of discussion about me, and due to the language barrier I wasn't sure what was being said. What saved me was a name on my first-degree black belt ID card. (My 2nd degree and 3rd degree cards were different.) The master at the headquarters school knew the master's name that was on the card, who was the president of the organization that we were supposedly a part of, and he called him on the spot. After confirming that my instructor was a Tang Soo Do master they knew, I was accepted to the school. If that name hadn't been there, I would not have been allowed to train there. However, my dilemma did not end there since the head master then wanted a letter from my instructor asking his permission for me to train at headquarters. He yelled at me every day until he received the letter, which I had to fly back to the U.S. to get because my master did not send one. I didn't know it would be that difficult but that was the protocol in the "land of the morning calm."

Proper etiquette was observed at all times at the headquarters school. When a student walked into the dojang he had to bow to the Korean flag. You also had to bow to a senior student who might be there. Students were also expected to go to the master's office and then bow to him as well, to let him know that you were there. When a student left, he had to go to the office and bow to say goodbye.

When you handed things to others there was a certain way to do so. Anything other then the correct, respectful way was unacceptable. Once, after coming back from vacation and arriving late, I didn't bow and say hello to the master when I arrived. He made it a point to mention this to all the other students after class in my presence, being sure to emphasize that this was not right, and he ordered them not to do the same. Even if you were leaving the school forever, proper etiquette dictated seeing the master, giving him a gift and thanking him for his teaching. 

This is what made Tang Soo Do training in Korea special.

Final Thoughts

What I have written is just a small sample of my experiences training in Korea. There were many other challenges after all is said and done, I was made a better person and a better martial artist because of it. My eternal gratitude goes to Master Han Chi Sup who made me earn everything I gained while I was there, and I still am benefiting from his teachings.

Part 1   -   Part 2   -   Part 3   -   Part 4   -   Part 5



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