Pu Sa Bum Nim's CornerJason Lee
Why Etiquette? When people bring their children to me for training, many times etiquette is a front runner on their list. It ranks just behind fitness and self-esteem, but for many it is first and foremost. As adults, teaching children etiquette makes perfect sense. We want our kids to listen in school and at home. But getting children to understand why kids need etiquette is often easier than getting adults to understand why everyone needs etiquette. Myself included.
There are many things that divide martial arts styles. Etiquette shouldn’t be one of them. It has always been the hardest thing to teach, which is probably why most sport-fighting schools don’t teach it. But when I choose Kuk Sool a little more than 17 years ago the fact that etiquette was the cornerstone of its instruction was of little concern or interest to me. I had been raised to be respectful of adults (and at the time I considered myself more respectful than most of my peers.) However growing up in our modern culture we are taught to be boastful and disrespectful almost as a default setting. Modesty is considered a virtue, but usually only if you are the best at something and we often use the term just when we are telling people not to be modest. Our role models and heroes tend to be the person who disrespects authority, the rebel. Our country was founded by rebellion. Standing up to authority seems to be a rite of passage in our youth culture and maybe rightfully so. It is necessary in a free society that citizens are a check on authority. So how do we balance our social ‘need’ for rebellion with teaching etiquette? Self -awareness.
We are inherently sure of ourselves and positive we know more than everyone else (even when we doubt ourselves we do so thinking we ‘know’ we are wrong.) We are taught at a young age that being self-reliant is important and our socialization has trained us that ‘knowing’ is a key skill, while asking for help or showing any perceived submissive behavior is weakness. In short, as modern civilized people we are very bad at etiquette and very good at being experts on nothing.
I was an expert on nothing, and on almost any subject. From age 18-28 I could have sold you on any ‘fact’. That was how I got my first jobs in college and following graduation. I was a hard worker and I always got the job done, but my work-life was a constant teetering act between what I could do and what I thought and said I could do. This is being an ‘expert on nothing’ and it is how a lot of things get accomplished in our world. Sheer determination against the impossible is what makes the biggest successes, and the biggest failures. Experts on nothing are everywhere. I see them quite often and easily recognize them because I was one. They are often young men, but not always, and they almost never realize they don’t know what they ‘know.’ I’m guessing that this is a survival instinct, (I don’t know for sure as I’m no longer an expert on nothing, or I’m at least a partially reformed expert on nothing.) As tribe members, primitive man’s self-assuredness to take on a hunt or fight off marauders was an asset. Millions of years ago there was decidedly less stuff we needed to be experts on and most of it could be ‘experted’ with strength or shear will. But even though the world has become much more complicated, our biology still insists that we know what we are doing, almost to a fault.
I know how to remodel your house but I have almost zero chance of fixing your car or repairing anything electrical. But I ‘feel’ people wanting me to know how to do those things and you want to go along with them (because it makes you feel important?). But I don’t know how to do those things and I am now more than willing to say it. When I’m remodeling your house I’m going to bring in an electrician or a plumber for the more complicated stuff because etiquette has taught me to know what I know. Admitting you don’t know things also keeps you out of trouble and can open the door to learning that very thing you don’t know. As a third degree black belt people often look to me for answers. I will offer an opinion but I rarely claim to ‘know’ things, even about martial arts. Etiquette has taught me this. To know what you know and learn what you don’t is the whole end all, be all, reason for etiquette. This is what makes us good people, educated people, and therefore good citizens as well as good martial artists.
When we teach etiquette we teach our students to stand at attention, to not talk while an instructor is speaking, to wait our turn, to keep our hands to ourselves, and to say those loud “Yes Sir’s”. But none of that is ‘really’ etiquette. They are the martial arts etiquette requirements, like a form or a stance. They are the tools for achieving etiquette. Those actions are like the training wheels on a bike; we need them to learn to ride the bike but the training wheels are just placeholders for the balance we will learn. It is the same with martial arts etiquette.
Students quietly standing at attention isn’t the end goal, (although somedays it feels like it’s enough). They are learning how to hear, listen, learn, think, devise, act and succeed. Our brains don’t come fully loaded. Most of what we need is out there (as well as so much of what we don’t need). Our ability to quietly filter and absorb is the key, and it’s the whole reason for etiquette. When we are respectful and helpful we receive better information from the world around us. When we are quiet and listen we are better able to absorb and decode whether something is helpful or garbage. The fact that as courteous respectful people life is easier should be simple for us to understand, but it is much like exercise and eating correctly make us physically healthy; in our society it can be hard to stay on the path.
So stand at attention, it’s good for the body, mind and heart. Listen before you speak, speak when it’s appropriate, and show respect even for someone who is clearly not correct. Etiquette will bring you understanding.
Etiquette is the cornerstone of Kuk Sool Won. It’s the whole reason we are training. If we create our strongest physical self, our strongest mental self and are the best person we can be, then we can become a complete human being. We can become the person we are supposed to be.
Cha Ryuht! Kyung Heh. Bah Roh.