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Tales from the Do-jang: Two Visitors

20 July 2007

Some back story: This is my second go at taekwon-do. The first one was aborted because of some health issues and a subsequent change of address. I had reached 1st gup high red belt — one step below black — in an independent ITF-style school.

After a year off, I joined a USTF gym in my area, which is a traditional ITF style. It didn’t hurt that my good friend is the assistant instructor there. The head instructor honored my rank but asked me to go through a rapid-track curriculum, wherein I progress through the ranks as I re-master the material. I’m back up to 4th gup low blue belt.

A couple of months ago, our head instructor followed her lifelong dream and moved away, leaving the school in my friend’s capable hands. There have been teething troubles, to be sure, but overall things have been going well.

Our program is affiliated with the city’s parks and recreation department, which
also sponsors another USTF program run by a separate school. Though we’re part of the same federation, our two schools are very different. In the past, we’ve co-existed peacefully, but we had an interesting occurrence happen at the do-jang (gym) last night.

Two black belts from the other rec center program visited our class, the first time this has happened in recent memory. The first man was a II Dan (read "second degree black belt"), making him the same rank as our head instructor and even perhaps his senior (that is to say, the visitor may have been a II Dan longer than our instructor). The other man was a I Dan.

We have a gym policy against wearing jewelry, because of an increased risk of injury. (I’m not certain, but that might be a federation-wide policy.) Heck, I cut myself pretty good with my fingernail just last week. Metal can just makes things worse.

Right after warm-ups, as we were doing techniques across the floor, our head instructor noticed that the I Dan was wearing a plain silver ring. He paused class and cordially asked the man to remove it, but he refused. The room became instantly tense, but our instructor continued to be most courteous.

As an alternative, one may tape jewelry, so our instructor politely requested he do that instead, but the man also refused, stating he didn’t want to deface his wedding ring and that it was "fine", i.e. not an issue. When asked by whose determination it was deemed to be acceptable to wear it, the man stunned me by saying it was by his own determination! After establishing that the request was given with proper etiquette, our instructor excused the man from the gym.

Training then proceeded, and afterwards the II Dan said he enjoyed our class.

I wrote this because I feel it is the height of discourtesy to come into another instructor’s gym as a guest and openly defy him or her. Courtesy is one of the five tenets of taekwon-do. And, the USTF teaches as part of its Required Knowledge that one of the nine reasons for practicing courtesy is "to distinguish instructor from student, senior from junior, and elder from younger", which was true in this case: our instructor was the man’s senior and his elder. And, part of the student’s responsibility to the student-instructor relationship is to "never be disrespectful to the instructor" and to "set a good example for lower ranking students".

It will be interesting to see if anything more comes of their visit.

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