Every morning at dawn we can see the knowledge of sages.
In every village and town, we can see the pristine essence of the ages.
Ignorant and common people can connect with ancient clarity.
The poor and destitute can recognize true harmony.
The old and infirm are just like us.
All the world's people are our kinfolk.
In the Kung Fu, if the school is interested in the self-cultivation, etiquette must be attended to. Etiquette is essential in providing the framework for right action. When there is etiquette the students and teacher act according to certain guidelines which can teach or direct, even reform, a person in the direction of ethical and caring action.
One important thing which etiquette does is to help slow the students down somewhat. That is, it keeps them from rushing around so quickly and insensitively that they fail to take note of what they are doing -- or give what they are doing proper significance. Etiquette helps to imbue the surroundings and mood of the school with a sense of reverence and tranquility. Even if it is only slightly emphasized in the school, etiquette can give an air of specialness and importance to the atmosphere within the training hall.
One of the most traditional and widely accepted practices of etiquette and ritual is bowing. By bowing when one begins and ends practice, one is given the opportunity to observe and acknowledge the simple fact that one is about to practice or that one has practiced. A single bow by itself might not affect the person so very much but over the course of time the regular bowing at the beginning and end of class can infuse the time and efforts in the workout area with uniqueness and specialness, even perhaps with a spiritual tone. If it is done with real intention the consistent bowing can infuse the practitioner with an attitude of caring and reverent attention which might not otherwise be there.
Of course pure ritual for the sake of ritual alone is meaningless. The ritual actions used as part of the etiquette of a school must be ones which have meaning, actions which come from the heart, or they will do no more than engender resentment and empty dogma within the practitioner.
Etiquette which doesn't correspond to actions which come from the heart and feeling are just violence to our sensibilities. Such sham actions usually create a false sense of worth -- the kind of worth which cults and vacuous religions since the beginning of time have used to control their followers. Such actions that have no true moral or ethical underpinning are false and deceitful. They are hypocritical. They give a false significance without true connection to the actions, making the practitioners feel they are doing something with meaning when they are not.
Proper etiquette and ritual is based on actions which come from true feelings. For instance, bowing when entering the workout area is a ritualized form that comes from real feelings. For example, when one is getting ready to workout and has very deep intentions of practicing well in such a case, it would be very natural for the practitioner to pause at the entranceway and savor that particular moment. The practitioner might be contemplating the teachings about to happen in the training hall and be humbly giving thanks for the opportunity to learn.
Such moments are the foundations of etiquette and ritual in kung-fu practice. Once this concept is clear, it isn't hard to see that offering the teacher small tokens of gratitude at certain times or treating other students in certain ways also come from genuine emotional starting places. Such genuine actions have great meaning and are some of the constants of kung-fu practice. Over the centuries, the same genuine feelings and actions repeated over and over again have formed the foundations from which true etiquette is founded.
Nowadays many people never stop to consider the emotional foundations behind what they are doing when they follow the training hall etiquette. They simply do what they are told, because they are supposed to. Such people miss a very important point in their training. They will fail to get a very important part of kung-fu if they continue to do without thinking.
Such a situation is of course made worse by those who use etiquette as a substitute for knowledge. Such people are hiding They are essentially sliding through life without engaging life really. They may be afraid to go into the deeper side of feeling and intent out of simple ignorance or because they don't want to confront real feelings -- for whatever reason. Such people may be acting out of a habit they picked up as a child or out of a reaction they learned at some point in their life, however, if they could just wake up to the small amount of time, effort, and integrity it would take to engage the meanings behind their actions they would probably be quite surprised and satisfied with the depth they would find.
True etiquette fosters a sense of dignity for oneself, and courtesy and respect for others. It does not involve snobbishness or empty ritual. It is not afraid to consider things with feeling and meaning. When the etiquette blossoms forth to a natural dignity and courtesy it is marvelous. Yet, it sometimes works in reverse. That is to say, that one's etiquette helps one to remember such things as dignity, courtesy, respect, and caring, rather than creating them afresh.
When one is estranged from such natural and authentic emotions, making a point of doing something like bowing or nodding before doing a technique with a partner can instill a sense of consideration for the other person. Etiquette such as always offering to help whenever the teacher is doing a menial job originally came from true respect for the teacher. Such etiquette can help summon up such feelings for someone who has never considered life much more deeply than from a selfish point of view. It may teach someone a wholly different approach to life -- an approach which is more caring and sensitive than the way they acted before. Etiquette helps create the space and time for Mindfulness and caring. lt helps move one away the "gross" or "coarse" mind of hurrying and scurrying which we all too often use in the workaday world.
Through the little moments of etiquette in kung-fu one is reminded of reverence and of paying attention to the more spiritual, more subtle things. Etiquette can feel imposed from without and stifling if there is too much or if it is improperly forced, but if there is lightness and balance to the way it is practiced it can work wonders for the attitudes of the practitioners lucky enough to be involved with it. Etiquette can spell the difference between just putting in time and being absorbed in something special and worthwhile that could affect one in a positive way forever.
Etiquette also serves to make one more relaxed and at home around formality. This has great ramifications in everyday life. It educates and helps the practitioner to see the meanings behind the rituals of public gatherings -- of all types -- from weddings to church meetings, from funerals to graduations. If one is familiarized with etiquette through one's kung-fu practice, one tends to be at home at times like these when formality is the mode. Formality is not something to be afraid of or feel in inhibited by. It is a natural part of life; a natural mode of interaction between people. It may be a bit somber sometimes, yet this is usually only because such somberness is called for or the depth of feeling involved brings somberness up. If the feelings are appropriate and felt, everything will fall in place. It is all very natural. It is only when one is not in tune with the activity, when one is separated from one's true feelings, that things are stilted and unnatural. Such sentiments as somberness are just as real as the jovialities or more fun approaches that come up at other times, and should be respected and delved into with just as much enthusiasm.
Etiquette in kung-fu training helps us to understand this. It is an important part of the self-cultivation within kung-fu. A kung-fu school or martial arts situation which doesn't have an element of etiquette is most likely unaware of the qualities and dignity which etiquette can engender. Such a school or situation may be lacking a very important tool for self-refinement and growth. It may be just about fighting techniques and not the seIf-cultivation of real kung-fu. Even just a bow when entering the workout hall, or a little meditation before class can have amazing affects -- even if those affects are just subliminal or "subconscious" -- toward establishing a sense of spiritual dignity and reverent caring.
Small moments of etiquette can lift the whole setting to a different plane, a plane which can help point out that there is more to life than the gross physical level, that there is more to self-cultivation than just training the body. The spiritual character building dimension is subtle and needs attention also.
Following are some fundamental etiquette guidelines for use during kung-fu practice:
- The training area should be seen as a special place. lt should be treated reverently and held as a place separate and unique from the outside world. One should bow and acknowledge when entering and leaving the designated training space. By bowing one honors the previous masters and founders of the system studied. Through the application of bowing one also shows one's humility and right attitude to learn.
- When within the training area one should treat more advanced students with deference and the less advanced students with kindness and willingness to help. The teacher should always be treated with respect and kindness, just as the teacher should always treat the students appropriately. One should never argue with the teacher in front of other students or visitors. If one feels one must pursue a issue, one should do so at a time when the teacher or master can speak more freely and not have to consider the other student's learning needs. Remember that the teacher must take into account how what he or she says will impact on every student level in the room. A question may be valid for one person, but not appropriate at the moment for some other student. The teacher must consider this aspect.
- Never ask the teacher or master to break a rule or give special exception in front of other students who are following the rules. This puts the teacher in a position of having to break his or her word and go against the rules that have been previously established. Even if the teacher wants to help, he or she cannot say anything without losing face -- if the teacher breaks the rules it is not good, or if the teacher cannot help it is not good -- either way it makes the teacher look bad.
- Never walk out of class early without informing the teacher beforehand, unless the situation is a dire emergency. Always salute when leaving class and wait for acknowledgement from the teacher.
- Before doing any actions which break the continuity of class such as getting a drink, going to the watercloset, changing clothes, etc, one should salute the teacher and wait for permission. This is consideration for the teacher, so the teacher will know what is going on. It is also to avoid any possible situation where one might inadvertently walk into a punch or kick.
- One should always take it upon oneself to help keep the training area clean and neatly arranged unless given other instructions by the teacher. If one finds the teacher cleaning the area one should always offer to do the work for the teacher immediately. Lower level students should always offer to help upper level students or assistant teachers.
- One should always know and follow the rules of the training place and take it upon oneself to teach these rules to the new students instead of letting the teacher do so. The teacher has many things to think about, consider, and plan and any way to help lighten the teacher's load is good to do.
- One should never bother the teacher or master with trivial matters. The master should not have to bother with such things. As the student, one should make all attempts possible to solve such matters before bringing them before the assistant teachers or the master. The students should always try to see the bigger picture which the teacher must consider. Petty personal problems and issues should be dealt with without unduly involving the teacher.
- In practice, one should make every attempt to do what the teacher or master suggests. Half-hearted effort shows disrespect for oneself, the master. and the founders of the system. Things difficult are usually the things that will create the most improvement.
- One should refrain from asking the same question many times. The teacher may respond the first time correctly, the second time correctly, but the third time the teacher may respond to the students lack of confidence, inability to approach the problem on their own -- or whatever the situation may be. At this point and after this, the teacher is not obligated to respond because of the students lack of attention or application of self.
- Do not use manipulation to approach the teacher or master. Refrain from flattery, bribery, coercion, or other forms of manipulation to gain access to the teachings or become closer to the teacher. The teacher may accept gifts but will never consider them in relation to the granting of special favors or status. These things must be earned. The teacher gives when the student is ready regardless of what the student does. If the master perceives that you are trying to manipulate, teaching may be withheld until the proper attitude of respect is restored or attained.
- Strive to refrain from underestimating the teacher or master. You must trust the teacher and his knowledge, even if you do not understand at the current time.
- One should never attempt to use the school or teacher for self-aggrandizement, nor should one ask the master to do one a favor or help in some menial task.
- One should always keep one's practice equipment clean and in order.
- In regards to when visiting other teachers or schools, one should use the same criteria of etiquette as in one's own school until told otherwise. If one is visiting a teacher for the purpose of instruction, on the first visit it is customary to offer the teacher a small gift as a token of respect. This is necessary if the teaching is ongoing, but is good form and gives both the student and the teacher good face at the outset.
- When away from the school with the teacher or master, one should be respectful. Always offer the teacher the most opportune seat or spot in any assemblage and gladly help in any way possible. l a senior student has offered to do the task for the master, offer in turn to do it for the senior student.
- Always keep the teacher apprised of your intentions about instruction. It is excellent form to let the teacher or master know at least a day ahead, if possible, of intention to miss class. Never haggle over monetary things with the master. You should be willing to do anything the master asks if you truly value the teaching. The teacher will never ask anything that is unreasonable if they are a worthy teacher.
When one is leaving instruction, it is customary to offer the teacher a small gift out of gratitude. This shows that one values the teaching received and is leaving on good terms. After having departed from one's teacher or master one should make every attempt to maintain friendly contact and let your teacher know how your progress is coming along. If one has been accepted as a full-inside door student, the connection between the practitioner and the teacher or master is lifelong.