Each new belt rank introduces a novel set of skills and experiences. These often require you to consider additional etiquette practices. They also require that you understand how you might initially react to new situations so you can avoid embarrassment and offending another practitioner.
The primary new skill you encounter in this belt is sparring. Sparring has an associated set of standard etiquette that all Tensoku Ryu practitioners should observe. Most of these are also observed by other martial arts systems.
Tensoku Ryu Sparring Etiquette
During your training, you may engage in formal or informal matches pitting your sparring skills against another practitioner. To ensure everyone maintains a safe training environment we have a set of common practices and courtesies that all Tensoku Ryu practitioners should observe.
The first set of these practices involves the start of a match. Typically the referee (or instructor) will have the two sparring participants stand some distance apart. The referee will then ask the two participants to bow to the referee. Next, the two participants will be asked to bow to one another. The referee may ask the two participants to touch gloves before the match (or round) begins.
Each of these steps intends to instill a sense of respect, decorum, dignity, and control to the match. Practitioners are expected to observe these practices with integrity and respect. Open hostility, disrespect, or belligerent actions before a round starts will not be permitted. The round will be delayed, or perhaps preempted if one or both participants cannot maintain civility.
During training or in practice matches you may occasionally strike your training partner in an unintended location or with excessive contact. We suggest that you apologize if the contact was accidental. It helps to prevent retaliatory hostilities if your opponent knows you did not intend to deliver the resulting strike. Sparring does not mean you need to forego common courtesy.
You may also want to simply congratulate your opponent when he or she outmaneuvers you, delivers a successful strike, or wins a match. It helps foster good sportsmanship and puts you in the proper mindset to learn from your mistakes.
It would be most unfortunate if you decided to test your newly found sparring skills on friends, work associates, or at the neighborhood pub. Sparring belongs in the realm of training or organized competitive events. It is not a skill to be practiced on unsuspecting or unskilled victims. Practice only with skilled practitioners. You will learn more. Besides, sparring in a bar brawl is akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight.
While training, you will undergo various drills and training activities with a partner. That partner may be your instructor or another practitioner. Be careful that you do not vary from the current training activity when working with a partner. If the drill is to practice avoiding a high kick, do not decide this is the perfect opportunity to sneak in a low kick or to punch to the abdomen instead. Such practices, while they do occur on occasion, are rude. Keep in mind that your training partner will now seek an opportunity for reprisal.
At times a training partner may suffer an injury. Take the time to help them and to seek greater medical attention if warranted. An injured training partner is not a sign of victory. It represents an accident, a lack of control, or an act of intentional hostility. If you have injured someone it is your responsibility to provide any necessary assistance.
If you are the person who has been injured or if you feel you are the victim of a disrespectful act, resist the temptation to become enraged and to retaliate. Seek remedies other than violence when possible. Warn your training partner that you feel his or her action was inappropriate and you do not want that activity repeated. If that fails, discuss the matter with an instructor or your Head Instructor. Perhaps you have an incorrect view of the situation. Perhaps an instructor will speak with the other person to suggest corrective behaviors. If none of that resolves the situation, either refuse to train with the person again or find a way to deal with the repeated behavior.
Reishiki at External Events
If you attend events outside the purvue of Tensoku Ryu such as tournaments and seminars, you may encounter forms of Reishiki that we do not practice. You will want to pay attention to practices observed by others so you do not violate some norm of behavior.
Most martial arts systems (and by extension the open-events they sponsor) observe fairly consistent rules of etiquette. If you bow on and off the mats, bow to judges and referees when suggested, are courteous to other practitioners and come fully prepared for your event(s), then you should do well.
You will no doubt encounter some practices we do not observe in Tensoku Ryu. There is nothing wrong with other styles that utilize alternate forms of Reishiki-it is merely their custom. When in an environment where you are surrounded by people who use different Reishiki, do your best to fit in. Ask others about practices you notice and when it is appropriate to use that behavior. Most people will understand if you make an error in a foreign environment, but they may be less forgiving if you have been asked to observe some practice and then elect to ignore the advice.
When participating in external events you will encounter a few practitioners who ignore common etiquette, demonstrate rude behavior and show little respect for others. You should not take offense to these demonstrations of disrespect. They reveal the immaturity of the practitioner or the martial art they study. A few people seem to exhibit this behavior at every event. Expect it to happen. You should not allow their behavior to distract you and thereby affect your performance and focus.
Now is a good time to review prior Reishiki to ensure you are observing good etiquette in your daily Dojo life. Also, pay attention to the practices of others in the Dojo so you might notice some aspect of etiquette you are currently not observing. You are gaining in rank and may notice that junior students begin to offer you various forms of courtesy. You should not enjoy forms of etiquette that you yourself do not offer.
Some of the new skills you learn in this belt curriculum will present you with challenges to your skills, conditioning, and emotions. Keep in mind that you are on a journey. You will not master many of the skills in this belt immediately. You will have difficulties at times. It is therefore important that you maintain a beneficial attitude throughout your training.
The kicks in this belt are challenging. The difficulty level is much greater than earlier kicks you have learned and take much longer to master. Keep this in mind as you train. There is no reason to become frustrated. Most students have a difficult time with many of the kicks in this belt. Expect to have difficulties and realize that every failure is a lesson in how not to do the kick. With practice, you will eventually become proficient at all of the kicks. If you become frustrated and discouraged you may never attain the desired proficiency. A positive attitude and the realization that you will eventually succeed will help you tremendously.
Sparring is another area with unique challenges. When you begin to spar you will find problems with your guarding, timing, movements, and other skills. These are all learning opportunities and not cause for concern. With experience, you will consistently improve. Remember that the entire time you are learning to spar. You have not yet mastered those skills. Expect significant errors when you begin.
When you evolve to the point where you will participate in matches, realize that everyone loses matches. While nobody enjoys losing, losing does not diminish you as a person. It is again a learning experience. If you become upset or angry, sulk, throw your gloves, or storm off in anger, that suggests you have the wrong attitude about the match. Unless you are in a tournament, the match is not intended as a win or loss event. It is intended as a learning opportunity only. If you allow yourself to become angry you will no learn anything and will have wasted the experience.
This is a challenging belt for most students. There is a tremendous amount of material to learn and practice. Some of your earlier assumptions will be challenged and newer and more difficult conceptual information will be explored. While we encourage students to be skeptical, we also want to ensure they keep an open mind. Tensoku Ryu is a complex and deeply conceptual art. In the end, it is your mind, not your body that is being trained. Maintain an open mind so you can absorb as much as possible.
You may eventually find yourself in a sparring match where you and your opponent being trading blows intended to cause harm. That behavior is unacceptable. It represents a complete lack of control on the part of both participants and demonstrates unhealthy attitudes. You will both be asked to reassess your attitudes and to rethink what you are doing. If you are involved in such conflicts repeatedly then you may find your training involuntarily terminated. We do not need a skilled hothead sparring with students who are experiencing sparring for the first time.
Finally, you are now a student with intermediate ranking. Take a moment to look around. Most of the students in the Dojo are now junior to you. You are not in an exalted position, but you are in a position to offer support and guidance to more junior students. Offer assistance when you see someone experiencing difficulties. Keep in mind that you are not an instructor (and should not contradict an instructor’s information), but you may still help someone understand a concept, gain insight about a Kata, or perfect an individual skill.
We would be displeased if you now believe that you are somehow superior to junior students. We certainly do not feel superior to you.