Any dojo you go to will have different rules and traditions. When I studied under Sensei Nick Guinn, we just came into the dojo, put on our belts, and hung out till class started. Once class started, things were serious and formal. We bowed in very formally, going down with the right knee first, then the left, right hand on the floor, then the left, then you bowed your forehead to the floor, and when you say up you brought your right hand back to your lap, then your left, stood with your right leg first, then your left. There was a specific reason for the order you did everything in, etc. I don't know if he still does things that way now, but I really liked the formality of it. It definitely got you focused for class.
At my current dojo, they ask that you kneel down when putting on or taking off your belt, and if a black belt of any degree is putting on their belt that you also kneel down out of respect. We didn't do this at my old dojo, but I make every effort to do it here, because that is their tradition. I don't like the way we bow in at my new school as much. It feels very casual compared to what I am used to. (If you bow from the waist you always bow lower than your superiors, at least according to the Japanese culture, etc etc) But, I do it their way because that is their tradition at this dojo.
What I am getting around to saying is that last night, after class, it was late, there were only 2 students left in the dojo, a green belt and a black belt, they were talking in the lobby and the instructor and instructor in training had just stepped back into the office to have a meeting. I bowed before I left the dojo floor, and took my belt off in the lobby. I forgot to kneel down.
The green belt made a point to tell me that I hadn't done so and that I was disrespectful. (As a side note, anyone who knows me knows that I take martial arts VERY seriously and I do my best to respectful to students and teachers a like, and to follow tradition when applicable.) She tried to flick me, but I flinched away and gave her a look that said, 'Don't touch me'. She moved in closer and flicked me hard on the arm. So, I gently swung my arm out and tapped her with my belt on the leg in response. She then proceeded to try to kick me. I blocked, and remained on the defensive while she kicked and punched at me. I did not attack her back. At one point she was able to grab the back of me neck, as she had backed me up into one of the dojo's display cases, and bend me over. At that point the black belt stepped in and said something and broke up the fight.
The green belt then said something along the lines of she couldn't believe how disrespectful I was, starting a fight with a green belt.
Excuse me, but you, miss green belt, are NOT my instructor, it is not your place to scold me or punish me for not following dojo etiquette. And in addition, escalating the situation from flicking and tapping to full on kicking and punching is not ok. What I said was "I think you're the one who started it." I gathered my things and I left the dojo.
What this brings me down to is this: Who's responsibility is to reprimand students? And, are underclassmen required to show respect to disrespectful upperclassmen?
Upperclassmen are there to assist and to guide their lower classmen. I feel that punishment and rule enforcement should be left up to the instructor. Granted the instructor was not present at the time, but a simple, "Next time you should kneel when you take your belt off." without the flicking would have easily sufficed. Upperclassmen should be there to set an example for the lower classmen. I do not mind them gently reminding students of etiquette or tradition, but it is not their responsibility to enforce the law.
Respect is earned, not given. Obviously, common courtesy dictates that we should be polite and respectful to everyone as often as possible. However, if someone is blatantly rude to you, or disrespectful, are you required to continue to be respectful to them, especially when they outrank you? My stance, no. (Nick has a post that somewhat touches on this topic as well. You can find it here) I'm not sure I really believe killing people with kindness is always the right approach. I had one instructor at my current dojo tell me (when I was a white belt having issues with a yellow belt in class who just wanted to talk instead of practice) that I am only required to be respectful as far as the dojo rules go, which means I kneel down when a black belt is putting on or taking off their belt, and I am not allowed to teach anyone anything unless asked to do so by the instructor. That was it. Obviously I don't want to be a complete ass-hole to them and curse them out or go out of my way to try to hurt them during training or something equally mean like that, but I am not necessarily required to be friendly and respectful to them either.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not encouraging people to start smart mouthing each other and being rude, but I am also not going to allow myself to get walked on either. It can sometimes seem like a difficult line to walk, but you should not allow anyone to use their position to bully you around in any sort of situation. Ever. If you do stand up for yourself, people will possible accuse you of being a bitch, or having a bad attitude. I have had this happen. Which is why its important to stand up for yourself with tact and grace instead of sinking to their level and being rude in response, but be firm. Do not give in.
Upperclassmen have a responsibility to guide and protect lower ranking students, not bully or punish. (However, as always, I'm sure there are some exceptions to this opinion. Sometimes people just need to be put in their place by a fellow classmate and not the instructor, however these situations are probably pretty few and far between.) Upperclassmen should be setting an example by being polite and respectful to both their superiors and their lower classmen.
Lowerclassmen should be respectful to their upperclassmen, they should be attentive to feedback, but they should not have to tolerate bullying or disrespect just because the color of their belt is different. (or the same).
I'm sure what happened with me last night could have been handled in a more tactful way, but sometimes things happen very fast and we don't think about it until after the situation is over.
Has anyone had a similar situation? How do you stand up for yourself without being overtly rude? When these sorts of situations happen, should you take them to the instructor or deal with them yourself? I'm curious to see how other people have dealt with it in the past and what other perspectives people have on the issue of respect versus rank. Please share with me! There is always a better way to deal with something, and I am always looking for ideas, things to think about, and things to help me out as I make my way through the ranks and eventually with when I become an instructor and need to guide and mentor my own students.
Thanks for listening. Looking forward to your comments.
~Samurai Girl Sahara