In my own classes, I am not such a stickler for bowing. Mind you, this isn't because I'm trying to go against the grain, or I don't believe in bowing. I would say "Cha Ryut. Kyung Yet." and bow to my students, but if someone didn't feel like bowing to me or did a piss poor job of doing so, I simply didn't care. Essentially, I came up with a passive-aggressive way of teaching bowing: I provided the example to follow and if they cared to emulate me, they were free to do so.
Why would I come up with such a solution. Believe it or not, it wasn't out of laziness; I just didn't want to be this guy:
Or, this guy...
I've always been a little wary about creating a bizarre cult of personality centered around me and my mediocre martial arts skills. I've seen my share of people who demand a borderline cultish ritual of worship. These are usually the people who remind you that they are a MASTER.
I fell into one of the classic blunders of teaching students. In the words of my instructor, I had solved one problem by creating another problem. New problem: my students suck at bowing.
If we stayed within the confines of our humble dojang, this would not be a problem. However, as my wife so astutely pointed out, our students would look like total boneheads in front of other members of our group if they didn't understand the protocol. I may not care if they bow properly to me, but other instructors may misinterpret my honest attempt at preserving my humility for a lack of respect. I also didn't want catty students from other schools to look at my students and whisper:
"tsk, tsk, little Johnny did not properly place his index finger along the crease in his pants. I didn't realize that Tom cared so little for the traditions of our art! Clearly we will be superior on the fictional battlefield!"
Last week, I had the opportunity to train in another dojang in my lineage. In this school, the ritual of bowing was taken very seriously. However, I also know that the instructor's ego was not massaged by this act of bowing. He simply doesn't need the ego boost, as his martial skills have truly walked the walk over the years. It was a skill he expected of his students, and one that he demanded that they pay close attention to. Just like any other skill practiced in his dojang.
I'd like to think I get it a little more. Maybe I really do get it. I often think I've figured it all out when a third-party could easy say "hold up, sport; you're not there quite yet."
My students do look up to me. I can avoid this, or embrace it. Possibly it is just scary to consider how much your actions are observed by your students. In all of this observation there is plenty of opportunity for misinterpretation. I might be trying to give my students the impression that I am humble and down to Earth and haven't let the belt get to my head. But if they don't know that, all they walk away with is "My instructor doesn't care about bowing, so it must not be important!"
So, over the summer, one of my projects is to instill the proper way to bow to my students. A voice saying "Kick, punch. Easy stuff..." echoes in my mind.