The first of the five tenets of Taekwondo is Etiquette, which means that as a student of Taekwondo you should show respect and good manners to others. Not just within the training hall (Dojang) but in your everyday life.
The most noticeable way this happens within the Dojang is the bow which should be performed whenever appropriate, and specifically:
- When entering or leaving the Dojang. If an instructor is within the Dojang when you enter or leave, you should bow towrds them. If the Dojang doesn't have an instructor in it, the bow should face the centre of the Dojang.
- Before and after performing a pattern.
- Before and after any sparring activity (bow to your opponent).
Additionally, when an instructor calls you to come over to them, etiquette states you should stop one pace before reaching them and bow before taking the final step into their presence. This is particularly important at gradings - bow before taking the final step up to the examiners desk. If you've been doing it in lessons, it will come naturally.
The bow should be performed with closed fists at your sides, feet together, a slight bend at the hips, and another bend at the neck so you are looking down at the floor. It should be pointed out that maintaining eye contact when bowing is considered impolite, and possibly aggressive.
When I first started training, I mentioned Taekwondo at a family gathering (my wife's side of the family). At the time I didn't know why, but a stony silence reverberated around the dining table. After a minute or two, the conversation moved elsewhere and things seemed back to normal. When we left, my wife berated me for mentioning Taekwondo in front of her relatives. Obviously I expressed my surprise and asked why this had caused such obvious offense! My wife's family are keen church going Christians, and it turned out the practice of Eastern Martial Arts is, by some Christians, seen as a violation of the Bibles' teachings. In particular, the bow is sometimes seen as an act of respect towards a deity other than the Christian God, namely Buddha. I laughed when I heard this and assured her I hadn't become a Buddhist, although if I chose to do so, I didn't see why I should face intolerance for doing so. The bow is simply a show of respect towards your instructor, fellow students and Taekwondo. Nothing more, and more importantly, nothing less.