Our showing of respect at Hapkido in the way of saluting and bowing forms a large part of what and how we learn.
It would not be possible to commence training if this was an issue.
Whilst we bow to one another before, during and after training, and salute the flags at the beginning and end of class, we do not worship one particular person or figure in a spiritual way.
In every dojang there are at least two, sometimes three flags on display. Arranged left to right, they are the home country flag, the flag of the style of martial art and the flag of the country where Hapkido originated. It is customary for students to face and salute the flags when entering or leaving the dojang as a sign of respect for what the flags represent.
Respect in Martial Arts
The systems of unarmed combat that people study throughout the world were not designed to be conducted like an aerobics class, where you say hi to Sally, Joe and Mark before stepping on the bike. Martial Arts are generally speaking military in their origins. The formalities, and by this I mean all the bowing, showing respect to higher ranking students and instructors and anything else a lay person might view as not furthering the study of unarmed combat, are in place for a reason.
Martial Arts are generally speaking not religious. Bowing in Asia is like shaking hands in the West, there is nothing religious about bowing. It is simply a sign of respect. Bowing before entering the door to train is to show respect for the training hall. It also shows respect for all those coming before you. It is also training in checking your ego at the door. Understanding that you do not already know all there is to know is very important in martial arts. If you feel that you know all there is to know, it would be impossible to learn anything new. Or as the old adage goes, a cup that is already full can hold no more.
There is a general level of respect that should be transmitted between those that we train with. We have to trust each other; this is absolutely vital. I can’t say this strongly enough, it is VITAL that we TRUST. We are striking, kicking, throwing, and doing other techniques that could easily become harmful to each other. We have to trust that our partners will use control and precision in their techniques. If they don’t we could be seriously injured. If we do not have the proper respect for each other we might not take our endeavour with the seriousness required. Mutual respect is so important in martial arts and it cannot be understated. You can’t play with serious injury in a haphazard method. Formalities are used to foster this mutual respect.
What about rank? As one moves through the belt system of a given martial arts expectations on that student increases. The more advanced the student the more they are looked at to be not just examples of excellent form and technique but also to be models of humility and respect within the Dojang. A black belt or high ranking colour belt is an example to the lower students. The high ranking students set the tone for the lower students. This is in terms of how people are addressed and how formalities are conducted in the class.
In short, formality is about respect. The building of respect is necessary in military organizations and it should be no surprise that it exists in martial arts. Respect for the training and each other is necessary due to the serious material that is covered in traditional martial arts. A lot of what happens inside the training hall may look strange to the lay person but there is a reason and it has nothing to do with people trying to feel self-important or superior to others.