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Martial Arts Schools – Rules or Virtues

As we learned in the artice Understanding and implementing Wu De 武德 as Martial Virtue, martial arts schools could do a better job teaching Wu De, as concept and action, to students. In this installment, we’re going to look at some specifics.

There are three aspects of Wu De that many misunderstand. These aspects often fall within the same category: School / Kwoon / Guan Rules & Guidelines, General Virtues, and Martial Virtues. In this installment of Wu De, we will look at typical school rules & guidelines and try to understand why they exist and what relationship they have with Wu De.

Martial Arts Schools Rules & Guidelines

Just about any Kwoon, Guan, Dojang, Dojo, etc., will have a Code of Conduct or perhaps a list of school rules posted somewhere on their walls.

Sometimes the list will be basic & banal guidelines to proper etiquette within the school or training grounds, like “Bow when entering the school,” etc. And sometimes, the list will include more philosophical recommendations, such as “Use humility and patience in daily life.”

Can these dos and don’ts be considered “Martial Virtue”? Perhaps not. However, aside from bringing discipline and a smooth flow to the school’s goings-on, they help pave the way for learning proper Wu De; begging questions for further thought, such as “Why must we bow upon entering the school”? Answers to this question begin to shed some light on the relationship between basic rules and proper Wu De.

Why Martial Arts Schools have Rules

Admittedly, that if one understands and implements proper Wu De, these “School Rules” are unnecessary. To a point, this is true. However, there are several reasons why explicit school rules are helpful (and necessary).

Consider the typical commercial Tae Kwon Do school. Immediately we can see that Wu De, a Chinese concept, might not be included in the curriculum of a Korean martial art (even more so if it’s primarily sports-oriented), so basic rules for discipline, etiquette, school tradition, and smooth flow of activity would help.

Let’s also consider martial art schools that offer (or perhaps even cater to) children’s classes. One of the usual benefits that these schools promote is discipline. Teaching young children general or martial virtues and expecting them to absorb & act on them is not workable; instead, they need clear rules. A set of rules or guidelines help reinforce lessons given to them at home, and hopefully, over time, they begin to see the bigger picture.

Now think about the “new student.” A new student may be new to the martial arts school in question, the style, the type of style (Korean vs. Chinese, for example), or new to the martial arts in general. Whether they’re familiar with Wu De, proper martial etiquette, common courtesy, etc., or not, these individuals must understand the basic dos and don’ts of the school. Later, then, they can move on to the higher learning of Wu De, if offered.

Now that we’ve established that they are beneficial and sometimes necessary, let’s look at some common martial arts school rules.

Common Martial Arts School Rules

Martial Art School Rules
Martial Art School Rules

Not every martial arts school will use the same rules – some cater to indoor schools, some for Chinese styles, some are for non-Chinese systems, some are for more traditional groups, and some for more commercial settings; schools will use the rules they want and need.

Regardless, many of them have crucial reasoning behind them. As you read along, ask yourself why a rule is in place; what is the driving principle behind the rule or guideline? For example, does it develop discipline, convey a virtue, help the school run more smoothly, etc.

Let’s look at some usual “Martial Arts School Rules.”

School Rules


  • A shirt must be worn when entering and leaving the school.
  • Proper uniform and belt are required at all times.
  • Belts or Sashes must be tied properly & arranged in proper orientation.
  • Do not let your belt or sash touch the floor.
  • Wash belt or sash only with water.
  • Women wear a white T-shirt, tank top or sport bra under her uniform.
  • Maintain a clean & neat uniform at all times.
  • Shoes (for those styles that train barefoot; for others – street shoes) must be removed before entering the training area.
  • No jewelry, wristbands, watches, etc. shall be worn with the uniform. Wedding bands are however acceptable.
  • Hair should be short or pulled back.
  • Keep finger & toe nails trimmed (and clean).
  • Turn away from others when adjusting uniform or belt.

Salutes and Bows

  • Bow when entering and leaving the school or workout area.
  • When class is in session and a student arrives late, they should make their proper bows upon joining the group.
  • Salute the flags, crests, altars and other symbols of tradition.
  • Bow when addressing a higher ranked student during class.
  • Salute or Bow to the Instructor even when outside of the school, especially if given instructions outside of class.
  • Give a Bow to the Instructor when asked to stand up or sit down.
  • Preceding a request, Bow to the Martial Arts Instructor.
  • Bow to the Instructor after receiving a correction & are not in a stance or other inconvenient position.
  • Bow to your fellow students.

Basic Etiquette

  • Cursing, vulgarities, profanity, obscene nor derogatory language is allowed.
  • No loss of temper, loud laughing and talking, horseplay, or any other display of a lack of self-discipline in class.
  • No gum chewing, alcohol, tobacco, food or liquid, lounging against the walls or on the floor will be allowed in the training area, during school functions or events, nor while wearing uniform.
  • Keep conversation to a minimum and focus on your training.
  • Do not interrupt the instructor when he or she is teaching.
  • Do not teach what you have learned without the Instructors permission.
  • Always use self-control and good technique to avoid injury to yourself and others.
  • Students, parents, and guests will not converse with any person involved in a class session without the permission of the instructor.
  • Respond with “Yes/No, Sir,” or “Yes/No, Ma’am,” as appropriate to instructors.
  • Address instructors by appropriate title & last name.
  • Try to go in the same direction and same pace while exercising with others.

Additional Rules

  • Be consistent in class attendance.
  • Come to class on time or early.
  • Come to class prepared.
  • If you are unable to attend class, notify your martial arts school Instructor as soon as possible.
  • Use the restroom before class starts.
  • Before class begins, inform your instructor if you need to leave early.
  • If there is inclement weather, indoor classes will still be held. Use judgment for safety.
  • Sign-in before entering the training area.
  • Help to keep your school neat and clean.
  • Notify the Instructor in case of injury or illness.
  • Students in informal workout sessions may not engage in free-sparring without the direct supervision of an instructor.
  • Memorize and take part in the school oath/pledge.
  • Hold Horse stance or some other active or passive training between activities.
  • Do not use the art to deliberately harm others.
  • Techniques taught in class are not to be applied outside of the school unless circumstances involving your safety, or the safety of others are overriding, or in performance of demonstration by the school.
  • Respect other people’s property and belongings.
  • Respect the class that is in session. Lower the volume of your conversation. Remain off the teaching area until your class begins. Quietly prepare for your class.
  • Strict attention is to be given to the instructor at all times.
  • Stand at attention when speaking to your instructor or when your instructor is speaking to you.
  • Pay any dues or fees on time.
  • Tuition payments must be current in order to test.
  • Do not try to skip ahead by observing higher ranks.
  • Free sparring is not allowed without permission from the instructor.
  • Bring in your school report card.
  • Never degrade your style, the reputation of your school, or any member, instructor or Master.
  • You must have prior approval to participate in any tournament or special event.

Rules and Relevance

Did you ask yourself their relevance?

We don’t have a written list of school rules or code of conduct. We focus on Wu De. We’ve grown from an outdoor “grassroots” organization (read more of Our Story or About Us), so it wasn’t necessary. In fact, we have very few “rules” at all.

But we do have customs, routine or standard processes – an almost oral list of “rules” that we follow in our various martial arts styles and classes. And as we continue to grow, it may become necessary to explicitly point out certain relevant guidelines for what we do.

Then again, that’s what this article is aimed to do: show the big picture and the fine details of this whole virtuous mess. 

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