Must the Instructor Always Wear A Dobok?

The dobok (and the belt) is not a talisman. It does not imbue its wearer with “special powers” that he did not have before donning the dobok. Still, it is a symbol of our Way…and really gets its meaning as we go through the bitter, the sweet, the sour and the spicy aspects of training and life.

White symbolizes purity, black symbolizes experience. As we train, as we learn and as we wade our way through the blood, sweat and tears, the dobok gets imbued with more and more meaning…indeed, with our very soul and spirit.

A new dobok, given to a white belt has yet to to “receive its spirit”, because the wearer’s own spirit itself has yet to be tempered in the fire of experience. That is why we as instructors have to teach them to respect their dobok and belt. As they go on their journey, hopefully they will gain lustre and strength through the tempering of training.

All true instructors would have gone through this and know what it means.

The sword of the samurai is said to be his soul…and yet a new sword is just so much tempered steel and nothing much else…except that it’s initial “spirit” would (I believe) carry some of the influence of the “life condition” of the master sword-maker at the time he made the sword. After that, the spirit of the sword depends entirely on the samurai himself. Likewise our doboks. The “spirit” of our doboks depend entirely on us.

If we take a frivolous attitude towards our training, then our doboks would not have much meaning for us. If we take a meaningful approach to our training, then our doboks would have much meaning for us.

Still, our doboks are just symbols…they are not “gods” that must be appeased at all costs. The meaning of our doboks is the meaning we give them. The man (and the woman) makes the dobok, not the other way around. So, while we must respect our doboks, we must not be constrained by a narrow interpretation of their meanings. As I said in another post somewhere, we must give our students Roots and Wings. Our doboks give us some of the Roots of our tradition, and at the same time, should encourage us to sprout Wings that free us to explore.

To me, training in the dobok is a time we connect with the Roots and Traditions of our Teachers, while training without the dobok is a time we give ourselvs freedom explore not only techniques and tactics, but also freedom of mind and spirit. 

Both ways are messages to our students: 1) Respect tradition and teachers, and 2) Be free and find your own Way.

Both must be present in a true martial artist.

There is some truth to what the ohters have said about “dobok = traditional Taekwondo”, while non-dobok (i.e. sportswear = sport Taekwondo)

Let me explain my perspective.

When I teach MA fundamentals (or when a class focuses on fundamentals), I always wear a dobok (or gi). Students will know when I’m dead serious and will brook no deviation from the standard. No talking, no running, no playing, no deviation. Keep quiet and do as I say (Not that I always succeed in this, but I try…lol). All in all, the class will be somewhat formal and a bit sombre and students usually dare not do much “out-of-the-box” or try new things. That’s what I want in a MA fundamentals class.

But when I’m focusing on sports fundamentals or tactics/techniques, then an informal (non-dobok) session works better. For one thing, *I* would not be so “strict-serious”. This relaxes the athletes. We know, of course, that stress interferes with performance. The very sight of me wearing sports wear relaxes them and tells them that they are expected to train and perform correctly, but they’re allowed to make mistakes, try new things, be adventurous.

My sport-focused classes are always loud and spirited and most times filled with students’laughter. My formal classes are somehwat more…well.. formal. Same students, different focus, different moods.

Dobok and non-dobok training…both have their uses…and a place in the modern instructor’s program.

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