Minding Their Manners

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Minding Their Manners

Category : Press

Tae kwon do students learn the fine art of dining etiquette

By Mark Fontecchio
H-P Correspondent

BENTON HARBOR — James Hyde stirred his coffee as quietly as he could Saturday. Still, it was too loud for his martial arts teacher, Grandmaster Al Smith.

“I can hear you, James,” Smith said smiling.

“I know,” Hyde said. “I’m trying.”

Such are the trials of learning etiquette for Hyde, his fellow students and their instructors at the R.E.A.D.Y. Tae Kwon Do facility in Benton Harbor.

A half-hour earlier, Greta Pope had taught the group etiquette rules for eating a nice dinner. One of them was to try to avoid “clinking and clanking” the spoon when stirring coffee.

About a dozen students had listened to her short lecture, which preceded a luncheon to test their newfound skills.

Pope, a Chicago resident who spends the weekends in Buchanan, makes her living as a singer. A side interest is teaching etiquette to under-privileged children.

“I grew up in a household that was always holding parties,” the Cincinnati native said. “I learned these things from my mother.”

It might seem odd that a tae kwon do institute would want to teach the fine art of table manners. The etiquette of Emily Post isn’t normally taught in the fighting arena. But Smith sees a connection. The five tenets he has for his institute are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.

“My intention is to help them prepare themselves,” he said. “They can take this knowledge and pass it on to the other students.”

That’s exactly what 19-year-old Hyde plans to do. This winter he will start attending Lake Michigan College, where he plans focus on hospitality management. He said learning good etiquette will help.

Sedrick Atkins, a 22-year-old tae kwon do instructor, had taken an etiquette class when he was in high school. He saw it as a chance to learn something important in life.

“It benefits everybody,” he said. “Just to learn how to dine is a nice thing. You’re always going to need this later on in life.”

Pope taught students some new words — gala, entrée and sommelier, among them. She told them to always put their napkins in your laps, which fork to use for the salad and how talking on the cell phone at the table is always rude.

Then came the real thing. Everyone sat down at a table right in the institute. The table was adorned with a white tablecloth, bone china and fine silver. A centerpiece of flowers sat in the middle.

They took their seats, and the meal began.

Jim Small, owner of Three Oaks catering business The Outdoor Kitchen, donated the food and served as the waitstaff.

The students started with a Caesar salad. Following that was the entrée, which included baked chicken, acorn squash and brown rice pilaf. Finishing it off was a cheesecake with raspberry preserves on top.

“I don’t really like squash,” Hyde admitted. “But this was good.”

Don’t be fooled, however. Hyde didn’t want seconds on the squash. But he did ask — very politely, it should be noted — for a second piece of cheesecake.


“The student’s respect has grown for all adults, including teachers. I have had fewer disruptions and more learning going on in my classroom that I can directly attribute to the Taekwondo training of my students.”
“I know that a lot of the kids I see here, if they weren’t here, I would be seeing them on the streets.”
“Taekwondo gives us a chance to do something together, outside of work. Plus, kicking is fun and gets out a lot of stress.”