Respect is a major component of the Martial Arts that all practitioners should think deeply on.
Respect. It is one of the most important aspects of the Martial Arts, if not life in general. The cultures that have given us the Martial Arts we practice have a strong level of respect deeply ingrained in them and have carried over to our daily training. That is not to say our Western cultures do not possess the same level of respect, they do, it is just shown differently.
I live in Japan where respect, whether actually felt or offered as “the right way to do things”, is shown in the simple act of a slight bow to someone who lets you pass by first (though not everyone does this, to be honest) or in the Sempai/Kohai relationship (Sempai are the people who are “above” you in the heirarchy, even for school children or your place of work, while Kohai are on the flip side of the coin). With such a thing being shown on a minute to minute basis it makes sense that it would carry over to the Kwoon/Dojo.
We should respect those that have come before us (our Martial Ancestors, Teachers, Elder Brothers and Sisters etc.) but also those who have come along after us as it is our responsibility to help them and appreciate the effort they are making as well. Yet too often in our Western countries we hear of this respect being placed second (or further down the line) or worse, being on the surface only. I remember a student who was under my Shifu that I trained with once tell me that he could beat all of the higher level students and would soon be able to defeat our Teacher with ease. Yet when we trained together after this speech I, a lower level student than he, had little trouble keeping up with his efforts. Perhaps his lack of respect failed him. Maybe he should have spent more time listening to those above him (and no, I don’t mean blind obedience) and less on feeling he was above the training.
A friend of mine is a Kendo Teacher here and I learned the hard way how little I understood of the Japanese respect system when I went to visit him at his Dojo and sat with him. A student of his later pointed out my feet were facing the shrine and this was a big no-no. So how can we pay respect to a culture that we don’t truly know? It’s not that hard. By showing the best respect you possibly can, the details you miss will be explained to you. But should you not show the respect in the first place, you will be accepted for your Nature and all we be ok but there will be things you will never be told.
When I contacted the Head of my Taijiquan system to say I was teaching in Japan a few years ago, it was with full respect for this man, his position and the Art his Ancestor had shared with the world. I just felt it was the right thing to do. The respect I received in return was a truly humbling experience that I will never forget and know had I never shown it in th efirst place my Taijiquan would be nowhere close to what it is today, thanks to his guidance.
That all said, we are not entering into a cult-like relationship and are not meant to worship the ground our Teachers work on, either. Yes, they DO deserve our respect as do the Art they are sharing with us, but I have never heard of a Teacher asking his students to bathe his feet or cut off their own arm to earn a spot in the class. The respect must be shown to yourself as well. It’s not that complicated. Show your respect to everyone around you (yes, even those that attack you and force you to use your Martial Arts for defense) and you will be well on the way.
About the author:
Steve Gilshenen is an Australian teaching English language and Chinese martial arts in Japan.
He is the author of the novel, “Mark of the Shaolin,” the first in the “Tigers of Wulin” series, due for release in 2014.
Share this page