Respect is at the core of all martial arts instruction. From the very first day and the very first lesson, children are taught to respect their parents, instructors, and teachers. Adults learn it too – to respect their significant other, their family, their boss.
Respect is an ancient value. Confucious said, “A youth, when at home, should be filial (respect and obey their parents), and abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all and cultivate the friendship of the good.”
It is a value so central to our experience it is the key to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Respect in the studio
In the dojo, we first teach this as respect for the instructor. Because the student shows respect, the instructor can teach all the other values that are core to the martial arts, including self-discipline, self-control, honesty, and patience. It is no surprise that these five virtues make up Grandmaster DeMasco’s Life Skills program.
In our system, the Snake teaches respect. Respect in the martial arts means obedience, certainly, but it is far more than that. Respect means treating others with deference and kindness. It means listening to elders. It involves simple courtesies like “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” It means holding the door and helping an older person with their groceries. For a martial artist, respect is a lifestyle.
We live in a media-centric world full of counter-culture heroes who preach an ethos that says, “Respect means you’ll give me what I want.” Some of these characters are fictional, but too often, they are not. We see this type of “respect” preached by political leaders, business moguls, and celebrities. It is destructive and harmful. And it is the polar opposite of Shaolin Respect.
Shaolin Respect teaches humility, compassion, and kindness. Shaolin monks live for other, and not for themselves. This type of respect is something we give regardless of whether it is returned. Martial artists are, first, respectful people. That doesn’t change, regardless of what is going on around us.
That’s a powerful frame of mind. When a child learns to respect others, he or she also learns to respect themselves. Respect isn’t something we demand, it is something we give to ourselves and to everyone around us. That can change the course of a child’s life, giving him or her the peace and the confidence to know how to act in every situation, regardless of what is going on around them.
Just as true for adults
The same is true for adults, by the way. Too often we find ourselves in challenging relationships at work with our boss, or at home with our significant others. We expect respect from others because we show respect ourselves. The challenge comes in showing respect for ourselves and others regardless of their behavior. There is an old saying that, “respect is something you earn.” In Shaolin, you don’t earn respect through power or victory. You earn respect by showing it yourself.
That doesn’t mean Martial Artists become doormats. In fact, it usually means the opposite. It takes very little to react to someone else’s disrespectful behavior. Being a respectful person, to yourself and others, earns respect all on its own. Lao Tsu said it best when he wrote, “When you are content to simply be yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
Respect defines a martial artist
Respect is at the core of learning in martial arts because it helps define who we are in the world. Martial arts students learn to respect the art itself, those who teach it, those who are more advanced, and yes, even those who oppose us in the ring. The moment we forget that lesson, we take our first step toward failure. The more we respect ourselves and others, the more we will experience it in our own lives.