In the romanticized folklore of traditional martial arts values, the master instructor commanded respect through his deeds, his abilities and his profound wisdom and knowledge of philosophy and moral culture. He led by example, gave sound advice and guidance, he was truly respected, educated in life, and more importantly showed respect and humility to all others, regardless of rank, position or perceived benefit to themselves.
Note for the purposes of this article, I use the term Master that can apply to any instructor, as the title is afforded at different levels by different organizations, some even afford it to themselves.
He was spoken about in glowing terms by others who were also highly respected, not just his own students, followers or by virtue of self-propaganda.
The student would willingly do anything for the master, and show overt signs of respect because they felt honoured and privileged, not to gain favouritism or payment, not to seek attention, nor out of a sense of obligation or because they were instructed to.
This respect would often flow on outside the dojang as well and lived on long after the Master has passed or the student may have stopped training.
In my observations from teaching students in schools all around the world, students who are genuinely respectful and those schools who have a majority of respectful students, stem from an instructor who displays respect and humility to all.
Having said that, respect is a value that is developed and reinforced in the home and by the parents and family unit. It is unlikely on would be disrespectful to their own parents yet respectful to others. Adults who are disrespectful to their domestic partners would likely be disrespectful to most others.
These same students/instructors will bow in class and recite the oath and tenets every day without really having any intention of living them, or a clear working understanding of their application in society.
Whilst there are still a small handful of highly skilled, highly ethical, and at the same time humble masters around, a sadder development of the modern martial arts culture is that the instructor has, in many cases, become a person who ‘demands’ rather than ‘commands’ respect.
This ‘respect me or else’ mentality is ingrained into the doctrine of their schools, where students are ‘forced’ to show ceremonial forms of respect, outside of the traditional greetings and etiquette, or risk sanctions, demotions or even expulsions.
The modern master often demands respect solely due to his martial arts rank, history within a school, his lineage or purely becuase he opened the business, rather than his contribution to the betterment of society, or his fellow man.
Outside of his martial arts school, that ‘respected’ master is often an egotistical, poorly educated and brash business man. Martial arts is merely the vehicle to gain respect, worship and status that they probably wouldn’t get anywhere else in the community.
Some think respect is gained where the seniors rough up, intimidate or constantly talk down to the juniors, mistakingly thinking that fear creates respect. Fear is not a form of respect and leads to eventual loathing. Those who are bullied themselves inevitably go on to also become bullies. That is a caveman mentality of ignorant and uneducated people.
The head instructor often evolves into a self-created narcissistic cult figure, whilst students become brainwashed into thinking that person is infallible and must be a brilliant exponent who came form the ‘old school’ of hard knocks, often with little or no true knowledge of that persons actual history, background, true ability and reputation among his peers.
Instructors have been known to vigorously protect their false status by jealously sheltering their students from other schools students or organizations for fear that they will be exposed as mere mortals (and often substandard exponents and unethical businessmen), and not the demi-gods they pretend to be.
Signs that your instructor has developed a negative culture of egotistically ‘insisting respect’ include:
– Insists on respect to be shown to themselves, but does not insist it be shown to others, and shows little themselves
– Addresses themselves as Master when introducing himself or in general conversation, even to non-martial artists (A great martial artist once told me, if you have to call yourself Master, you truly are not
– Master is something other people call you if they deem you deserve it, not just because they have to). Not to be confused with listing your rank/title on offical TKD related items, advertising etc.
– Makes you put ‘his’ name on ‘your’ black belt or uniform
– – Punishes ettiquette breaches without educating the culprit on how to improve
– Has their own photo at the front of the dojang that everyone MUST bow to
– Tells you ‘his’ certificate’ has more value than any Federation’s certificate
– Rarely puts on a uniform and demonstrates his art
– Refuses to be a student in front of other students when senior ranks visits to teach – Doesn’t show respect to lower ranked students
– Continually defames other instructors and never give credit where it’s due
– Discourages you from interacting with students/instructors from other schools
– Charges exorbitant fees and tells you its because he’s worth more than others
– Constantly and publicly berates students, especially children
In a society which is morally dacaying at a rapid rate, the value of respect is being less and less emphasised in the way we speak to each other, act towards each other, the lyrics in our popular songs, the messages and photos shared on social media and the way we treat other human beings, cultures and religions.
A good martial arts school, led by a great aartial arts Master is perhaps one of the last bastions where the ageless virtue of respect has a chance to flourish and grow.
Like nourishing fresh rain, respect flows downwards…….. as does acid rain.
For all the truly great Masters and instructors out there – keep up the great work.