The only social media post that we purposefully repeat over time contains the words, “Karate begins and ends with respect.” A picture of karate students and instructors bowing accompanies these words. We use bowing pictures of different people and from various angles. But the words are the same. And the same sentiment weaves throughout all of our training. At least in our traditional Okinawan style of martial arts, karate teaches respect.
As you can read on our front wall, Dojo Kun number four is the one about respect. Kaicho handed down this translation for number four: “Develop a respectful attitude.” A more literal translation of the original Japanese is, “It is important to take the traditions of respect seriously.”
Karate Teaches Respect with the Dojo Kun
Sakugawa Sensei wrote the five rules of the Dojo Kun approximately 200 years ago. It’s no coincidence that he was also the first instructor to have a dojo in the Ryukyu Kingdom where he taught members of the community. He was open to a wider student base than just a singular pupil, or just his family members as had been the local martial arts tradition before him. Way back then it was important to Sakugawa Sensei that karate teaches respect.
Still today at our dojo we carry on traditions of respect and we take them seriously. Every time we bow, we are showing respect. That may be to a teacher, a black belt who has put in a lot of time for our art, a student, a partner with whom we practice our moves, or a class. Or we may be bowing to those we cannot see at the time such as, those who have walked the martial arts path before us, those who gifted us with our country, those who gave us karate, those who helped pass it down with kata, or the dojo as a whole.
Teaching Respect to and from Kids
For our youngest students we say that Dojo Kun number four means, “Be nice to others.” Our current group of Little Dragons is fond of adding what I often do “…and be nice to yourself.” One has morphed it into, “Be kind to others and be kind to yourself.” That works too. And yet another from years ago interpreted it as, “Treat others how you’d like to be treated.” I was impressed and never did ask if he came up with that on his own or had input from his parents. Those slight tweaks to the wording show how karate teaches respect even to young students.
More Respectful Policies
We talk a good game, but we also put it into action. In classes students are required to keep their hands to themselves. And when we do have contact, or potential contact with partners, students are expected to understand and abide by the rules of conduct which we explain each time.
Karate teaches respect by having the requirements of listening when the instructor talks and focusing on your own self doing your best. Another respectful policy for our dojo is you do not take advantage of your size or your rank when working with a partner. Instead, if you are bigger or higher rank, you use restraint and help your partner to train while you yourself work hard in other aspects of your training.
There are many ways that karate teaches respect. Just knowing that you, as a student, are expected to work every day on using the Dojo Kun in all situations is an exercise in respect. When you try to be a good person, use honesty, persevere, focus on respect and use self control, you are being respectful not only of yourself but of others as well.