Courtesy in the Martial Arts

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If you ask the typical modern martial arts student what courtesy means, they will usually say something like “bowing to the instructors” or “being polite.” When asked why being courteous is important, they either cannot answer, or reply that their studio makes them do certain “courteous” things as part of their training. Both adult students and kids respond similarly. Sadly, many students only show courtesy when at their studio (and sometimes not even then), but it doesn’t affect their everyday behavior.

In East Asian cultures, courtesy, along with its close relative respect, is vital to the proper functioning of society. In Japan, for example, courtesy is so important that it is incorporated into the structure of the Japanese language. There are numerous ways to say something as simple as “good morning,” depending on who is addressing whom and how they are related socially. In contrast, rudeness is common − and sometimes praised − in our culture. For this reason, students often gravitate toward the structured, courteous world of the martial arts.

Courtesy goes beyond mere politeness, however. In a school that carefully teaches courtesy, students not only train safely and achieve their goals, they become better people. Here are some benefits courteous behavior brings to training:

• Respect: In martial arts, respect is vital. A school can’t function without it. Courtesy is the public face of respect. When you show courtesy to your instructors by bowing and using the words “sir/ma’am,” you are really showing respect for their authority and ability. When you train as hard as you can, but train safely to avoid hurting your training partner, you are being courteous to your partner, but also respecting their well-being.

• Cooperation: Courteous students work to get along with both their instructors and their training partners. If you show courtesy by listening to the instructor’s directions, you will learn what you need to know to improve. Also, if you and your training partner work together and help each other learn a particular skill, you’ll master that skill faster.

• Social Order: A well-run studio is a structured environment where courteous behavior is expected. Unlike academic school, where students are grouped closely by age and interact with comparatively few authority figures, a school exposes you to fellow students with a wider range of age and experience. If you train in this environment over time, you learn to function in a group similar to what you’d encounter in real life (such as at a job or in the military).

So the next time you bow to an instructor, or say a martial arts pledge, remember courtesy is not just behaving a certain way in a studio. Courteous behavior is designed to “improve your noble character,” according to one wise master. Challenge yourself to be as courteous as possible, both in and out of class. You’ll become a better student, and a better person, if you do.

© 2010 Spotsylvania Martial Arts

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