Respect in Martial Arts


RESPECT – Tell you what it means to me

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 themself.

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 one 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 because he opened the business, rather than his contribution to the betterment of society, or his fellow man.

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 martial arts Master is perhaps one of the last bastions where the ageless virtue of respect has a chance to flourish and grow.


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Michael Muleta CEO






Written by Michael Muleta, CEO – Global Fitness Institute

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