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The four corner stones of respect

23 NOV 2018 16:13
Reflections about why we need to keep the respect alive.
  • Uppdaterad: 23 NOV 2018 16:13

I fell in love with Karate for many reasons. The techniques, the physical challenge, the camaraderie in the club and the opportunity to experience personal growth and always learning new things.

But it´s become my life-long companion because of respect. 

Respect, which in Japanese is expressed through the word Rei, is something we all want and need.

You may not always understand the need yourself, it can be subtle and hidden, but when someone treats you in a way that you feel a knot in your stomach and you can´t quite determine why, it´s almost always because they´ve shown you a lack of respect.

To be treated with respect is a basal need, just like the need of feeling safe and loved, and just as complicated. People differ in how much they need to feel good. Some crave more, some less.

But respect is also something to be earned. Some demand respect in such extent that they try to force it, gain respect through threats, violence and by being oppressive. In that case, something, somewhere, has gone wrong and in my experience it´s almost always a question about low self-esteem.

Yes, in the three letters of the word Rei, you can find a big complex world where pretty much all of us are trying to find our way.

And this is why Karate deserves attention.

Karate, and other Budo-related martial arts, are unique because respect is a natural part of its structure. Those who doesn´t comprehend how to properly show respect will learn what it means and the ones that deserve and are in need of it, will have an environment to feel comfortable and thrive in.

Karate has through its history cultivated respect as an art form all by itself and follows it as a bright North star.
I wrote in a previous article, that if everyone practiced karate we would have world peace, which I still believe in, because it´s mainly lack of respect towards others that creates conflict.

People will always have different opinions and perspectives, but as long as you respect that fact and others personal space, the basic need of respect will be filled.

But how should we then actually go about it?
A bit simplified, I´ve interpreted four cornerstones within the world of Karate. However, most of it I believe can easily be translated to everyday life for anyone.

Respect the Dojo

The place of practice is your temple. It doesn´t matter if it´s a worn down city basement or a Japanese pagoda with polished wooden floors. The Dojo is regardless a spiritual place, existing for you to evolve in, body and soul. There you leave the outer world and your everyday life behind and focus on the task at hand, - your training.

You show respect for the room and its purpose, take care of it and comply with Dojo Kun. We bow symbolically when we come and go, to show gratitude and appreciation that we have a place where we are welcome, which also lets us leave a bit wiser than when we came.


Respect your Sensei

Your Sensei puts in an immense amount of time teaching others, often on a non-profit basis. Like a fountain of knowledge that´s been dedicating a lifetime to hard training, acquiring a skill set that you now have been fortunate enough to have access to.

The good will from your leader to share knowledge and experience with you, should result that you in return show the will to listen, humbly follow instructions, show appreciation and act polite. 


Respect your surroundings

Karate is primarily a martial art focused on self-defence. We learn things that when used correctly can save lives and when used wrong will cause unnecessary damage. And when you´re tough you need to be gentle and when you are big you need to be kind. Respecting our surroundings are key in a well functioning society. But of course, not everything is about not walking around and punching people in the face whenever you please.

The philosophy of Budo is closely associated to Bushido, the codes of honour and ideals for the samurai way of life, in which you (in short) through training strive to be a person with high morals, integrity, patience and wisdom. It should permeate and be a constant presence in your way of life.

And how then should this be implemented in modern times, you may wonder?

For me, in my way of life, it means primarily this:

  • Never knowingly hurt others, nor physically or mentally. Same goes for showing care for nature and things around you.
  • Listen and observe; pay attention to the surrounding world and adapt to create de best conditions possible for a positive atmosphere.
  • Be humble and treat others with kindness, politeness and patience.
  • Respect the time and life situations of others; remember that almost everyone has a history or troubles you don´t know anything about.
  • Show moral courage. Stand up for those who need it.

I try to keep these five guidelines in mind where ever I go and remind myself of them when I´m having a bad day. No one is perfect and we all show lack of respect sometimes, but at least you will have something to hold on to when you need to reboot and start over.

”But if they don´t show ME respect, then what?” It doesn´t matter. It´s YOU, through YOUR actions, that should strive to be a better person. As karateka you should set good examples for others, not judge them.

If you encounter people that doesn´t show you respect in return, just let them pass through your life and don´t waste your breath.

Respect yourself

Respect your body and mind.

Karate is not just a sport but a martial art. As any other art form it takes a long time before you can call yourself an expert and there is no finish line. You have to respect the fact that it takes a long time to learn and you have to repeat things a thousand times and more. Accept that you need training, patience and don´t forget to breathe. Sometimes you make mistakes or need to ask for help, and that´s fine.

It doesn´t mean that your bad or stupid. You just need to humbly understand that your strength lies not in being perfect but in you willingness to strive for it. And I think that goes for all parts of life. There is no quick fix or shortcut, just your own goal to constantly try to be a better person.

So let it take its time and take care of yourself meanwhile.


So why do i write this article now?

Well, because lately I´ve noticed that we might need a reminder.

Karate has quickly evolved as a competition sport. And competition is a way to try out what you learned against likeminded opponents. It´s a positive thing, where you can test your skills in another setting than the dojo and where media, audience and others can see and experience karate. Which is good for us as a community.

But a negative phenomenon has started to show its ugly face – disrespect.

I´ve seen, in several cases, that groups attending competitions have been behaving very badly. Shouting insults, curses, and using defamatory language towards the opponent instead of cheering on their own competitor. Also urging their own to cause excessive damage and even threaten referees. Quite opposite the spirit of karate and totally unacceptable. This is practitioners, coaches and people in the audience alike. They´re not many, but they are loud, and they´re giving us a bad name we don´t deserve.

We are karatekas, not hooligans.

Since competition is an extension of what we learn in the dojo, not an isolated event, I have to wonder. In the groups tolerating this behavior, what happened to teaching the way of Budo? To Dojo Kun? Respecting your surroundings? And how is the respect for your own person, when you are making a fool of yourself, shouting and acting like an imbecill?

If you choose to behave this way, I´m embarassed for you.

Even if some of these cases are about people in the audience, they should by pure association with the club they are there to cheer for, have been informed how you should act and not. Otherwise there´s a serious lack of communication that need to be amended.

My work in a National Karate Federation gives me some administrative tools to try to discourage this type of behavior, rule and regulations. But for all our sakes, we need to come together as a community and try to stop it, when it´s actually ongoing. We can´t let it pass and make it a normality, not in the arena, in the dojo or in general society.

So if there is anything I would like you to remember from this text, it´s the importance of showing moral courage and standing up for what is right. Namely to be respectful. Let your voice be heard, teach what respect is all about and let us together strive a little every day to make this world a better place.

And to finish up, here is my favourite Japanese proverb which I try to live by:
“Nana korobi ya oki". (Google it :)) 

Thank you for your attention!



Written by: 
Sarah Wennerström Cedercrona
General Secretary, Swedish Karate Federation


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