Respect is a bit of a strange creature. We all think we deserve it, we all think we’re entitled to it, but very few of us do anything to genuinely deserve it. You’ll notice that I include myself in there because there have been times in my life where I’ve definitely thought I deserved the respect, even when faced with scenarios where I did very little to earn it. One good example comes to mind from all the way back, twenty four years ago…
I had suffered my first failure during my time at college and decided to take a year off, get a job to raise some added capital and hit hard again the following year. Little did I know at the time, life gave less than two shits about my plan and what started out as a part-time job quickly inflated to a full-time one within a couple of weeks. Further training and effort on my part saw me become a shift supervisor within six months, overtaking several people who had been at their job for years if not decades. (Yes, I’m a bit of an overachiever!)
Despite the celebratory nature of that accomplishment, I suddenly found myself overseeing and supervising people that I had spent the previous six months becoming friends with. This is never a good situation to be in, but it’s even worse when you suddenly take stock of the fact that you think they should respect your current station. The reality is that there is a big difference between authority and respect, and the latter needs to be earned despite having the former.
The same can be said for the martial arts, where tradition and ceremony are an integral part of the learning process and where respect is a free-flowing river that goes both ways. Bowing is a good example. What is a bow? In the simplest terms, bowing signifies a number of different things including greeting, affirmative response, gratitude or reverence as well as being a show of respect. In a karate dojo, a student is always expected to bow when entering and exiting the training area and whenever addressing one’s Sensei. Although there may not be another person there to receive that bow, it’s a ceremonial gesture that shows respect.
But what about the Sensei him or herself? Do they automatically deserve your respect? They certainly have authority over matters pertaining to your martial training, but the question is whether or not they should be respected from day one. The simple answer is yes, they should. If for nothing other than their station and as the head of the school, your Sensei should be shown respect from day one. But the kind of in-depth respect or reverence one feels for their Sensei after years of tutelage falls under a slightly different category.
Honestly, students who found themselves unable to show the basic elements of respect within Sensei’s dojos never lasted very long. After all, if you aren’t interested in the traditions and ceremonies that come with karate, go join boxing or MMA. Martial arts may not be for you. But having respect for someone is something that is generally earned by the recipient through gestures, words and actions. It isn’t something that’s automatically given.
This is especially true in the example I provided at the beginning. I’ve had a significant number of supervisors, managers and bosses throughout my life. Some have been good, some have been bad, but all of them had authority over me in some way, shape or form. All of them had my obedience (within reason); only a few have received my respect. This is because only a certain handful have been able to show that their employees and staff mattered and issued directives in the interest of them, instead of in spite of them.
The last important aspect I’ll touch on, is that respect needs to be maintained. Just because someone has gained your respect, doesn’t mean that they’ll keep it indefinitely. Through their words and/or actions, there’s a great deal a person can do to lose your respect. Certainly, the first step towards gaining someone’s respect is by showing respect yourself. But then, if that person hasn’t gained your respect, this can be difficult. It’s a tumultuous back-and-forth process that isn’t easy to navigate. The important thing to remember is to always give respect where it’s due or deserved; never expect it without earning it. ☯