The first of the Twenty Precepts of Karate is that “Karate begins and ends with courtesy.”  The first tenant of Tae Kwon Do is “courtesy.”  And yet, as the decades have passed, I have seen courtesy become less common in our culture and in martial arts.  Why?  The answer is not simple, but it is very understandable.  Non-believers refer to the answer as “human nature.”  Believers call it “original sin,” a Biblical concept rejected by most of the world.  But, courtesy can be taught, and accepted, by both individuals and cultures.  Usually, courtesy is taught us by first our mothers, and then by fathers, family, teachers, etc.  Everyone learns about courtesy and usually uses it out of fear of correction or consequences.  Some use courtesy to gain and maintain (and even manipulate) their position with others.  But when a culture or society begins to denigrate the concept of courtesy, history shows the decline and fall of that society.

In the martial arts, courtesy is an expected behavior. But is it true or just a superficial act.  And this is where the humility of the spirit is so vital.  Humility cannot be taught.  But it can be demonstrated if we have a humble spirit before the Lord and other people.  Humility is more than courtesy and even more than respect.  But if you think that courtesy is declining in our culture, just look at the denigration of those who display true humility.  There are so many times that humility is displayed in both the New Testament and the Old Testament that I won’t even begin to list them.  Get a Bible.  Look them up.  So many of us in the martial arts are full of pride.  We achieve rank, win matches, and have authority over others.  We suffer and endure so that we can be better than others.  That is not a humble heart.  We are not better than others, but as Believers we do have the responsibility to show others a humble demeanor. 

When I was first being taught marksmanship, I was told, “Everybody bleeds red.”  When I was first taught Judo, I was told, “Everyone bleeds red.”  My Sensei in Jujitsu and Karate both told me, “Everyone bleeds red.”  This was meant to instruct me in humility.  It meant that I was no better or different than anyone else.  I took this lesson to heart.  My parents, teachers, Sunday school and church all told me to be good, act correctly and help others.  For me, the martial arts have been the pathway that has led me to understand and accept the grace of God.

As a martial artist, how are you to display courtesy and humility.  The traditions of most arts will help with the display of courtesy.  But to truly be humble, you must put aside pride and become gentle.  This is not something you can achieve just through effort.  You will need God’s help.

M. Proctor

P.S. – Along the path to humility, one tends to pick up a lot of lumps.


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