I often tell parents and new students that karate is different from anything they or their child have ever done before. It's based on traditions outside of our mainstream culture and has an extensive body of ritual and etiquette that is both elegant and functional. It is elegant in its precision and grace. It is functional in that much of it is designed to reinforce the teachings and values we present in our classes.
Every once in a while, I like to elaborate on some of philosophies and values that we try to teach at Sun Dragon via Seido karate and today I'd like to write about the pivotal role that courtesy plays in our practice.
We start and finish each karate class with bows, showing respect to those who have come before us, those who teach us, those whom we teach. We bow to our partner at the beginning and ending of each partner exercise. We bow to our partner at the beginning and ending of each sparring round. Our practice of karate constantly follows the maxim of Gichin Funakoshi—“Karate begins and ends with courtesy.” It is vital to our practice.
Bowing to our partner before working together reminds us that the person across from us is a partner, not an opponent. Bowing to our partner afterwards shows gratitude for the knowledge and wisdom we gained together. Reminding ourselves constantly that we learn in concert, not in opposition, keeps us grounded and keeps us from growing contentious and from letting our competitive instincts gain the upper hand in our dojo relationships.
Our training relationships have to be rooted in love and respect. We will make mistakes as we train, we might hit someone too hard, we might lose our temper, we might get lost in the adrenalin of the moment and do things we wouldn’t normally do. But, as long as our practice is rooted in love and respect, we can apologize, make amends, and continue to train together because we know that the love and respect is there, the mistakes of the moment are fleeting. Beginning and ending our practice with courtesy reminds us of the importance of our relationships and how we have to maintain them because we cannot learn alone. Karate is all about working together, learning together, growing together.
We are all on a journey of discovery when we enter the study of karate or any martial art and we do not travel alone. We follow in the footsteps of the many who came before us, we stand on the shoulders of giants and we can only hope that we can add to the canon of knowledge that has been passed down to us so that those who follow us can stand a little taller than we stand today. The bow when we enter and exit the training floor should ground us in the current moment of our training, show gratitude for all who came before us, and remind us that everything we do in the dojo builds the foundation for all who will follow us.