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Tonight, I asked a group of students why they respected our school’s founder, Grandmaster Moo Yong Lee (my Taekwondo teacher since 1985 and father-like mentor). Their answers varied, from “I simply respect him because he is my elder” to “I respect him because he respects us” to “I respect him for all he teaches us”to “he is easy to respect because he is so humble.”
As I expected, none of the answers were indicating that the respect the students had for our grandmaster was because he expected them to respect him. Knowing how humble he is, I knew everyone respected him out of their own desire to respect him. He would have been mortified if anyone respected him because they thought he expected them to respect him.
As I was explaining that respect can never be something that is commanded, but instead only earned, I decided to ask them what they would do if they didn’t have respect for him. Universally their answers were that they would not be his students. In that moment, I realized, yet again, the wisdom of our grandmaster.
To the extent that he was able to cultivate our respect for him, he was able to teach us. And teaching us was his objectives. So, our respect for him had very little to do with him, it was actually for our benefit. I’m certain he knew that our respect for him would help us learn from him. This insight only came to me as I was teaching, this evening.
This perspective is so different than the typical western perspective of respect. Most people want to get respect, or be respected. People are very concerned if they are “dis”respected. Respect seems to be something to be acquired or attained. The idea of respect being something given, and given freely, seems foreign to most people’s minds.
But in martial arts, specifically taekwondo, respect is a big thing. Only tonight, did I get a much clearer understanding of the benefit of respecting another. It always seems like the right thing to do, and it was just the way we do things. It kept everything running orderly, insured rank order was maintained, and provide a framework in which we could learn.
But I see now, but the true purpose of respect is so the individual can open their mind and heart to the teacher. Perhaps this is where the old saying “the teacher appears when the student is ready” comes from. Maybe the teacher simply knows that it takes time for the student to learn to respect him.
I will teach my students and do my very best to cultivate and earn respect from them. I will create an environment in which they can benefit from being respectful. I will always give them more than they expect from me, as a primary method of earning their respect. I will always tell them the truth, and always, always show them respect first, especially when they have not earned it or maybe even think they don’t deserve it. I will remain humble, knowing that my teaching is only that: my teaching. I will always give my best to them, and my intention will always remain pure.
Only this way can I help them develop respect for me, for their benefit!