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Discipline, Respect, and the Dojo!

By Floyd Burk

Photo by Robert W. Young

Discipline is a weighty part of the martial arts experience.

That’s because discipline figures into so many of the features and details the arts offer. While these can vary from one system to the next, there are key components that affect every training hall. Early in my martial arts career, I looked at discipline as mostly a physical thing.

For example, it might mean not getting to test for your next belt or doing push-ups in class. In other words, if you weren’t disciplined in doing what you were supposed to do, you got disciplined —corrective discipline!

Over the years, I learned that discipline is much more than that. In this column, I will focus on a mix of supportive and preventative discipline and explain how they can be a godsend for helping your students and your business succeed. Discipline goes hand in hand with respect in our dojo. This is because respect promotes the ideal learning and teaching environment, which encourages people to choose to make discipline a pillar of their training. Also, discipline and respect are positive attitudinal characteristics for all people and form the bedrock of most training programs.

At our dojo, we define respect as “treating others with value, regard and worthiness.” We also use the terms “self respect” and “respect for self and others.” Therefore, the definition can be expanded to “treating others — and yourself — with value, regard and worthiness.” We avoid using fear and intimidation to gain respect. Respect ought to be a healthy part of your school, too. Most dojo have a respect building system that’s tied into the class formalities. It all starts with you, the senior instructor. Respect should begin with you showing it to your students. Say to yourself, “I respect (the student’s) desire to learn.” Then show your respect to that student and all the others.

Show them that you value them as important people, and they will believe that you respect them. Tell them about respect and let them know that they should respect you as their instructor and because of your rank. Remind them, too, that they should value the lessons you teach as worthy and important parts of their life.

Now, let’s discuss respect in formalities. At the beginning of most dojo sessions, the class lines up with the instructor and students facing each other. Then both parties bow. Your bow to them demonstrates that you respect their desire to learn, and their bow to you indicates their respect for your standing as their instructor. At the end of class, the same thing occurs. Many dojo include an add-on. Ours does, and it goes like this: At the end of class, we line up and bow to one another. The instructor tells the students, “Good class‚” and the students proceed to thank the instructor one by one. This daily practice works wonders when it comes to building mutual respect.

The way to reach one’s goals and accomplish anything worthwhile is through discipline. In our dojo, we prefer to use the term “self-discipline” when discussing the concept. Our definition of self-discipline is “overcoming the opponent within yourself who has the potential to lead you down the path of laziness and irresponsibility.”

When students pay attention in class and do the techniques to the best of their ability, they’re demonstrating self-discipline — and thus defeating the “opponent within.” Unfortunately, being self-disciplined doesn’t come naturally for everyone. For many, it’s something that must be learned.

The following is a method I use to help students realize how important self discipline

is. I have the students gather on the mat for a chat, after which I explain what the concept means. Then I have one of them stand and assume a front stance. I tell that student to do a punch/kick combo. Next, I tell the student to do the same sequence while looking out the window and thinking about going next door for a donut.

The second punch/kick combo is worse every single time. This helps every student clearly see that self-discipline leads to superior performance because it’s obvious that letting the mind wander takes a toll on technique. Because such “spacing out” comes naturally for many people, it’s crucial for you, as an instructor, to keep preaching about self-discipline. You must drive home the fact that they need to improve their skills to earn their next promotion and that those skills give them the ability to defend themselves.

The underlying message is that they must try to be self-disciplined at all times when training. In a nutshell, being self-disciplined is how students become skillful at executing techniques. This leads to confidence. Confidence leads to self-esteem. Confident martial artists with self-esteem will not let someone take their lunch money. They will stand up to bullies.

Confident martial artists with self esteem are on the path to success. They will achieve many goals in the dojo and in life. They will be part of your opus, and that will bring joy to your life’s work.

Floyd Burk is a San Diego–based 10th-degree black belt with 50 years of experience in the arts.

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