Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Seven Tenets Part Two: Concentration, Respect and Obedience, and Humility

Returning to analysis of the Tenets, I wanted to knock out a discussion of three Tenets at once. The first of these is Concentration. So far as a definition goes, it does what it says on the tin. A proper martial artist is a person of intense focus. In a combat focus, a lapse in concentration can mean the difference between victory and defeat, or even between life and death.

However, training as a martial artist isn't solely about combat, but extends to all aspects of one's life. A martial artist is not only focused when in the heat of battle, but maintains a keen attention to everything he or she does. Work, training, people, and everything else that fills the life of a true martial artist earns their complete attention. Sometimes this isn't easy. Losing focus because of fatigue, stress, or extraneous stimulus is very common and easy to fall prey to. I myself am notorious as a professional distraction in the work place, though more so for others, and who among us has never stubbed their toe because they weren't paying attention?

Martial arts training serves as a means to heighten your ability to concentrate. My mother recently told me about sitting in on my first karate test over a decade ago. I was a very rambunctious kid, and was always quick to deviate from instruction in school and do whatever I wanted. However, the moment my instructor called the test to order, I stood still, eyes front, mouth shut, probably for the first time my parents had ever seen. Needless to say, that probably helped solidify karate in my life way back then, though it wouldn't be for another few years that it started to carry over into school work. It has, in my opinion, influenced my tendency for obsessive focus on things that interest me. When I read, for example, it is all consuming. I won't move until I'm done, even to eat.

While concentration is a purely introverted trait, the following two Tenets are far more interpersonal. Respect and Obedience is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult concepts to teach a student who doesn't inherently listen to teacher. Part of this is because for some, they interpret the combined Respect and Obedience as a lowering of their pride or ego.

"Why should I listen to you?"
"You're not the boss of me!"

Anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes around a small child probably experienced this at one point or another, and anyone who works as a teacher has experienced it every day in the classroom. What I found worked best for getting this concept across (at least in teaching karate) was to speak to them on an equal footing. You establish that you respect them. When that happens and they see you as something other than an oppressor, you can then ask them where they are. You're in class. As an instructor, we don't see the students as inferior being that need to be controlled, but as equals with whom we have the chance to explore their potential. The teacher is just a person who knows things and wants you to know them, too. While I cannot promise this approach is viable in all scenarios, I have had success using it myself.

What this demonstrates is my own, personal interpretation of Respect and Obedience. The first part is mutual. Respect is earned, and it can be lost. As a student, you demonstrate your respect for the teacher by obeying them in class. As a teacher, you respect the students by not looking down on them and being fair in your instruction. The same rule goes for all authority figures. In the setting you're in, there will almost always be power dynamic centered around authority. A martial artist treats those around him or her with respect, and obeys the proper authority in a given situation. When the respect for that authority is lost, the obedience is lost as well. It is knowing when someone has lost the respect necessary to deserve obedience that separates a martial artist from a thug.

The final Tenet, Humility, is an interesting concept to discuss. Tied closely to Respect and Obedience, one must first be humble to be able to obey. To have pride in oneself is important to a healthy mindset, but an expansive ego can only hinder you as a martial artist. A basic rule of life is that no matter what you do in life, there is always someone better. There is always another tier, another thing you don't know or haven't done. There are exceptions to this, but inherently only one at a time. The first step to becoming great is accepting that you have room to improve. Only then can you expect any sort of personal growth. Too much pride in something will lead to stagnation. Too much boasting will only serve to make your next loss more painful.

American culture is very clearly one of ego preservation. We are the home of 'everyone is a winner', as well as keeping up with the Joneses and the demanding of prestige and social acceptance. Grades, fashion, cars, toys, so much of our lives are consumed by the need to feel important, to feel proud. I am not going to say that it's all wrong, but many Americans have lost the ability to be humble. If anyone reading this has ever worked in retail, you know what I am talking about. Many people go out of their way to don the air of 'Do you know who I am?' whenever they feel even the slightest bit superior in a situation.

A martial artist avoids this. The mindset of a martial artist is one of constant self improvement, and therefore one should never assume that they are superior, that they are the best, or that others are on anything less than equal footing. It is through humility that a martial artist can ensure the most growth.

Next time, I'm going to talk about Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit, and will muse on the overall effect of obedience to the Seven Tenets.

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