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KBS System of Filipino Martial Arts

Thoughts on Respect and Martial Arts
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If any Western teacher goes to an Asian country, he has to modify what he is doing out of respect for the culture. He does it out of respect for the culture he moved into, perhaps blending an appreciation for his homeland culture into the new one. I know, because I have lived and taught in Asia now for more than 13 years. You can't teach this topic, or you must not do that in the class because you will offend someone's sensibilities. In general, I agree with this. We as foreigners must be the ones to adapt to the new culture. The residents of the culture have the right to learn within the cultural limits that they already know about.

Yet, it seems as if the opposite is true in the West. Asian teachers of martial arts in particular come to the West and not only try to maintain their own cultural identity within the training hall, but also demand that Western students treat them with the same respect that they would receive in their home, even if that respect is based on cultural concepts that many Westerners may not really understand. I think that is wrong, and those students who become mini-disciples of their foreign teacher are not doing themselves nor their fellow students any favors.

Many students of the martial arts begin their study wanting to dive in over their heads, to immerse themselves as deeply as possible. They try to learn some of the language, they wear the dress (even if totally inappropriate for the climate), they join clubs and organizations formed by expatriates of the particular culture, and they might even look for members of the opposite sex of that particular culture to date. After a while, however, most of them will realize that they were just infatuated, and even if they continue training, will only look at it as a martial art, as physical training. They will move away from the cultural aspects and go back to being whatever they are, with the martial training as some extra part of themselves.
Very few will ever continue with the cultural aspects to that extreme. From a sociological perspective, people who do try so hard to take on a new culture as their own, for no other reason than because they want to, or are following a teacher much like their personal guru, are considered to be in some ways abnormal and not entirely mentally healthy.

There is an idea that Westerners have a monopoly on nonexistent or bad cultural values. It is very popular to blame the ills of the world on the West. Yet, I can safely say that every culture I've lived in has its good and bad points, with Asia having just as many bad points as good ones. Yet, we in the West seem to think that just because a teacher comes from one of these Eastern cultures, he is automatically like the monks from the Kung Fu TV series, and that he is automatically worthy of our complete love and devotion! We start giving respect before we even know whether we like him or not, let alone know him well.

The meaning of the word "respect" is at the root of this discussion. Respect is a very different thing to an American than it is to an Indonesian, Chinese or Filipino. Any attempt to demand one's particular version of the word is sure to fail at some point, if you are teaching in a different culture than your own. This is why I say it is the teacher's responsibility to try to understand what the term means to the students he is teaching. He is living in their culture, not the other way around.

When an Indonesian, Filipino or Chinese teacher living in America makes it clear that he is displeased and that the student somehow didn't give the proper respect, many times a Western student just goes, "Huh? What happened?" The teacher might have lived in the US for 20 years, but he still chose to express himself through his own cultural mechanisms, and that's ineffective at best, as well as unfair.

I would also like to point out the differences in what the term "respect" means in terms of money, or other compensation for services rendered. This is not a discussion of which way is better, or which is "correct", only of what is! As an example from the field of business, to an American, if he pays you money, then respect is not necessary. It has become a simple business deal, and if someone accepts the money, a contract is signed (or understood), and the business (teaching) must continue, to the best of the seller's (teacher) ability, until the terms of the contract have been met, or the contract expires. Respect, on the other hand, comes from the teacher's ability, as well as the way he lives his life. It has nothing to do with his nationality or how much money was paid. The student will respect him not for his teaching (that is covered by the contract, to the American mind), but rather for his ability to perform in a professional and skillful manner whatever it is that the student is paying for. In other words, the day-to-day operations of a martial arts club (number of hours class is held, the material covered, the time spent, etc.) are all covered by the contract, and there is no respect due for those types of things.

I have had a couple of (and knew of many more) teachers in the martial arts over the last 30 years who, while they had very high martial skills, were nearly complete failures at life. They were either supremely arrogant, abusive or low on morals. One was nothing more than a thief! Yet, I respected their martial arts ability and was very polite because I wanted to learn from them. Outside the training hall, however, I didn't want to asociate with them, and I definitely did not respect them as human beings. To me (an American), the distinction is very clear, and I have no problem in separating them. To an Asian, however, that would be very difficult if not impossible to do.

The men I have ended up with after 30 years on the martial path (Tuhon Bo Sayoc and GM Banoy Borja) are the real deal- men I can respect not only for their great ability, but also for themselves. I encourage everyone starting out on a martial journey of their own to hold the blind trust and devotion until you are sure the teacher you have found is worth it. There are so many opportunities these days that no one has to put up with some pseudo-personality cult in order to learn.

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