In our dojo kun, our dojo creed there is a line that states that we should respect our superiors. It has been brought to my attention this week by several of the students that if we are studying an ego-less way who are our superiors?
Its a very good question. The term respect our superiors can be viewed several ways. You can see it from a point of view of those who may be superior to you in skill or rank. It can also be viewed from the point of view of those who are superior in knowledge or social strata.
I pointed out that it can also be viewed as those who are elder to us. This is where it gets interesting. If we see it from this point of view it changes our entire practice.
If we take the attitude of respect to those who are senior to us, and by senior, I mean older than us. We can easily walk a path of humility. It is a given that we should respect
all those who we come in contact with, in and out of the dojo. However those who are elder deserve a special respect. Let me share with you why.
Those generations that have come before us have paved the way for us. In many cases they have suffered hardships and difficulties so that we can have a better life. This is not just relevant to martial arts, but to society as a whole. When we show this generation respect we are acknowledging their contribution to our lives. We are each born into the link of a chain that reaches back through the generations, both in our biological families and in the adopted families of our practice.
Sadly we live in a society and culture ( in this country) where growing old is not valued, but rather is something to be avoided. You only need to look at the cosmetic industry and you can see what an "evil" getting wrinkles, and by default aging is. In other cultures the elderly are venerated and are celebrated. In our society the elderly are discarded, put in homes where someone else can take care of them. The unspoken message is that they have outgrown their usefulness, in our lives and in society. In a martial practice respect is a very important component. You respect yourself, your fellow students, and your teachers.
You are also taught to respect your lineage. As a martial practitioner you are expected to know where your style comes from and who made it possible. Each one of us that studies a martial art is the embodiment of the will of our elders. We are all connected, we are all one. The great lesson that we learn both in martial arts and life is that youth and skill are temporary, but spirit and will can transcend your lifetime.
The pictures in this post are familiar to most martial artists. The top picture is Sensei Gichin Funakoshi which is considered one of the fathers of Karate and was the founder of Shotokan karate a style which is still practiced today.
The woman in the red belt is Sensei Keiko Fukuda, at 96 she was a 9th degree black belt in judo, had been studying for 74 years and still taught three times a week. She passed away at 98 and is reported to have said at 96 that she needed to "slow down a bit" in her training. She was also the last living student who trained directly with Judo founder Jigoro Kano and the highest ranking woman in Judo.
The last picture is of O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Known for its soft and circular movements, it is a highly effective art that is still practiced today all over the world.
I highlight these three teachers ( and there are many more) because they all practiced way past what would be considered their prime years. The trained and taught even when their bodies no longer held the vigor of youth. They were valued and respected as people and as teachers.
Lets take this attitude into our own lives and respect those who have come before us. It is interesting to note that when students ask me what the stripes on my belt mean, I tell them " it only means I have been doing this a little longer than you have." The word sensei literally means born before. Using that definition we each have many sensei in our lives. Let us show them the respect they deserve.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
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