"Practice Courtesy to All Mankind" (and ice cream vendors)
"Wow - your kids were really polite - I was surprised! You’re doing a good job raising them!"
That was the comment made by the woman behind the counter at Royal Crown, a popular ice cream shop in town. I thanked her, but mixed in with my feelings of pride over my kids was a little sadness that what I consider a bare minimum of courtesy and ordinary manners would illicit such sincere praise.
It also got me thinking that all the kids at the dojo also demonstrate manners equal to, if not better than, my own children. I give credit to all parents that make courtesy an expectation and set a great example themselves. Now are my kids always fabulous? Of course not! There are times I poke and prod to remind them to say "please" and "thank you". They sometimes run enthusiastically though a door so eager to move on to another adventure that they forget to hold it open for the person behind them. However, more often than not, they do remember on their own. The gratitude they receive goes a long way to reinforce the good behavior and the occasional lack of acknowledgement for their kind deed is a reflection of the state of the other person's mood or mind and they just shrug it off.
What does this have to do with karate? "We shall always practice courtesy to all mankind" is part of the karate credo and are not just words recited at the end of class. A friend of my son's came to the dojo once, observed a class, and declared, "I will not bow to anyone!" He didn't understand the custom, tradition, or the significance of bowing. But all students learn that bowing is done out of courtesy and respect, not subservience. You bow stepping onto the dojo floor, to your teacher, and also to other students. Listening and following directions, not goofing off when you're supposed to be working - demonstrating respect to others in general - are critical elements of training. That can be challenging as most kids are delightfully rambunctious bundles of energy. The skill of self-control does not come naturally or easily to all students, and it is developed through time and practice as much as any of the kata or self-defense technique.
So why are most karate students so polite and respectful, even when they first start training - is it coincidence? I don't think so. I believe that parents who appreciate the value of their child learning a traditional art are already teaching their kids good manner at home. Can you have a polite child that doesn't train? Of course! But the traditional discipline of karate serves to reinforce those parental lessons. This is just one of many valuable elements of karate not readily visible to a casual observer.
There are many lessons learned by practicing karate beyond punching or kicking - including codes of conduct - that can and should be applied in everyday life...including at the local ice cream shop.