What are the two most important lessons in karate, kung fu, or taekwondo?

Once again, I’m borrowing material from the excellent long-standing blog over at Mokuren Dojo. In a recent post called “Two most important lessons in judo,” Mokuren cited an essay describing the structure and operation of local judo dojos in Japan. He was impressed with the principles governing them — that they claimed as their main objectives neither training the next Olympian, nor teaching techniques, nor self-defense, but:

According to Wilson, the ethic in these classes is that their most important objectives are twofold:

* to teach students how to fall without injuring themselves (ukemi)
* to teach students how to behave in the dojo (reigi)

Mokuren adds that he has borrowed this idea, and now frequently quizzes his young students during warmups:

Q: What are the two most important things to learn in judo?

A: How to fall properly and how to control yourself (or sometimes I’ll accept “How to fall and how to behave.”)

All of which got me wondering, what are the two most important lessons in karate? – if we had to distill it to two. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Physical fitness
2. Respect

I believe these two principles encompass everything we might want young people (or adults, for that matter) to learn from martial arts.

Our physical training in the techniques of karate and similar arts — stances, kicks, blocks, strikes — brings the kind of health, strength, and physical competence that will allow a person to move confidently through the world, and to take care of him/herself and others.

Our training in respectful behavior — which may begin with certain rituals in the dojo (reigi in Japanese), but surely extends to lessons in self-respect and respect for others in the world at large — helps forge young people who are able to make good decisions, avoid trouble, and handle trouble wisely when it cannot be avoided.

What do you think, readers? What would you say are the two most important lessons in your martial art?

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5 Comments on “What are the two most important lessons in karate, kung fu, or taekwondo?”

  1. redwoodojo Says:

    In a related vein, we have a discussion going on over on Facebook on the subject: How much “philosophy” do you teach in kids class? Follow this link to share what you teach and how: http://bit.ly/awn1Xs

  2. Chris Baglieri Says:

    I was tempted to say that the principle of “taking a stance” is central to the martial arts. We learn to draw on our inner strength and maintain balance. I also agree that falling (which is really a manifestation of the principle of flow) is key.

    First we teach you how to sit, then to breath, then to stand, then to move, then to fall. The entire life cycle repeated in miniature.

    Still – My idea is that the two most critical lessons are Respect and Perseverance.

    Respect is the idea that you act always in accordance with your proper relationship to others. We show deference to those who teach us, and a solemn sense of obligation to those who trust us to teach them.

    It has never been about abasing yourself, but rather about knowing your place in the world and moving with a sense of honor and personal integrity.

    Respect builds the web of trust and safety that allows us to practice safely and without competition and ego in the Dojo. It enables us to engage both our friends and opponents without fear.

    All respect is ultimately self-respect, and that is the lesson.

    The second key is perseverance. In many areas of life we lose track of the fact that growth and development -take time-. We lose faith in our ability to set a goal and work steadily towards it. We consistently underestimate what awesome things we are capable of when we combine the simple ingredients of effort over time.

    In the culture of the Asian martial arts, we start with the supposition that nothing worth doing can be done quickly, or without effort. We teach students the principle of the seed, the tree, the flower, and the idea that we grow by constantly cycling past our own beginnings.

    Those that learn these two lessons finally become students of the Art, and thus they become their own best teacher.

  3. Shawn McElroy Says:

    I would think that “Respect” should be universally accepted as one of the key lessons of martial arts. The ability to give it and receive it, show it and accept it humbly.
    The more and more I teach kids, the more I see “Balance” as the second most important lesson learned from karate. Good physical balance will prevent falling, and balance on the way down will improve your roll. Well balanced emotions will keep you cool in tough situations, and a balanced day will be full of great experiences while allowing ample time for rest and meditation. A balanced life is less stressful, and a balanced diet keeps the body healthy.
    I have been stressing balance to my students over the last few months, and they seem to be getting the idea.
    There can be no yang without the yin…


  4. I agree that respect is the key, but also stress that martial arts skills are to be used in self defence only. To me, physical fitness is a by-product of training.


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