I have avoided this topic for a long time, but I’m afraid it keeps surfacing. It’s my mental version of whack-a-mole. Suppress the thought in one place and it pops up in another. It’s about respect. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my Karate instructor, and of course for his teacher, our Grand Master. What should that mean? Into exactly what action should “respect” translate?
There are those in my school / chain, who demonstrate their respect for the senior belts by doing whatever is asked, including remodeling their homes, yard work, and personal errands. Others, demonstrate respect by agreeing to teach classes at the drop of a hat, changing whatever personal plans they may have, and generally doing anything school related that is asked.
I fall more with the latter than the former, however, I purposefully draw limits to what I’ll do. Running a martial arts school is different than say, a pizza parlor. The mere name “Martial Arts” implies an ordering, a hierarchy, and a chain of command. Should that translate into “following orders?” Does the Karate-as-discipline construct mean that “Yes Sir” is the only acceptable response?
First, let’s be clear - we’re not talking about blatant inappropriate conduct. I’m not asking about Presidents and their Interns - that scenario is beyond the need for our consideration. This is about the boundary of teacher and student with respect to gratitude and life lessons. If the Master asks a student to “Wax On, Wax Off” for three hours, is that “teaching” or is that just getting a free car wash?
As an instructor, I will ask (and I’m very clear that it is a request, not a command) to help maintain the school, e.g. vacuum, dust, clean mirrors, and such. Typically this is done before an event such as a test, and I try to limit how much class time they miss by sharing the load with others (many hands make light work). I try to be respectful of my student’s time. There are some jobs, see the photo, I won't ask anybody to do.
Still, I see others asking for the time, talents, and resources of their students - and their students capitulating well beyond the boundaries. In just about every case, the assumption is that the time, talents, and resources are in exchange for the lessons provided by the master. Helping out a friend, neighbor, or teacher is one thing; indentured servitude quite another.
As a student, you should establish your boundaries of acceptable reciprocity. Maybe you like to teach - great. How much? Every class? Once a week? Don’t let your respect and commitment to your Instructor tarnish your love for Martial Arts. If asked to assist out side of the school, think very carefully about what you’re agreeing to. If martial arts is to teach you self respect, then this may be the opportune moment to demonstrate the quality of that lesson.
If you are an instructor, this is a test of your integrity. I don’t give a rats whisker if your instructor asked you to wash his car, you shouldn’t be asking your students. You hold a special place in the lives of your students and as such you must guard against every impulse to abuse it. Yes, asking for another 20 push-ups to improve a punch is appropriate. However, if your training hall needs a fresh coat of paint; hire a painter, do it yourself, or ask for help and offer to buy lunch and give a special lesson on board breaking.
To paraphrase Aretha Franklin, R.E.S.P.E.C.T, find out what it means to YOU.