May 23, 2024

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Loyalty as a Teacher by KJN Ronald W. Stone

Loyalty as a Teacher by KJN Ronald W. Stone

  Martial arts, something which might come as a surprise to many, are not solely about learning to fight, but are also about learning how to do so while following a certain lifestyle. Sun Tzu once stated that the best way to wage war was to win it without having to fight. One might just as easily argue that the object of individual martial arts training is to become so proficient that conflict can be avoided by either impressing or intimidating aggressors with your skill, or by avoiding conflict entirely.  This last part often implies learning how to become proficient while conquering one's fears, and more importantly one's own arrogance, ego, and impetuosity. 


Talk with anyone who has trained in the martial arts, and regardless of time spent in training the first thing they will mention is the guidance they received from their instructors.  As far as most students are concerned a sensei in the martial arts (rightly or wrongly) assumes an almost mythological status, and sometimes commands an almost fanatical obedience and reverence.

To quote a favorite comic book superhero, with great power comes great responsibility.  The obligation of a student, besides following the five tenents, is also to demonstrate loyalty.  Without this notion a martial art would eventually disappear.  Truthfully, for a martial arts leader to pass on his style honestly and faithfully he must first be assured that his students will follow his craft and behave as taught, and that implies that they have previously and repeatedly demonstrated their loyalty to his beliefs, his style, and his school.

Why, for example, would an instructor ever pass on his art's innermost details to someone he believes will adulterate them, or to someone who has demonstrated a disbelief or a disdain for his teachings.  Why would he ever trust a student who should go behind his back to train in another school with a diametrically opposed philosophy?

Although it is just a movie the new Cobra Kai series demonstrates the writer’s understanding of this martial arts principle.  Anyone who has followed this sequel instantly recognizes the problems involved with trying to bridge opposing personal philosophy.  How can you equate or try to meld “Karate is for defense only” with “Show no Mercy.”

We are not suggesting an ignorant or blind obedience that comes without foundation, but rather a loyalty that results from the actions of an ethical and educated instructor.  Respect is not commanded it is earned and this was never so true as it is in the martial arts.  A true master must be loyal to his students and in turn, earn their loyalty.  

The imperative word in our arts of course is “martial”. Just as in the military where you are expected to salute the rank, not necessarily the man, so in the martial arts do we are expected to respect the belt rank.  When someone joins the military, they take an oath of loyalty and there are significant penalties for violating this oath.  In the modern martial arts, there may not be such criminal penalties, but rest assured, a lack of loyalty to one's school, instructor, and fellow students will be met with such penalties as immediate loss of rank, suspension of training, or even permanent expulsion from the school.  

One of the most revered generals in the United States Army was George Patton Jr.  He had earned his stripes so to speak in the Mexican Incursion and two world wars and was unequalled in achievements. He may have had many personal flaws and his men were often intimidated by him, but none of them would ever say they weren't proud to have served under him.  

Despite his high rank and years of experience, however, Patton was removed from command of the Seventh Army and was almost booted out of the war after abusing his position by slapping an enlisted man.  The army has long realized that even the highest of ranks cannot disrespect those who are helpless before them.  In like manner wearing a martial arts black belt is not a license to abuse or deceive those who are sincerely there to study and learn under you.

Loyalty is a term used to describe an inanimate concept, and as such is often interpreted differently by different people.  I general however, it refers to a willingness to submit oneself honestly and ethically to a higher authority.  When one speaks of a teacher demonstrating loyalty, they are referring to the realization that not only their teachings, but their behavior will be emulated by their students and therefore the teacher must strive to protect, honor, and preserve the relationship that exists between student and instructor. 

In the movie Rio Grande John Wayne explains that a man must be loyal to his own word even if it means his own demise.  In the martial arts an instructor must realize that adulterating his art for profit or ego not only defrauds the newer students who were led to believe in his instruction methods, but also betrays the older students who complied with all of the schools’ previous requisites.

Imagine for example a group of students studying the art of the sword and who have spent years correctly practicing with a wooden bokken before being allowed to handle a real blade. Now imagine how would they feel if their instructor, due to a worry over finances or perhaps as a way of impressing others, suddenly begins teaching his new students to use real blades right from day one.  Betrayal would perhaps be the most accurate description of their feelings.

A true martial arts teacher must realize that trust and loyalty are earned and not purchased or gained by trying to fraudulently impress others.  The way to earn loyalty is by being a superior example and by demonstrating that you have your students’ best interests at heart. This means leading by personal example.  Do as I say not as I do will never succeed in the martial arts.  Only a lifetime dedication to personal behavior and training with the express purpose of properly educating one's students will.  This is the core definition of loyalty.

About the author: R.W. Stone is currently a practicing veterinarian in Central Florida. He is an avid horseman, a master ranked martial artist, a best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. After joining a martial arts school in 1970 Stone started studying Yudo with a Korean grandmaster. He eventually became a member of the Judo team of the University of Illinois. It was at the University that a Korean classmate and friend introduced him to Tae Kwon do. After graduating veterinary college, he found the martial arts becoming too sports oriented and eventually after moving from Miami to Central Florida he sought out a Hapkido grandmaster. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki Taekwondo. He is the Hapkido instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies.

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