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  • Writer's pictureShaun Anderson

Cultivating Respect: The Essence of Traditional Martial Arts

In the realm of traditional martial arts, respect is not just a word or concept. It’s a way of life.

As a Head Instructor and long-time practitioner of karate, taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and hapkido, I’ve dedicated my life to not only mastering the physical techniques of each discipline, but also embodying the core values that they instill—and in my opinion, the concept of respect is the most important one.

Understanding the Foundation: Respect for The Self

Traditional martial arts emphasize self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-respect as fundamental principles. Students are taught to honor their bodies, minds, and spirits through rigorous training, meditation, and self-reflection.


For example: karate practitioners are encouraged to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to push themselves beyond their limits while also recognizing their boundaries. This self-respect translates into confidence and humility, which are essential qualities for any martial artist.


In taekwondo, students similarly learn to respect their bodies by mastering precise movements and techniques. They cultivate mental discipline through forms (poomsae) and meditation, fostering a deep sense of self-respect and inner strength.


Hapkido, with its emphasis on fluidity and adaptability, teaches students to respect their bodies’ natural rhythms and capabilities. By learning to harness their innate power, practitioners develop a profound respect for themselves and their potential.

Respect for Instructors and Elders

Traditional martial arts instructors are revered as mentors and guides, and students are expected to show them the utmost respect. This respect is not merely a formality but a sincere acknowledgment of the knowledge, wisdom, and dedication that instructors bring to their students.


In karate, students bow to their sensei (teacher) before and after each training session as a sign of respect and gratitude. This ritual serves as a constant reminder of the student’s commitment to learning and growth, as well as their appreciation for their instructor’s guidance.


Taekwondo practitioners also bow to their instructors and senior students as a sign of respect. This gesture symbolizes humility and acknowledgment of the knowledge passed down through generations, reinforcing the hierarchical structure inherent in traditional martial arts schools.


Hapkido places a strong emphasis on the relationship between master and student, with respect serving as the foundation of this dynamic. Students address their instructors with titles such as “sabeom-nim” (master) or “sunbae-nim” (senior), demonstrating reverence for their experience and expertise.

Respect for Training Partners and Opponents

In the dojo (training hall) or dojang (training gym), respect extends to one’s training partners and opponents. Traditional martial arts teach practitioners to view their fellow students not as adversaries but as comrades on a shared journey of self-improvement.


Karate practitioners engage in kumite (sparring) as a means of honing their skills and testing their abilities. During sparring sessions, participants demonstrate respect by adhering to the rules, showing restraint, and avoiding excessive force. Bowing to one’s sparring partner before and after each match is a customary gesture of respect and sportsmanship.


Taekwondo sparring, known as kyorugi, follows similar principles, with competitors showing respect for each other’s safety and well-being. Even in the heat of combat, practitioners are taught to maintain control and exhibit respect for their opponents, win or lose.


Hapkido’s emphasis on harmony and fluidity extends to partner drills and sparring exercises. Practitioners learn to anticipate their partner’s movements and respond with respect and consideration, fostering a sense of mutual trust and cooperation.

Respect for Martial Arts and its Heritage

Beyond individual relationships, traditional martial arts instill a deep respect for the art itself and its rich cultural heritage. Practitioners learn about the history, philosophy, and traditions that underpin their chosen discipline, fostering a profound appreciation for its roots.


In karate, students study the origins of their art, tracing its lineage back to ancient Okinawan and Japanese traditions. Through kata (forms) and bunkai (application drills), practitioners pay homage to the masters who came before them, preserving and perpetuating their legacy.


Taekwondo practitioners delve into the history of their art, which traces its roots to the Korean peninsula and incorporates elements of indigenous Korean martial arts. Through the study of poomsae and the practice of dobok (uniform) etiquette, students cultivate respect for the traditions and customs that define taekwondo.


Hapkido’s eclectic blend of techniques reflects its diverse influences, including Korean, Chinese, and Japanese martial arts. Practitioners learn about the philosophical principles that underpin hapkido, such as the concept of “hwa” (harmony) and “do” (the way), fostering a deep respect for the art’s philosophical foundations.


In the world of traditional martial arts, respect is not merely a superficial gesture but a deeply ingrained value that permeates every aspect of training and interaction. From the dojo to the tournament arena, into schools, and workplaces, practitioners demonstrate respect for themselves, coworkers, classmates, their instructors, their training partners, and the art itself.

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