A group of fellow martial artists recently asked the question, “What is the most important thing to teach in a self-defense curriculum?” There were many great answers and each one had some validity depending on the individual’s martial arts philosophy. I found it surprising that no one made mention of one of the easiest yet still effective self-defense techniques there is. This technique can be taught to anyone, at any age, and can have massive benefits even outside of a self-defense scenario. This simple technique is simply called “Courtesy”. The art of being courteous even to those that anger us, has helped avoid more physical attacks than we could ever know. Two of the eight virtues of Bushido is “Politeness” and “Benevolence”. If you combine these two, you basically get the art of courtesy. You will be kind to all and show mercy to everyone as befitting a warrior.
The more courteous we are to others, the more we promote respect instead of anger. The less angry we make others, the less likely for it to escalate into violence. This does not mean that violence won’t occur, but you will know that you did not feed into it. There is no foolproof self-defense method, but it is an excellent first line of defense against physical violence or even our everyday conflicts we face. Courtesy can easily enhance all aspects of one’s life at home or even the workplace. You will find that you will be treated better and more opportunities will come your way.
Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern Karate, once wrote “Karate begins and ends with courtesy.” He made this principle one of the major pillars of his teachings. Without going into too much detail from his book, Karate-Do My Way of Life, he tells us the backstory of his saying. After Japan’s loss in WWII, there were many angry youths lashing out at the world. They were basically becoming thugs by beating people up and stealing from others. He knew he had to put a stop to this somehow. He gave them an outlet for their anger through Karate and taught them the art of courtesy. He believed the future of his country was at stake, and wanted to invest in the nation’s youth so that Japan would stay strong and not collapse into chaos.
Through his example, he changed the life path of thousands of Japanese youths. The art of courtesy is once again being lost in our modern age. We must strive to remind ourselves to always show courtesy even to our own enemies. This is the principle that all martial arts programs should begin with if we want to change the world into a safer place.