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Martial Arts Etiquette

Confusing Courtesy With Weakness

By Tracey Broussard

About a week ago my husband received a call at the office from my son's school. It was the cafeteria lady, calling to inform us that our eleven-year old (we'll call him Beavis) had been repeatedly rude and was disobeying cafeteria rules. She said that she had told him on more than one occasion that he needed to remain seated with his tray until the signal was given to get up. He continually left his seat before he was supposed to.

That evening, when my husband and I discussed the incident with our son, he denied the allegations of rudeness, then argued that he stood before he was supposed to because of a misunderstanding. When we refused to accept his excuses, Beavis responded with the following: "Fine. But you don't actually believe Donald Trump got where he is by being nice to the cafeteria lady, do you? To get ahead in this world you can't be this goody-goody person all the time. You have to be able to go after what you want, and you might have to push some people aside along the way. How is being nice to the lunch lady going to help me get ahead?"

"You get more flies with sugar than salt," I began, but may as well have been speaking Cantonese with the way Beavis's eyes glazed over, and his hands started twitching. For about fifteen minutes I tried everything I could think of to make him understand why he should be nice. That everyone deserves respect, whether you agree with them not. That being kind to others will enhance your own happiness. My husband added that it's the right thing to do. What goes around comes around.

"Please don't start with the karma stuff," Beavis said.

That he was so adamant in his disagreement was not a surprise. This was the child, after all, who told his pre-school teacher that his goal in life was to have more money than Bill Gates. And no matter how often we tried to make him understand that it's not about money, he held fast to his beliefs. Finally, we banished him to his room without TV or video games, directing him to contemplate exactly why everyone deserves courtesy, whether or not he believed they could help him get ahead.

The next morning I shared the incident with my sensei (teacher) and the other students in my karate class. Beavis also takes karate with my teacher, but hasn't had the same courtesy issues in her classroom.

"How do we expect our kids to understand when shows like "The Apprentice" are what they're watching? Not to mention the constant stories in the news featuring famous people behaving badly," Sensei said. "What ends up happening is that people confuse courtesy with weakness, and the truth is they couldn't be further apart."

She went on to discuss the difference between quiet power and explosive power, how the person who is able to chi (focus) in and speak softly in a confrontation is far more dangerous than the yeller and screamer. Anyone can be loud. To be soft and strong, however, is another story. In karate we are taught that softness always overcomes hard. My mother and grandmother convinced me growing up that good manners could get me anywhere (and if I didn't have good manners, I'd get knocked across the room).

My mother is 73 now, and people still notice when she enters a room. She has a quiet grace that emanates from her like light. My sensei is in her forties, and people notice when she enters a room. There is an aura of power surrounding her that no one would deny. Both women are extremely courteous, compassionate people. Both radiate confidence, one of the most powerful weapons of all.

How do I make my son see this? How do I make him understand that true confidence (and with it power) cannot come from making himself feel/look good at another's expense? Confidence cannot be measured by your ability to be rude, your bank account, a Coach purse on your arm, or a Vick's jersey on your back. Confidence comes from your gut and arrives when you least expect it. It is the product of hard work, long hours, and constant repetition, whatever your vocation may be.

My vocation until further notice is to convince Beavis to be courteous despite his lack of conviction in its correctness or its power. Either that, or he can stay in his room until he turns eighteen. To be truthful, I really don't care if he ever understands the power that lies in courtesy. I just want my son to be nice. I climbed the stairs to his room, hoping that my battle wouldn't be too far uphill.

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What do you do when your son's goals are limited to getting ahead and the pursuit of money -- and he believes that the only way to attain those goals is to be rude and push others aside?

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