The electronic age is changing how we interact with one another. The golden rule and common courtesy are outdated notions. With the internet as a barometer of self-importance, self-worth has morphed into something almost unrecognizable.
There was a time when it was unlikely the average person would speak condescendingly or hurl obscenities at fellow pedestrians. However today, under the cloak of anonymity provided by the web, many individuals engage in hostile on-line behaviour, and in some cases, these aggressive interactions cross-over from the virtual to the real world.
The value and meaning of sonkei, or respect, in Okinawan and Japanese martial arts is based on historical and cultural traditions that blend self-esteem and deference with a societal code of honour. This is evident in the bow – a familiar action that is at once, both simple and complex: 15 degrees toward a junior, 30 degrees toward a colleague, and lower when greeting a senior.
In most karate schools, standard bow include:
Tachi-rei – standing
Suwari-rei – seated
Buki-rei – nodding to weapons to assure safety
Kamiza-rei and Shomen-ni-rei – veneration to the dojo/kami (martial ancestors/protectors)
Otagani-ni-rei – mutual courtesy
Senpai-ni-rei – acknowledging seniors and requesting their continued guidance
Waiting our turn to perform in class, bowing toward fellow karate-ka, saying onegaishimasu (asking for consideration) before a demonstration, or itadakimasu (grateful acceptance) as you receive a belt or certificate are traditional acts of appreciation in a world of entitlement. They also illustrate the inestimable value of patient, polite human interaction.
The Dalai Lama is fond of telling his followers, “When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others.” Respecting ourselves guides our morals. Respect for others guides our manners.
The dojo,“place of the way”, should be a bastion of courtesy where sensei maintain an unswerving commitment to sonkei/respect. Now more than ever.