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Self Discipline

There are two types of discipline. Regular discipline is when you comply with an external authority (such as your instructor or the police). Self discipline is when you follow your own conscience and code of conduct. It should be obvious that Karate instills the latter -- self discipline.

But how many instructors are actually trying to discipline their students. If you are strict, yell at your students, punish them, and even beat them, is all that designed to teach self discipline or simple obedience?

When the instructor is not there, when there is no visible authority, that is when self-discipline is most important. That is when the student must have the strength of will and character to do the right thing because it is the right thing not because of the risk of punishment or expense for doing the wrong thing. The instructor's job is to instill self discipline in the student.

I don't think that anyone would say that I am a mean or strict instructor. I try to teach by encouragement and example. I try to bring out the best in each student, not beat them down. I try to encourage good habits that will replace any bad ones.

That said, I always worry that one or more of my students might become very strict and mean when they become the instructor. I was told that Gichin Funakoshi was so peaceful that he would avoid even stepping on an insect. However, some of his students became very strict and militaristic. There were stories of students being beaten to death when they tried to quit a dojo. There are also examples of students killing animals to prove their strength. Of course, I am not comparing myself with Funakoshi Sensei. I am just worried that if his great peaceful example could be missed, could my little example be missed too?

I believe in bringing out the best in each student. I do not believe in punishment, beatings, or humiliation. I never make my students do push-up for errors. I just continue to teach. We all make errors -- I certainly do. It is my job to correct the errors. Any errors in the dojo are my fault, not the students'.

Some teachers are very strict and demand respect because they are actually very insecure. Even a physically strong and intimidating person can be very weak inside. A person who respects himself will work to earn the respect of others -- not demand it. Sometimes strictness hides weakness.

I am very fortunate to have had (and have) sensei who have inspired me to try my best. No matter how many mistakes I made -- and I made enough for 10 or 20 students -- they always kept encouraging me. "Keep trying." "Just a little more." "Let's try again." And then, on the rare occassion that I did something correct, they would celebrate as if they had won a great prize.

Because of their encouragement, I would build upon each tiny success. At first I might move correctly only once in a week. Then once in each training session. Then twice. Then a little more. Gradually, the correct way would become second nature and I could work on another area.

A good sensei brings out the best in each student -- coaxes, encourages, inspires, and celebrates. A good sensei teaches self-discipline, not simple obedience.


Charles C. Goodin