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In my last post on Pride or Shame, I said,

In the west, we are generally rewarded for our efforts. We try to get ahead.

In the east, you generally work hard and do not seek any attention. You just try your best.
My mother was raised in Japan, my father here in the US. My father was in the Air Force, so we moved from base to base. On one tour, I attended elementary school in New Jersey. I remember an episode that took place in class just a couple of weeks after we moved there. The teacher would ask a question and several students would raise their hands (some quite excitedly). The teacher would usually call on one of them.

Being of mixed race, I probably did not fit into the class too well. One day, the teacher asked me to stay back after the class was dismissed. She asked me, "Charles, why don't you ever raise your hand? Don't you know the answers?"

I was shocked. Didn't she understand anything? "I know the answers," I said, "but it is rude to raise your hand."

I was taught that it was not polite to call attention to yourself. I knew the answers, but why should I raise my hand? It was so obvious -- to me (based on the way that I was raised).

I did not want the other children to think that I was trying to show off. Even if none of the other students could not answer the question, I would not raise my hand. I did not realize that this made the teacher think that I was slow or had not done my studies.

Years later in law school, there were many occassions to raise our hands when we knew the answers. Generally, I still would not. Thank goodness that most of the grades were based on written tests.

What's the point?

I asked a student of Gichin Funakoshi if he had any photographs with his Sensei. This gentleman is in this 70s. Nevertheless, his face turned red. "No, no," he said, "I would never ask Sensei to take a picture." He could not even conceive of such a presumptuous request.

Japanese culture teaches modesty to an extreme level. I am sure that other cultures do too. But because Karate comes from Okinawa and Japan, the early instructors probably tried to instill this trait in their students, because it was ingrained in them.

So be careful. A person who knows something might not raise his hand. A person who raises his hand might not know the answer as well as others. In Karate, the person who shows might not be as skilled as the person who holds back.


Charles C. Goodin