• Matt Powell

‘Where’s the Respect?’

It is now eighteen months since my dad passed away and every now and again, I hear him in my mind. It is crystal clear and like he is with me.


When I was younger, I would go to work with Dad to spend time with him and try to help. Sometimes I would not understand what he wanted me to do, and I would be indecisive. My confusion or misdirection would be met with a curt…..


‘Matty, Get a Grip!’.


It wasn’t rude or harsh. It was just direct, and it would help me focus.


The other day I was servicing my Son’s Bike before we went on a ride, and I was muddling around in my toolbox. I heard Dad in my mind and suddenly I focused. The bike was ready in no time.

It’s weird, but it happens a lot!


This morning my son who is nine years old was having a laugh at my expense. I’ve reached that point in my life when my belt malfunctions when I am bent down, and my awesome Glutes (aka 4th Dan Backside) make a guest appearance. My kids find this hilarious!


As Oscar made a comment, I again heard myself utter another of my dad’s go to lines:


Oi….. where’s the respect?’


This was always a fun retort from Dad when I would correct him or mock him in some-way. That said, although it was light-hearted it was also a friendly reminder that he was MY Dad! At that point I would wind-my neck back in.


Respect was a big deal to my dad and consequently being ‘respectful’ is somewhat of a default to me. I have even realised that sometimes I attach respect often where it is not deserved. As I grow older, I am trying to better identify those people or companies whose respect needs to be earnt rather than expected.


Having been brought up with a default towards respect means that when it is not reciprocated, I find it really challenging! Karate is a discipline where respect is taught from day one in the dojo. This has only served to reinforce my default.


If someone is inconsiderate, unthoughtful, or selfish towards me I have been guilty of taking it personally. But I now realise it is not about me!


Their value systems and defaults are just different to mine.


Interestingly as I have grown more experienced, I am more deliberate with my respect to others in the Martial Arts.


A few days ago, I had a night out with a few of my karate friends who I have known since I was a child. These guys are in their sixties and seventies now and still love talking about karate. It is always great to catch up but sometimes we can have some edgy conversations.

Ultimately karate is alive, so it grows, changes, and moves on. That means that we don’t always agree on everything. Those conversations can be fun, especially after a few pints of liquid refreshment.


During this night out I recalled a night in the dojo where I grew up and I shared it with my friends.


One Wednesday night my Instructor was not there and one of my Senior Colleagues took the class. At the end of the session, I bowed to the guest teacher and said ‘Osu’ before I left to change out of my kit.


The Senior grade who taught the class approached me and they were a little upset.

‘Matt, why didn’t you refer to me as Sensei during the class’?

I was puzzled by the question.


‘Sorry, what do you mean?’ I responded.


‘During the class Matt, you didn’t say Osu Sensei, and at the end you never said ‘Sensei’ when you bowed to me!’


‘Oh’ I said …. ‘I see, …… I didn’t say Sensei as you are not my Sensei’.


I then went quiet and smiled at my colleague. They didn’t really know what to say. I knew I had trained as hard (if not harder) than anyone else that evening. I had bowed respectfully and not questioned anything in class.


Still my Senior was unhappy.


I thought it interesting that they attached so much importance to me calling them Sensei. But ultimately, they were not and never have been my teacher.

For me the definition of ‘the one who went before’ is an important one.


Consequently, I only refer to those as Sensei who I hold a particular reverence for. Equally I am not rude or disrespectful to anyone leading a class. But it is clear in my mind that if they are not my teacher, influence or inspiration I will not call them Sensei.


When I finished retelling this anecdote one of my friends was particularly upset.


‘Matt, that was out of order! That was really disrespectful’ he continued.


‘Sorry Mate’ I said. ‘I disagree’.


My friend was passionate, and I then realised that they would have taken it personally if anyone in a class they taught had not called them Sensei.


I understand that but personally I don’t expect anyone to call me Sensei.


I believe students can choose to do it when and if they consider it appropriate. After all, we are not Japanese and some of our Karate ways are hard to fathom for those who do not practice Martial Arts.


So my friend and I agreed to disagree….. ish 😊. We just had another beer!


For me the title Sensei is almost as defining as that of Dad or Father. It is certainly not a title I would bestow on many. I don’t consider this disrespectful. In fact, I consider it respectful to those who have consistently, genuinely, and intentionally taught and influenced my Karate development. I choose to reserve the title for them!


At the end of the day, I will only ever call one man Dad. 😊


Different opinions on respect in the dojo present a risky concept. Perceived lack of respect could damage some people’s ego with dangerous consequences.


Once I was on a karate course in Europe with a Japanese Senior instructor. He was demonstrating a simple outside block against a powerful European opponent. In many ways this demonstration is the signature move of this instructor who uses deflection to impressively parry the attacks of much bigger opponents with little visible effort.


The teacher was relying on an interpreter to ask questions of those training and the interpreter was then translating answers back into Japanese.


At one point the teacher asked a very tall and strong looking Eastern European what he thought of the demo. Now, we must consider here that English was not this person’s first language, but the course was taking place with English as the primary dialect.

His translated answer to the Japanese teacher was that ‘it looked weak’.


Now I could tell (as well as many of my team-mates who were training) that he meant that the defence looked effortless but effective. Clearly the interpreter whose first language was again not English did not appreciate the subtlety of the answer.


When she translated the answer into Japanese the teachers face grimaced. The normally smiling demure instructor looked enraged.


I could only imagine he thought ‘how disrespectful!’.


Immediately he asked his partner to swap places with the Eastern European gentleman. He then asked for the attack and proceeded to parry the strike and viscously break the opponent’s nose. He was taken away and we didn’t see him again the whole weekend!


I didn’t call the Instructor Sensei for the rest of the course, and I haven’t trained with him since. I appreciate it was a misunderstanding but……!


During Lockdown I had plenty of time to think and I am sure many of these musings will make there way to Blogs eventually.


I have pondered the difference between words, and I think they are often worth considered thought from a karate context.


For example, I have wondered whether it is better to react or respond, whether luck is different to fortune, how Envy is more destructive than jealousy and, in this context, how respect could be consciously replaced with regard.


A definition of respect I found online is as follows:


Respect also called esteem, is a positive feeling or action shown towards someone or something considered important or held in high esteem.


In this definition I realised that the key principle is what we ourselves ‘consider important’ and often attach our own ‘self-esteem’ to. Once again Ego is the trap we must avoid.

Perhaps this helps decode my anecdotes?


When I did not acknowledge my colleague as my teacher, even though they never were, they were upset as their ego liked the title! Or perhaps I was unconsciously making a point and feeding my own ego by expressing that they were not my teacher?


The Japanese Sensei who was upset by a misunderstanding and reacted violently did so to make a point! But to who? …… was he simply refuelling his own self-esteem after a perceived insult to make a point? Was Ego once again the problem? Could compassion and asking for more clarity in the answer have avoided this? Who knows? …… It is tricky!

It is here that my Dad’s genius becomes clear to me!


I believe the answer lies in taking a light-hearted and humorous approach. We must ultimately not take ourselves too seriously.


I am sure my colleague who I didn’t call Sensei does not even care or remember about that night.


If the Japanese Sensei had asked for more clarity in the question there would have been no need to make a violent point.


If they both had the skill to relax, smile and express in a humorous way they could have simply said:

‘Oi, wheres the respect?’


I am sure the mood would have lightened, and everything would have been okay. As the author Ryan Holliday expresses;

‘Ego is the Enemy!’


As we plod along in life and karate, I believe we all need to ‘Get a Grip’ and not take these things too seriously.


Respect works in both directions and disrespect is not always intentional or personal!


..... I hear you Dad :-) xxx

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