Sometimes Acts of Courtesy Can Be Invisible


Courtesy on the sparring mat (credit: forlanda)

About Courtesy

Courtesy is the first tenet of Taekwondo.  It represents a positive aspect of a person’s character.  In simplistic terms, it means being nice to others.

One way one can be nice is to show respect.  When one respects another it generates positive energy.  This positive energy is what makes people feel good about themselves.  There are many ways of showing respect.  You can show respect by saying or doing something; the same is true for withholding words or not doing something.  This might seem confusing, so here are some example to clarify.

Things you say or do to show respect:

  1. say:  Start saying “sir” or “ma’ am” to everyone.  Everyone will start feeling they are important.
  2. do:  Open a door for someone, and make them feel special.
What you do here generates positive energy on the receiving end.

What you should not say or not do to show respect:

  1. don’t say:  Call someone who is obese “fatso”.  If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.
  2. don’t do:  Cut in line in front of people who has been waiting ahead of you.  This creates negative energy against you.

Things you don’t do prevent negative energy.  This kind of courtesy are the ones that tend to be invisible, i.e. people will typically not notice it unless they know the nature of the person who is restraining themselves.

Courtesy On The Sparring Mat

A few days a go, I saw an exemplary display of courtesy.  This great act of courtesy came from one of our students who is just 11 years old.  This just goes to show that courtesy has no age boundaries, or for that matter, no gender or ethnic limits.

Anyway, our student exercised courtesy during a Taekwondo sparring match.  You might be thinking or asking “how can someone show courtesy in a sparring match when all the do there is punch and kick each other?”  This is where it gets interesting.  Our student is extremely fast and strong in sparring.  His kicks are devastating to anyone even above his age group.

During his sparring match, he moved and kicked just as we practiced in class.  However, there was something missing.  His kicks and punches lacked the sting they normally had during sparring practice in class.  As the matched continued, it was clear that his opponent wasn’t as skilled, and was basically outclassed.  Our student won the match–scoring 3 to 1.

What really happened here?  And how does courtesy fit in?  It may not be obvious, but our student realized his opponent was outclassed and thought that his kicks could potentially hurt or injure his opponent.   So instead of kicking at his normal speed and power, he restrained himself–still kicking with enough power to score, yet sufficiently restrained so as not to hurt the other kid.  When I realized this, I stopped shouting instructions towards him; I just let him be throughout the rest of the match.

For any age, this behavior is exemplary.  It is a sign that our student knows to respect the safety of others even to the point of possibly compromising his win.  He could have easily shut out his opponent, but his humbleness and courtesy showed his potential for becoming a true martial artist.  He also gained my respect and admiration.


Most of the time, courtesy is something you do to others who notice and appreciate it.  However, sometimes it is something you do not do, as in the case of our student who restrained his normally strong kicks to avoid possibly hurting someone who wasn’t as skilled at protecting himself during a match.

Acts of courtesy of this kind could easily remain hidden from everyone, except for the lucky few who happen to know the inside story.

So remember, acts of courtesy can be happening all around you without you.

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