“Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that's real power.”
– Clint Eastwood
On a good day I will be able to ask my junior martial arts class what our club’s first tenet is and a sea of eager hands will shoot up. Some – those who haven’t quite got to grips with our fourth tenet of discipline – will blurt out the answer: “Respect!” And so it is. But why should I place such high importance on this particular tenet in a very modern approach to self-defence? Some might argue that it is a throwback to the classical martial arts forms that take their lead from trying emulate the times of honour bound warriors of bygone days. The more cynical might see it as a ploy to control my class, military fashion, which is the quickest although not the most productive way to install discipline in students. Both assumptions are entirely wrong. I see respect as a key and primary foundation in developing truly efficient self-protection both in the microcosm of a child’s life and in the macrocosm of his society.
When I first laid out my plans to develop a modern self-protection method I was keen to keep in what I felt was most efficient and to leave out what I felt was unnecessary. One of the things I retained from the more traditional martial arts was to have a set of tenets. I carefully considered what tenets I believed benefitted students best in today’s society. They needed to be principle-based, general enough so as not to be misconstrued as dogma, in line with the foundations of a rational society and completely related to the training being undertaken. I set them out in the following order, Respect, Awareness, Courage, Discipline and Open Mind. Respect came first, even before awareness, because respect embodies attitude and character the true foundations of what it means to be an individual. Without good attitude and character the rest of the tenets mean little.
So what do I mean by respect? It is interesting to note that when I ask this question to my students many reply with “To have good manners”. Manners are nice, but are a superficial habit we learn to get by in a civil society. Respect goes much deeper than simple courtesy towards others. “To be good to other people” is another common answer. That is a way of showing respect, although this too can be seen as a method of manipulation. “To be respectful to others” – now this is actually correct, but there is someone being left out of the whole picture: You. Self-respect must be truly embodied if we are to genuinely be respectful to others. Without self-respect, the “respect” you show to others can be the product of negative stimulants like fear or a desire to manipulate others. Even if you come across as a very respectful, below the surface there will be insecurities that can be detrimental to your self-defence.
With self-respect comes confidence and self-assurance. A predatory human being smells the signs of low self-respect like a shark senses blood in the water or a lion spots a lame zebra and he acts on it with almost the same degree of mental savagery. No matter how physically large you are if it is apparent that you are fearful – that you appear shy, unsociable or are easily offended or dominated – you become a “soft” target for the human predator.
It is worth mentioning that being cocky and arrogant does not necessarily show good self-respect either. Very often the person exhibiting these traits has hidden insecurities about themselves and this too acts like a beacon to potential predators – others with insecurities that can identify the same in you and decide to challenge your superficial show of confidence. Without a true sense of self-worth, a deep feeling that you are worth protecting, the façade of confidence will be blown away with little effort.
We often hear about “learning respect”, but really this is not possible. The best anyone can do is to encourage a person to look positively about themselves. This is not something that needs to be done on a regular basis – it is far too easy to fall into the trap of constantly reassuring someone. They need to understand that it is their choice whether or not they wish to respect themselves and others. We all have to ask the question “Am I worth protecting”. I can give you the answer straight away: “Yes, of course you are!” That’s the easy part. The hard bit is that you then need to completely buy into this answer. Just being positive isn’t enough. We can all use motivational speaking or feed someone false flattery. You need to fully understand that you are a unique individual; valued by many and that there have been numerous others with far less advantages than you who have made a brighter future by their self-belief alone.
The person with self-respect walks with his head up, aware of his surroundings, and speaks as clearly as possible, confident in what he is saying. He is not above criticism, taking on board what could be helpful to improve and disregarding wholly negative comments. Sometimes we fear being seen as arrogant and are excessively humble. The words of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, in “The Adventure of The Greek Interpreter” are perhaps worth noting in this instance:
“I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one's self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one's own powers”.
What I believe is being said here is not that someone should be boastful but truthful. When someone pays you a compliment it is bad social form to say “I know”, but it is perfectly fine to just say “Thank you”.
When we discuss self-respect the issue of overconfidence must also be addressed. My theory is that an overconfident person can often be just an insecure as a person with low confidence. The person might believe that they are the centre of the universe, but deep within the human mind lies the capacity to be rational and, unless we are seriously deluded, we know that we are all far from perfect. We can play along to a reality we want to believe in as much as we want, but at different times we will come across challenges that will brutally expose our weaknesses. At these times those who haven’t come to terms with their own fallibility often disempower themselves by blaming anyone or anything but themselves. The blame may be instant relief from acknowledging self-failure, but it doesn’t improve the person’s abilities or physically change the reality of the situation – and deep inside this person the insecurity grows. As previously stated, often the outward show of cockiness, arrogance and overconfidence are actually symptoms of the fearful person inside.
Having said this, let us not discount the genuine problem with over-inflated self-esteem. At the extreme end we have the psychopath who has a complete belief in his own superiority over others. The last thing an individual exhibiting this type of behaviour needs is a confidence boost. Here we also find the master manipulator, which we touched upon earlier. It is unlikely such an individual would be seeking out a system of civilian self-protection, but it certainly happens. I feel a need to bring this up, as the martial arts world including the "Reality-Based Self-Defence" sector, have been infected by the Self-Help and Actualization Movement. Raising self-esteem and the supposed "power of positive thinking" (a pseudoscientific concept that hasn't been proven to deliver much in the way of tangible results). It isn't necessarily an issue directly related to the practice of self-protection, but something that should be borne in mind from a coaching perspective. Coaches, teachers and instructors have a responsibility on what and who they teach.
A person with self-respect exhibits that respect by respecting others and the society they live in. Humans are naturally interdependent; even those who crave solitude have achieved their isolated existence through their relationships with other human beings. The respect we feel for each other needs to come from a deep sense of empathy. We respect others because we have chosen to respect ourselves. We know that human beings deserve respect because we deserve respect.
In self-defence terms self-respect projects a “hard” target for a prospective predator. You are confident in your abilities, and you will defend your life and liberty with vigour. These things exude out of a confident person and act like a deterrent pheromone for potential predators. With this type of self-respect a person is more inclined to be more respectful to their family, friends and the community at large. This helps inspire others to be more confident and a lack of insecurity breeds a lack of prejudice. By building this type of trust, starting with yourself and your family and then outwards to your local community, crime and conflict become less common. If prevention is better than the cure then this is ultimate self-protection.