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Loyalty, Integrity and Honour by BJJ Black Belt John Will


Every day I step onto the mat, I do so out of a desire to pass onto others, some of the lessons that I myself have learned over the years. Even though I am a professional instructor, in that I make the major part of my living from martial arts practise, the monetary payments that students make do not in themselves motivate me to step onto the mat. I am passionate about teaching; and in truth, the fact that money changes hands has very little do with why I do what I do. I am certain this is the case for a number of martial arts teachers. So why then, do I pursue my teaching duties? What’s in it for me, the teacher?
What I ask from my students is a simple but increasingly rare commodity in today’s world – and that is loyalty. It’s the same thing I expect from my family and from the closest of my friends. I am not talking about the kind of loyalty that has a shelf-life; I am talking about old-school loyalty, wherein the relationship survives and even thrives, through thick and thin, in good times and in bad, in summer as well as winter, when it is both convenient and inconvenient. As a good friend of mine said this weekend just past – ‘Loyalty only as long as it is convenient to be so, is not loyalty at all.’ This friend is one I respect highly – an old-school martial arts instructor of the highest order – himself, a man who lives with integrity and honour and who oozes loyalty in everything he does and everything he says.
I place value on what I have to offer, and in my mind, the relationship between myself and my students is anything but a business relationship; sure the students pay fees but these fees keep paying the rent, keep the lights going and put food on my table for myself and my family; the teaching, I do out of a love for doing it; out of a desire to take my students on a journey that has the potential to change their lives for the better; I teach because there are students who want to learn and the student-teacher partnership is one of high-value and mutual benefit.
The importance of loyalty goes way beyond the confines of the mat. How many relationships and marriages do we see fall apart because one or both parties are incapable of embracing the value we know as loyalty. And that is exactly what loyalty is – a value; an integral part of a moral code; a trait that defines what kind of person we are, like integrity and honour. The defining moments though, come when traits like loyalty, integrity and honour are tested, not when things are warm and cosy but when the chips are down and the situation is inconvenient or even dangerous.
Sadly, I have met many people who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk; people who proudly proclaim how honorable they are, how loyal they are, while they cannot even remain loyal to their spouses – at days end, we cannot expect such people to share the kinds of values that, in my view, we should set for ourselves and as an example to others. I have even had such people in my school – they have since departed, for greener pastures no doubt and I am so much happier for their absence. Such people are the furtherest thing from the example of excellence that a real martial artist tries to set; I have long ceased to knowingly allow such people to share the circle of my life.
This blog was inspired by several conversations I have had with martial arts teachers recently, who have lamented at the lack of old-school values in today’s martial arts landscape. For all the martial artists out there, I would humbly ask that you consider things from your instructor’s point of view. He or she has most likely invested a very large part of their life to develop the skill and understanding the have of their art; each class you spend with them, you are given access to all they have learned, through sweat, blood and tears; and you are given this access for a very small price. What your instructor is looking for in return may be something as simple as genuine appreciation, which can easily be demonstrated through loyal association, through actions and not just words. If your martial arts teacher is the real deal – the fees you pay have very little do with this relationship; we should always maintain, even nurture respect for those who teach us the deep lessons in life – our parents, our true friends, our spouses … and yes, our martial arts instructors.