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Learning the art of etiquette

Learning the art of etiquette

By Emilie Ng

ASIAN martial arts, when practised to perfection, have the ability to transform any mere mortal into a lethal and highly self-disciplined weapon.

One of these art forms, karate, was developed after the Chinese introduced a similar self-defence art into Japan as part of a cultural exchange.

Hands and legs move in quick and controlled sequences which, after years of training, can become deadly.

Not one to shy from my Asian heritage, I decided to try my hand and, incidentally, my entire body at the Japanese martial art.

After two lessons, you might say I’m far off from being life-threatening.

Lucky for society, karate does not encourage violent behaviour outside of the training room, known as the dojo.

In fact, karate itself is quite a beautiful art form that urges self-control, a healthy desire for perfection and excellence, and most importantly, a strong sense of etiquette.

During my first lesson, I noticed every karate student made a point of bowing when entering or leaving the dojo, when reciting the training hall rules, or the dojo kun, and when showing respect to a fellow student or instructor.

Bowing communicates the highest respect for the art form and for the dignity of your component or training partner, and the wise teacher patiently guiding your extremely weak first moves.

Karate students and trainers – known as karateka – are serious about etiquette too – step out of line and you are in for a solid run of push-ups or, even worse, the dreaded burpie.

New junior karate students, like myself, are asked to copy the seniors as they perform their techniques and etiquette.

My first bow to the dojo kun, a replica of some of the other students, reminded me of the various gestures and movements required for the Mass or even just entering sacred places.

Watching the respect given by the students made me wonder – do I respect God in the same way?

In the Catholic tradition, we genuflect, bow, kneel, stand and sit at specific times when we worship God, to give Him due reverence and adoration.

But unlike the tenacity and regimented nature of karateka, who would never dare miss one bow, it’s fair to say that not all Catholics genuflect, bow, kneel, stand or sit when required.

It may not be their fault either – they may just be copying somebody.

I thought, is it possible to train our fellow brothers and sisters to love the Lord with their whole bodies?

In this situation, physical exertion is not the answer, but neither is a cut-throat lecture on the importance of gestures in the Mass.

The best solution, I believe, is to lead by example.

Adore the Lord in a way that compels others to wonder why you do it with such fervour and loving intention.

Be the Catholic that everyone wants to copy, not because you’re better, but because something within you communicates authenticity and genuine worship.

Let their curiosity lead them to adoration.
Copying karateka has given karate more than 100 million lethal or, like me, harmless, practitioners.

Who knows how spiritually lethal Catholics may become if we are united by our gestures and sincerely pay God the greatest reverence.

Written by: Emilie Ng

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