age, rank, martial arts and respect

A while back I was involved in a discussion with a person older than me and with more rank in martial arts than I have. I am not one to be cowed into keeping my mouth shut nor do I back down from what I think is right based solely on those issues. Especially since the matter at had had to do with the law and not martial arts. My profession and not his.

So, on the issue of “respect” and “rank” and it’s place in social/debate interaction, let me try to give my opinion here without offending anybody. I am going to make some “sweeping statements” and I am not referring to anybody involved specifically…its all “generalizations”.

The topic of respect for age, rank, experience, authority, position and skill is not a black and white affair. Speaking from holding subordinate and leadership positions in circles as various as martial arts, the military and law enforcement I can comfortably state that the issue is never as easy as “I am senior to you so I am always right”. Many times it may be a case of “I am in charge so you will do what I say right or wrong” but that is not the same thing.

The way I deal with these issues is in this order.

First off EVERYBODY gets initial politeness and “common courtesy”. I don’t treat strangers with respect only if they are older than or higher rank than me. That’s not saying that a 7 yo gets exactly the same type of interaction as a 50 yo, or that I place myself in an “inferior position” to others, but until they prove they deserve otherwise, people get common consideration.

After that there are various issues. There is “rank vs. authority”. As a Military Policeman there are situations where a private may have to deal with a ranking officer. While the MP still has to give the officer the proper courtesies and respect, he also has to hold up hiresponsibilities regarding the enforcement of law. Typically the MP will request his superior officer to respond but if the situation demands action the MP may have to arrest the officer. Authority trumps rank.

People in the military are also familiar with the new “butterbar lieutenant” showing up fresh out of ROTC. This shavetail comes in as the leader of a platoon that is probably run by a senior NCO with more time in boots boots than the Lt has on the earth, and the Lt will soon learn that. While the Lt IS technically “in charge” he will never truly be able to lead until he can balance his authority and responsibilities with those of the Sergeants.

Martial Arts “rank” is a unique and often contested issue. What is it? What does it imply? What does it confer upon the holder? What does it demand of the subordinate? In the military and in LE, “rank” has to do with delineation of authority and command as well as pay scale. In order to organize a large group of people to accomplish a task, some will have to be in charge and others will have to do the work. In martial arts, rank is predominately an indicator of physical skill.

IMO. “The Power” in martial arts rank..the place where you get to tell me what to do and/or expect me to treat you as a “superior” begins and ends at the training hall doors. Outside of that you revert to “common courtesy +”. The + being perhaps a bit more preferential treatment due to our relationship and that I will have to deal with you on a continuing basis. All power should have its limitations. This is “American Martial Arts” after all. Not some Quazi-Eastern “master and disciple” LARPING situation. Or at least I hope not.

Where things get “sticky” is when martial arts rank starts to become confused with knowledge or experience outside the martial arts. A martial arts instructor would never presume to know more about medicine than his student who is a doctor, or have more knowledge about auto repair than his BB who is a mechanic. So what happens if the instructor starts telling the class health and wellness information that the “doctor student” knows is wrong or in error?

Something I learned about leadership in my job is that you have to know when to step aside and let the “experts” handle things. Still remembering that I will be held responsible for the outcome. I am a patrol lieutenant, I have limited knowledge of forensics or accident re-construction so when those skills are required I dont presume to know all the answers in order to maintain my air of superiority or authority. I defer to the guys with the experience. However I know where their “experience authority” begins and ends too.

In the end I guess I am getting around to saying that the issue is never as cut and dry as ” I outrank you” or “I am older than you..and that’s that.”

If some martial arts practitioner I was not a student of tried to “pull rank” on me I would probably reply with a version of “with all due respect sir, you are not in my chain of command.”



One thought on “age, rank, martial arts and respect”

  1. Dear tgace,
    I like this post. In general, I think everyone gets common courtesy, as you do. It is reflected differently if you are pregnant and need to sit down or have old-school manners and react better to that. I don’t think modifying the delivery changes the message of who tops whom.

    As to the authority of experts such as in forensics, I think the principle is always the same. Why would it compromise the leadership? It is part of the umbrella, the leader makes sure that the right people show up and are able to do their jobs. He doesn’t micro-manage them unless they deserve that (disrespect) or (extra caution or training).

    My brother once told me while in the military that he had to pull a gun on someone who far outranked him but was well past where his security clearance allowed him to be. In that case, my brother was the representative of a higher dictum than either of them, however hairy it got after that.

    Last of all, I was stopped yesterday, or, I thought I might be in an occasionally-restricted area. I asked. “Can I go further?” The answer was “No.” I said “Thank you” and went the other way.

    As long as I follow the higher law, my example as a leader shows those following me that there are times for courteous but strict obedience, and that I don’t ask for what I won’t do. My dignity is not compromised by this, in fact it is left intact and I have taught something.

    Ann T.

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