In Guardian Kempo, we teach a bow common to many Chinese arts. Our right hand is in a fist, and our left hand closes over the fist as we bow forward. Specific to our art, the open hand symbolizes humility, and the fist symbolizes power. Our definition of humility is “know your proper place”. The power symbolized by our fist during our bow is the “power to control ourself”. The bow reminds us to keep “humility over power”. There are more expanded definitions of both humility and power. I’ll expand a bit on humility.
Knowing our proper place means knowing the truth about ourselves. It means not believing we are greater or better than we actually are. Most people would understand this as arrogance. What is often surprising to people is the idea that arrogance can also mean thinking of ourselves as less than, or more lowly, than we actually are. Put another way, both of the following statements would be examples of arrogance. “I am the best in the entire world. Nobody will ever be as great as I am.” “I’m scum. I’ve always been scum. I’ll always be scum.”
The importance of “knowing our proper place” has applications in multiple contexts. Certainly, in a fight, we need to be conscious of our own ability, so we know what techniques are likely to work in a given situation. We also need to quickly decide how much force we are willing to use. We will obviously not use the same level of force when someone is trying to kill us as we would if we need to restrain a friend or family member who has had too much to drink. Beyond combat and self-defense, we need to know the truth about ourselves. The more we understand about ourselves, the more effectively we can love ourselves and others.
Guardians sstrive to create or restore peace. We make the world better because we are in it. I don’t always nail this, despite training in the Guardian Martial Arts for over 13 years. That being said, each time I bow into class, I have a reminder to move closer to that ideal. Yes, I exercise and increase in my power. I also learn more about the truth of who I am and who I want to be. My power grows, but only in subjection to my humility. I am aiming for more than just power alone. I am aiming for powerful selflessness. The way I know I have more room for improvement is that I can always become stronger. I can grow in my capacity for selflessness.