Respect is a two-way street, however, how many people are driving recklessly?
"If you want respect, you have to give it", or "Respect must be earned", are the usual beliefs we can come across. People with that mindset are often quick to treat someone without respect when they feel disrespected. The problem here is the perceived disrespect. This idea does not create harmony as it's dependent on how you are perceived being treated and sometimes not on how you are actually treated.
We should respect someone, even those who are mistreating us. If we feel indignant and decide the offender has now given us some righteous path to treat them without respect then we are simply ignorant. This is a hard battle. We feel it's ok to slap the guy that shoved us or scream at the person who hurt our feelings. The offense might be the biggest insult and strongest word you can muster in your language, however, it does not greenlight the same disrespect in retaliation.
We should contemplate why we feel offended and angry. What are the origins of the feeling? Who is really hurt? What damage is ultimately done by the offender's actions? As the offended, we should contemplate this before we act.
Is respect earned? In short, yes. Over time you can respect someone more as you are witness to their respect. However, someone showing no respect will never learn a better way if you treat them without any. It is as useless and damaging as kicking a dog when you are displeased.
Respect is a two-way street means we should stay in our lanes to avoid head-on collisions. It should not mean to get the respect you have to give respect. When you respect no one or have selected respect, you never form any deep bonds or relationships with others.
When someone is disrespectful they should be instructed what proper decorum is in that instance. You can sometimes just walk away (from your keyboard as well).
Showing respect does not mean you will be treated with respect in return. Sometimes no matter how patient or kind you are to someone they will return it in the form of malicious actions or careless disrespect. It happens, and it is unpleasant. We must maintain, especially as martial artists, a strong sense of decency and etiquette.
Being in certain environments requires certain levels of etiquette and respect, however. We can not bring our rock-breaking quarry mouth and attitude to the dōjō. Being the bull in the china shop is not what we should want for ourselves. Certain relationships such as mentor and student or Sensei and deshi have very ordered guidelines and protocol. Failure to understand what is expected of us produces confusion and damage in that relationship. If you go into an instructor/student relationship with the wrong mindset you are basically setting out landmines that you will stumble over later on.
In the realm of traditional training, an old-world approach exists. Students are required to silence their minds and mouths in order to ingest and understand the teachings. Never ever join a teacher on a path whom you do not respect and trust 100%. Doing so will end very badly, and cause damage to yourself and others beyond what you might fathom.
Many martial artists and sword practitioners bow to their teachers or kamidana or to their swords yet treat other people with no respect. If that is done then what is the point of training? If we acquire scrolls and certificates but behave like wild idiots then what did we ultimately accomplish?
Barking at someone that they have to give respect to get your respect is simply asking someone to pay a tax before your kindness and understanding are available. That ultimatum is not humane or compassionate and creates an environment of stress and frustration.
It is sometimes hard to give respect to someone that is nasty and mean to us, but it is what we have to do as martial artists and human beings.
Saneteru Radzikowski is the head sword instructor of Shinkan-ryū Kenpō. He lives and teaches Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu from Nara, Japan.