I have just started a Hwa Rang Do course in a very good martial arts school. The other day my instructor found out I'm a smoker. He first told me that smoking is a terrible practice and I should quit. He then said, "Smoking is so terrible that for me it's no difference than finding out you cause violence on a disabled person."
I felt very offended and I said, "Look, I understand your point of view on smoking and I respect it. I also understand if, as my instructor you would suggest me or urge me to stop, but you are not seriously comparing violence on a disabled person with smoking are you? Because I would never hurt anyone, especially a disabled person."
And he said, "No, it's the same to me. You are at the same level as someone that would kill a disabled person. It's just my point of view."

I felt appalled, offended, and yes, angry. As my instructor I respect and trust him, but I can't possibly accept a personal offence such as this one. If everyone were to defend their accusations of violence as "their point of view" everything would be far too easy... I never judge anyone, I never cause any harm to anyone, I myself suffered from violence and bullying (one of the reasons I decided to join in the first place), and this sort of behaviour from my instructor hit me hard. I now feel angry and sad and I just want to quit. I love my course, I love martial arts, but I'm not sure if I can stand even being with him in the same room. To me, respect is everything and I just feel like I'm now going to be bullied and shamed by everyone in that gym (I forgot to mention the others listened to the whole thing). Before leaving, he saw the disappointed look on my face and said to me, "Don't judge me."
I said, "I'm not, I'm not judging you or offending you personally. You did and I feel awful." He continued to say he didn't, that it's just a point of view and that's it. I had to leave, I felt nauseous.

What do you guys think? What should I do or say now? Do you think what he said and how he behaved is justified? I'm new to the martial arts and I don't know if that's a "reasonable" behaviour to have. But aren't we first and foremost human beings? And isn't maybe respect a core value of martial arts?

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    I am not sure if acting like a grown up is on topic even if in a martial arts context. There is no martial arts techniques either against being rude or against being offended. Sep 24 '16 at 16:49
  • It's a wonderful martial art, one of the very best you can practice, but along with the pride and dedication to such an difficult and comprehensive practice, you get a lot of intensity and fervor from people who have risen through the ranks. I used to practice that art and am familiar with almost all of the black sashes. This one was being hyperbolic to emphasize how serious and harmful he thinks it is. It was probably his way of emphasizing that it isn't just a personal choice (second hand effects, what happens to those around you if you are harmed), not that you'd attack a disabled person Sep 27 '16 at 14:46
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question is not within scope as defined in the Help Centre. I think a better suit might be the Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange. Sep 6 '19 at 20:00

As someone who's been trying to get his parents to quit smoking for the last 30 years, I kind of understand his passion. But while he's right on a certain level (you are, in fact, hurting yourself and others around you when you smoke), there are, however, better ways to say things and, most likely, better metaphors.

As far as instructors go, you probably realize by now that if he can feel that strongly about one thing and not be able to moderate his own comments regarding it, he'll probably do the same with other topics such as, for example, your poor grasp of certain techniques. I've known some students who really liked that sort of attitude, as it whipped them into better form and made them practice even harder, but I've also known others who simply quit coming to class because of it.

In the end, you do you, we can't decide for you. In my experience as a teacher (both martial arts and other school-related subjects), students don't learn as much when they don't respect their teacher or their methods. I can see this has affected you deeply, and wouldn't be surprised that you no longer enjoy the course. Maybe this school as other courses you can take, with a friendlier instructor?


Offense is always taken, not given. My answer may appear to be harsh, but it's based on experience and common sense. I won't justify the instructor you talk of, but I also won't condemn him - it's not my place to do either.

What should I do or say now?

If your feelings are hurt so much that it's irredeemable then clearly this isn't the right training hall for you. When selecting a school, one of the things you evaluate is the instructor(s) - if you can't get along with them then you won't be able to learn from them.

It's a pretty obvious statement to make if I say that quitting smoking is going to benefit you a lot (and could kill you if you keep at it). But having said that, you have the right to smoke even if other people disagree with it.

Do you think what he said and how he behaved is justified?

Yes. He has a right to express an opinion, just as you have a right to smoke. You don't have to like his opinion (or even listen to it), but he still has that right.

But aren't we first and foremost human beings?

To be really bluntly honest: if you are looking for lots of left wing politically correct inclusiveness with safe places then a martial arts training hall is not the place to find it. The instructor is there to teach, not to indulge the student's needs. Martial arts can lead you on a path of spiritual enlightenment, but that doesn't mean the instructor is obligated to your spiritual or emotional needs.

And it isn't maybe respect a core value of martial arts?

Yes it is. But you've missed something: respect is earned, not a right. And it comes in levels.

If a new student was to walk into my dojo, I respect them for making the decision to come in, but other than that they are just like any other normal person on the street. Some of those new students will have values or a world view that is contrary to mine - I will still teach them, but they have to want to learn from me. I'm not obligated to teach them, but if they genuinely want to learn we will get along. Over time this will gain my respect - despite our differences. If our differences are too great for me to accept then I have the right to not teach that student.

My instructor disrespected me or am I overreacting?

IMVHO you are over-reacting. I might be wrong but reading between the lines, you've come from an environment where too much time is spent pandering to people's "rights", and not enough time is given to those people actually earning those rights - much like what's practiced in a lot of universities.
Of course this doesn't fix your problem - you are still offended and your feelings are hurt and you don't know what you can do about it. The irony is that martial arts training can help you deal with emotional turmoil like this.

Put your feelings aside for the moment and take a good hard objective look at it: can you continue in this training hall? If not, walk away and find another. If you can then you'll automatically earn a little respect from your peers for going back to them.

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    I was wondering if I had to write this… Thank you for doing it for me. Sep 28 '16 at 6:59
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    "Respect is earned, not a right." Huge point here.
    – Matt Chan
    Sep 30 '16 at 0:45
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    I think smoking is a disgusting habit, and it's certainly within a martial arts instructor's responsibilities to berate his students a bit about the health aspects (and eating right, and training hard, etc.). But no student should have to "earn" the minimal amount of respect of not being compared to a killer of disabled people for doing something legal, on his own time, far from the dojang. That's just not an appropriate way to talk to other people.
    – Larry
    Sep 30 '16 at 17:45
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    And, very often, instructors might feel that it is the hardship and difficulties, overcome, that bring the enlightenment and strength, so they will intentionally try your character and resolve. Definitely, expecting that to necessarily be a "safe space" in terms of gentle treatment is probably not the best assumption. Oct 3 '16 at 17:04

What do you guys think?

I think that you should understand that he's only one in 7.4 billion people you share the world with, and that there's no particular reason to think he's a more thoughtful, informed, considerate or accomplished person than you at anything other than - at least the physical aspects of - martial arts. As such, his opinion puts him perhaps in the 100 million most excessively anti-smoking, but it's just a blip in the statistical spectrum of opinions people will have on your habit, and needn't have any special significance for you. It's unlikely but still remotely possible he's consciously taking an extreme position because he thinks it's more likely to shock you out of a bad habit, or even to strengthen your ability to cope with emotional inter-personal shocks (which might feed back into preparedness for altercations), and feels he has the right and perhaps obligation to "help" you in that way.

What should I do or say now?

I see no point in saying anything. If you are finding the training satisfying, and you still have sufficient trust that the instructor's not going to do something odd-ball in another way like encouraging/letting someone beat you unconscious one day - keep doing it for its own sake.

Do you think what he said and how he behaved is justified?

It depends on the ethical system used to evaluate it. I find it vaguely interesting, but without knowing his motivations and general character I've no more than that to say about it.

I'm new to the martial arts and I don't know if that's a 'reasonable' behaviour to have.

This is orthogonal to martial arts. You should react the same way you might if someone at say a sports club, educational institution or work made a similar comment.

But aren't we first and foremost human beings?


And it isn't maybe respect a core value of martial arts?

I believe it should be, but it's not for everyone involved in martial arts, and without a specific agreed ethical framework to evaluate this act in, it's hard for me to say it's not respectful in some absolute sense.


What do you guys think?

I think I stand in the minority of answers here. I'm no current or ex-smoker, but I did grow up in a home full of smokers, and who did it knowing the risks to themselves and others. Having said that, I also realize that smoking is an addiction and am aware of the various reasons people start.

None of those reasons relate to going out and killing people. I think your HRD instructor is a jerk.

What should I do or say now?

Far be it from me to tell you what you should do or say. However, if my instructor lumped me in a class of society that would kill disabled people, I might consider several things: first, not all who are disabled are good people (David Berkowitz, Ed Gein, Richard Chase, Jared Lee Loughner, anyone?) So killing these disabled people does not change my compunction one iota. In this case, I might respond with a smart-ass "thank you". On the other hand, I might see this confrontation for what it is: he's being an a-hole, and I'd say "thanks for your time, have a nice life".

But you asked what YOU should do. I have no idea.

Do you think what he said and how he behaved is justified?

No. He's a jerk. Move along. Find an instructor who will work with you, not against you. (Ok, I lied and told you what you should do.)

I'm new to the martial arts and I don't know if that's a 'reasonable' behaviour to have.

Martial arts instructors are not in classes by themselves. They are parents, children, and spouses. They are doctors, teachers, plumbers, businesspeople, cops, and ex-cons. They are low-income, medium-income, and high-income people. They are christian, muslim, and atheist. They are democrats, republicans, and independents.

That's all: they're just like you and me. Except that they have knowledge and experience you and I don't possess, and which we seek to receive in return for payment.

Stated another way: how would you feel about your husband or your kids telling you that your addiction places you in a class of people who would murder disabled people? How would you feel if your primary care physician did the same? What if your heart surgeon did that? Or your priest or rabbi?

I think you'd probably feel put off, as would I. Because that is NOT a reasonable behavior to have.

Aren't we first and foremost human beings?

No. You are first and foremost a student. A paying student. Go somewhere else and give someone else your money. Hopefully there, everyone can be human beings.

And isn't maybe respect a core value of martial arts?

No. You have the wrong idea about respect and martial arts. This "respect is earned" thing is misguided at best. You start by respecting people whom you don't know. You maintain that respect until they do something that undervalues that respect. Would you walk into your first day of class and greet your teacher "Hey, Jane... 'sup?" would you? No, you start by respecting them: "Good morning Mrs Smith". She, in turn, does not bark her first request of the class by saying "shut your pie holes and plant your ass in the seat, m-----f-----s". Thus, you have both begun to respect each other, and then have maintained that respect. It is the same when we answer the phone, make a customer service request, or talk to a salesperson.

As such, you respect your instructor and your students. And you don't respect your enemy - but you do respect his capability to harm you. (Although, I might behave in a respectful way so as to minimize both the confrontation and any legal repercussions later on).

And as to a core value of martial arts, it is not respect. It is survival.

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    +1 for the paragraph about respect: "You start by respecting people you don't know. You maintain that respect until they do something that undervalues that respect." Spot on.
    – Mike P
    Jan 4 '17 at 11:06

There's one part I haven't seen mentioned yet. As far as we can tell, the trainer may have as well meant it not in a lack of respect way. He could as well have meant it in a self-control and self-discipline way. Those are of utmost importance in martial arts. If you don't have the self-control and self-discipline to stop smoking, how can he be sure you won't have the self-control and self-discipline to not beat physically disabled people up? Sure, it's an extreme example to prove the point, but extreme examples illustrate best.


We learn a lot of other things in MA aside of how to apply our techniques.

In your case, your teacher stated his clear opinion. So what? There are strong-opinioned people out there, and MA teachers seem to be, in my experience, right at the top in righteous stubborness. It's their job! They are used to being in a position where everybody looks to them to speak about their art with authority. It's no small wonder that someone like that will, over the years, develop a tendency to do so with every topic.

It seems to me, then, that the problem is not the teacher, but your getting very offended by mere words, which were not even really designed to hurt you. It's not like he made fun of your mother or something personal like that - he simply started his opinion about a topic external to you. What if you get into a real fight and they start smack talking you, do you then either break down or get into a rage?

So you have a mind problem. You are confused and emotionally suffocated. Let go of it! You let stuff like this go by accepting things for what they are (your teacher is just the way he is, it is simply his opinion, he does simply voice his opinion, he did not actually do you any harm, it is just your mind playing tricks on you and so on). Meditation might help you. Check out this small series starting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLvU7ppM4vE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH2sEqrCza4 (don't get distracted by the guy with the flowing toga ;-) there is no religious/spiritual content in there) - just basic meditation techniques designed to quiet down your mind going crazy.

As an aside: you are new to MA. One lesson I have learned is that I do not, ever, discuss stuff with sensei or advanced students on the mat; and I also try and talk only little with less-experienced students (more show than tell, if needed in partner excercises). Nothing good ever comes from discussing/arguing stuff there. Questions are fine of course, but ask the question, listen to the answer, and get on with it. Emotions are totally misplaced in that place. I especially never, ever talk about anything than what we are doing right now.


Try seeing yourself as both the disabled person (in the sense that you've lost control over yourself enough to smoke) and the person causing the violence. "Murder" is murder whether it happens quickly in an instant, or slowly over decades. What if you were to find out someone was slipping anti-freeze in your water, in small enough volumes to make your death look natural over the course of 5 years? Would you not still consider it murder even though they took a less immediate route? The only difference is you willingly ignore the "murdering" part because you want to smoke the cigarette. Your teacher is viewing "smoking" as a "sickness" within itself. One thing to keep in mind is that traditionally a lot of teachers are absolutely brutal. Some would be inclined to chain you in a room for a month or two, where you can't do anything but eat and practice your forms, then throw a pack of cigarettes in the room n see if you smoke one or not, so don't feel too bad. :)

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