Character Chats

What is Courtesy?

What is courtesy and where do we show it?

Here at True Balance Karate in Downers Grove, Illinois, we have a social and emotional learning program called True Character. And this month, we’re talking about courtesy.

I’m Master H, owner and chief instructor here at the studio. I have two master’s degrees in education. And what that means is we’ve developed this curriculum to best meet the needs of our youngest students up through our oldest ones.

And this month, like I said, we’re talking about courtesy.

Defining Courtesy

Here at the studio, we like to remind the kids, and the adults, in all honesty, that courtesy is using kind words and respectful manners.

We teach the young students the seven magic words of respect – Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am, please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Which are all of our courtesy words.

Teaching them the way to say it, making sure that we use respectful apologies. All of those kinds of things play a role in demonstrating our courtesy.

When do we use it?

And where might we show that courtesy?

We might show that courtesy by holding the door open for someone. And then that is a kind gesture followed with kind words that go after it. You’re welcome, if they say thank you. A smile, a respectful nod, if you will.

We show courtesy when we see somebody has left something behind and we catch their attention before they’ve disappeared.

Or we show courtesy when we let somebody go in front of us as we’re moving through the studio or walking to a table in a restaurant or even going upstairs in our own homes.

Maybe you and another family member are both trying to use the staircase at the same time.

That’s when you might show your courtesy, show your kindness, use your good manners.

For the young kids, we talk about sharing. Sharing can be a courtesy.

With the adults, we’ll recognize that some people are having bad days and we all have that one person who might be grouchy all the time or scowl all the time.

And we still need to find ways to show kindness and respectful manners, even when they might not always do it.


I’m reminded of a time, and all the students here at the studio have heard this story a few times, my children were at a restaurant. The four of us had gone to a restaurant with another karate family. Also, a family of four. Also, a son and a daughter. So, it was two girls and two boys and then the four parents.

And we had gone to a restaurant after a karate event and the restaurant was very, very full. It was right around lunchtime. No tables around that could fit our group of eight. And they asked if they could split into two tables, which we said was fine.

And so us parents were at a table of four around the corner and a little bit down from where the kids were sitting. So they were left on their own at the restaurant table. And the wait staff knew that they were with us and they knew how to divide up the bill and all of that was taken care of. That wasn’t a big deal.

But then as the afternoon went on and we got our lunches and those kinds of things, the waitress came over and she said, “Can I give your children some ice cream?” And we asked her why, after, of course, agreeing to it. And she said, “Because they were the most polite table. Every time, ‘May I get some more lemonade, please?’ ‘Thank you for bringing me another fork.’ Somebody spilled something, ‘Thank you for cleaning it up.'”

All of the polite words, all of the respectfulness, all of the courtesy that we had been teaching them was on display at that particular meal when the kids were left to their own at the table.

Being an Example of Respect

And we share that here with the students, not because we expect all the parents to give them ice cream, but to remind them that people are always watching.

And you showing your courtesy, your kindness, your respectful manners, you showing your courtesy is something that we do all the time, all the time. It becomes very much a habit in what we do.

We answer with, “Yes, sir,” and, “Yes, ma’am.” We answer with, “Thank you very much.” Even myself, as I’m handing things to students, I will say that to them. And back when I was still in the classroom and teaching, some of my sixth graders would give me some funny looks when I would say, “Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”

But it became one of those things that, because I said it, they said it more often.

And as we’re working with this with the students, we want to remind them where can they show it?

And you would be surprised the number of places that kids will be like, “Oh, that’s a respectful thing to do. That’s a kind thing to do. I could hold the door open here. I could help someone over there.”

And when they start to practice that awareness, we call it “zanshin”, when they start to practice that awareness of the world around them, they see a multitude of opportunities to demonstrate their courtesy.

So our goal is to continuously encourage the use of those seven magic words of respect to help them better demonstrate that courtesy that they already have within them.

Thanks and I’ll see you on the mat!


True Balance Karate was founded in 2012 by Master Sue and Paul Helsdon.

We offer kids karate lessons for pre-school children ages 3-6 and elementary age kids ages 7 and up. These lessons are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need — specialized for their age group — for school excellence and later success in life.

Our adult martial arts training is a complete adult fitness and conditioning program for adults who want to lose weight, get (and stay) in shape, or learn self-defense in a supportive environment.

Instructors can answer questions or be contacted 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week at 630-663-2000. You can also contact us here