In Honor of Ms. Betty Seizinger

We’re talking this month about honor, a word that has tremendous resonance when you associate it with martial arts instruction. Watch any martial arts movie, and the word is likely to come up; honor, or dishonor, is a prevalent theme in traditional Asian or Asian-inspired martial arts movies. Honor, family honor, dishonoring one’s ______ (family, king, self, etc.) — it’s become a stereotype of these types of stories for good reason.

But I didn’t get here, talking about honor with our students, by way of a life-long love of martial arts. For those of you who don’t know me, I didn’t even get here, owning a martial arts school, by way of a life-long love of martial arts. I was just being nice. The life-long love of martial arts is my partner’s, and I’m just fortunate to be along for the ride.

No, my introduction to the word honor in any meaningful way came to me in high school, by way of an incredible woman, Ms. Betty Seizinger. Ms. Seizinger (all of us Open School kids called her Betty behind her back, but never to her face after the first day of class) was one of the smartest, strictest, most inspiring teachers I ever had, and while she could frustrate, anger, and confuse me one day, she could delight me and take my breath away the next.

Among her many talents, Ms. Seizinger had the gift of epigram. I can probably come up with a dozen pithy little sayings I remember from 3 years as her student, and I bet I could gather even more with a few emails to friends from high school. But my absolute favorite is, “Honor is what you show when no one is looking.” It’s not a definition, it’s a picture. That sentence perfectly evokes an almost visual understanding of an abstract concept, and I’ve loved it since I was 15 years old. I used that sentence as the jumping-off point for my college essays, and I credit Ms. Seizinger with every acceptance letter that resulted.

I’m excited to talk about honor this month. It’s a sticky, messy, unnatural concept. We behave dishonorably daily, in tiny ways, in bigger ways, and we always have really good reasons. And then we act with honor effortlessly and thoughtlessly the very next minute.

Thinking about honor always makes me think about Ms. Seizinger, so I did a little Google search and found a recording of an interview she did in 1999, 5 years before her death. Feel free to have a listen, and may you feel a tiny piece of the awe and gratitude for her and her work as I do.

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