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Champions ATA Martial Arts

The Characteristics of Honor: a Mastership Thesis by Master Travis Dillow

Posted: February 13, 2017


I have never met a leader in my life who, at some level, doesn’t want to be referred to as a person of honor, or be honored by those that he leads and those that watch him lead.  To be honored, you must first be honorable.  When you hear that a person is honored, truly honored, then you are hearing of a person who has several character traits of a great leader all summed up into one word, honorable.  Honor is often times shown by a ceremony, trophy, plaque or reward of some kind, but that is really the least part of honor.  The hardware behind such recognition has nothing to do with a ceremony, but rather to do with the unmistakable character of the person being honored.  Honor is simply one easy word to sum up a few valuable characteristics of a great leader.  Those characteristics are honesty, fairness, integrity, and credibility.  When you see someone who is being honored in his or her trade, they are saying that this person leads with honesty, fairness, integrity, and is highly credible.  That is a person that deserves to be honored.  In a day when leaders are more despised, rather than honored, we are in dire need of some honorable leaders to emerge, and when they do, let’s honor them.  Since honor is really a summation of those four character traits, let’s take a brief look at them one by one.

Honesty:  Honor and honesty must exist together, one requires the other, and neither can ever stand on their own. To be an honorable leader is to be an honest leader.  Honesty is more than telling the truth to others and your team, but honesty breaks past the trend definitions of the day and hits your spirit like a land mine that effects everything that is close to it.  There are so many ways for a leader to apply the trait of honesty, and we are going to look at just a few of them.  Honorable leaders start by being honest in these areas.

  1. Honest with themselves:The worst person for you to be dishonest with is yourself.You will never emerge as an honorable leader until you are real enough with yourself to recognize the areas and items in your leadership that need to be tuned up and fixed.A dis-honest leader often leads him or herself off a cliff of over commitment, lying to him or herself about what they can really get accomplished.Obviously this leads to a leader who takes on more than he can handle, and when this happens nothing gets done right, and some things never get done at all.Self-leadership in this area is huge; no one can lead you in this area like yourself.It takes discipline, commitment, and some truth facing work.Being honest with yourself about who you really are, what issues you really have and what needs attention and help is the first step towards being an honorable leader.
  2. Honesty with others.A dishonest leader is quickly found out.Most leaders think if they talk a bigger game than what they actually produce it brings them honor, but the reality is talking a big game only serves to make the reality of what you are doing look worse than it really is.An honorable leader has the courage to sit down with his or her team and speak truth to them, no matter how good or bad it is.A dishonest leader creates a dishonest team, and a dishonest team can’t change the world.After you have worked on being honest with yourself, you must start being honest with the people that you live.

The first step in being an honorable leader is being an honest leader, honest leaders are really hard to find, but when you find one you will know it.  It is honest leaders that have changed the world, dealt with conflict face on, and haven’t been afraid of being who they really are.  A dishonest leader is always the busiest leader.  He or she has to work really hard to remember what they said, cover their tracks, and maintain the image of themselves that they have created.  Honesty has several roots, and they all run really deep into the soil of leadership.  When these roots finally take hold, the tree of influence that grows out of them will be noticed by people from far away. That is why we honor that person, because it truly is so special.

Fairness:  Life is not fair, but leadership must have a quality of fairness to it.  I am not saying that everyone on the team should be treated equally, rewarded the same, or even paid the same.  We must have different standards of reward and compensation for the different people on our teams.  We would not reward a less productive team member the same we would one that goes above and beyond all the time; that would cause disunity on the team, and in the long run really hurt production. When I say that an honorable leader practices fairness, what I mean is that an honorable leader presents everyone with the fair chance to succeed.  I have both served on and led teams where the decks are stacked against certain individuals, they are set up for failure rather than given the opportunity to succeed.  This is often excused by the leader saying “they just don’t have what it takes.” To that leader, I suggest that they get honest about the situation and cut that person from the team all together.  A fair leader presents his entire team with the same opportunities for success as it relates to their different areas of influence.  When your team senses that everyone has the same chance for achievement, it creates a unity and passion among the team that very few things could ever stop.  Leaders have a tendency to promote family, friends, and lesser-qualified people to positions simply because they may have different motives.  It is definitely in this leader’s right to do it, but the question is does it make for an honorable leader?  Our culture doesn’t honor people who don’t practice fairness.  Fair leaders are aware leaders; they are aware that people step up and succeed the most when given the opportunity to do so.  An honorable leader works hard to present everyone with the tools, resources, and opportunity to be a difference maker and stand out among the rest in his or her trade.

Integrity:  Honorable men and women are people of integrity, which simply means that they adhere to a certain moral and ethical code.  They are able to make the right decision, even when the right decision isn’t the popular or easy one to make.  Any leader can make decisions, but a leader of integrity and honor takes the time to make the decisions that aren’t the easy ones.  They use an internal filter of moral and ethical code to run each decision through before making the final say on it.  Integrity is very hard to maintain and practice because it takes hard work and intentionality.  Here are a few practices of some of the most integrity-filled leaders that I have observed over the years.

  1. Don’t feel like you have to make decisions quickly.A leader who leads with integrity takes the time to hash out, think through and come to the right conclusion.The right answer isn’t always the first one that comes to mind.I was once talking to a business owner who had seen great success.He told me the one thing that he believes led to his success was he never rushed into making a decision.Take a night, a day, or even a week to think through decisions that need to be made to make sure they are the right ones.
  2. Seek advice from trusted people.Every great leader has men and women in their life who they have given permission to speak truth into how they lead and who they are.Great leaders have surrounded themselves with friends who will love them enough to stab them in the front.Since it is not always clear what the right answer is, don’t be afraid to get insight and wisdom from other people, even if they aren’t on your team at all.
  3. Never compromise your values.A great leader is able to hold fast to what he or she believes, even if the bottom line or profit margin could be increased by compromise.It may look like a compromise will pay off, but let it live out over several months or years and the right decision will always end up on top.Compromise happens one decision at a time, and when leading an organization, the leader of honor and integrity must be able to hold fast to the values of that organization, lead with integrity and stick to the right decision when it is made.


Credibility:  This is the final word that sums up honor, a leader who has credibility.  Credibility is simply the act of being credible, which means people can count on you.  A leader with credibility does what he or she says they are going to do.  They are able to properly assess their own ability, margin of time, and are champions on follow through.  A credible leader has a track record of saying what he means and meaning what he says.  They are not easily changed by the wind of popularity, but not so closed minded as to not try new things.  Credible leaders have been successful with properly handling money, time, and other people.  People who don’t know them based only on their reputation of being credible trust them. Credibility is not instant; it takes time for a leader to develop credibility in their leadership. One small step after another, doing what you said you are going to do, and taking people along with you on the journey is the best way to build credibility in your leadership.

In the martial arts world we hear a lot about honor.  It’s very similar to the military in which some would rather achieve something to be honored than any tangible award.   Again our leaders started their leadership background in the military, so I believe they have carried those traits over when building the ATA.  In the military, soldiers will give their lives just to be known to have died with honor.   I feel Eternal Grand Master Lee has just about done the same. He had dedicated every waking hour of his life to spreading Songahm Taekwondo and is honored for that.  No one will ever doubt his effort in being the one who has started the most sought after and world’s most recognized martial arts organization.  Upon his death he was honored with the prestige rank of 10th degree black belt which is held by no other Taekwondo Grand Master.  This honor wasn’t only given by the leaders of the ATA but also the leaders of the other leading martial arts organizations. 

The ATA has developed the most professional teaching systems for teaching martial arts, life skills, and developing leaders.  The ATA has also created a business model for martial arts schools to be more than just “mom and pop schools,” but professional academies that can earn a school owner a very significant profit and income.  It has been because of Eternal Grand Master Lee’s vision for the ATA that it is now modeled in every martial arts organization.  So, to this day Eternal Grand Master is not just honored by the students and leaders of the ATA, but all leaders of the entire martial arts industry. 

The ATA has not earned this honor through overinflating its success in published magazines and media sources. It has simply proven its success by producing the results of reaching over a million students worldwide, having thousands of ATA academies worldwide, and producing more black belts and instructors than any other martial arts organization.  It is said, “Action speaks louder than words.”  ATA has definitely provided the action. 

Our organization has developed ways of tracking not only Taekwondo success with state, national, and world rankings, but also a top 50 school ranking for business efforts.  I visit with ATA school owners all the time and hear about their success and such over inflated numbers and then check the listings and come to see that they’re not even in the top 50 rankings.  When you visit with the top 10 schools in the listings, you very seldom hear them talk about themselves, but how they are helping others achieve the same success and contribute the credit for their success to the ATA. They are reaching their level of success with honor.

            Our organization is set up a little differently than other martial arts organizations that cater specifically to those that are just physically talented.  We have a vast variety of people of different types of backgrounds, sizes, and abilities.  Eternal Grand Master Lee believed that Taekwondo is for anyone and is to be used to change and improve lives.  However, our leaders of the ATA have set up and continue to modify and adjust as needed a structured qualification system for students to achieve different levels.  This keeps it fair for everyone and honors all students from all spectrums. 

I share the same belief with the ATA that there is as much honor for a talented 16 year athlete who has strength, power and agility who earns his or her black belt as there is for a special needs child who is in the autistic spectrum that has had to overcome more obstacles of learning than the 16 year old.  This is why I have devoted my time and ability to working with a program called achievement academy, which specialize to about 10 children with autism who have fallen through the traditional school system.  I have worked closely with the teachers in developing a life skills program including Taekwondo to use as a daily teaching system.  Seeing these children achieve what they have done in our program has been one of the greatest honors I have had in my Taekwondo career.  Since our involvement in the program, we have had a number of these students start and enroll at our studio.  They have all succeeded well in their taekwondo training and have achieved goals their parents thought were never possible.  Another great aspect of these children training at our studio is that it has also allowed our other students to understand the honor and fairness in the Songahm system.

I love the saying, “Integrity rises to the top.”  This is always true for leaders with honor who have integrity.  With the prestige rank of becoming a master and high rank in the ATA a student must constantly keep his or her integrity in check.  There are always shortcuts in every system to achieve levels of rank or status, whether it be business or sports.  I always tell my students that a black belt is just a piece of cloth and can be bought at any time for about $35.  To earn a black belt is priceless.  When I meet new students who tell me they have previously earned a black belt in other martial arts systems I’m always respectful but skeptical if they have truly earned a black belt with honor.  As they begin training their character and training ability always reveals what they have truly done. 

Whenever I hire new staff they have to go through a credibility trial period that normally last 60-90 days.  This helps us know if they are going to perform their task with honor.  For a new instructor, we want to know if they are a committed martial artist themselves.  They don’t have to be the most talented, but they do have to have a personal drive to be committed to training.  They are also required to be at all ATA special events and teach a certain amount of classes.  We want to know they are committed to changing lives with teaching Songahm and aren’t there just to do a 9:00-5:00 job.  Being a committed instructor involves a lot of extra hours for the students.  We want instructors and team members that don’t continually question authority and when asked to do something extra do it without hesitation.  In the martial arts business relationships are the product of what we sale.  We want to know an instructor is credible and won’t emotionally destroy our students from not following through.

Honor – four great characteristics summed up into one word, and when a leader has perfected or well-practiced those four characteristics, people want to know him, honor him, and follow him.  Honor is a great attribute for any leader, they have emerged to a level of excellence in their leadership that very few honestly get to.  To have honor, receive honor, and give honor to those that have earned it is a special and momentous occasion that truly sets the pace for the rest of that leader’s life.