FTS: Defining Integrity

By Sensei Tom

I love being a full time martial arts instructor because it pushes me to challenge barriers every day physically, mentally, and emotionally. One such example happened about 2 weeks ago when one of my senior students and I had a conversation about my integrity. During our discussion he shared that his definition of Integrity is standing beside your word and doing what you said you would do and that sometimes he questions my integrity because he sees me say things and then later change my mind. To him I wasn’t standing by my word and therefore my integrity was in question. I asked him what integrity means to him and he equated it to honesty and “doing what you said you were going to do.”

This led me on a path of some deep self reflection and exploration. Mainly I was seeking to answer 2 questions. What does Integrity mean and am I a person that has integrity?

Integrity Defined

The first part of my mission was to define integrity. As I started this process I knew I was emotionally invested. I thought the best way to remove my emotion from the equation was to not define integrity as it relates to myself, or even people in general, but to seek a broad understanding of the word.

One definition I found was “the state of being whole and undivided.” This is definition relates to structures such as buildings and bridges. This definition to me means that there are many parts to a structure, and each part has to fit together to give the structure its strength, its “structural integrity.” This also means that if 1 component of the structure decays, or erodes, or is otherwise compromised then the overall integrity of the structure is compromised. This also means that a structure is built through a process of connecting smaller pieces together over time, and in time needs maintenance on the smaller pieces to stop the entire structure from collapsing.

The Parts

Because I teach Japanese martial arts I started off using the 6 virtues of Bushido for my parts. There are actually 7 but the last one is Gi, which means Integrity. Basically in my mind I thought of building my character like building a structure with 6 floors. When each floor is strong the building, my character, is whole and undivided.

The first and most important part of any physical structure is its foundation. It occurred to me that this is the same for building my character. If a structures foundation is out of alignment even just a minuscule amount then the entire structure will be flawed and fragile.

For my foundation I use the virtue Rei, Respect. I think everything in life boils down to respect. I further break this virtue down to 3 micro virtues, respect for myself, for others, for the environment. I endeavor to respect myself by staying healthy, eating well, exercising regularly, keeping my uniform clean and presentable, and keeping myself groomed and presentable. I show respect for my environment by keeping it clean and pay particular attention to waste management. And I respect others by listening when they speak, not talking about them behind their back, being on time for commitments, and not airing any one else’s business publicly. Rei therefore is my foundation to build my character.

Next I employ Makato, Honesty. I think one of the best ways to show respect is to be honest. Again the concept of honesty can have more layers. For example there is being Honest with yourself, your loved ones, employer, and the world in general. I don’t think there can be trust without honesty, and if you’re not trustworthy you can’t be seen to have integrity.

My 3rd floor is Jin, Kindness. I see no reason to cause any unnecessary suffering or pain to any other living thing. What’s more is that by being kind to others we are building a stronger community and network around us. Kindness doesn’t have to take any resources other than words and the investment can return 1000 fold when you need it most. Kindness also speaks to my own sense of confidence. When I don’t have anything to hide, when I’m confident in my abilities and in myself, I can let down my walls that protect my own ego. When I am truly confident and happy in my own life it’s through Kindness I pick up others around me and help them. By helping others I begin to build a community of like-minded people surrounding me and supporting me.

The opposite of course is cruelty. There is nothing to gain by being cruel. It drives people away and demonstrates to anyone observing you that you don’t yet have the personal strength to help others.

The next Bushido Virtue I see in my structure is Yuki, Courage. I think facing our fears and action in the face of fear is one of the most noblest of virtues. I don’t think however you can do those things without having self respect and respect for danger (Rei), being honest with yourself and identifying your fears and abilities (Makoto), and letting down your barriers and walls and having a desire to help others (Jin).

I see in many warriors, martial artists and police officers alike, give a certain amount of lip service regarding Yuki, but little action. How often have you been guilty of not having that uncomfortable conversation with someone that you know you should be having? The term Yuki includes the word Energy (Ki). This means to me Kinetic energy, the energy of motion, i.e. of action. Not Potential energy. Therefore in order to have Courage it takes action, not words.

My next level of structure I see in myself is Chugi, Loyalty. I don’t really like the word Loyalty however because I’ve seen it misused and perverted so many times so I use the English word Dedication. The difference for me is that I choose my dedications, but many people may try to trick me into loyalty. For example, “if you loved me (i.e. were loyal to me), than you would do….” But when I dedicate myself to someone, or something, I’m choosing to be all in. It can’t be manipulated because it’s my choice in the first place.

Dedication isn’t just about choosing to be dedicated to people. It can be to an ideal or concept also. I would hope that any law enforcement officer has decided to dedicate themselves to the ideals of Justice, Protection and Service.

The final Bushido Virtue in the structure is Meiyo, which means Honour. Honour is a hard word to define. One attempt might be Reputation, particularly when someone feels they have to “defend their honour.” I either have the reputation of embodying virtue or I do not. It can also be thought of as the previous 5 virtues existing in harmony with each other. I think of my Honour as the penthouse on top of my building. It represents the harmony of the floors below and each floor, from the foundation up, has to be passed through in order to get to the top.

The 7th floor

During this process I decided to add what for me is one more very important virtue, the Japanese word Kenkyo. Kenkyo means Humility, or Modesty. For me personally this is an important virtue because when we’re humble we’re open to new experiences and fresh ideas. It means we’ve confronted our demons and we have nothing to hide. We’ve torn down our walls and barriers and are ready to embrace the human experience. It means we don’t have anything to prove and don’t waste our time protecting tiny little empires that don’t exist or mean anything anyways. For me Kenkyo, Humility, is essential to Integrity.


I think of my character as a structure, and the structure has the parts Respect, Honesty, Kindness, Courage, Dedication, Honour and Humility. When these parts of the structure are fit together and each supports the other in Harmony, then I might be said to have Integrity.

Integrity is the 7th virtue of bushido and in Japanese is pronounced Gi. If one of my floors needs some work, a renovation, or an upgrade, then that doesn’t mean that the entire structure falls apart. I can still have Integrity even if I need to focus on a part of the structure for awhile.

If however I am completely missing a part of the structure, or if I tear a part out or allow it to erode past repair, then my character as a whole no longer has integrity.

In a recent presentation Chip Huth of Kansas City Police and NLETC made a very interesting point that it’s only a matter of time until this happens. I’m human and humans screw up, therefore it’s just a matter of time until I screw up and my structure breaks down at 1 or multiple points and no longer has Integrity. He says for this reason it’s critical to surround yourself with people who also have integrity and who recognize it and when your structure’s collapsing will come to your aid and help you rebuild before it completely crumbles.

I believe Integrity is a learned skill. We’re not born with it. We learn what it means to be Honest, show Respect, have Courage, be Kind, Dedicate ourselves, have Honour and be Humble. If Integrity then is a learned skill it should be taught in our schools and at home.

(Foothills Training Services)