To behave honorably is to live according to a code. But how do we determine the content of that code? I think if you always seek to "be worthy of the faith that others have in you," then the code will write itself.

For example, unless you give them a reason to doubt your word, people are inclined to believe you are an honest person. By validating that belief, you behave honorably. Honesty, then, is one feature of honor. This is why colleges typically have an "honor code," whereby they trust students not to cheat on academic assignments. (When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, plagiarism was sometimes punished more harshly than rape: A student accused of rape might be asked to take a leave of absence until his victim graduated, while someone found to have plagiarized a paper could be expelled permanently.)

People expect that when we say we will do something, we will do it. Reliability is another element of honor. So is integrity: doing what is right even if no one is watching.

Similarly, we honor others when our lives are consistent with their values. When my father died a few years ago, I was determined to ensure that my life honored his legacy. He had been a family physician in a rural New Mexican community, where he cared for several generations of patients. He also volunteered with the Red Cross during the war in Cambodia, hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro and peaks in Nepal, and—with my mom—adopted ten children and founded a special needs adoption agency. It felt to me that my brother Luke, who had followed in my dad's footsteps as a doctor and eventually taken over his medical practice, had made choices that honored my father's life. But I wondered how I could do the same. Then someone told me that in Japanese Zen Buddhism, there is a tradition where, if a Buddhist leader has two children, then they each have a different role: one stays home and takes over the temple from his father, while the other travels the world and spreads his father's teachings. This person suggested to me that my brother played the first role, and that I had played the second: by leaving New Mexico and teaching life skills in various parts of the world, I honored my dad's legacy of adventure and altruism.


Many of our life skills have both an external and an internal component: People can honor us, but it is meaningless unless we behave honorably. People can respect us due to our rank or achievements, but it is more important that we earn respect through our conduct and our treatment of others.

This is especially true of nobility. I live in England, where there is a long tradition of nobility as an external trait. People inherit titles like Lord, Lady, Earl or Duchess. The Queen bestows knighthoods each year on people whom she deems worthy of nobility—often actors, musicians and other celebrities.

But as martial artists, we understand that—as with our other life skills—true nobility is a character trait. Confucius said, "The noble man seeks what he wants in himself; the inferior man seeks it from others." This echoes the adage of Grand Master In Ho Lee: "First change yourself." Understood this way, nobility requires humility: A willingness to acknowledge our own imperfections and a commitment to overcoming them.

Nobility also requires confidence. This may seem contradictory: if you exude confidence, then how can you also be humble? But confidence is not the same as false bravado. It is not an insistence that you are perfect. Instead, it is a belief in your own abilities. And to change yourself, you must believe in your capacity for growth. When you carry yourself with confidence, your internal nobility becomes visible to those around you.