These Six Self Statements Can Be Explicitly Taught

In the ELA classroom, we can teach self-discipline, self-respect, self-control, self-confidence, self-defense, and self-awareness, using literature from around the world.

(Day 25 of my 30-Day Writing Challenge)

My son and I attended Hoover Karate Academy in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, until a few years ago. I stopped going due to injury; he stopped because he went off to college. We will always be loyal to HKA, however. One reason: its devotion to doing more than teaching martial arts.

If you visit their “Our Beliefs” page, you will notice something called the “six selfs.” Sensei Hoover and his staff brilliantly weave these beliefs into everyday training and their curriculum. One doesn’t even realize it until a sensei points out something you did that either adheres to the belief or doesn’t. “Good display of self-control!” is a prime example.

All these “selfs” statements are important for young people to learn. They don’t need to go to a dojo to learn them, though. They can pick up a good book, read a great poem, or watch an important video. To follow are my suggestions of titles for each of the statements.


How many times have you wished a young person would figure out that doing things they have to do before what they want is an important adult character trait?

I thought this one would be easy, but it isn’t. There are plenty of titles for elementary kids. For teenagers, the books available are self-help books. They aren’t what I’m looking for.

Here is one idea: bring fables back into the secondary classroom. For example, Aesop’s fable “The Ants and the Grasshopper.” Pair it with Rudyard Kipling’s “If — .” To teach students about what happens when you abandon your obligations, try King Lear.

For a humorous moment, consider Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry.


There are so many books that teach self-respect. For example, in the novel The Color Purple, Celie learns to respect herself and her abilities after years of abuse from almost everyone, except her sister Nettie. At a pivotal moment in the book, Celie tells the men in her life she is done with them and leaves with her friend Avery to give herself a better life. She starts her own business, and only returns after she has recovered from a lifetime of abuse.

In Jane Eyre, Jane has always respected herself. Most of the time, it leads to trouble, as she is seen as willful, arrogant, etc. When she rejects Rochester and strikes out on her own, she demonstrates self-respect admirably. When she returns to Rochester, it is on her terms.

In Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we encounter the grandfather. He couldn’t care less what his son thinks of him. He lives his life the way he wants to live it. Aunty Ifeoma is also an example of someone who has self-respect. She doesn’t bow to her brother, and she has healthy relationships with her other family members.

I would also recommend one scene from Good Will Hunting in which Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) chastises Will Hunting (Matt Damon) for daring to criticize the way he lives his life. To Will, he reveals why he does what he does and he doesn’t care what Will thinks. Unfortunately, the language isn’t ideal, but perhaps in an upper level course it could work.


Self-control is closely related to self-discipline, and “If — ” is probably a good poem to use here too. I also recommend the novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for this category. In this novel, Eugene, the father, is the epitome of self-control to outsiders. Within his family, however, it is different. He loses “it” with his wife, son, and daughter on many occasions when they behave in ways he finds unacceptable. His abuse is extreme.

To balance things out with a little humor, you might try the William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just to Say.”


Self-confidence, that knowledge of one’s abilities and belief in oneself to be successful. It also means having the courage of one’s convictions. For this one, I recommend reading anything by and/or about Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Ghandi.

Self-Defense and Self-Awareness

Some people take martial arts to learn how to fight for all the wrong reasons. They want to throw the first punch, be aggressive. Martial arts training prepares you for that moment you hope never comes. While you train, you build self-confidence, learn to respect yourself, become more disciplined and controlled. As you train, you realize you don’t have to throw the first punch at all. Exude the first five “selfs,” and self-awareness also develops. People will treat you well if they don’t mark you as a target.

In my opinion, you could look at any work of literature and examine it for evidence of a character’s self-defense and self-awareness strengths or challenges. Is the character aggressive? Does the character recognize his or her role in society? In a bildungsroman, for example, how do the “selfs” develop so the character grows?

One example of a bildungsroman is The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. One of my students read it last year and was transfixed by its themes and story. He emerged from reading it with questions he asked himself the rest of the year. I highly recommend it.

Thank you for reading this, my twenty-fifth post in my 30-Day Writing Challenge. Should you have suggestions for other works that address the “six selfs,” I would love to read about them.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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