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Training for Self Mastery

February 2018
 
“Everything that has been achieved is merely a preliminary exercise for the achievements to come, and no one-not even one who has reached perfection-can say he has reached the end.” This quote from Eugene Herrigel touches on an important theme for martial arts students. The experience of perfection, or completeness in martial arts, often only occurs after many years of practice and thousands of repetitious movements. Sometimes, however, it can be experienced by a complete beginner. Herrigel wrote “Zen in the Art of Archery,” and years ago I remember taking a girlfriend to practice archery with me. I showed her how to draw the bow and loose the arrow. Her first shot went straight to the center of the target, the gold. I was thrilled, as she was, at the experience of everything going “just right.” The moment was complete, perfect. Of course, this joy of the novice at a flash of perfection, while wonderful, does not mean that mastery has been achieved. Mastery requires consistent high level performance over time.
 

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(Jo Ellen rehearses an elbow strike to the chin with Sensei Meyer)


Repetition often leads students to feel bored. Getting just as excited about a punch or kick on the twentieth repetition, as you were on the first attempt is often difficult. Repeating the move for the five hundredth time is often a rote performance, containing little of the zest, intensity and quality necessary to achieve perfection. Yet, only after many thousands of such excellent repetitions can the move become so smooth, relaxed, reflexive and energized that it feels perfect.
Within the Mudokai curriculum, I have done my best to disguise the repetitions. I have placed the fundamental exercises into different contexts at each belt level, in order that the students may see them with fresh eyes. I understand that new gold belts usually think that when they can roughly get through Pinan Nidan, that they “know” the Kata. These students find it incomprehensible that a Black Belt student, having been many times a champion, is performing the same Kata now, as she attempts to win her next title, as she was when she won her first. What is more, she is getting the most out of it now, and performing at the highest level. For Black Belts, this is the way to mastery, not just of karate, but of themselves.

 

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(Shiaii winners with trophies)


Remember, knowledge is the result of combining the correct information, with correct practice, over time. A while ago I read Chuck Norris’ book The Secret Power Within. I have met Chuck on several occasions and found him very likable. He did not seem particularly scholarly, although I have always been impressed with his achievements as a martial artist. The book is excellent and probably much easier reading than most of my newsletter articles. I recommend it to all students and parents as a work of quality from a contemporary American Karate Master. Sometimes just a glimpse of perfection can be sufficient inspiration for us to pursue knowledge. Chuck’s book provides “Zen solutions for real problems” in a very “reader- friendly” way.


Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2018

Developing a Winning Mind-Set


January 2018


 

When we are learning anything it is fundamentally important to develop a winning mind-set. While it is often assumed that “superior ability” is a key to success, over thirty years of research has indicated that an overemphasis on “talent” or “intellect”, along with the implication that these are fixed, innate traits, leave students feeling fearful of challenges, vulnerable to failure and unmotivated to learn. All of the research indicates that our abilities are not fixed and can be developed and improved upon throughout our lives. Even geniuses and the most talented people have to work hard and persevere to accomplish their goals. What we endeavor to teach students at the Dojo, is the “growth mind-set” that asserts that abilities are developed, intelligence is malleable and that, with persistent hard work, skills will improve and problems can be solved. In short, students of Mudokai learn how to learn, and develop the learning skills that will enable them to use this mind-set to utilize hard work and their love of learning to work towards success in all of their endeavors.

 

When people have a “fixed mind-set”, they get upset every time that they make an error. They “feel dumb” perhaps because they could not perform the move the Sensei showed them. This attitude leads to a lowering of self-esteem and will likely be reflected in their job, at home, or at school in the case of young students. One of the benefits of training in Mudokai is that we can address this issue directly. All students are encouraged to see the acquisition of skills and techniques as something everyone can learn. Our curriculum is designed so that all new beginners will be able to learn the blocks strikes and kicks through the process of instruction, practice, correction and improved practice. As students achieve higher ranks and learn more advanced skills they realize more and more that, just as they can improve their balance, flexibility, strength, agility and fitness through persistent effort, that same effort applied to their job or their schoolwork will allow them to improve their skills in those areas.  A major consequence of the development of a “growth mind-set” is improved confidence. When we realize that we can learn anything we set our mind to, and achieve results by virtue of hard work and effort, we see any errors we make as useful feedback that will allow us to hone our skills. We see the development of new skills as a challenge, to meet with energy and enthusiasm. Because Mudokai training is so technically specific, the Sensei can offer praise for the students accomplishments at every stage of the development of each new skill. By focusing students on the actions that lead to success we can foster motivation and confidence.

 

One of the challenges that we face as we grow older is the maintenance of our “growth mind-set”. Sometimes a major setback in any area of our life can lead us to become discouraged and depressed. It is not hard to notice when this has happened to a person because they will demonstrate the symptoms of the “fixed mind-set”. They will ruminate about failures and denigrate their skills with statements like “I’ve never had good balance” or “I can’t do this, I give up”. To meet this challenge the Sensei will address the mind-set by breaking down a technique into the steps that will lead to success, while reassuring the student that struggling with the challenges posed by learning a new skill are an important part of the fun we can have as we practice that skill. Learning stimulates neural connectivity in the brain at all ages.

© Shihan Robert H. Mason 2018

Martial Arts for Adult Students


December 2017

 

One of the best personal choices I've ever made was joining the adult martial arts class at University Karate Center. Being significantly overweight, I was concerned about heart disease and the potential for diabetes. Beginning a healthy diet was one component toward reaching my fitness goal. The second was finding a good cardio/fat burning workout. My friend Sensei Stan Meyer recommended classes at University Karate Center.

Martial arts have always interested me, so I decided to make a commitment. It took about a month before I actually overcame my personal shyness/intimidation and came in to take the first class. Being overweight, I feared not being able to keep up, and was uncomfortable about the way I looked in my uniform.

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Everyone at the school and in class made me feel welcome. I've come to realize that the respect for others that is so important in the children’s martial arts program is actually basic to all the martial arts training at University Karate Center, including the MMA intensity classes for adults, the self defense training and the weapons classes. In class, the trainers patiently explained each technique, helping me to modify each element to my ability and training level.

After the first few weeks, classes seemed to get a little easier, I could keep up and was learning the moves: proper form for punches and kicks. The instructors continued to be encouraging while making sure I did things properly to avoid injury.

After a few months stamina was improving, breathing was easier. I had better balance; was developing self-confidence. I was getting stronger and toning muscles (which contribute to improved appearance — a very thin person would also benefit from this with added muscle), but the way I felt, the extra energy I have after a class and all the time, are at least as important as appearance. At my current level, I especially appreciate the increased awareness and mental and physical self-defense components of class.

The classes are structured to build on learned techniques. As each level is achieved, new moves and combinations are introduced, keeping brain function in learning mode. The train-ers vary the MMA classes to make them challenging and fun, keeping the workout at optimal levels for even advanced students.

Fitness is a wonderful natural high. Much of the time I feel like I'm walking on air. I recommend the classes at UKC to anyone. For those of us with limited time, each hour-long class provides the best possible balance of cardio workout, pad and bag striking drills and self defense and fighting skills. Classes are available seven days a week, including some family clas-ses, so there is plenty of opportunity to train often enough to make real progress: 2-4 times a week. See you there soon!

 

Jo Ellen Bate© 2017

Martial Arts Motivation


December 2017


 
Studying Martial Arts is one of the most challenging and rewarding pursuits that you will ever encounter. Martial Arts proficiency requires many hours of hard work spent practicing form and technique. Howev-er, as you progress through the ranks, you will achieve a satisfaction that makes all of your hard work and dedication worth while.
At times as we undertake tasks associated with our many pursuits we might begin to feel discouraged. We need to step back and assess our situations so that we can find something that will help us remain motivated and better able to reach the great peaks of success.
 
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Here are some mental steps that you can take:
1. Maintain a Positive Outlook
A positive outlook can greatly increase motivation and will help you to stick with your endeavors to their completion. Instead of focusing on setbacks try to consider the many benefits that you will gain with a "can do" attitude.
2. Keep your "Eye on the Prize"
Few things inspire as much as really great reward. Set a realistic goal for yourself (such as your next belt level) and work toward that goal. If your goals are realistic and attainable within a reasonable amount of time, they will better help to motivate you than unrealistic or distant goals.
3. Look at the big picture
While you are working each day to learn a new set of movements or forms, remember that the martial arts is a system that cannot work without each of its component parts. Each time you learn something new, try to see how it fits into the big picture.
4. Keep things in perspective
Maintaining perspective will greatly assist you in all of your endeavors. A small set back is not the end of the world. Remember that you are only limited by your own perceptions of reality. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch but yard by yard it’s hard.
5. Stay self-disciplined
One great way to stay motivated is to attend class regularly and participate fully in class activi-ties. This will lead to an increased rate of learning and give you the tools that you will need for Martial Arts success.
Staying motivated is one of the keys to success in the Martial Arts and in your life. If you approach each of life’s endeavors with a high level of motivation and commitment, you are sure to succeed.

Making a Commitment to Train


 
How long do we think about doing something that we are interested in? Usually this thought occupies our mind for a significant amount of time, whether it is losing weight, joining a gym, trying a new activity. By the time we actually take the first step, there is a significant gap. Taking the first step is wonderful, however, it needs to be followed with the second step, and the third, and so on.
We live in a fast paced society now which is made more intense by the social media network which everyone is plugged into. I was re-minded of this fact recently when I spoke with a young adult who told me that he never turns off his cell phone. No one wants to be left out, so faster and more is the order of the day. There is even a name for this: FOMO (fear of missing out).
 
 
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Of course, there are the obligations we all have, home-work, work, family, hobbies, other activities, and yet there is that original commitment to train which we begin with as an enthusi-astic, curious White Belt. There is a saying, a Black Belt is simply a White Belt that kept showing up.
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Invariably former students will visit the karate school. If they are under-belts (students who were unable to complete their training and make it to Black Belt, for whatever reason) they always regret not finishing what they started.
 
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Recently a former student , who had trained as a child, visited the karate school and expressed their disappointment at be-ing unable to attain Black Belt back then. What was different about this person, now an adult, is that they signed back up again to complete their journey to Black Belt now. Bravo. That is making a commitment to train, and keeping that commitment.
 
Shihan Robert H. Mason ©2017

Building Students’ Confidence and Competence



I want to request that parents to cooperate with me in giving our students the space that they need to come to class and train. I know that parents are sometimes anxious about the progress of their children and believe that “being there for the kids” means physically accompanying the child as they enter the academy, helping them with their attendance cards, taking them to their Dojo and even putting away their shoes.
At the karate school we teach children self-discipline, self-confidence and self-esteem as part of our program of personal growth and development by letting students learn how to do these tasks themselves. The Junior level is distinguished from the Dragons and Tigers by the degree of independence that we expect from the children. For example, in the half-hour Little Dragons class the staff fills out the attendance card for the child and the parents are allowed to bring the child into the facility and to shepherd the child to and from the classroom, helping the child put away shoes if necessary. In the forty-five minute Junior class the child is expected to be capable of doing these basic tasks, or of learning to do them, on their own. As parents and educators it is important that we all work together towards a common goal: providing opportunities for the children in our care to learn how to be self-sufficient.
Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as saying that “we don’t help others when we do for them what they could and should do for themselves.” At times people are confused about how children learn competence and confidence and how this relates to self-esteem.

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(Sparring practice will quickly build the students’ confidence!)

Nathanial Brandon, who is the author of several groundbreaking books on self-esteem, is very precise when he defines what contributes to building this attribute in children. He believes that the two most important components of self-esteem are self-respect and competence. When a child is shown respect by the adults in their envi-ronment, they learn to respect themselves. When children are allowed to learn how to take care of themselves, they learn competence. In order to learn competence a child needs to be able to make mistakes, to try something and fail, and to be permit-ted to struggle with difficult tasks on their own terms, without being rescued prema-turely by a well-meaning parent, adult or older sibling. We can not learn for them. They must learn for themselves.
Children can pick up on adults’ anxiety and learn to fear “failure”. Their natural ability to learn is shut down under the well-meaning guise of parental protection and in-volvement. Self-esteem is based on, and built through, learning how to be competent in life skills, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, a leading pioneer in the field of com-petence and depression. He says that we teach our children to be helpless when we prevent them from learning life skills, for them-selves. As parents we can give our kids opportunities by placing them in structured learning situations (with appropriate supervi-sion) and supporting them in their efforts to learn, by letting them go through the process on their own. Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism” explores this topic in detail, with research and empirical data compiled through years of observing the American pro-cess of child rearing. As adults we need to make the proffering of “rewards” (praise is a reward) contingent upon the delivery of reasonable, correct behavior from the child. Self-esteem is best developed when the child actually learns how to do something cor-rectly, and that happens only through the process of trial and error on the part of the child.
I encourage you to view our classes at any time through the windows. Many parents bring chairs to sit and watch their children train. If you have a question for the staff or instructors or need to schedule an appointment or purchase an item, of course, you are welcome to come inside for those purposes. If you are concerned about knowing what your child is learning, you may choose to purchase a DVD of the belt material your child is studying for home viewing and practice, or you may decide to take class yourself as many parents do. Additionally, by bringing your child only a few minutes before the class time, and picking them up promptly after class, you can help us to maintain good order in the Dojo.
Moving forward towards 2018 I anticipate renewed growth in our program. I welcome any efforts that can be made by our current body of students and their parents to bring us new members. I have been working with the Sensei’s who teach classes to further develop their teaching skills and build on their experience to lead our members forward towards the goal of Black Belt and beyond. It is because I have the assistance of the senior Black Belts that we are able to offer classes every week, seven days a week. Any stu-dents ranked Purple belt or higher who are members of our “Black Belt Club” may apply to be Sempai (class instructor assistants). Forms are available at the Front Desk. It is from this program that students can be selected for training as Instructors after achieving their Black Belts.
Shihan Robert H. Mason ©2017


Dominance and Martial Arts Philosophy

 


Dominance, and issues relating to it, are a feature of life for humans and animals alike. Wolves fight to establish or maintain a dominance hierarchy, siblings fight over who gets to hold the TV remote control and spouses fight over who gets to spend the money on a new motor cycle, or a new high fashion outfit. Who is dominant is an issue for life. The struggle for dominance can be seen at the beginning of most of the Junior classes, when, following the warm-ups, we see the competition over who should stand where in the line; in spite of the fact that the students’ belts and stripes largely define the order. Everyone gets to take class, no matter where they stand in line. It’s not an issue worth fighting over, and yet youngsters will contend for territorial dominance in this instance.
 
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(Dominance in sparring is about scoring the most points. Respect and self-control are essential to avoid training injuries.)

 
Who is the boss? Who is in charge? This is often how we perceive who has the power in a situation. We don’t want to be bossed around. In a society where “the customer is always right” there is often the idea that the consumer of a product or service is “in charge.” In Martial Arts it does not work that way. The Sensei is in charge. He is dominant. The students, starting from the most senior among them, form a hierarchy beneath the Sensei, based upon their rank. Where that rank is equal, they are encouraged to be modest, humble and deferential towards each other. The real test of their ability to be respected as dominant, lies after all, in their ability to perform rather than push.
 
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(Dominance on the ground is important for self-defense. Grappling requires thicker mats for safe practice.)

 
While Martial Arts teaches respect for everyone, it also teaches the importance of winning, of being dominant, where issues of real importance are concerned. Additionally, self mastery is held to be of more value than dominating others. Respect is a by-product of this dominance hierarchy. For example, if a lion cub does not respect a male lion, he may end up being hurt, or even killed. Similarly, if a person does not respect a judge in court, they may end up going to jail for their attitude of contempt. Judges rule in their courtroom.
We ask that all students develop a proper respect for the traditions of the Dojo, and remember that respect for property is a part of this. Training equipment, magazines, displays of photographs and even the paint on the walls are all part of the dojo, the place where we train. It is important that everyone who enters this special space shows the proper regard for both the space and each other. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference in this respect.

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