Helpfulness: A Trait Worthy of Development


January 2017


Some children and adults are spontaneously helpful. When we help others we benefit ourselves by deepening our own understanding. Sometimes we might selfishly think that being helpful is somehow costing us something; to the contrary, a helpful attitude is a powerful mechanism for our own personal growth.

The Dalai Lama has instituted a program to teach compassion to children by giving them the opportunity to help others. It is from this kind of practice that we can all continue to develop our own values, based upon experience rather than just on theory.

“Teaching young people about compassion is one of the most important things we can do for them, says the Dalai Lama, and for the future of humanity......educating the heart as well as the mind...”

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(In addition to being a winning tournament competitor Sensei Hannaly Altwal is a seasoned assistant instructor in the Sempai program. You will often see her helping Shihan Mason in the Junior Kata class and assisting in the Karate Tiger and Little Dragons classes.)

In general there have been three goals (different models) of education: The Good Citizen, The Good Worker, or The Good Person.

The ideal of the Good Citizen goes back to the ancient Greeks. The goal is to form students into responsible, empowered, thoughtful citizens whose well-rounded education and good judgment will benefit society.

The Good Worker is the goal of the mass education of the industrial revolution, standardized schooling to create punctual, hard-working, obedient workers for capitalism’s factories, mines, and industry. A lot of public schooling today is still a bit like this.

And finally, the Good Person, the student who is caring, compassionate, peaceful and tolerant. The student who sees all humanity as brothers and sisters. The student whose heart is as well-educated as their mind. This is the educational ideal of the Dalai Lama, as well as of Western educators pioneering the new field of social and emotional learning.

Here at the Dojo I have set up the training to include personal growth and development, as I have observed that training only the body will simply produce physical ability, but will not address the emotional and intellectual aspects of individual development.

MuDoKai Martial Arts is an educational experience that will stay with the student for a lifetime. Many Black Belts believe that it is their most valued developmental program and personal resource.

The Sempai Program for senior students allows leadership development through the commitment to help others achieve their Martial Arts goals. Sempai Students assist the Sensei in class, and benefit themselves by helping others learn how to practice and progress through the ranks.

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(Sparring action may seem fast and furious to the untrained eye, but in MuDoKai it is an advanced exercise in Self Control, Cooperation and the development of Strategic Skills.)


“Real change is in the heart, but in modern education there is not sufficient talk about compassion. Through education, through training the mind and using intelligence, we can see the value of compassion and the harmfulness of anger and hatred.”
says the Dalai Lama. Our Sempai program teaches students to learn and pass on this important understanding.

According to Mark Greenberg, a “Social and Emotional Learning” (SEL) pioneer at Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development “there is substantial evidence that this is doable. Research has shown that we can successfully teach children how to overcome and manage emotions such as fear, hatred, anger and anxiety. SEL programs have proven that children can develop lifelong abilities such as self-awareness, anger management, and impulse control, and positive qualities such as empathy and compassion.”

The approach of the Dalai Lama reflects the Buddhist view that the “true nature” of all beings is basically good, including an inherent capacity for compassion. These good qualities are seeds we all possess, and these seeds need only be cultivated to bloom into the unbiased and universal compassion that heals the world. We can educate people in order to sustain and nurture compassion. Proper education is very important. His faith is in human intelligence reason, and self-interest, albeit a higher self-interest. We can learn to be more compassionate because it makes sense.

Children understand this intuitively; I was told recently by a parent that when they were summoned into their child’s school for a Parent-Teacher Conference, the teacher stressed the importance of the helpfulness that their child spontaneously exhibited in the classroom toward fellow students who were not as accomplished academically as this student. We seek to foster this attitude of cooperation here at the Dojo through the Sempai Program, which is a natural complement to the sometimes competitive nature of the Curriculum Program. To thrive in our modern world it is necessary to know how to successfully cooperate as well as how to compete. In MuDoKai we seek to teach both of these important perspectives simultaneously.

Shihan Robert Heale Mason © 2017