Beyond Survival: Doing the Right Thing

July 2017
Gerald Coffey, a former P.O.W. in Vietnam, has written about his experiences as a captured pilot at the hands of his enemy. One minute he was one of America’s military elite, flying a volunteer mission at high altitudes in a distant war, and the next he was injured and struggling to stay afloat while fighting for his life under enemy fire in the choppy seas of Indo-China, an instant transition of the most dramatic kind, a change of circumstances that was abrupt, life-threatening and permanent. Coffey wrote that he did not remember releasing his parachute, inflating his life raft or removing his helmet, all necessary survival procedures that he performed automatically, though unconsciously, after his plane was hit and he plunged into the ocean below. Years of military training had prepared him for just such an emergency and he was able to respond appropriately.

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(Sensei Juan Casais holds the pads for Sensei Ramos)
When civilians consider a situation like Coffey’s we can understand and appreciate the value of a military regimen because its benefits are so clearly demonstrated by his experience; however, when discipline and routine are applied in sports or in school it becomes another matter for most of us. We question it, and discuss it, we challenge it, yet we often ask for it when our children and our institutions get out of control. On the one hand, we identify with the challenges of the 1960’s which developed civil disobedience almost into an art form. On the other hand, we recall the orderliness and outward security that obedience seemed to offer throughout the 1950’s. Two very different concepts embodied in one generation, the “baby boomers”, who were born after World War II. This generation’s impact has registered culturally and politically and is shaping contemporary philosophical attitudes. So, how should our children be raised? How can we do the right thing? Can we be disciplined while living free lives?
Martial Arts is both a discipline and an art form. It is martial, therefore it lends itself well to regimentation, as does the military. It is an art, and as such requires the students to explore the mental and emotional aspects of themselves. Karate Do, the way of the empty hand, balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain by engaging the rational and the intuitive aspects of the mind simultaneously. This is the function of regular training in basics, strategy, and kata, essentially simple actions, that are developed through repetition and practice, to crystallize into a profound understanding. It is this reconciliation of discipline and freedom, of structure and creativity, that allows for the development of a mature integration of being. This self-knowledge develops a touchstone within, a capacity to do the “right thing”, and also the wisdom to realize the discipline of freedom through practice.
© 2017 Shihan Robert Heale Mason