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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.

Finding Your Voice

The karate school participated in a self-defense course for the Girl Scout Jamboree in Hollywood a while ago. The classes for the girls included verbal defensive response skills as well as physical training. The girls were allowed to ask questions and many eagerly participated in the give and take of the sessions. Real-life examples of successful escape scenarios were used to illustrate the thesis that it is always better to resist capture no matter what. Part of what makes a predator back off and give up is when the proposed victim does not cooperate; but instead fights hard by yelling, punching, kicking. In one true incident that we related to the scouts the child who was abducted was only ten years old. She and her younger brother were forced into a car by the assailant; but she did not give up. She kicked, punched, scratched and yelled so loudly that the kidnapper let her and her brother out of his car after driving only one block as she was attracting so much attention. She told the police his car license plate number and he was arrested and prosecuted.
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(Young children can learn powerful assertive techniques to be safe and strong.)
It was interesting to observe the differences in how the girl scouts responded to the drills in which they were instructed to participate. In the martial arts it is very important to exhale forcefully when executing a technique and to kiai (yell) when instructed to do so. Some of the girls had no problem with this; yet others were shy, and when asked to kiai were actually unable to utter a single sound, in spite of repeated attempts to encourage them. Even being in a room full of other girls who were yelling loudly did not incite them to make a noise or to breathe out. Consequently, in a real-life situation they might prove to be under-rehearsed and less likely to succeed in their defense. In Martial arts training it is crucial to teach students how to breathe properly and also how to find their voice. We practice similar drills in the Dojo at all levels of training and it is essential that students comprehend the importance of this practice.
While visiting the world-famous Hippocrates Health Institute recently in West Palm Beach I listened to a short talk by its Director Brian Clements, who has studied health and diet and exercise for over forty years. His speech was interesting and informative; it was surprising to hear him say that the most important element in recovery from an illness is the patient’s belief that they deserve to get well. Similarly, a young person’s belief that they deserve to be safe and strong is important in defending themselves in a close encounter with a potential assailant. “I am safe; I am strong” was
imprinted on the front of the special tee shirts that Girl Scouts wore at the Jamboree and it makes a good motto for our young students too.
Martial Arts training gives students the idea that they can and should defend themselves, and provides a practical means for doing just that. They learn that they can feel safe as a result of the skills that they practice regularly in class and that they can be strong because of a training regimen that builds muscular, emotional and mental strength.
Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2017

A New Start - A New Schedule

September 2017

September is the start of the new school year, a time when parents and kids have to regroup to deal with busy schedules, changing schedules, and priorities. There is only so much time and energy in one 24 hour day, so the question really becomes: what are the most important things that must be done each day? There are obvious choices such as school, home-work, job, eating, sleeping and travel time; then there is what we do with the time that we have left, assuming that there is some leftover time. Often here is where things get tricky as this is the area that is not mandated, and so this is the area of free choice, such as it is. This is where our values determine what choices we will make-an indication of what is truly important to us, where the rubber meets the road.
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(Shihan Mason with Molly and Ryan after being awarded their Brown Belts. : The final part of the Brown Belt test involves 6 matches in a row.)

We all know of times both for ourselves and for others where we have heard someone, maybe ourselves say, gee I would really like to ________(fill in the blank), but I don’t have the time, money, energy, will power, whatever; however, as the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way.” The key issue is how determined is the person to reach that particular goal. Obesity is one of the biggest issues in America today. Diets abound, usually at least one a week that promises the impossible: lose weight while eating whatever you want, when-ever you want. It can seem the same with martial arts: get your Black Belt in one year the quick and easy way. The truth is that to achieve Black Belt excellence takes time and hard work.
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(Shihan Mason congratulates Sensei Steven Apicella on his promotion to Nidan the 2nd Degree Black Belt rank.)
It means making the “training challenge” a priority. It means working hard on a regular schedule to achieve a goal over several years, step by step. Rather than just wishful thinking, those on the path to Black Belt, and beyond, to self-mastery, are on track with real achievement. Before you can really know anything you must know yourself. Regular weekly practice of Mudokai.

“Martial Arts and Courage”

September 2017

• Courage is largely a result of confidence. Becoming a Black Belt requires courage. There is no substitute for the confidence you gain from working out and training in martial arts everyday.
• Be brave. You can develop courage if you acknowledge your fear and then press on with your purpose. Be bold and welcome challenges. It is said that “fortune favors the bold”. A failure to achieve a specific goal is only a defeat when we don’t learn from the experience.
• There are no shortcuts to success in martial arts. Success in martial arts, as in life, comes only through hard work and dedication to achieving our goals. Worthwhile accomplishments in martial arts are difficult. It takes courage to avoid what may sometimes seem like a shortcut to success.

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• To be a good martial artist, you must be willing to give a 100% effort all of the time.
• Welcome situations which provide opportunities to perform under pressure. Only under pressure can you really demonstrate courage. A true martial artist delivers when the pressure is on.
• Remain calm in adverse or hostile circumstances, and your courage will grow. Courage and confidence will inspire you to a level of achievement you didn’t think possible as long as you stay calm.
• Courage is a quality possessed by Black Belt martial artists. It’s the quality that drives us to give that something extra when it seems like we can’t give anymore. It allows us to perform at our best, even when, in our mind, only perfection will lead to success.
• Courage is a measure of our heart, and inner strength. If we meet an opponent who may be bigger and stronger, our inner strength and our heart can combine as courage to give us the winning edge.
• We do not need to be intimidated by the prospect of failure. Courage gives us the confidence to do what it takes to be a winner. When faced with difficult tasks in life, bring the power of a courageous attitude to bear and they will surely yield.
• Courage is the quality that you can carry throughout your daily life that will give you the confidence to be compassionate towards others and at peace with yourself.

What Does Martial Arts Teach Us?

August 2017

In the book “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali she points out some major cultural differences between the Somali culture she was raised in, and the Dutch culture she adopted as an adult. In Somalia children are taught to strike out when they feel threatened, rather than only to strike in defense when they are attacked first. In Dutch culture however, Somali children living as refugees had to learn to “talk things through” rather than hit. Working as a translator for the Dutch authorities, Ali was involved with many situations where Somali parents had to have these rules explained to them. They were told that if their child persisted with their aggressive behavior they would not be able to attend normal schools, but would be placed in a psychiatric facility to address their mental disorder. Ali points out that Dutch civilization is peaceful and productive, as a consequence of this national policy of “talking things through, rather than hitting.” Somalia, on the other hand, has been torn by civil war and a succession of brutal dictatorships. Like Ali I would advocate for adopting a philosophy of peaceful persuasion, rather than
violent confrontation.

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Sometimes parents do not put their children into our program because they have never trained themselves at a Dojo.
Sometimes they have had a previously negative experience with another school. Since I began teaching in Plantation in 1980 I have always made personal growth the major focus of our program. At my Dojo students acquire their martial skills as part of healthy physical, emotional and psychological development. In the last few years in particular, martial arts studios around the country have adopted similar ideas to the University Karate Center, but as far as I know, I remain the long term pioneer in this method of teaching martial arts to students of all ages.
It is often a good idea for concerned parents to come and watch a class first to see how we train. I appreciate the efforts that all the students make to refer clients to the school, and would encourage you to tell your friends and acquaintances about our program. We anticipate that "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" and that by seeing what we are doing, and by experiencing our program first hand, they will be convinced of its merit.

All students, but kids in particular, can use their martial arts knowledge to resolve conflicts peacefully, by talking rather than resorting to violence. The training gives them the confidence to be able to speak with someone who may be threatening them physically, rather than cave in to a bully’s demands, or lash out in panic as an untrained individual might. Since they have developed their practiced skills, they can remain cool calm and confident, while opting for the civilized solution. Essentially, Mudokai Martial Arts teaches practical peace.

Shihan Robert H Mason © 2017

Why Are Some Kids So Tired?

Years ago children were seen and not heard; bedtimes were set and honored; snacks were an occasional treat; mealtimes were regular; the family ate dinner together every night. Not so nowadays with parents’ busy schedules; unfortunately kids often lack the benefits of a regular schedule, especially with regard to bedtime. Here at the karate school we often observe kids with little energy in class. From our conversation with some of the children it seems that many are not getting enough sleep. While children are growing they need to get plenty of sleep. Small babies often sleep 20 hours a day, while toddlers will happily take a nap every afternoon in addition to 12 hours or more of sleep a night. Even after kids no longer need a nap, 12 hours a night is a good sleep schedule. Once children begin school there is a tendency for some children to stay up too late at night.
When I was growing up I went to bed at 7:00 pm every night and got up at 7:00 am in the morning until I was about eight years old. My bedtime was extended to 7:30 pm from age eight to ten and then extended again to 8:00 pm from age ten to twelve.
When I went away to boarding school, right before my twelfth birthday, I recall complaining in letters home to my parents that I was not getting enough sleep. Lights out was at 9:00 pm and we got up at 6:45 am, just nine and three quarter hours, ra-ther than my usual eleven hours. Of course, I got used to the schedule which was extended again when I was about fourteen to lights out at 9:30 pm, which was my bedtime until I left school at age sixteen. This regimen allowed me to get through my growing years with plenty of sleep, and as a result plenty of energy for my daytime schedule.
From speaking to parents over the years I know that many children get up early for school and stay up late at night, often not getting to bed until after 10:00 pm, but having to get up at 6:00 am to get ready for school. This is why some kids are so tired. Some experts believe that hyperactivity in young children is related to them trying to stay awake; if they were not so hyper they would be sleeping. Ideas like “bedtime” and “lights-out”, and a recognition of the importance of sleep as an essential ingredient to good health, along with a productive day-time schedule, can contribute to the quality of the lives of children. We can expect children to be fully awake during the day provided that they are getting enough sleep during the night.
© 2017 Shihan Robert H. Mason

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