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“Be Still and Know”


May 2017 - Click Here to Download the Full .pdf pdf icon2


As much as the movements involved in karate training are difficult at first, being still and not moving at all is sometimes even harder. When students line up to bow in at the beginning and end of class the command in Japanese is kiyotsuke, which is the military equivalent in English of “ATTENTION”. What this command requires is that students should stand up straight with their heels touching and their hands by their sides. Blinking and breathing should be the only movements discernable. While this exercise is very difficult, it is important that students should do their best to practice. Sitting in seiza (kneeling) also affords a similar opportunity to be still.
In music there are rests between notes and pauses between movements. In karate practice there are points of essential stillness within certain combinations and between techniques, that create the dynamic balance essential to the rhythm and timing involved. This is especially evident in kata practice, where a good rule of thumb is to pause for one second at the end of each combination, and for two seconds at each kiai. The more absolute the stillness at these times, the more effectively it sets off both the movements that preceded it, and those which come afterwards.

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(World Forms and Weapons Champion Sensei Jeff Liotta demonstrates stillness in action!)

Effectively, the message is, that in order to understand and benefit fully from movement, you must understand and comprehend the benefit of stillness.
In our everyday lives it is not just what we do that defines something of who we are, it is also a matter of what we do not do. Our search for self knowledge may be assisted by an awareness of how we do all of the activities that we are involved in on a day-to-day basis. This is the art of everyday life; a practice of being at one with ourselves in action. We can also benefit from investigating how we are when we do nothing; when there is no activity. How well can we be still and conscious and awake at the same time.
Certainly in terms of a student’s progress in the Martial Arts, this is measured not only by their competence in action, but also by their competence at attaining and maintaining a state of stillness. I’m reminded of the motto of my Alma Mata, the University of Sussex in England, where I read (studied) Developmental Psychology; “Be Still and Know”. If you can practice enough to become truly still, the knowledge that arises from that stillness can be absolutely profound. As the poet and artist Genece wrote “Come to the place of stillness, a place of calm knowing, that carries you into the sanctuary.”

 

Shihan Robert H. Mason © May 2017

Fashionably Fit For Class


May  2017 - Click here to Download the full .PDF pdf icon2
 


Many sports have a special uniform that is worn by their participants. In the martial arts it is called a “gi” and consists of a karate top and karate pants, tied with a belt. The uniforms worn in the different styles of the martial arts each have their own traditions of “style” and color. In Goju a black uniform is worn, in Kung Fu a sash is worn with a looser fitting garment and in Tai Chi the exponents often wear shoes with a pajama-style “outfit”. Here at the karate school the uniform worn is a plain white jacket (sometimes a “logo” v-neck top) with karate pants (draw string or elastic waist) and a belt that indicates the student’s rank. Black Belts are permitted to wear uniforms with their own selection of approved color and style.

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((L) Sensei George Sfetas sparring with Mr. Mason (R) in 1980)

In order to train properly it is important to have the pant leg hemmed just above the ankle. This insures the student’s safety, so that they do not trip over their feet, and also gives a better overall look to the student’s appearance. In Japan students often wear karate pants hemmed to the mid-calf to keep them completely clear of the ankles for kicking.

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A clean, wrinkle-free uniform is considered essential by none other than Sensei George Sfetas, who was my teacher when I was at University. Mr. Sfetas was famous for ironing his own uniform, a heavyweight Tokaido, and also for turning students away from class if their uniform was unsuitable, wrinkled or dirty.
So be “fashionably fit” for class by planning ahead. A second uniform is always a good idea, (one for the wash and one ready for class). Also, always remember after class to hang up the uniform (rather than stuffing it in a bag for the next time).
Martial Arts came originally from the Military Arts, where a well turned out, clean, sharp and complete uniform is always considered essential. Looking good in every respect is all part of our Martial Arts form.

Shihan Robert H. Mason © May 2017

Do Nothing Else While Reading This


 
That's right. Ignore all other tasks and focus solely on these words. Can't do that right now? Put me down and come back when you can. ... Hey, again! Do I have your attention? Even if you say, "sure", we both know that's not true. You're thinking about what to make for dinner, why that friend hasn't texted back (it's been THREE MINUTES!), or just some random thought which tickled your mental processes.
 
That's ok. You're not alone. We all struggle with distractions. Keeping ourselves focused on any one thing is tough. Especially if something more exciting appears...RIGHT...OVER...THERE! Part of the Mu Do Kai system is to help us all find our focus. It's just one more reason to train regularly. A recent article discussed fidget spinners. They may have saved or destroyed your sanity, but either way, they're a symbol. A generation crying out, "stop making us sit still all the time!" It's the symptom of the issue I'll explain here.
First, let's define some words so we're all on the same page.
Fidget: What happens when movement is artificially restricted. Society considers it a bad thing. It's not a bad thing. It's a warning light of another bad thing.
Distractions: Things demanding your attention in the same moment as one or more other items. Let's say, Facebook alerts arriving while you're drafting a text to your husband. Like weeds, they're only bad by definition and location.
Focus: Ability to put all of your mental and physical energy into a single thing. Unlike computers, we do not multitask. No matter how much you may think you do.
Stillness: A lack of movement, both of your body and your mind. Not a rigid state, but relaxed, like when you're getting an awesome massage.
Great, I love when there's mutual clarity.
 
June 2017 Newsletter1
 
We live in a world of endless Distractions. It feels like there are more than in the past because there are. Each day, there is more information in the world. And most of it has no effect on your life. But our brains want to know everything, so as these Distractions come by, we can't but help pay attention. It's no accident your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds scroll without end. We are more able to tap into the information deluge than at any other time in human history. Like with physical movement and attention, our brains haven't had time to evolve to cope.
 
With so many Distractions, and a brain eager to KNOW IT ALL, we have little hope to achieve anything resembling Focus. Yet this is where our best ideas and accomplishments reside. You can bet Michael Jordan wasn't checking what people were saying about him as he went for his shot. Nor was Thomas Edison gossiping about Nikola Tesla when he finally found a way to create the electric light bulb. Actually, given their relationship, he might have been. But you get the idea. If you allow Distractions to stay in control, you cannot achieve Focus. So without Distractions, we can achieve Focus. But only for a time! Eventually, Distractions invade your Focus. Your best bet is to take a break, let your mind and body reset. It's what recess is for in schools (you mean that essential activity is gone?!). If you aren't allowed to take a break, you may Fidget.
 
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This is normal. And should be accommodated to be made productive. Clicking a pen is satisfying but useless. As is a fidget spinner. Crafting various geometric figures with clay during math class is useful, but probably discouraged.
Now, Distractions can be overcome by Focus, but sometimes with the help of Fidgeting. Insist on no movement for long periods and you're back to Distractions. Or a Fidget you don't like (kids becoming increasingly out of control). "But what about Stillness?" you ask. "Isn't that what you're railing against?" Great point. It's a little different, in an important way. Being told to "sit still" versus being guided towards Stillness are differing experiences. It's the difference between giving a cat a bath (and being the cat) and lounging in a sauna (not as a cat). One is a tense and stressful demand. The other is a welcome reprieve. The key is learning to achieve Stillness without having to be in a massage parlor or Turkish bath-house. We work on this skill here at the Dojo any time the students are not actively executing a move. Whether it be awaiting a command in fighting stance or standing in attention prior to bowing in or out of class, we teach Stillness as an essential part of the Mu Do Kai system.
 
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Earlier, I said that Fidgeting (and the popularity of fidget spinners) was a symptom of a greater issue. That issue is an expectation of people to behave like computers. Computers work fine sitting around 99% of the time doing nothing. They also work fine doing a lot 99% of the time. Thing is, kids, adults, in fact all human beings, are not computers. We're humans. Living beings who need to move, express themselves, take breaks, and get then re-engaged. We're all noisy, distracted animals at our core. The human is just a relatively new addition in the evolutionary process. We just aim to help you become the best version of that human you can be. MuDoKai, the ultimate practice to achieve the ultimate you.

© 2017 Sensei Joe Winn 4th Dan Black Belt

Better Breathing Brings Peak Performance

 

 
April 2017 - Click Here to Download the Full Newsletter! pdf icon2
 


Inhale, exhale, in, out. Breathing is one of the most natural function of our bodies. Or is it? In spite of its importance, many of us have developed shallow and uneven breathing habits. Effective breathing can make a measurable difference in martial arts performance and in every other activity we pursue.
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(Stretching is another opportunity to focus on breathing.)
When you inhale, or breathe in, the air you take in goes through a multi-step filtering process before reaching your lungs. Specialized lung structures extract oxygen and leach it into your bloodstream, where it travels to various oxygen-hungry tissues, such as the brain and the large muscles. This cycle occurs tens of thousands of times each day, unnoticed, until you really push yourself in martial arts class and discover how much work breathing can be.
 
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(Correct breathing during sparring is important!)
With additional exertion, the process picks up speed trying to accommodate the body’s increased demand for oxygen and blood. The heart pumps faster, attempting to meet the demands of muscles engaged in high activity for oxygenated blood and the removal of waste carbon dioxide.
Regular deep breathing can allow the development of greater stamina, strength and mobility as well as greater mental focus, all of which are hallmarks of excellence in martial arts, but how can we achieve this? The first step to improving our ability to breathe involves exhaling strongly with every punch, block or kick that we execute in class.
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(When grappling an opponent the mindset is to “breathe and improve your position.)
Step two is to notice our inhalation and to allow our stomach to ex-tend as we breathe in. Your lungs will fill with air just as usual, but your diaphragm, the muscle mainly involved in breathing, will work differently from normal. This “belly breathing” is natural for babies and we need to rediscover this lost treasure. As you learn to breathe through all of your techniques in every class, you must next learn to take this skill into your life. Start by consciously exhaling when-ever you perform an action of exertion. As you pull open a car door, lift a bag of groceries, kick a soccer ball or hit a golf ball, breathe out. Let the inhalation that follows fill your belly. Once you are able to “remember yourself” throughout the day and maintain your active “belly breathing”, start to check yourself out when you first awaken in the morning. Are you “belly breathing”? If so, you are off to a good start. Learning to breathe correctly will keep you healthy and more aware.


Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2017


 

The Tao of Kaizen

The Path of Constant and Never-ending Improvement

 

 
March 2017 - Download pdf icon2
 

 

The true foundation of Kaizen or constant and never-ending improvement begins with precise and specific target selection. The successful martial artist is very precise in words, action and deeds. Although success begins with precise and specific goal setting and action plans, that is just the beginning and it is the daily ability to implement specific actions that truly separates the successful person from the others.

As a beginner, it looks like an impossible task to master the skills that are required to earn the rank of Black Belt and yet it is achieved one step at a time as the students tries to learn and improve a few things at a time. There, under the watchful eyes of his Sensei, he slowly forms into a person deserving of a Black Belt ranking.

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(Sensei Hannaly Altwal)

The modern martial artist always knows where he is and where he is going at all times. Since we live in a rapidly changing world, our targets are constantly moving. A wise objective today may be a fool’s goal tomorrow so it is imperative that one re-evaluates on an ongoing basis. While a martial artist works on being able to generate extreme force on specific targets for maximum effect, it is the target selection process that is constantly changing as openings and opportunities present themselves and disappear on an ongoing and fluid basis. We quickly learn that perfect accuracy on the wrong target is a waste of skill and resources. The martial artist constantly updates objectives and targets based on constantly changing information.

By being innovative and creative while seeing every challenge as an opportunity for achievement and a path for future growth the modern martial artist is future thinking and never looks back. Living on the cutting edge of creativity, and using positive, active growth tactics bring his future to him as he has already determined it should be through proactive strategic planning and implementation.

© 2007 Sensei Terry Bryan

 

 

MuDoKai Origins, Symbol and Strategy

 

 
April 2017 - Click Here to Download the Full Newsletter! pdf icon2
 

When my Sensei, Meiji Suzuki, came to visit the University Karate Center in 1982 we discussed the new system of Mugendo, or “unlimited way”, which he had developed to encompass the martial arts he was teaching at his academy in London, England. As one of Suzuki Sensei's senior students, I was extremely excited by the new technical developments that were coming out of his specific martial arts insights and wanted to adjust the curriculum I was teaching, as soon as possible, to incorporate them into our regular training practices.

April 2017 005During the course of my discussion with Grandmaster Suzuki, he asked me if I would take on the responsibility of being the Chief Instructor for Mugendo in the United States. After due consideration I accepted this responsibility, and in recognition, was given the opportunity by him to be the Chief Instructor (Shihan) of my own style within the Mugendo system. Subsequently my style was named MuDoKai, meaning literally, “void way association”. More usually the translation would be “the association of students of the unlimited way”. I created the logo for this new style by combining several ancient symbols drawn from elements used by both Meiji Suzuki, and his teacher, the late professor Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of the Wado-Ryu karate style.
The MuDoKai logo that appears on the patch is of significance, not only from a philosophical point of view, but also a strategic one. It is useful to consider the logo, and how the emblem itself can be considered as a tool for strategic thinking, not only in a martial arts context, but also in everyday life. The logo can even act as a yantra or symbolic shape for purposes of focus, concentration, and meditation.
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We can first look at the meaning of the star shape which represents the four ways to move towards the center symbolized by the red sun in the middle of our emblem. The four ways are four ways to sense within ourselves, and approximate to our four external senses (if you combine smell and taste into a single sense). The point at twelve o'clock we will call the point of fire (vision), the point at three o'clock is the point of water (smell & taste), the point a six o'clock is the point of earth or ground (touch) and the point at nine o'clock is the point of wind or air (hearing).
When sparring or fighting we have strategic options. We can press forward and move in to attack our opponent (Fire). We can move in and out, looking to time our attack to our best advantage (Water). We can stand our ground, and look to block and counter our opponents attack (Earth). Or we can lead our opponent in a circle, to set up an opportunity to draw a straight attack which we can sidestep and counterattack (Wind).

Our patch is symbolic of these strategic principles. The dove (bird) on the patch is derived from the Wado Ryu symbol of Professor Hironori Ohtsuka, the Sensei of my Sensei. Wado Ryu means “Way of Peace”, and the dove is a symbol of peace. On our logo the dove is emerging from the center (Sun) with its wings extending to the very edge of the void (the black background). This is symbolic of peace coming from within us, and extending to everything in our lives.
Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2017

Some Ideas for Eating for Health in 2017

 

 Download the March 2017 Newsletter Here! pdf icon2
 
 

Recently my friend Kyoshi Dave Kovar posted an interesting item on facebook. Since we share common ground on this issue I figured I’d put it here for you to read in his own words. His post articulates why he encourages a vegetarian diet, but, like me, he understands why some people will always believe that meat is an important part of their diet, lifestyle and family tradition. Shihan Robert Mason Those of you that know me personally, and those of you on Facebook that might occasionally read my posts are probably aware of the fact that I usually avoid controversy. I certainly have opinions, very strong ones, but I also know that most people are very set in their ways and could care less what I think. Also, I would like to believe that if I choose my battles wisely, I stand a better chance of having people listen when I do choose to stand up for a cause that I believe in. Thus, I hope you will keep an open mind and hear me out now and then possibly accept the challenge that I will present to you.
 
I have not eaten any meat of any kind (fish and chicken included) since 1989. I gave it up for health reasons...I gave it up for moral reasons...and I gave it up for ecological reasons. If I lived in a different time or place where animals lived freely and eating meat was necessary for survival I would do it without hesitation, but I don't.
 
kyoshi dave kovar
From a health standpoint, you simply don't need to consume meat to live healthy. As a matter of fact, research shows us that a well balanced plant based diet is extremely healthy.

From a moral standpoint, the way our livestock is raised (factory farming) is in most cases, deplorable.  If you treated your dog like we treat livestock, you could be put in jail for animal abuse, literally. (I'm not making this up, really)

From an ecological standpoint, our obsession with meat consumption is one of the leading causes of deforestation, methane gas emissions, nitrous oxide emissions, water shortages, over fishing, species extinction and pollution to name a few.

My challenge to my meat eating friends is...Would you do your own research on factory farming and the effects that excessive meat and dairy consumption have on our health and the health of our planet?
There is plenty of information out there on the subject, you just have to look around.  If you're not sure where to go you can Google factory farming or a Time magazine 2013/12/16 article titled "New study shows the major environmental impact of meat" or Scientific American magazine article titled "How does meat in the diet take an environmental toll?"

You might watch "Forks over Knives" or "Food Choices" on Netflix You might consider reading " The China Study" or "The Food Revolution" I'm not trying to make anyone wrong here. If you love meat, can you just love it a little less often and in a little smaller portion for a little while and see how you feel? That will also give you more room for the fresh fruits and vegetables that most of us need more of. Even that is a big step.
 
Thanks for listening and please consider.
 
Kyoshi Dave Kovar © 2017