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“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

“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.
 
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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