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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


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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

Committing to Growth

February 2017  - Download the Full Newsletter Here! pdf icon2


In choosing to study the Martial Arts, you have the opportunity to set goals for yourself. Every time you go to class, practice your kicks, or read something new about the Martial Arts, you move towards achieving your next goal, stripe by stripe and belt by belt. The time that you devote to Martial Arts practice and study, along with your interest in making Martial Arts principles a part of your lifestyle, demonstrate the power of your Black Belt goals to set a proactive tone in your life. While setting goals can seem easy enough, achieving them can be tough. With a little vision; however, you can achieve any goal.

Be realistic. Lofty goals may or may not get you anywhere. Focus on what truly interests and inspires you. Focus on those areas that are within your control; think positively.

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(Whether you train mostly for fitness, personal growth, self defense or competition, set your goals to keep progressing!)

Break big goals down into manageable, measurable pieces. Once you decide on a goal, take a bird’s eye view of it. How are you going to get from here to the finish line? What needs to happen first? Second? Third? Write these steps down. These are your “short-term goals.”

Review goals regularly. Your attention and focus is called upon by so many things each day that it’s not hard to lose track of the essence of what you are trying to accomplish. Writing your goals down gives you the option of reviewing and renewing your commitment as often as you need to. It also allows you to modify them as the need arises. Be flexible in your thinking. This doesn’t mean being wishy-washy. It does mean being tuned in to your own body, your sentiments, and your circumstances. Do you need to make changes in the way you are approaching your goal? In extreme cases, you may need to rethink your goal completely. Be honest with yourself.

Value the roots of your achievements. Even while you aspire to something greater, or simply different, recognize the special meaning of who you are and what you are doing right now. Even when you have earned your Black Belt, you won’t leave the person you were as a Gold Belt behind; without the “Gold Belt you”, the “Black Belt you” couldn’t have happened. While working toward your goals, take care of yourself. Take time to rest. Listen to your body.



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

The Real Purpose of the Martial Arts

Learning How to be Humble


December 2016


Being humbled, or some would say humiliated, is an experience that most people would avoid at all costs, or at least shy away from. However, in the training that is required of a martial artist humiliation, or public embarrassment, may be an occasional occurrence. How the student responds to this essential aspect of training will determine the quality of their martial arts experience.

The capacity to learn requires that the individual have an open attitude about what happens to them in class. If they are predisposed to judging incidents from a “civilian” point of view they will miss the “lesson” inherent in many martial arts interactions, whether inside or outside of the dojo. In order for martial arts training to have a “life changing” impact on the student, they must allow it to change their perspective as they progress with their training, which can be tough at times.


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(When sparring we must expect that we will sometimes have points scored on us. We must accept this This demands humility and respect.)


These challenges are most evident in sparring (strategy) class where the difference between ego and confidence is often blurred in the intensity of the moment. Nonetheless, it is very important for students to trust the process and to “...strive to concentrate only on the martial arts...and to “leave behind any problems or animosities which could be counterproductive”. Sometimes students hit too hard and the natural reaction to that would be to hit back harder; yet, Mudokai students are expected to show self -control, a response required that is quite different from their natural tendency to strike back.

Years ago I promoted a kickboxing match for ESPN TV between Dennis “Mad Dog” Downey and Paul Ellis, in which Downey picked Ellis up and threw him over the ropes and out of the ring. Ellis calmly picked himself up, stepped carefully back into the ring, took a stance and proceeded to skillfully counter Downey’s next move, winning the match with his focused determination and superior skill. While Downey’s purpose may have been to intimidate Ellis through publicly humiliating him, Ellis chose instead to respond with integrity and technique, which won the match, gaining him the respect of the officials and the fans of the sport.

Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2016