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The Freedom of Honesty

July 2016


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Philosopher, scholar, and martial artist Bruce Lee wrote, “To see a thing uncolored by one’s own personal preferences and desires is to see it in its own pristine simplicity.” For martial artists ancient traditions steeped in principles have made truth and honesty fairly concrete notions. Being honest means rising above our lower human instincts and taking oneself-one’s needs, fears, agendas-out of a situation, then looking closely and clearly at what is left.

No examination of honesty would itself be terribly honest if it didn’t acknowledge the role of dishonesty in our lives. Dishonesty can protect us from pain, whether it is the pain of seeing a loved one with hurt feelings, or the pain of acknowledging our own imperfections. Dishonesty, particularly when a trauma has been suffered or a difficult concept presents itself, can seem to help us minimize potential damage to our psyches. It can seem to help us weather emotional storms.

July 2016 Newsletter Freedom of Honesty 1

(Bruce Lee art by Sensei Juan Carlos Casais)

The danger comes when we are unable to let go of the protective subterfuge of dishonesty, when the fear of what we are shielding ourselves from becomes so strong we must remain hidden in deceptions. There we are trapped, not only have we misrepresented things to others, but we must now work to maintain the illusions we have created.

So how can we get closer to embracing the ideal of honesty Bruce Lee speaks of? How do we embrace honesty when it may hurt? How do we reap the benefits of knowing that we have been truthful, and have nothing to hide from others or from ourselves?

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(Winning a tournament is proof that your Sensei have been honest with you about your progress as a Martial Artist)

Here are some points to consider:

Be objective: Look at the bigger picture. If you don’t think about your opinion of something, what changes in the way you perceive it?

Think critically: Question what you see, hear, and feel. Dare to dig a little more deeply into the question of why events have unfolded as they have.

Be responsible: Be sure to examine the role you have played in things, whether passively or actively. There is no quicker way to doom yourself to repeating mistakes, or missing out on triumphs, than failing to consider the consequences, positive or negative, of your actions and attitudes.

 


KATA: A Way to Practice Balance and Centering

June 2016


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Many times students find the practice of Kata (empty hand forms) to be challenging because the practice requires so much repetition. They think that when they have learned the moves of the Kata and run through it a few times, that they know the Kata.

From Gold belt (8th Kyu) to Brown belt (3rd Kyu) the students learn one Kata per rank at each belt level. By the time they are preparing for Black Belt a student will have learned eight Kata. While the Kata involve many moves from the basics, these moves are executed in different directions and at different angles. The idea is to imagine different opponents coming from different directions and counter these imagined attacks. Directed use of visual imagery helps in the development of spatial thinking skills. The footwork learned through Kata practice develops skills and strategies for self-defense, while the adjustments of balance required throughout the practice teach a new level of self-control.

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Timing is important in the performance of your Kata. Each individual movement must be practiced to perfection. Each combination of movements must be put together for each direction so that you can flow from one move to the next. The Kata as a whole must be timed to fit together as a whole. It is like punctuation in writing where each move is distinct like a word, then each combination is like a sentence with a period at the end and a full stop. At distinctive points in the Kata there are Kiai (shout) which end that particular sequence and are like the end of a paragraph. The flow between these distinct stop and start points serve to make the Kata performance dynamic.

Kata also serve as a means of passing strategic ideas from one generation to another. Masters often hide specific strategic concepts within the moves of a Kata so that future generations can discover these ideas through practice of the form. Just as we may see a play or read a poem that was written hundreds of years ago, and yet is still meaningful today, so it can be with a Kata that, with practice, we can discover important strategic skills. Although Kata may sometimes seem very stylized and not like real fighting moves, like poetry or a Shakespearian play, the inner value remains intact.

While Kata is practiced in the Dojo for each graduation from Gold Belt on, it is also a division for competition. Kata tournaments are judged using a similar format to gymnastics or ice skating. Qualified judges assess each performance for balance, power, coordination, flexibility, agility, dynamics and other important variables to assess a score. The competitor with the highest score gets the biggest trophy. The confidence that grows from the experience of performing Kata, is part of the reward intrinsic to the process.

 

© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason

 


 

Respecting the Dojo ™

June 2016


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Most of us have been hearing the word “Dojo” since the first day we entered a Martial Arts school. The name Dojo originally meant “place of enlightenment.” Long ago Japanese warriors thought this would be a good name for the large rooms in which they practiced the Martial Arts. Over the years, Dojo has become the name for anyplace that Japanese “Do” (way) arts like judo, aikido, mugendo and karate-do are studied and practiced.

 

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(Above:  Sparring can be dangerous without the observation of Dojo etiquette)

Some things about the Martial Arts have changed since the early years; however, the idea that Martial Arts mastery brings enlightenment hasn’t changed. Martial Artists must be in touch with themselves and everything around them if they want to successfully live according to the ideals of wisdom, responsibility, and humility, to name a few. Today, the place where we study these Martial Arts ideals, techniques, forms and disciplines is our Dojo.

 

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(Above: Even young children can learn and thrive within the discipline of the dojo!)

Even young children can learn and thrive within the discipline of the DojoIt’s clear that the Dojo has an important role in the Martial Arts, and in the lives of Martial Artists. Special rules are needed to help it fulfill that role and to keep it a safe, focused environment for serious Martial Arts training.

The discipline, responsibility, and humility learned in the Dojo will serve you throughout life. Respect the Dojo, and make your challenging journey to Black Belt and beyond a smooth one. Shihan Mason and all of the Sensei are here to help you practice and understand the “unlimited way” of the Mudokai.

 

© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason

 


 

“How to be Physically Superb; as a Child or an Adult”


May 2016

 

When most people think of child development, and particularly the development of thinking, they do not necessarily consider the importance of overall neurological (brain) development. In our classes for young children 3-5 years old, it is important to cover the basics of crawling and creeping, as well as running and jumping. This is because some children may still need work in these areas. Actually students of all ages can benefit from revisiting these movements that are fundamental to neurological development.

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In the course of a lifetime of research, brain development specialist Glen Doman has discovered that in cultures where babies are not allowed to lie face down on the floor or ground, no civilization ever develops. This is because, by spending time on their tummies, babies develop convergent vision which allows them to interpret symbols and thus develop a written language and hence a civilization. They can also work on crawling and eventually creeping, from the natural movement reflexes present at birth as long as they are on the floor.

Many baby mammals, particularly those who are preyed upon by others, learn to stand and run within a few hours of being born. As we know, with us the process takes much longer. Gently rolling, tumbling, spinning and tossing babies, in a safe manner of course, helps their young brains to develop. Having them hang on to your thumbs while you lift their hands above their heads helps to set them up for brachiating (see photo) once they are old enough and have the strength to hang from a climbing frame.

Brachiating is one of the best ways to develop respiration, increase oxygen consumption and enhance brain development. Breathing is the basis of good health and is a skill that we work to improve on in all of our classes. If you think that you know how to breathe, see if you can take just thirty slow, even, connected breaths in thirty minutes; that’s one breath per minute for a half-hour. If you cannot, you have room for improvement. Running is good too, but actually does not develop the heart and lungs as much. Brachiating is also great for developing upper body strength and coordination.

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The floors in our two Dojo both make excellent surfaces for children and adults to roll around and tumble on, as well as being ideal for other aspects of Martial Arts training. If you are the parent of a young child in our Dragons or Tigers program and you see them running, rolling, crawling or jumping in class, these are essential preliminary exercises for them, and will lead to integrated physical and neurological development. If they are to be “physically superb”, to use Glen Doman’s terminology, they must be stimulated to challenge their abilities in terms of balance, coordination, agility, flexibility and cardio, muscular, respiratory fitness. Doman also asserts that barefoot activities on a safe surface are the best for developing walking and running abilities. All in all, Karate training here at UKC is just about perfect.


© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason

 


Stretching

April 2016


 

Stretching is often the most ignored aspect of fitness training. When people think of “getting in shape” they often think of weight lifting, cardiovascular conditioning and diet before they think of stretching. However, when children are young they are naturally flexible, while old people are often very stiff. Perhaps we can postpone many of the negative effects of old age, particularly stiffness and the pain that often arises from being inflexible, by engaging in regular stretching.

April 2016 Newsletter Stretching 1

We begin every karate class with specific stretching exercises drawn primarily from yoga, in order to warm up the body and prepare for vigorous training. The stretching routine we use allows the muscles to learn to relax into each stretch so that we become more flexible as we practice day by day. Many of the advanced kicks that we teach require an advanced level of flexibility that only comes with practice. You will notice that as you stretch out more you will be able to throw your basic kicks higher with less effort and more accuracy and power. You will also have better control of you kicks and your agility will improve dramatically.

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Like everything else in life, we can only get the full benefit of a stretching routine if we put in the full effort. We normally begin our warm up with jumping jacks or a similar callisthenic exercise to get the heart rate up and prepare the body for stretching. Next I like to stretch the back and then the legs because leg stretching is what increases the flexibility we need for kicking. We always take care to keep the pressure off the joints and isolate our stretching in the muscles.
All of the stretches we teach can be practiced at home between classes, provided that they are performed correctly.


© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason

 


Paying Attention:

How Martial Arts is related to driving, academic achievement, and safety


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May 2016

It is easier to pay attention, but the human tendency to lose focus is increased by just about everything in modern life: cell phones, television, social media, ear buds, instant essaging, texting and 24 hour connectivity. So many devices that give us access to more information often lead us to a level of shallow comprehension and a feeling of being “out of touch” with the real world that we actually inhabit. This can lead to difficulties paying attention to a teacher in school, and can be disastrous when our efforts to “multi-task” lead to distracted driving.

The near continuous stream of new information pumped out by the Web also plays to our natural tendency to "vastly overvalue what happens to us right now,” as Union College psychologist Christopher Chabris explains. We crave the new even when we know that "the new is more often trivial than essential." And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or more often diverting information we receive.

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The internet is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention. That's not only a result of its ability to display many different kinds of media simultaneously; it is also a result of the ease with which it can be programmed to send and receive messages. Studies of office workers who use computers reveal that they constantly stop what they are doing to read and respond to incoming emails. Psychological research has proved what most of us know from experience: frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious. The more complex the train of thought we are involved in, the greater the impairment the distractions cause.

Martial Arts training is about learning how to focus on what we are doing. It’s about being present and aware of where we actually are, and what is happening around us right now. In a recent advanced class some adult students were training to respond to an attack that they could not see, because the Sensei instructed them to close their eyes tight. One thing that they all noticed was the extreme level of concentration that they experienced during the drill. Even a simple drill with a partner can result in a student getting tagged if they are not fully focused on what they are supposed to be doing. In this way, Martial Arts practice and the Martial Arts lifestyle are the antidote to the shallow, weak and fragmented perceptual state that can be the consequence of the distractions offered by modern media devises.

For the information age to allow us to become knowledgeable and wise, rather than just distracted and shallow, we must practice focus and concentration as if our life depended upon it. We can then enjoy a fuller and more fulfilling life as a consequence. So, when we are driving we should drive, when in school we should listen, whatever our stage of life we must know how to pay attention to what we are doing, and not allow our focus to be diverted or our concentration fragmented. Our life may actually depend on it.

© 2016 Shihan Robert H. Mason

 


 

The Right Fit

March 2016


I was just shy of eighteen when I began my trial month at University Karate Center. I kept putting off showing up for my first day. I struggled with anxiety and the thought of going to a class full of strangers and trying something new terrified me. After a week of promising myself I would go I put on my gi for the first time, tied back my hair, and made the drive. The weeks that followed during my trial period led to some of the best experiences I have ever had, and they shaped who I am today.

From day one everyone from staff to students created a welcoming atmosphere. There was no judgment about anything. Rank and experience was never a problem. Everyone had started as a beginner at some point. They knew what it was like to be a novice, and they were happy to give you pointers to make you a better martial artist. The lessons in martial arts were just the start however. 

I met some of my best friends at UKC, people I still talk to nearly ten years later. I learned important things about myself, and about the world. I learned about right and wrong, morals and values, how to handle stress, and how to better myself. I learned to better the world for others. My anxiety subsided greatly while I was training, and my time since then. UKC helped shape me in ways I could never explain, and it is something I am thankful for every day.

March Newsletter Sensei Hannah Misciasci

In the years since I left Florida I of course wanted to continue my training. My experiences with other Dojos proved to me how truly lucky I was to train under Shihan Mason and the rest of the instructors. I have checked out multiple Dojos in two different states and nothing has come close to what UKC has to offer.

Some schools,

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