ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS
The world is in chaos, there are wars and rumors of wars. Prejudice and hate run rapid. In America we want to live the good life with all its gadgets, perks and technology, and we want it NOW.
Self control and discipline are out the window. We have actually thrown out the baby with the bath water. There was an article in the news paper some time back that stated that 75% of the children in Baltimore are fatherless, with large numbers not even knowing who their fathers are.
I was horrified while watching the local news when I saw a school teacher being beaten up by her students. Teen age fights are being recorded and shown on ‘You Tube’. Knock down, drag out fights are only a mouse click away.
The number of gang violence is on the rise, with many members being young teenagers. Riots over a sports team either winning a championship, or losing one can be seen on world wide television. There are areas in big cities where it is still unsafe to walk down the streets. The school system has lost control, the home is being shattered, and respect for the law is a thing of the past.
The question is; is there any thing that you and I can do as a martial arts teacher to help stem this dangerous tide? My answer is – ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
In the martial arts we can do and say things that cannot, or will not be done or said in the public and private school system. On this point, have you noticed that the large number of home schooled children is on the rise?
So what makes martial arts training so different from what the public schools do, or what a sports coach teaches, or a youth group proposes?
I think that the best place to start is with the most important word that truly describes what martial arts is all about;
DISCIPLINE - I had a public school teacher tell me that as he was walking down the hall he saw a student crumple up a piece of paper and throw it on the floor. The teacher told the student to pick up the paper, which the student refused to do. He told that student a second time to pick up the paper, and again the answer was no. Observing this was the school’s principal. He walked over to the teacher and said. ‘You pick up the paper. I don’t have time for this; now both of you get back to your classes’. Stunned, the teacher picked up the paper with a red face while the student just smiled and moved on.
This would never happen in a martial arts class, or to a martial arts student.
In our program we teach four and five year old children. They are very, very active. When a little one asks to go to the bathroom at that age it is wise to let them do so. If not, you had better keep a mop handy, as suddenly a wet puddle will appear. Since my floor is matted I certainly do not need that.
Now what does this have to do with discipline? The student asks permission, bows out and goes to the bathroom. On his/her return I ask if they have washed their hands, and I receive a ‘yes sir’. The little student bows in and drops to the floor and performs 10 pushups to the best of his/her ability. I then ask an older student if that student was punished, and the answer I receive is, ‘no sir, he was disciplined’. I ask, what is the difference? The student explains that punishment is given out if a student tries to hurt another student, or does something unsafe. He could be scolded in front of the class, or told to sit out the rest of the class, or do whatever it takes to make certain that the student understands that he has done something very wrong. Discipline on the other hand is just learning to obey the rules that are set to make certain that the class is kept under control and that the student learns self control.
We also use this form of discipline if a student comes late to class, or does not use the words ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ when conversing with an instructor. We simply do not accept the words, ‘huh, what or yea’ in our classes.
The discipline needed at home may be lacking, and not necessarily on purpose. At many martial arts schools student are brought to class by single moms, and many times the male instructor of that school fills in the void of a fatherless child as best as he can.
Of course, in our association we have martial arts schools owned and operated by female teachers, who may play even a bigger role then the male teacher. Women understand the nature of children much more deeply then the macho male, and can meet their needs on a much higher plane. They can fill many voids that we males can never achieve - ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
PHILOSOPHY – When parents sign up a child in a martial arts school they soon realize that the teacher has a certain value of life that he/she constantly relates to the class. For a student to comfortably remain in that class they and the parents must agree with what is being said.
In our system I am constantly telling students that there is a right and a wrong, good and evil. Since I require that parents must stay the entire class to observe their children’s lessons, I will turn around and ask if they agree with what I have just said? For example, I teach the children that when they bow to the instructor that they constantly keep eye to eye contact. The only person that I want them to bow to with eyes down is to the Lord. All those stripes on my black belt and all those certificates on my lounge wall are man made. I am human, and I am no better then the newest white belt, so in respect I bow back to the student. I am only the messenger, the lord is the message. You cannot say that in the public school system with out being reprimanded - ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
SELF DEFENSE – the Dojo is a special place where we can teach the ways and means of defending ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Martial arts are military arts, and martial ways are military ways. We can have the audacity to teach little ones that if someone attempts to grab them off the street into a vehicle or alleyway that it is ok to kick to the groin or poke a finger to an eye, and yet this is not acceptable to do this on the school play ground or hallway. It is exciting to play martial arts games on the Dojo floor, we all do it, but I would have a very guilty conscience if I read about one of my students being abducted because I did not teach him/her effective martial arts skills, whether it be physical defense, running away, or stranger danger.
It constantly amazes me how a coach can take a ten year old boy and for three years teach him the fundamentals of basketball, building physical and mental skills. If that boy was to play a game three years later against someone who never touched a basketball, of course there would be no contest. Yet, many times we observe a young boy or girl who has trained in the martial arts for three years, but who still cannot defend himself against the biggest bully in his school. This is not a problem when real martial arts skills are instilled in that student if he is really trained in the fighting arts – ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
EQUALITY – New students all wear the same color Gi or uniform. Someone observing class does not know if the parent of that student earns $100,000.00 a year, or is on welfare. The observer does not know their religious back ground, the neighborhood where they live in, or the public or private school that they attend. They may see various skin colors, facial features, or hear different modes of language being spoken, but what they observe is equality and fairness among all students.
They are no $100.00 tennis shoes on their feet, expensive jewelry being displayed on their bodies, or dress styles being worn. All they see is students looking the same and being trained the same. Peer pressure at the martial arts studio was tossed out the window many decades ago – ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
MANNERS – “Yes sir’, No Ma’am’. These words of politeness and many others are daily spoken in the martial arts school. ‘Yes Sensei, excuse me Master John’ are examples of a well discipline martial arts school’s program. A good martial arts school has built into its system politeness because it realized that teaching fighting skills can be a dangerous vocation. This provides a measure of safety and self control. A well mannered individual will think before he leaps. His personality is developed to access a potential dangerous situation, look it over rapidly, but with caution and make a decision based on the facts at hand. A hot tempered, ill mannered person cannot do this, as he quickly strikes out on data that may contain false information. Many of these ill fated decisions are founded upon the rumor mill. Good manners create discipline, and discipline creates one who becomes a thinker, and not one who is taking revenge – ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
ROLE MODEL - now here is a subject that I am very biased on. Football players are big strong athletes, and they must stay in tip top physical shape to have any measure of success. Football, like many other sports is all about winning and losing. It is a numbers game. No one likes to support a constant loser. The coach can be a 300 pound fat man with a large protruding stomach, and no one really cares what he looks like. They just want to know if he can produce a winning team for the season.
Mr. Smith teaches 10th grade English. He is popular among his students. The other day he was observed by some of his student’s parents at a party drinking several beers, smoking a large cigar, and telling some off color jokes. Who cares? These parents joined Mr. Smith in his regality and laughed at his jokes. All they really cared about was that their off springs were getting passing grades in his English course.
Now let’s relate this to a martial arts teacher. I knew of a highly respected black belt martial arts instructor whose plane was grounded in the northern United States because of a heavy snow storm. He tried to get some sleep on a near by bench, but woke up shortly because of the hardness of the bench. He noticed that most of the terminal lights were out because of a partial power outage. As he wandered around he discovered that there was a restaurant nearby that served alcohol. Next to the bar was a news stand with every type of magazine, from Playboy to cross word puzzles. He purchased a cross word puzzle book and a soda. By this time it was about two o’clock in the morning. This instructor found a dimly lit corner table and began working the puzzle book. As he was engrossed in his book he suddenly heard the words, ‘Hello Sensei Bill, how are you?’ He looked up and standing before him was one of his 12 year old students who was travelling across country to visit his grandmother. Out of his home state, two o’clock in the morning, grounded by a heavy snow storm, and sitting in a dimly lit corner of a nearly dark restaurant. Now what are the odds of that? Sensei Bill was very, very glad that he did not choose the Playboy magazine and that tempting cold beer. He constantly preaches to his students about keeping their morals high and doing the right thing, even if you think that no one will ever know.
I have had similar incidents happen to me like the story above where I met a student or parent at places I thought that they would never be at the very same time that I was there, like the time I bumped into a student swimming under water at the ocean, or standing in line next to me at Disney Land. I bet you have also had similar experiences, and we would all say, ‘What are the odds of that?’- ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
PHYSICALLY FIT – we, as teachers, teach the fighting arts. A good fighter must be physically fit to potentially defend him/her self in any given situation. That also means eating a healthy diet, exercising daily, abstaining from the use of heavy alcohol abuse, all street drugs, and smoking. If we are going to be a swimmer we must look like a swimmer, and we must know how to swim.
When we walk onto the Dojo floor to teach our classes our students do not expect to see an extremely over weight teacher, one who gets out of breath quickly, nor one who cannot do what he/she teaches. Our students believe that we can leap tall buildings with a single bound, bend iron with our bare hands, stop a speeding locomotive – well, you get the picture. We actually know that if we really could do every thing that our young students think that we can do, then we actually would be super man or super woman. So at least, we can give the appearance of being a super person, even if we did leave our cape at home – ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
LEADERSHIP – we in the arts can enroll a new student that may be very shy, one who may be a bench sitter on a local sports team, or one who is even incapable of making the team, and given enough one on one training time we may discover a diamond in the rough.
As the student progresses in rank we as teachers notice that an inkling of self confidence begins to emerge as the hard shell that covered that once shy student begins to crack open. We all use long term, higher ranking students to help us teach our classes. In time, these very same students may now begin to lead our class warm ups. Once this shell is totally discarded it becomes plain that if that former shy student can lead and teach in the martial arts atmosphere, then they can do the very same thing in the public and private school system. We do produce students that learn to lead, but most importantly we ‘create leaders who can lead the leaders, not followers who will follow the followers’-‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS.
GOAL ORIENTED – as previously stated, the purpose of any sports team is to have a winning record, to receive a trophy and attend a banquet. That is a short term goal. Many parents feel that keeping their children busy playing various sports, taking dancing lessons, or performing in school plays will not allow them idle time to get into trouble. It seems that the trend today is for the parents to take their children from one event to another, day in and day out. Every one is running themselves ragged for these short term goals and are accomplishing very little.
Then there are the longer range goals of having your children graduate from the public or private school system. This is very important, as it hopefully prepares one to move on to college or to join the work force. However, as important as a good education is [and not everyone is getting a good education] hundreds of thousands do this every year. In time, much of what one learns in school is forgotten and not used in every day life. Unless your job calls for it those higher math problems that you solved in calculus and trigonometry fade into the dusk of time. Those science projects were fun but it doesn't’t relate to your job as an accountant. I love history and believe that every one should understand what our founding fathers were doing, but the only time that I use it is on a cross word puzzle. So where is all this leading to? – Black Belt!
Earning the right to wear a black belt is a time honored, long term, hard won privilege that not every one can or will do. Once earned, it may save your life, keep you young for a life time, hone your leader skills, keep you flexible, eliminate balance and falling problems in your senior years, certify you as a teacher, give you the tools to open your own martial arts studio and allow you to earn extra income, or even make your art a good paying business. Your black belt opens the doors to attend the various halls of fame, give and attend seminars, attend dinners with folks of common interests, be a competitor for as long as you decide that you want to be [there are senior divisions you know, and performing kata is safe at any age], network at various events, meet and hob nob with the stars, be a teacher for ever with no retirement years in sight if that is your desire. In the martial arts youth never disappears, especially if you work with children. Can other short term and long term goals do all this? I think not- ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
EXCITEMENT – There are many cold winter nights and hot summer days that I just do not feel like going to class and teach. Because of bad weather I may have only a small group of white belts, and after all, I have been teaching this stuff for 41 years. But once there, as the students enter my Dojo and prepare for class, and I begin to talk to their parents, greetings and laughter fill the building and the excitement begins to grow. I begin to think that since this group is new and small I will teach differently tonight. My creative juices begin to stir. Instead of the same warm ups we may take mats, cones and other equipment and make an obstacle course. Maybe I will teach them a very simple kata, line up chairs and use their parents as judges. Before I know it the hour has flown by, and no one is really paying any attention to the inclement weather outside. There is always opportunity for excitement. All the teacher has to do is to create it –‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
FAMILY ATMOSPHERE – How many times have I visited one of my associations classes and hear from parents whom I have never met that the reason they bring their children to that particular school is because ‘It is family here’. It is impossible to operate a successful martial arts school without learning your students and parents names. Over time and with good conversation you also learn some things about their personal life, where they attend school, where they work, their hobbies and their vacation trips. These conversations add up to volumes of information as the years fly by. These folks attend your tournaments, support your seminars and dinners, and bring their grand parents and neighbors to their tests. You know when they are sick or if an accident occurs. This, my friend, is simply known as – family - ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT – How many times has a parent of one of your students approach you and relate that because of the discipline and personal skills that they have gained from your teachings that their child’s school grades have risen dramatically, or that they are no longer bullied, or that they now do their home chores with out complaining. The thin person has gained the needed weight, while the heavy person has trimmed down. They can now stand in front of a group of people and talk with much more ease. This personal achievement list can be varied and quite long, as it involves many students and parents from all walks of life- ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
OLDER BUT BETTER – Much of this written conversation concerns the young folks and their parents, but what about the rest of us, the older folks? I have had children whose father is also taking classes with them relate to me that dad just celebrated his 35th birthday – man is he getting old. Oops! I guess that makes me a dinosaur. I have been called worse. I said to my 94 year old mother the other day that my 71st birthday is fast approaching and that I am getting old. Her reply was, ‘I wish that I was 71 years old”. I guess age is just a relative thing after all.
The great thing about training in a good martial arts program is that it brings our youth back to us, even in a limited way. With practice we can stretch again, kick at least waist high, breathe easier, ache less and move more. It may give us the needed impetus to stop smoking, lose those extra pounds, and eat healthier. We ache from the exercises, but it is a good ache. We discover a new bounce in our step. Our self defense confidence begins to grow. The ladies now feel empowered to do something positive if an attack occurs. Some of the adult students become teachers, some thing they thought that they would never be able to do. There is a positive, enjoyable atmosphere that permeates thorough out the Dojo. Adults are once again learning new things, are motivated to grab the golden ring, have new and exciting goals to accomplish, and are rejuvenating their unused bodies. Many are doing this with their families and have much to discuss around the dinner table. I often tell my classes that, you may have to age, but you never have to grow old’- ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
CONCLUSION – I could write volumes in minute details on the virtues of the martial arts. In reality, I have written books and produce many CD’s on this very subject. The bottom line is that the martial arts are unique and has the power to create a new person, whether young or older. It is the process that creates the martial arts way and not the end result. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, ‘It is not the final destination that is important, but it is the journey along the way that counts’. In other words, it is the people that we meet, the friends that we create, the competition attended, the places visited and the travels enjoyed. We talk and laugh, dine and enjoy, hug and kiss. We are not interested in playing on that sports team and winning that trophy, nor do we end our career by graduating from school. Our martial arts are our life, and it goes on forever - ‘ONLY IN THE MARTIAL ARTS’.
Dr David L. Grosscup
President Maryland Professional Karate Association
President Master Pro Karate Association