Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fear in the Dojo

If you spend any amount of time in the dojo you will eventually hear me say-" this is a safe space." Why do I say this? Because lurking in the corners is fear.  One of the first fears encountered in the dojo is the fear of being criticized by your peers. This is only natural since you are usually in a group setting and when you enter your natural inclination is to think that everyone is looking at you and your faults. Over the course of time you realize that your ego was incorrect and everyone is not looking at you ( for many its is a watershed moment) and that everyone is focused on their own progress, not yours.

Then there is the fear of letting go, of surrender. We all walk into the dojo with preconceived ideas, we also carry with us-insecurity, doubt, anger, unresolved self esteem issues, extra portions of ego and bravado, and for some an overestimated concept of our own intelligence. This is baggage that we carry around the dojo, making our training and life harder. Yet however hard it is to carry that extra weight around it is very scary to let go of it because  the weight is comforting. It is a known quantity- something we can refer back to, it is security and so we are loathe to release it. The alternative, surrender and release is frightening to contemplate. In order to progress however, we must lose the baggage. For some we lose it all at once, for others its a slower process each piece a battle hard fought. Eventually you must surrender, the training and your growth demand it. It is implacable and infinitely patient.

Another fear encountered is the fear of being hit. This is by no means a sequential list. So each of these fears can appear at any time and usually arrive when you least expect them  or want them to surface. Fear of being  hit is very debilitating for many people. Many people embark on the study of a martial art because they feel powerless and want to learn to defend themselves. Some have been abused as children or adults and feel that learning a martial art will help them overcome their history. While you may learn about techniques by reading  about them or even discussing them, in order to really learn them, you must do them. Spending years striking air will not prepare you for the first time you make contact, likewise walking through prearranged fighting drill will not prepare you for a free form sparring session. Free form sparring will not prepare you for prevailing  on the street.
 Together with this fear is the fear of getting hurt or having something broken. None of us likes to be hurt, much less go through the breaking of bones or tearing of muscles. It doesn't sound pleasant and its not pleasant to experience. We have students that come from schools where breaking something in every class was considered normal. I don't consider this to be the norm and it is something to be avoided wherever possible. This is not to say it will not happen, whenever you have contact the possibility of something breaking is there. We do try to minimize it wherever possible.

So how to deal with these fears?  Each person is different. As an instructor you have to assess what each person is dealing with and when. This is where the safe space comment comes from. It is not just a nice thing to say to assuage fears. You have to create a safe space for the students to go as hard or easy as they wish.  Some will have  little or no fear and will want to push themselves to the limit and beyond- and it should be available to them. Likewise some will want to take a slower and more cautious pace- this too needs to be available without recrimination. Underlying it all is the presence of a space that is safe to experiment, learn and make mistakes exists and is encouraged not only by the sensei of the school but by every student in the school regardless of rank.

Fear will always be a part of the dojo, of training. Rather than being a negative influence, its presence can spur us to greater mastery. The key is acknowledging that it exists and surpassing its influence over our thoughts and actions. That is one of the primary roles of a good instructor.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The ripples of your pond

When I started this blog it was basically a place to put down thoughts that were pertinent to me and my journey through life and the martial arts. I didn't write with the idea of an audience in mind. It just felt important to put those thoughts out there, here, in case someone-anyone might need them.

What I didn't realize then is that I was dropping pebbles into a pond, creating ripples. Let me clarify. Each of our lives, every one of us is like a pond. Some of us have expansive ponds some have very small ponds and some, well some have puddles. However in each of these bodies of water(lives), if you drop a pebble you will get ripples. Its interesting to note that the expansiveness of the ripples-how far they travel, are a direct result of the depth of the body of water. In other words a shallow puddle wont have many ripples whereas a deep lake will. It is also dependent on the size of the pebble if I drop a small stone I will get a few ripples, if I drop a boulder- well you get the idea.

This ripple effect is important because the further the ripples travel denote the depth of your life and actions. So back to the blog. I started this blog as sounding board for thoughts, observations and the sharing of the philosophy of martial arts as it pertains to my journey. Over the course of time it has been read in some very far flung places around the world.
I had no idea the ripples were travelling out that far.

Here is an example of what I mean. A few weeks ago we were visited in the dojo by a young man ( Brian- the white belt in the picture) who was looking into his academic studies here in the states. We get visitors often, some train with us, others want to observe. What made this visitor different was that he was visiting us because he had read this blog- in Australia. Upon coming to the U.S. he requested to visit and train with us, which of course I agreed to.  Here he is with me and some senpai after a class.

 So what do I want you take away with this example? Well lets look at it for a moment. Had I not been writing this blog, Brian would never had known about our school. He would have visited the U.S. but we would have never met. Our lives would have never intersected. Even though the time was brief we are both richer for having met each other.

How many chance encounters, windows of opportunity have you missed?
You many never know. Start taking action in your life and make it as deep as possible. Don't become comfortable in a puddle, look to swim deep.
 One of the greatest examples of this in my life are my children. I look at them as the embodiment of a confluence of events that drove two people to meet and participate in the miracle of life. I know it sounds clinical, its not the only way I see them (I love them all immensely), but it is evident to me that they too are my ripples in life.

When you make your life deep you will have many ripples, many people will be touched by your actions, your words and even your presence. Strive to make your life deep.Make your pond expansive and profound. Let your life touch as many people as possible. You will never know the true extent of the ripple effect in your life and in the lives of  those you touch, but I can guarantee you that your life will be richer for it.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Friday, December 14, 2012

Parents in the Martial Arts

I want to thank Jan(one of our parents) for the idea for this post.

One of the largest groups in our school are children. Invariably, as instructors, when we think of children we have a tendency to disconnect them from their parents. Possibly because we only deal with the children in the class, or we only see the parents fleetingly as they drop the kids off for class. However, we must maintain the bond that exists between parent and child, even in the context of training. Especially in the context of training.  When a child becomes part of a dojo family, it is not just that child that is or should be welcomed. The parents as well must understand what it means to be part of a dojo. They are the ones responsible for making sure the  child arrives on time in a clean and neat gi.

The precepts and values that the child learns in the dojo should be reinforced in the home. Things like courtesy, respect, integrity, caring for others,discipline, perseverance and humility are but a few of the values taught and shared in a dojo setting. It does not serve the child if these qualities are being taught in the dojo, and not in the home.

Parents must and should make an effort to be involved in the training to the greatest extent possible. Some schools even offer a Parent and child class where the parent and the child can train simultaneously. Parents should take advantage of this if its offered. Occasionally we get parents who want to "parent" from waiting area. It is one of the reasons many traditional schools do not have a "waiting area". Martial arts is not meant to be an activity that is watched it is meant to be done.
I have had to have many conversations with parents who feel their child should be doing better, even to the extent that they will try to correct their child in the midst of class. There are  reasons why we as parents should refrain from this:

It sends mixed signals. In the mind of the child if the parent comes into the class to correct them there is confusion. Unless the parent is the instructor, it is an undermining of authority of the instructor. The message the child receives is that I can behave or do whatever I want until Mom or Dad say something. I don't need to listen to the Sensei or instructor.
It disrupts the flow of the class. The instructor may be planning an activity with the children and the interruption throws off the rhythm if the class.
It is viewed as bad etiquette. I would not presume to interrupt a surgeon as he was about to perform surgery.  Or any other professional for that matter. Most reputable instructors have many years of study accumulated.  Many of the sensei  I know have been teaching for three decades or more. Even if you are a martial artist with many years of training it is still seen as bad form to enter a class and begin to offer pointers or corrections.
It can embarrass the child. Being called out before his or her peers is not a pleasant experience for the child and can remove any desire for training.
It displays a lack of trust. When you enroll your child in a school, the implicit statement being made is that I trust this school, these instructors. Acting in any other way dissolves that trust.

These behaviors are usually exhibited by fathers more than mothers. We want our boys to be strong and our girls to be fierce. We look from the sides and usually give the "eye" if we perceive them to be misbehaving or not performing up to what we consider par. Mothers on the other hand usually want to "rescue" the child.

As fathers we can be uncompromising. I speak from experience being that four of my children currently train in our home dojo and visit another dojo where I am not the instructor but just a "parent". I can see myself slipping into the role of super dad and have to occasionally check myself. Its not easy, its your child after all.

These are descriptions done in broad strokes and obviously there are exceptions in both genders. The key is to find out what the code of etiquette is for your school and adhere to it. Support your child in his or her studies in the arts. Reinforce the values they are learning, lead by example and I can assure you that the transformation will amaze you.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Forge-Why it is essential to training

I often refer to the dojo as a forge. Many of the students look at me with a question on their faces, usually along the lines of "What is a forge?" I forget that in this age of plastic and new age materials that the concept of forging and working with metal may be alien to some. Why is a dojo like a forge?
Well lets examine a forge.The actual word forge can be used as a verb or a noun. When used as a verb it means to make or shape an object (metal) by heating it in a fire or furnace and beating or hammering it. It is also used to mean to move ahead gradually or steadily. As a noun, it is the location where the shaping of an object takes place sometimes referred to as a smith or smithy. Both definitions are pertinent as we will see.When a piece of metal is chosen to create an object, for example a sword-the best possible raw materials are used. In the dojo you do not always have that option. One of the different aspects between the forge and the dojo is that the forge requires the best material to produce quality work. In the dojo it is usually the inverse. You enter a dojo full of doubt, insecurity, ego. Carrying baggage that can only hinder your training. How the dojo and the forge are similar is in what happens next.

Once the metal is selected it is placed in a furnace and heated to such a level that it becomes a liquid. Once this occurs the dross floats on the surface and is easily separated. What is dross? It is the unwanted aspects of the metal, the waste products. This occurs in the dojo as well. The rigour of training brings out the dross of our lives, the ego, the insecurities and doubt, the unchecked anger and the accumulated baggage we carry with us. We find that after training for some time we have to let go of the baggage, the dross must be discarded in order for us to continue, to thrive, to transform.

This is the action that is taken in a forge. Metal comes in one form and is transformed into another. It is still metal, but it is stronger and it is given a purpose. It is no longer simply metal. The base characteristics may remain the same, but its essence has been changed. This same action is taken in a dojo. Yes the dojo is a sacred space, it is a place to train, it is a place to confront yourself. It is also a place of transformation. You enter in one state and over time, usually a very long time you are transformed and discover a purpose. You are liquefied in the heat of  training (sometimes it feels quite literal) and the dross comes to the surface. Here a pivotal choice must be made. You can choose to keep the dross or acknowledge it and then discard it, no one in the dojo can make that choice for you. It is yours alone to make. It is singularly the greatest gift and the most daunting prospect, to be given this choice.

If you are in a training hall of this type you should encounter this state on a continual basis. You are not allowed the luxury of complacency. You cannot rest on your laurels. It is equal parts dread and excitement, you are awed by the students who train with you and strive to emulate your seniors. You can look back and be cognizant of your progress realizing that although you have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. The forge is merciless, the heat is never comfortable and more often than not unbearable. What happens over time is that you become used to it. You adapt.

There is hammering and beating in a forge. Metal is not an easy material to work with and must be coaxed into forms with heat and pressure. In the dojo there is hammering and beating as well (visit us for a kumite class and you will understand) in most cases its usually a hammering and beating of the ego that is ever ready to rear its head if you are not vigilant. Ego, like metal requires the not so gentle coaxing of  the heat and pressure of training.

If you find yourself in a dojo like this. Consider yourself fortunate and commit to your training wholeheartedly. If you have not found a dojo like this then you must take it upon yourself to bring the forge to your life. Be uncompromising and strive for the highest standard in your training and life. Your example will encourage others. Like moths to a flame they too will seek out the heat of the forge.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body

Sensei Orlando