What is worth Fighting for?

I recently read an article by self-defense expert Peyton Quinn in a martial arts magazine. He was addressing the issue of children running into bullies at school. As we know, school policy generally punishes both children involved in a physical altercation, regardless of who started the fight. Mr. Quinn stated..."when we tell a kid that nothing is worth fighting for, then we are also telling that child that he or she is not worth fighting for either. In effect, when parents or schools say, "nothing is worth fighting for, they are telling the kid, ‘You just don’t count’".

Quinn believes that the current wave of violence in our schools is in part a response to the "failed social experiments in our schools and elsewhere, which have abandoned what were for generations the ‘working rules’ for and limitations on behavior." Self-worth is damaged, and any kids who are already disturbed do not learn how to behave socially, if they are not confronted when their actions are anti-social.

Joe Corley, a martial arts exponent, remarked to Quinn that "today if two kids get into a fight at school no one cares who started it. After all, the school teaches that nothing is worth fighting for." In a sense, this philosophy locks kids into a no-win situation, if they defend themselves they will automatically get blamed on the same level as the perpetrator, and if they don’t they will lose self-respect and pride. It is no wonder kids are confused. Children who are bullied don’t have any suitable acceptable recourse and can become frustrated. The more volatile may even tend to release these feelings through violence. While naturally aggressive children, finding that their are no real consequences if they behave like bullies, become reinforced in that behavior, lacking any way to channel their natural aggressive instincts.

The tendency for children to contend with each other for dominance is part of human nature. When, as a society, we tell children that under no circumstances are they allowed to fight, we are automatically limiting the options of those who are more socially aware, and will tend to obey the rules. Meanwhile, those who are less aware will strive for dominance through bullying and succeed at the other kid’s expense.

In order to get attention, and in an effort to move higher in the pecking order, some children resort to violence. As a society we have rushed headlong towards "civilized behavior", which has largely meant restricting physical combat. Possibly one of the reasons why wrestling and kickboxing are so popular on television is because people seek the image of a physical outlet for their interactions and conflicts with other people. While karate training does not promote offensive behavior, it does sanction self-defense. In Martial Arts we recognize that some individuals have a need to try to dominate others physically, and for this purpose several "Martial Sports" have been developed to encourage "noble contention" under a specific set of rules, where an opponent is respected, regardless of the outcome of a match. This process can turn bullies into heros, and every generation needs to develop heroic traits in the Police Officers, Fire Fighters and Military Personnel of the next generation.

When my daughter was in fourth grade in the public school system here in South Florida, she was pursued by another child who was a bully.She tried several different ways of coping with this situation, verbally, socially and geographically (by moving out of his way) One day she had had enough and she hit him. The bully got the message and stopped his objectionable behavior. Her teacher pulled her to one side and told her "off the record" that she had done the right thing. While an act of aggression should be dealt with non-violently as far as possible, some things are worth fighting for. There is a time to stand our ground and say "stop" and mean it. Where would the world be now if my father’s generation had not been prepared to take a stand against the Nazis. Throughout history our ancestors have fought and died for the right to live free of oppression. Our children deserve the right to fight, when their is no other recourse, for the same ideal against oppressive bullies.

Sensei Robert H. Mason c 2000

To be a Master of yourself

"Everything that has been achieved is merely a preliminary exercise for the achievements to come, and no one, not even one who has reached perfection, can say he has reached the end."

This quote from Eugene Herrigel touches on an important theme for martial arts students. The experience of perfection, or completeness in martial arts, often only occurs after many years of practice and thousands of repetitious movements. Sometimes, however, it can be experienced by a complete beginner. Herrigel wrote "Zen in the Art of Archery," and as a youngster I remember taking a girlfriend to practice archery with me. I showed her how to draw the bow and loose the arrow. Her first shot went straight to the center of the target, the gold. I was thrilled, as she was, at the experience of everything going "just right." The moment was complete, perfect. Of course, this joy of the novice at a flash of perfection, while wonderful, does not mean that mastery has been achieved. Mastery requires consistent high level performance over time.

Repetition often leads students to feel bored. Getting just as excited about a punch or kick on the twentieth repetition, as you were on the first attempt is often difficult. Repeating the move for the five hundredth time is often a rote performance, containing little of the zest, intensity and quality necessary to achieve perfection. Yet, only after many thousands of such excellent repetitions can the move become so smooth, relaxed, reflexive and energized that it feels perfect.

Within the Mu-do-kai curriculum, I have done my best to disguise the repetitions. I have placed the fundamental exercises into different contexts at each belt level, in order that the students can see them with fresh eyes. I understand that new gold belts usually think that when they can roughly get through Pinan Nidan, that they "know" the Kata. These students find it incomprehensible that a Black Belt student, may be performing the same Kata now as he was when he won his first State Championship three years ago. What is more, he is getting the most out of it now, and performing at the highest level. For Black Belts, this is the way to mastery, not just of karate, but of themselves.

Remember, knowledge is the result of combining the correct information, with correct practice, over time. Sometimes just a glimpse of perfection can be sufficient inspiration for us to pursue knowledge. It is through the acquisition of knowledge that we can learn to master ourselves.

Sensei Robert H. Mason c 1996