Martial Arts and Self Discipline

Some time ago I was impressed by reports from two students regarding situations at their school. They has been attacked in separate incidents and they had demonstrated tremendous restraint. In karate classes at the University Karate Center we have always tried to teach students not only excellence in technique, but also self control, poise and discipline. What impressed me in particular about these youngsters was, that when they were attacked, unprovoked in a violent manner, they not only were able to have sufficient presence of mind not to get hurt, but they also did not strike back and hurt, injure, or damage their attackers. While I would never advocate that students should submit to a bully, neither of these students reported feeling threatened by their attackers. It is obvious that they used extremely good judgment in not striking back because that would have influenced the perception of their teachers into seeing them as the party at fault.

In fact one of the schools made a special award to the student in question, praising him for his exemplary self-control, given the circumstances under which he found himself. All students would do well to pay attention to the example set by these two youngsters.

While we train very seriously for self defense, it is extremely important for students to understand that it is not the purpose in Mudokai training for us to learn how to become bullies. The benefit of karate training is, that in the course of practice and sparring, students become used to having people making punching and kicking motions in their direction. Over a period of time one becomes used to maintaining a collected and calm state of mind. As a result of consistent training it doesn't seem that strange to have someone take a swing at you, and practice offers the chance to make appropriate judgments in such situations. If we do not feel threatened we can simply block, move, or walk away. Striking back in situations of this kind is generally inappropriate, because escalating the conflict to a point of violence is the last thing we want to do. The purpose of our training, after all, is to be good enough to not have to fight.

Sensei Robert H. Mason c1996

Fashionably Fit For Class

Many sports have a special uniform that is worn by their participants. In the martial arts it is called a "gi" and consists of a karate top and karate pants, tied with a belt. The uniforms worn in the different styles of the martial arts each have their own traditions of "style" and color. In Goju a black uniform is worn, in Kung Fu a sash is worn with a looser fitting garment and in Tai Chi the exponents often wear shoes with a pajama-style "outfit". Here at the karate school the uniform worn is a plain white jacket (sometimes a "logo" v-neck top) with karate pants (draw string or elastic waist) and a belt that indicates the student’s rank. Black Belts are permitted to wear uniforms with their own selection of color and style.

In order to train properly it is important to have the pant leg hemmed just above the ankle. This insures the student’s safety, so that they do not trip over their feet, and also gives a better overall look to the student’s appearance. In Japan students often wear karate pants hemmed to the mid-calf to keep them completely clear of the ankles for kicking.

A clean, wrinkle-free uniform is considered essential by none other than Sensei Mason’s former instructor Sensei George Sfetas, who was famous for ironing his own uniform, a heavyweight Tokaido, and also for turning students away from class whose uniforms were unsuitable, wrinkled or dirty.

So be "fashionably fit" for class by planning ahead. A second uniform is always a good idea, (one for the wash and one ready for class). Also, always remember after class to hang up the uniform (rather than stuffing it in a bag for the next time).

Martial Arts came originally from the Military Arts, where a well turned out, clean, sharp and complete uniform is always considered essential. Looking good in every respect is all part of our Martial Arts form.

Sensei Robert H Mason c2000

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As it’s Sensei’s birthday this month (May) we thought it might be an idea to ask him some questions we did not already know the answers to.

Q) Did you teach Karate before you started teaching here in 1980?

A) Yes, I began teaching in 1975. The first class I taught was a surprise. My Sensei did not show up for class. It turned out he had fallen off his motorcycle. He was OK, and as a result of his minor mishap, I had begun something that has become a career.

Q) What do you like to do when you are not teaching Martial Arts?

A) I have a lot of other Martial Arts interests. Tournaments, including my own of course, and kickboxing shows. As the commissioner I get to travel and teach seminars quite a lot. Outside of the Martial Arts I do the usual things. I watch some TV, go to movies etc. I spend a lot of time playing guitar. I’ve been working on a new style for the last three years called "tapping" where you play with both hands. Its very difficult, but that's probably why I like it. I usually play out with friends a couple of times a week. I played a lot in England in my teens and twenties. My first job in Florida was actually teaching guitar lessons at the Broward Music Center, though I haven’t taught music now since 1981.

Q) What do you like most about teaching Martial Arts?

A) Seeing the students improve as they practice. Not just in terms of a particular technique, but also in terms of their body use. I had taken lessons in England in the Alexander Technique. My teacher, Anthony Spawforth, was a personal student of F.M. Alexander the founder. For several years I was able to follow up with lessons from Rose Bronec when she lived in West Palm Beach. She is now a teacher at the Alexander Institute in Chicago. The whole idea is train the body to relax upwards, thus attaining poise, while moving from a perspective of reflexive extension, rather than muscular contraction. The bio-mechanics that result from the application of the Alexander Principle to Martial Arts forms the foundation for our body use in Mudokai.

Q) What about the internet? Are you involved in the school website?

A) Actually was developed by Mike Fernandez, one of my Black Belt students. I maintain it and have added to it. I also own which has links to my other sites. Most of them are Martial Arts related, apart from which is a site I do in an effort to pay back guitarist Michael Bianco for all of the licks I steal from him. You could say I am a student of the Bianco technique, though he doesn’t give lessons. Sometimes he’s nice enough to show me something, otherwise I just have to watch and steal with my eyes.