Meeting the challenges of a tough curriculum

Recent events have illustrated to me more clearly than ever why a strong curriculum is a good basis for martial arts training. News reports regarding the terrorist attack on September 11 highlighted some areas of involvement in South Florida. In particular, a South Florida martial arts school was found to have trained terrorists for several months prior to the attack. Personally I have never believed in training individuals in advanced martial arts techniques without getting to know them first. By having a structured curriculum for students to work through skills can be taught at appropriate times as the students move up through the belt ranks. This structure requires students to be in training regularly for several years before being permitted to learn advanced techniques that are better taught only to loyal, sincere and trusted students who have proven their capacity to understand the values of the martial arts and who demonstrate a high level of self-control and personal integrity.

From time to time parents of young students have voiced the opinion that the belt requirements at UKC make progress for their children too slow when they reach the advanced ranks. The reason that many children find the Brown Belt ranks (3rd Kyu to 1st kyu) to be difficult to get through is that I expect the students to fully understand and be able to perform all of the required skills on a very high level. Additionally, I require a level of emotional maturity, personal integrity and self-control to be exhibited by advanced students. This is often a challenge for youngsters.

Following the attainment of the Black Belt rank the students begin to be trusted to a much greater degree with the inner principles and secret techniques of our Mudokai karate system. It is important that I should know these students well enough by this time that I am absolutely certain they can be trusted with this knowledge.

The quest for Black Belt should be symbolic of the quest for personal perfection; for the realization of wholeness of being. It follows then that the quest from Black Belt onward should be undertaken only by those who have actually attained the proper degree of emotional maturity and self-control that come from actually achieving a real Black Belt rank.

The journey to Black Belt and the consequent journey beyond Black Belt to self- mastery must not be confused with the symbols that we utilize along the way to designate skills. That is, we must not make the belts themselves more important than the knowledge which they represent. After all, if it was just about the belt you could go to a martial arts store and buy one for thirty dollars. The value that the belt represents lies in the standard of achievement required to earn it. The training curriculum around which the belt structure is organized, when properly utilized, provides an excellent program for measuring advancement in martial arts skills.

Maintaining a disciplined structure helps prevent the abuse of martial arts techniques that can occur when advanced principles are made available to those who have not earned the right to this knowledge. Through a program that develops a balanced emotional state and a willingness to function as good citizens within the community, these techniques can be safely taught at an advanced level.

Sensei Robert H Mason © 2001

An Experience of Kata

I recently had, what I would consider, a profound experience with Kata. Allow me to elaborate and provide some background:

My martial arts training in Mu Do Kai started in February 2001. In May I became a yellow belt and was introduced to the newest challenge of my training- Kata. It was a difficult struggle for me. I have long been aware of my weakness in spatial relationships. That is, I have always had difficulty reading maps and determining where I was in relation to the map, I even struggle with what size Tupperware I need for my leftovers; and mathematical concepts, especially geometry have always been a nightmare!

It was no surprise to me that Kata, which at its simplest is movement through space, would be highly challenging for me. To learn my first Kata, in addition to regularly attending classes, I had to watch my videotape and write down each and every move, study it and then attempt to execute it. Not very practical but it worked. It took me four .months to learn. I also had the help of some caring Sensei's and higher ranked students in our school that generously offered me their time and patience. To them, I am sincerely grateful!

Here’s how it paid off:

I just returned from a five-day spiritual retreat. It was created for the purpose of giving the attendees experiences, which would transform their levels of consciousness. To achieve this, we participated in numerous practices such as spiritual teaching, yoga, meditations and visualizations, which integrated all modalities (worlds, or centers) of a human being that is mind, body emotions, and spirit.

One of the “exercises” was to experience space without sight, in complete darkness. My mind screamed I CAN'T DO THIS, while my emotions reacted with TREPIDATION and ANXIETY, and physically I felt OFF-BALANCE and UNCOORDINATED. In that moment, I wasn’t connected to anything spiritual; I was stuck ‘to’ and ‘in’ all of those negative thoughts and feelings chattering in me.

I decided to do my Kata. My purpose in doing so was simply to get my mind off of all the negative “noise”. What I received, however, was a lot more!

As soon as I started Kata my mind and body relaxed. I regained my physical balance and felt coordinated. As a result, my body moved as an integrated whole, rather than movements of separate parts; feet, arms, torso, and breath. I experienced a heightened sense of the space around me; my body and mind sensed where they were in relation to the space around them. This grounded me, rooted me to the earth while at the same time connecting me to the heavens (atmosphere around me). My perception was greatly enhanced, all of my senses were operating as an integrated whole. I became keenly aware of the energy filling the space and was able to feel shifts in the energy as I executed different movements. At no time did I ever bump into or step on any other person in the room.

Internally, I felt connected to my true self (my center, eternal space where my image of God resides). So tuned in was I to the energy field within and around me that I sensed my breath as an energetic exchange between the external world and internal world, making the breath the entity which connects us to the universe. I believe this occurred because my four centers (emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual) were in balance. My mind was led by my intention to do Kata which halted its chattering; Kata’s purposeful body movement eased my body’s sense of “dis-coordination” being in the dark; serenity was brought to my emotional center by feeling emotion as waves flowing through me; the by-product of all this was a deep connection to my spiritual self and a sense of the infinite universe.

The question I had taken away with me from this experience was: How can I apply this to my “real” life, the external world, the world bound by time and encumbered by obligations and responsibilities?!? It seemed easy to do in the context of a spiritual retreat where all is possible. This is my answer, this is what I have learned: In any situation, at any moment in time, I have within me the capacity to transform my reality by paying attention, pausing to breathe, and forming an intention with a higher purpose. This time, Kata was my vehicle; I believe this is true for all of us!

Leslie Sokol

Aim at the sun, and you may not reach it, but your arrow will fly higher than aimed at an object

on a level with yourself. - Joel Hawes