Preparing for life in the 21st century

Training for personal defense and personal growth

I recently spent a weekend in Miami learning a program designed to train flight crews in techniques, strategies and tactics for overcoming terrorist threats on the airlines. Subsequently I was part of a team that trained a group of Flight Attendants for American Airlines in this four hour course. While programs of this kind are certainly a good thing, they will always be limited in effectiveness by the fact that the people involved are only training for a few hours, rather than training on a regular weekly basis as part of a Martial Arts lifestyle. The program, called America in Defense, (AID) does work. Richard Reed, the terrorist who tried to blow up his shoes on an American Airlines flight, was overpowered by Flight Attendants who had taken this course in California. The course I took was the first offered in Florida by AID.

Part of the strategy in overcoming a terrorist act of this kind involves getting other passengers involved in helping the crew. I saw something on the news recently where a fireman assisted a police officer in the arrest of a man who was resisting being handcuffed. Around the world terrorist activities are forcing ordinary people in civilian professions to join together to assist in protecting themselves and others in their communities. Gone are the days when anyone could look to “the authorities” to provide adequate protection. We must be able to protect ourselves and help those in authority to protect our group interests. In an airline situation the benefits are obvious. If the plane goes down everyone on board suffers the consequences. It makes sense, therefore, to help the cabin crew bring a hijacker under control. It makes sense to assist in other situations also.

Survival is, in many respects, one of the most basic and fundamental necessities of everyday life. All creatures will defend themselves when attacked, whether by a predator, or by one of their own species seeking dominance, protecting territory or seeking mating rights. We should similarly be prepared to defend ourselves in order to survive. Once basic survival is handled we can look towards personal development and personal growth. These areas can also be appropriately addressed in a Martial Arts program. They add to the quality of our training experience by providing an additional motivation to train.

By adopting a Martial Arts lifestyle, training regularly, and developing a mindset that is committed to protecting our values, we can take control of our lives. If we are confident that we will commit ourselves to action, even when physical intervention is required, rather than succumb to tyranny in our community, we can be effective anti-terrorists. We can be an active part of the solution. It has been said that “evil thrives when good men do nothing”. If we are going to do something, then let’s train to be sure that we can do it right.

Sensei Robert H. Mason © 2002


Red Stripes - Worth Their Weight in Sand?

By Sensei Bergstresser © 2002

Worth their weight in sand?! Isn't that supposed to be "worth their weight in gold"? Of course it is. We all know the value a red stripe has to a student. It brings them joy, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of importance. But, if given too frequently or for the wrong reasons, red stripes can be as of much value to a student's psyche as sand is valuable to a jeweler.

First off, the reasons for awarding red stripes must be understood. There are two major reasons why stripes are given to kyu level karate students. The first reason is so that the student can gauge his/her progress towards their next belt rank. Everything that we deem valuable is valuable because it could be taken away from us, which leads to the second reason a stripe is given. It is so that the stripe can be removed if the student behaves in an inappropriate manner. If stripes are awarded after every class or rewarded on a regular schedule, or there was no chance that the stripe could be taken away; the student would not see value in the stripe. That piece of red electrical tape would be as commonplace as a piece of red electrical tape. There is no magical formula the instructor uses to determine whether a student receives a red stripe. The reason for this is because the student earns the stripe for him or her self; the instructor simply awards it to them. The Sensei all do their best to guide the student as to what they need to improve on in order to get the stripe, but it is ultimately up to the student to put the effort into their training. Effort is defined as having a good attitude when being corrected and consistently adjusting their technique to fit the Sensei's advice.

Seeing the Sensei circle the date on the attendance card with the red pen after many hard and sometimes frustrating classes is a tremendous joy to the student. This is the whole idea of the stripe system - acknowledging, in a concrete manner as well as verbally, the student's struggle and hard work for excellence. We want that piece of red electrical tape to be as valuable as gold, not as common as sand.

"You may train for a long, long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not very different from learning to dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do."

- Gichin Funakoshi

A Sempai’s Perspective

By Sensei Matt Bergstresser


Sensei Candy Shields is featured in the latest edition of Action Martial Arts Magazine. This article was adapted from that publication.

It was the beginning of a typical class at the University Karate Center in Plantation, Florida, and as the warm-ups ended a new student bowed at the door and took her place at the end of the line. For some reason that night the Sensei put me to work with the new “white belt”, instead of a fellow Black Belt or high ranking student. But time soon revealed that Candy Shields was not the ordinary beginning student. She was quiet but intense and focused and very skilled for never having trained before. This student would, in under three years, receive her Black Belt in the shortest amount of time of any student in a school of over fifty Black Belts, with standards as high as when the school opened in 1980.

Candy has entered two tournaments during her Martial Arts training. The first was an Open Martial Arts Tournament in the Advanced Women’s Forms Division. She was successful; however, this type of competition was not her personal preference. She wanted a different kind of challenge. Not only does she train in Kickboxing, Kobudo and Karate, she has also achieved a high level of expertise in grappling (Randori) and it was in this realm of the Martial Arts that she entered her second tournament and found the challenge she was looking for. She enjoyed the competition and did very well against skilled opponents.

Candy trains for self-confidence and Self-Defense and her greatest competition is in meeting her personal training goals and standards. It has now become a way of life for her. She trained an average of four times a week in preparation for her recent grading for Nidan (second degree).

In conclusion, as she begins her sixth year of training, she is still thirsty for knowledge and a higher level of expertise. She is a tremendous asset to the school, and a role model not only for women, but for all students of the Martial Arts. Now I know why I was put to work with the brand new “white belt”.

Food for Thought

The butterfly counts not days but moments, and has time enough -Rabindranath Tagore

It is better to do the most trifling thing in the world than to regard half and hour as a trifle -Goethe

Working together, we can protect the web of life and leave our children a living planet -World Wildlife Fund