Posted tagged ‘martial arts philosophy’

Martial Arts Values in Everyday Life

February 14, 2011

I came upon this discussion topic in an unusual setting: a book fair dedicated to hand-made, hand-printed editions. I had not expected martial arts to come up as a topic, but in a conversation with one of the book artists, I learned she had a young nephew back east who was studying martial arts. What she liked best about his dojo, she told me, was that the children were asked to keep a journal in which they were to relate what they learned at the dojo to other parts of their lives, and also keep a record of their acts of community service.

What a great idea (I thought); and it spurs me to ask all of you:

What do you do in your dojo to help students see the connection between martial arts values, good citizenship, and everyday life?

I think we all talk from time to time about these connections, and aim for our students to understand that martial arts is a way of life. But what are some ways to go beyond the occasional lecture? Do you use regular discussions? Homework? Words of the month? Organized community service? Tell us how you approach it at your school.

What are the two most important lessons in karate, kung fu, or taekwondo?

May 2, 2010

Once again, I’m borrowing material from the excellent long-standing blog over at Mokuren Dojo. In a recent post called “Two most important lessons in judo,” Mokuren cited an essay describing the structure and operation of local judo dojos in Japan. He was impressed with the principles governing them — that they claimed as their main objectives neither training the next Olympian, nor teaching techniques, nor self-defense, but:

According to Wilson, the ethic in these classes is that their most important objectives are twofold:

* to teach students how to fall without injuring themselves (ukemi)
* to teach students how to behave in the dojo (reigi)

Mokuren adds that he has borrowed this idea, and now frequently quizzes his young students during warmups:

Q: What are the two most important things to learn in judo?

A: How to fall properly and how to control yourself (or sometimes I’ll accept “How to fall and how to behave.”)

All of which got me wondering, what are the two most important lessons in karate? – if we had to distill it to two. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Physical fitness
2. Respect

I believe these two principles encompass everything we might want young people (or adults, for that matter) to learn from martial arts.

Our physical training in the techniques of karate and similar arts — stances, kicks, blocks, strikes — brings the kind of health, strength, and physical competence that will allow a person to move confidently through the world, and to take care of him/herself and others.

Our training in respectful behavior — which may begin with certain rituals in the dojo (reigi in Japanese), but surely extends to lessons in self-respect and respect for others in the world at large — helps forge young people who are able to make good decisions, avoid trouble, and handle trouble wisely when it cannot be avoided.

What do you think, readers? What would you say are the two most important lessons in your martial art?

Martial Arts Attitude for Kids

September 20, 2009

Here’s a book that’s in print, available, and affordable: Kris Wilder’s The Way of Martial Arts for Kids: Getting the Most Out of Your Training. The cover says “78 tips on being a better martial artist,” and that’s pretty much what it is. The “tips” are brief, easy-to-read treatments of training-related topics, most of them less than a page long. TheWayForKidsThey’re written in plain language and first-person terms that a young reader can appreciate. Some are personal stories from the writer’s life that work their way back to martial arts values. Some are practical, some philosophical, many are funny—covering everything from keeping one’s feet clean and nails trimmed, to maintaining the right attitude and mindset both in and out of the dojo.

What I like best about this book is that it addresses all the pet peeves of an instructor who works with kids. My associates and I had many laughs recognizing our own students’ foibles and excuses. Mr. Wilder clearly speaks from experience, not just theory. In the tip called “Pay attention or miss out,” he calculates how much training is lost by making faces in the mirror for one minute per class over the course of a year, or spending three minutes in the restroom every class. I read this to a group of my students; the kids all laughed, and one of them resolved not to go to the restroom during class anymore.

It’s a good book and I’d say, when you go to buy my book😉 if you can afford a little extra, put this one in the cart, too!

Here’s a link to Kris Wilder’s blog, where he writes similar brief, often humorous musings on martial arts-related topics–but keep in mind the blog is for adults, not kids.

Other Good Books for Kids (and Their Parents)

September 16, 2009

While waiting for my book to be released, I thought I’d tell you about some other good martial arts books for young people. But I’ve kind of struck out on my first two choices: It turns out they’re both currently out of print. Still—publishers sometimes revive a book if there’s a demand, so let me go ahead and tell you about the first of them.

EmptyHandBook2The Empty Hand: A Karate Word Book, by Rui Umezawa, is truly one of my favorites. It’s an attractive paperback with beautiful woodcut illustrations and large brushstroke kanji (Chinese ideograms) for the most important vocabulary and concepts of traditional martial arts. It’s exactly what the title says: a book of words. Each word or concept is given a one-page essay. There are twenty-eight—from What is karate? to What is rei? (respect). The author uses plain, straightforward language, and succeeds in making subtle Asian concepts quite understandable to Westerners. He also looks at how the modern kanji evolved from ancient symbols—giving insight into how the words came to have their meanings. In the course of this he conveys not just the vocabulary, but the deeper philosophical underpinnings of martial arts practice.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction (and anyone who knows me will see in the very first sentence why I love this author!):

When it comes right down to it, there should not be much talking during karate practice. Most times, you should simply go to class, work up a good sweat, then go home. While you are in class, you should listen carefully to your teacher and do as you are told. This is more or less what it means to study karate.

Nonetheless, there are times when instructions and explanations must be given verbally, and many schools choose to retain the original Japanese terms to refer to things relating to karate. Often students who have just started karate find the use of Japanese bewildering. This is a shame, because many Japanese karate terms have profound meanings, and being aware of their meaning can greatly increase your understanding of karate, especially if you keep them in mind during practice.

In martial arts summer camp this year, we copied some of the kanji from this book to make personal ink-stamps. This got us talking about the meanings of the words, and I hope it inspired a few of the kids to go back and read the book.

As I said, this book is out of print and hard to get. If you follow the link to Amazon you can have a look inside, but you’re probably not going to want to buy a used copy for $50! (The 1998 cover price is $9.95.) Still, if enough of you add it to your wish lists, or perhaps contact the publisher (Weatherhill, which is now part of Shambhala), perhaps we can get them to consider reissuing it.


Do you have a favorite martial arts book for kids? Post us a note.