Our family loves to kick, punch, strike and throw each other around. I’m not talking about domestic violence, which is sadly far to common, nor is this a metaphor for some violent form of communication. What I am referring to is an inter-generational love of martial arts. A love of learning how to defend oneself and others, while simultaneously strengthening and calming our body, hearts and minds.
When I was a young man (about two hundred years ago) I was lucky enough to discover a martial arts school in my hometown that taught Judo and Ju-Jitsu. The head teacher (Sensei) was a woman named Professor Jane Carr. The reason I say “lucky” is because I could have innocently become involved with a so-called teacher who had not been well trained, whose only concern was fighting or winning competitions and/or making money. A teacher, who cared more about power, control and prestige then self-control, honor and respect.
Professor Carr was different. She was a teacher, warrior, mother, counselor, non-violent activist and friend all rolled up into one. She expected all her students to work hard to improve themselves in all aspects of their lives, in and out of the dojo (practice hall). She commanded respect, not because of her fighting skills (which are formidable), but because she showed respect for others and would settle for nothing less in herself. Her presence demonstrated and invited those around her to discover their own inner strengths and character. Professor Carr is still teaching (after 45 years) and her daughter is head instructor at the academy.
When I moved to Santa Cruz I took up Tai Chi Chuan, which is a slow-moving series of Chinese exercises that can also be used for other means. I studied for a short time with Dale Strawhacker (a local acupuncturist and Tai Chi instructor) and continue to practice at home every morning.
Our oldest son took Tae Kwon Do (Korean karate) with Master Song at Song’s Martial Arts Institute. We had checked a number of schools to make sure this was a place of learning and respect. We had wanted him to have a positive experience, like I had as a teen. After six months our autistic son’s coordination, strength and self-confidence had increased ten-fold.
It seems that people rolling, jumping, falling, moving and breathing their way to health and vitality have surrounded us. Our oldest son’s friend practiced the Brazilian art of Copeira. A number of our children’s friends have taken Aikido (a Japanese martial art) or karate and many of our adult friends seem to be thrilled with Qi Kung (a separate or combined art of Chinese Gung Fu). A previous colleague told me how her entire family works out together and their daughter has gone to the national championships in Tae Kwon Do. My wife and youngest son practiced Gung Fu in Watsonville for a number of years with a wonderful teacher at Black Tiger Academy.
We are very fortunate in Santa Cruz County to have such a variety and depth of knowledge, traditions and practices to choose from. We have martial arts from Brazil, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Okinawa. There are schools that focus on self-defense, competition, physical health or all three. Some emphasize having fun. Others prioritize meditative practices, aerobics and rhythm or creating community.
Qualified teachers, of whatever backgrounds or style; will have you and/or your children’s well being as their priority. They will practice what they preach by paying attention to there words and actions, but not focusing on themselves. They will instill confidence, support and compassion, not fear, dominance or adoration.
Consider what qualities you want in a teacher before you choose a particular style or school. Visit different classes and practice halls before you decide where to spend your money and time. Ask questions about the instructor’s background, their philosophy and approach to learning. Talk to their students. Once you find the right fit, stay with it and practice daily. You’ll soon find that it will give you a positive spin on every aspect of your life and those around you.