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Sandy Hook School Shooting - The Value of Martial Arts in Self-Confidence and Trauma Resilience

My daughter, Harmony after winning a first place medal in a 1988 tournament. She has proven to be a resilient adult.
There have been very few bright spots in the darkness following the Sandy Hook school massacre. Many of us have shed tears at the faces in the photos -- the innocence lost and young lives stolen. 

There were several acts of bravery. Some of them -- especially stories of teachers being killed while saving their students -- brought tears to my eyes. But one act of bravery made me cheer.

Imagine the self-confidence of the 8-year old boy who -- hearing the gunshots in the school and seeing his classmates crying and afraid -- spoke up and said confidently, "I know karate," then offered to lead them out.

I would like to know more about where he studied and how far he had advanced. When we are children, we tend to overestimate our ability to be super heroes, and for this young boy to imagine that he could take on a gun-toting killer was a lot more fantasy than reality.

But he was confident in the face of chaos and tragedy. He was ready to control the situation. And that is fantastic.

I teach kung-fu -- the internal arts -- online, through video and DVDs and in small classes with students. It is my passion. I also work in PR and communications for a nonprofit based in Davenport, Iowa -- Family Resources. It's an amazing organization that offers a safe place for children, women and families that have suffered physical and emotional trauma in their lives. Sometimes, it's very difficult to pick up the pieces of your life in the wake of tragedy, violence, abuse, neglect, divorce, and mental health issues. Family Resources helps.

One of the areas Family Resources is working in very closely is the idea of resilience -- how do people bounce back after suffering trauma?

I'm linking to an article that offers a short explanation. People are more resilient when they have a sense of control, of optimism, and when they see roadblocks, failure and mistakes not as defeat but as a challenge, something that sparks more effort to overcome that challenge.

I lost a daughter in 1980. My oldest daughter, Harmony, was three years old when her mother and I found her sister dead in her crib. It was a deeply traumatic experience for all of us. None of our lives would ever be the same, and even at age three, I understand now that the event had an impact on her just as it did her mother and me.

I was talking with a trauma expert yesterday, who said a lot of the children who have problems as they grow older are those who have suffered trauma, and -- when you ask what they like to do -- say they don't do anything. If you ask what they have achieved, they "haven't done anything." These are children who have no sense of accomplishment -- no goals -- no achievements.

And that's a key lesson the martial arts can teach young people. As I said in another post, martial arts can help unify the mind and body. It is a conquering of self -- of discipline and achievement in the form of martial arts training. When a young person studies martial arts in a positive environment with a good teacher -- even when an adult studies martial arts in a positive environment -- the setting and accomplishment of small goals can have a tremendous impact on the psyche.

It leads to more confidence, more inner peace, and the ability to understand that you can achieve anything you want.

And when chaos breaks out, it can also teach you to be a leader, as the story of the karate boy illustrates. 

According to research, resilient people set solid goals and achieve those goals. They don't see themselves as victims. They have compassion and empathy for others. And they have a positive view of the future. Many adults would see an improvement in their lives if they learned these skills.

There are countless ways for children to learn empowerment and achievement. The martial arts is only one way. This post is not an attempt to offer a simplistic solution to this horrible tragedy. The adults, children, and relatives are going to need a variety of support services including counseling to work through the trauma of this event. Recovery will not be easy. I'm sure -- and I hope -- the children and adults will be monitored over time.

The loss of my daughter is something I thought I would never get over. In some ways, I never will get over it. But it did not defeat me. In fact, as I held my daughter's tiny body in my arms at the funeral home and cradled her for a couple of days before the service, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that spoke clearly through the grief and told me I was going to be okay.

I have always been optimistic, and as I grew older, I learned to set goals for myself and achieve them. Actually, I had that ability before my own tragic loss, but I have achieved some of my favorite goals after my daughter died and psychologically knocked me to the ground. And after some twists and turns in her own life, Harmony is preparing to graduate from nursing school with flying colors. For these reasons and more, the research on trauma resilience strikes a familiar chord deep inside me and I want to learn more. I'm also proud to be associated with an organization that is a leader in this type of work in the community.

There are lessons here for all of us and for our children. I hope none of my readers ever face a tragedy in your lives, but if you do, I hope you are able to respond like the brave little 8-year old boy who "knows karate" and can lead the way out of danger.

What Good are Martial Arts in a Mass Shooting World of Gun Violence?

Ken Gullette -- "The study of martial arts is a journey of self-discovery; a unification of body and spirit."

I hear it a lot. Maybe you do, too if you study martial arts. It's a sarcastic comment, in my experience it usually goes something like this:

"You know kung-fu but I can shoot you before you can kick me."


"I have a Glock that says your martial arts are useless."

The mass shooting at the Connecticut school two days ago is an example of the world we live in. The killer was rushed by the principal and school psychologist and he killed them both.

What good is it to study kung-fu if we would have ended up dead by trying to get close to this guy in an effort to defend the children and adults in that school?

It's easy to ask the question, and I've reflected on this during the past 48 hours. I lost a daughter in 1980, and my heart aches knowing a little of the pain the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles are feeling about the death of those children and the adults.

Indeed, what good is a martial art in the 21st Century?

In an episode of the wonderful Kung Fu TV show, Master Kan told young Caine, "Training in the martial arts is for spiritual development, but it is based on self-defense."

The study of martial arts is a journey of self-discovery -- of self-discipline -- of the things you learn about yourself when you set difficult goals, work hard, and achieve them.

The correct study of martial arts also takes you on a philosophical and spiritual journey. Along the way, you discipline the mind and spirit so you know, and reflect, the reality of the world. 

And the wisest and best martial artist wins without engaging in combat.

Each of these are bits of wisdom I began absorbing when I watched the Kung Fu show when I was 18 or 19. It was wisdom I had never heard before -- it was certainly not discussed in my fundamentalist church. And so I began studying Taoism and Zen, and I found a path that has offered me a lot of peace through some very trying times.

Like everyone, I fall short of my spiritual goals. I sometimes allow angry people, particularly those preaching hatred and intolerance in politics, to push me off-center. It's something I'm working on. But there are many times in daily life when I use this training to remain centered and understand the world for what it is.

It doesn't matter what martial art you study -- kung-fu, karate, MMA -- you would be as vulnerable in the school shooting situation as the principal was. Being tough isn't the answer. In other situations when facing an unarmed opponent, or someone with a knife or stick, your skills would come in quite handy.

The study of martial arts teaches you to defend yourself, but more importantly, if you are open to the idea and have a good teacher, you learn to meld your mind and body into one, so that neither are used against others.

Adam Lanza was a troubled young man with mental disorders. He was unable to feel empathy toward others and apparently, people around him had to watch out because if he burned himself or if he fell and injured himself, he could not feel pain. There is not very much that any of us could have done for this young man. That should be a conversation within the medical, psychiatric and law enforcement community. I believe some people with violent tendencies can be helped through the study of martial arts when philosophy is included. But I doubt that the best martial arts philosopher could help someone who is deeply disturbed.

Today, even though he could not feel pain, Adam's actions have created pain that has rippled across the world. And I expect in the next few days I'll hear more comments such as, "Your martial arts would have been useless against him so what good are they?"

Perhaps they would have been useless, but that alone is not why I am still studying kung-fu after 39 years.

The people who ask this question are those who have not yet taken -- or completed -- their own journey of self-discovery. If they are religious, they have not yet completed their journey to true God Realization, which is a lot more than believing in an invisible being. And if someone who asks this question is involved in the martial arts, they either haven't taken the same path I have, haven't had a teacher to point the Way, or they aren't interested in traveling that path.

I still have a way to go, too. But as Master Kan said in the very first episode of Kung Fu, "To know nature is to put oneself in harmony with the Universe. Heaven and Earth are one. So must we seek a discipline of mind and body with ourselves."

So we continue to practice, to study, and seek to understand. More importantly, we learn to deal with conflict in ways other than violence.


Bagua Self Defense - Body Mechanics - Swallow Skimming Over Water

This is a short clip from a longer instructional video on the self-defense applications of the Cheng Bagua form "8 Main Palms." It is from the section called "Overturning Body Palm." In this video, I demonstrate some of the body mechanics required for the movement "Swallow Skimming Over Water" when used to pull down an attacker.

In this section, Swallow Skimming Over Water comes after a movement of the hands out from the centerline and a kick. In part of the video, I ask my student Colin Frye not to cooperate, to show that the body mechanics work even when your partner isn't playing along. One of my pet peeves about intricate winding Bagua movements is that many of them don't work against a motivated adult male attacker. As usual in fighting, the simple techniques are often the best.


The Power of Bagua for Self-Defense -- Yin Yang Fish and the Hidden Elbow Strike

I'm currently shooting video for my membership website and a future DVD on the 8 Main Palms form of Cheng Baguazhang. Today, my student Colin Frye and I were working through the fighting applications of two sections -- Grinding Palm and Turning Body Palm. In both, there is a good deal of spinning.

In Turning Body Palm, there is a move called Yin Yang Fish. It begins with a scooping hook movement and then you spin. 

Hidden within the spin is an elbow strike that can do a lot of damage. Here is a short clip showing me demonstrating the elbow strike against a thin board and then a thicker board. Using boards in this way helps you see if you are delivering power in your techniques.

There are 600 instructional videos on my website for a very low monthly membership fee. This is a short clip from a much longer video on the Turning Body Palm section of the form.

Bagua (also spelled pakua) fighting is powerful. There are many self-defense techniques hidden in Baguazhang forms. One of my favorite things is to study the way the movements translate to fighting applications.


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