Martin Luther King Jr Was a Real Kung-Fu Hero

American ShaolinIn the book, "American Shaolin," author Matthew Polly described his adventures as he moved to China to live with Shaolin monks for two years.

He trained with them, ate with them, and became their friend.

Often, he would watch kung-fu movies with the monks.

In their culture, the hero of the movie was usually the man who would continue fighting even when hope was lost. 

You are fighting for a good cause, but you know you are doomed to defeat. You fight anyway.

I was 15 years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Growing up in the racist South, I reflected my white culture and I thought he was a troublemaker. I'm sure I dropped the "N" word many times if his name came up.

MLK was not a troublemaker. He was a hero in the truest sense of the word.

By 1968, he had been beaten, arrested, jailed, and threatened with his life because he had the audacity to protest when black men and women were turned away by restaurants, stores, the voting booth, and generally treated as animals.

When I was a child, black people did not come to "our" public swimming pools. I never saw blacks in "our" restaurants. And they sat in the balcony at the movie theater, not on the main floor with "us."

I remember seeing "Colored Only" water fountains in Georgia.

We treated black Americans as inferior. 

MLKAnd then, through nonviolent protest, Martin Luther King and his brave friends such as now-Congressman John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy and others, used kung-fu on the white culture.

They allowed the hateful energy of the whites to be seen in all its ugliness. Instead of fighting it, King and other black protesters did not contend. They absorbed the hateful energy by taking the punches, the kicks, the firebombs, the attack dogs, the hoses, the insults and the injuries -- and they showed white America what was lurking inside its heart.

They turned that hateful energy against their racist attackers.

Hearts and minds began to change across the country. 

On the night before he was murdered, Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience that he had been to the mountaintop and saw the other side. "I might not make it there with you," he warned.

He knew what might be coming. And he fought anyway.

The following day, when he walked out of his room at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, the shot rang out and he was dead.

It took a few more years and some college experience before my heart began to change, but it did. I began to realize that a LOT of what we are told as children is simply not true, but we are not old enough to reason, so we model the behavior of our parents, grandparents and friends.

MLK 1Two years ago, Nancy and I visited the Lorraine Hotel. It is part of the National Civil Rights Museum now. 

As I stood near the spot where he was gunned down, and stared through the glass at his room, which has been maintained exactly as it was the moment he was killed, I was struck by the heroism of the man.

We can practice martial arts all of our lives; we can compete in full-contact matches and we can consider ourselves pretty heroic.

Very few of us will even come close to the level of heroism displayed by Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who did not practice martial arts.

I occasionally see social media comments by martial artists, including some teachers, that are racist, or xenophobic, or intolerant in a variety of ways with a variety of targets, and I realize that an important part of the arts has escaped them; the connection with others, the philosophical thread that binds us to our fellow human beings.

One instructor I met preached Taoist philosophy and being connected to others, then he would fire up a cigarette and use the term "chinks" instead of "Chinese" when he talked about Chinese people. I still occasionally see intolerant social media messages that he posts, and I realize that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think, you can't make him connect with others, and you certainly can't make him a hero.

These misguided martial artists do not realize that the concept of defending the weak against attackers means a lot more than stopping a husband from beating his wife, or stopping a bully from attacking a weaker kid. 

A martial arts hero defends the unarmed black man who is being shot by a bad cop; the woman who is subject to harassment at work; the gay young man or transgender woman who is taunted and insulted because they are different.

A martial arts hero connects with others, and defends the weak even when hope is gone.

Hardly any of us reach the level of heroism that was displayed by Martin Luther King, Jr. When hope was gone, he fought on. Fifty years later, he is remembered, but his work is not done.

There is a lot of hatred still out there. There are people who could use your help.

Are you really a hero? 


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

Harmony-Medal-web
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.


Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee -- the Latest News

Chuck-Norris I love Chuck Norris jokes. A new one I heard -- Chuck Norris is the only man in history who has beaten the odds. With his fists.

Chuck is in some new TV commercials -- in Czechoslovakia -- where he drives his new image home without speaking a word.

Take a look at the Chuck Norris TV commercials here.

Chuck got his big break in the movies through Bruce Lee. Their fight scene in the Rome Coliseum in "Way of the Dragon" was classic. It was a few years later that Chuck made Chuck-Norris-Bruce-Lee his first starring role (I think his first movie as a leading man was "Breaker Breaker").

Bruce's daughter, Shannon, is keeping her father's legacy alive now, and jealously guarding it, as she should.

She has a great website devoted to Bruce. Visit the official Bruce Lee website here.


Two Years On -- An Online School Grows and Develops

Two years ago -- July 4, 2008 -- I launched my online internal arts school. I was laid off from a 6-figure position at the University of South Florida, went home and told Nancy, "I want to stop working for people I can't depend on. I want to start an online school."

She said, "Go for it."

I started working, taking the curriculum I had been teaching for over a decade and creating video lessons, e-books, and other material. I quietly opened the online school to my current students in June, 2008 and opened it to the world on July 4.

I knew -- the tai chi world being what it is (far pettier and more jealous than you would believe) -- that I would be flamed by some. "Who does he think he is?"

Well, I have a different kind of school. I tried the bricks-and-mortar type of school but I didn't like the experience. I simply have the ability, because of my background in radio and TV news, to create videos a little easier and much cheaper than most people. I also edit all the videos and put them online, do the Photoshop work on the pictures and place everything on the site myself (Nancy is frequently my ace videographer). Not many martial artists have this ability. An online school like this would cost other people many thousands of dollars each month.

My local students get training at a very low price (all they have to do is join the site) and they appear in videos when I need them. It's a sweet deal for everyone, at least that's my intent. 

So instead of starting another local school, renting a building, and going through the nightmare of overhead, my school would be online and the audience would be anyone around the world who wants to study these arts but doesn't have a teacher nearby. As long as they speak English, they can study online.

Each week, I get emails from people telling me the site is amazing -- there is a lot more material than they expected and they enjoy the down-to-earth, straightforward teaching style (I have little patience for tai chi teachers who try to make things mystical and abstract).

I've been very gratified at the growth. Right now there are about 100 members, each paying a monthly fee. Some have been on the site the entire two years. Others have lasted a year or more -- then others join for a few months and then leave. It's all good. I believe there are hundreds more around the world who don't know about it yet but would like an insight into the internal arts that the site offers. Some of the people who have joined are teachers, and a few of them have told me that no one ever taught them some of the principles that they learn here. Other members are already studying with a teacher and use the site to supplement their current training. Others are new to the arts and haven't studied before.

At this point, there are more than 400 video lessons online (and I add more each week), several e-books, audios, a discussion board. This time next year, I want at least 600 video lessons on the site -- more e-books, more audios.  Not bad for $19.99 per month (the basic fee).

One thing that has surprised me is how some people will join the school, stay on for several months, and never contact me in any way -- no emails, no discussion board posts -- and that baffles me.

On the other hand, I've made some friends through this, too. I could go to several different countries now and know someone because of this website.

The past two years have been very interesting. I'm looking forward to the next two.