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.

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.