Freedom’s Constraint

(The 4th of a Series)

Where I last left off, I was discussing how holding myself accountable for the decisions I make and the actions I take will ultimately lead to a true life of freedom. With an open and honest heart and mind, anyone can accumulate a solid set of habits to truly help them break the chains of self-doubt.

However, being free has it’s own kind of constraints.

On the one hand, freedom allows people the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of others. People like DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Edison, Tesla, Gates, Jobs and Musk all come to mind. On the other hand, freedom can also lead people down a darker path full of tragedy and loss – like the opioid addiction which has no constraints of location or socioeconomic status.

Freedom also comes with the restraint of the individual. Without some form of self-control from the individual, chaos would reign. If we cannot trust ourselves to curb our lesser desires, then we are doomed to believe no one else can either. Therefore, freedom also takes an enormous amount of courage to enact.

As the old adage states, “beware of the enemy within.” If I do not have the courage to recognize that I can be my own worst enemy, then I also do not have the courage to recognize my own culpability for the rights and wrongs of my immediate community.

This is why I need to be clear about who I am and who I am not. Otherwise, I will not be able to develop proper boundaries as they are fundamental in the process of building a good relationship with myself as well as others.

Nobody likes chaos because it is unpredictable and unpredictability leads to imbalance. It’s why the concept of balance is so revered in all cultures, religions and relationships.

As an individual, I strive for balance and even when I’m faced with an imbalanced person or situation, I’m still striving for a balanced outcome despite the circumstances. If I give into the imbalance of others, then I am no longer honoring myself.

Honoring who I am requires me to be vigilant about my boundaries or else I will be subject to the whims of others. Giving up on who I am means buying into someone else’s version of myself. However, choosing to give someone else control means that I’ve given cooperative control to a trusted party, thereby communicating my needs and wants effectively.

Four-Letter Words

(The 3rd of a Series)

Previously I asked the question “Who Owns You?” After all, if I’m not in control of my own thoughts and actions, then who is? Once I’ve established that I “need” to own up to the decisions and actions that I’ve made and taken, the next question is, “How do I get control of myself?” These are the types of questions and answers we delve into at the White Tiger Dojo.

In Japanese, the word dojo means way place. In other words, it’s a location where you study a way of being. A way of being starts with one’s habits. Understanding how good habits are created and how to remove and replace bad ones are two of the most important lessons any house of learning can engage in. However, one of the hardest parts about creating good habits is discovering that what I find to be “true” is often what I “fear”.

The word true means something that is in accordance with reality. Reality can be fearful. One of the habits I’ve developed over time is to be “open” with myself in order to compare it to reality. When I am open with myself, I find that the answers I’m looking for are not nearly as elusive as my mind would like them to be.

Finding the truth is about me uncovering my own biased habits so that I may clearly find the answer that I need rather than the one I “want”. The answers I want are more easily attained, because it’s based off of previous bad habits or biases. This is the epitome of being intellectually “lazy”.

What I want often takes precedence over what I need precisely because a want is intellectually lazy. I need to stay healthy and financially solvent, but I want to be lazy and independently wealthy. Staying healthy takes “work”. Going to a job and earning a living takes work. It also takes “guts” to do the work and it takes guts to work through the fear of failure.

“Hard” work is the true “path” of the independent person.

Owning who I am takes continual effort, especially when I’m owning up to the dumb things I’ve done and will do. Where at first it felt daunting, uncomfortable and even inconvenient, it eventually becomes routine maintenance like brushing my teeth.

In the end, owning up to the good and bad parts of myself is what allows for positive change and self-acceptance. I take greater care in my decision making process when I hold myself accountable for all of the joy and/or suffering I bring upon myself and those around me. I’m not perfect nor will I ever be, but making the conscious choice to be the “best” version of me is the only way to honor those who showed me the path to becoming “free”.


Who Owns You?

(The 2nd of a Series)

In my last blog entry, I challenged the thinking behind a “safe space”. In short, having a “safe space” means I’m relying on other people in order to feel safe. Once I abdicate the most basic of human rights, the right of self-protection, to another person, group or environment I no longer have complete control over my own life.

As a teacher, this abdication flies in the face of  my most important lesson: self-control. I tell my students, “If you cannot control yourself, then you will not be able to learn how to defend yourself.”

What is self-protection if not the ability to control yourself in order to stop someone else from controlling you? What is a bully or a criminal other than a person trying to force another to comply with their wishes?

If I allow society to provide me with a “safe space” emotionally, physically, or mentally then by default I am allowing everything outside of that space to be considered “unsafe”. Essentially, when I allow for safe spaces, I agree to everything else being chaos.

What’s more, isn’t it naive to believe that four walls and a plaque on the door can protect us from other human beings? Or, even from ourselves?  Labeling an area as a “safe space” lulls its visitors into a false sense of security, too.  As a teacher and a human being, I don’t want my students or fellow human beings falling into this mentality.

It seems that so much about today’s world is about mentality. In our modern-day society, thoughts and emotions are the reigning kings of all that is seen as sacred and successful.  Why is the body given such low-class treatment?

As Socrates said:

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

It’s important to remember that a beautiful mind is only as safe as the body attached to it.  In order to traverse “safe” and “unsafe” spaces equally, we must ensure that our bodies are exercised in the art of self-protection. This does not mean the genius must resolve his disputes with fisticuffs, nor the “fighter” reduce his exam paper to confetti. Rather, both archetypes must have the ability, grit and courage to know when and how to lay down boundaries of word, deed and action. Without these abilities a person no longer owns himself but will be usurped by the tyrant of inaction.

Safe Space. Dangerous World.

(The 1st of a Series)

One of the most difficult things about teaching self-defense is helping a student create a balance of physical and mental boundaries. In order to rationalize boundaries, we need to have some type of “fear” catalyst for what lies “beyond the boundary”. Simultaneously, we need to have some type of “love” catalyst for what lies “within the boundary”. Given that boundaries can often lead to a discussion of extremes, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective when trying to discover a “safe space” in an otherwise “dangerous world”.

For those of us who are currently living in the United States, we’re enjoying one of the safest times in human history. It’s taken homo sapiens approximately 200,000 years to get to this level of safety, but nevertheless, we’re here. So why do we even talk about danger in the first place? If we’re enjoying one of the safest times in history, then why do we even need a “safe space”?

We speak as if mankind has been evolving for over 200,000 years simply because time has passed, but in reality, we haven’t. Meanwhile, our ever changing environment has always kept mankind on its toes. Now that mankind has mostly mitigated the environment’s ability to destroy humanity en masse from weather patterns, waterfalls, cliffs, viruses and parasites, I’d say the larger danger to mankind has always been, well, mankind.

Mankind has been doing each other in over tribalism, other ‘isms’, territory and resources forever. Mankind has been doing each other in willingly and to a large scale when you look at examples of the well known Aztec sacrifices to the lesser known Hawaiian, Celt or Chinese sacrifices. All in the name of a higher purpose.

Violence, or the threat of violence, is exhibited the moment a child experiences the boundaries set forth by their parents. When an adult, which is a large looming figure to the eyes of a child, utters something they do not understand, they comply out of fear, not logic.

Sure we can minimize the overt perception of fear, but that’s purely an intellectual exercise. Meaning, we simply replaced fear of being ‘eaten’ by an animal with fear of being ‘eaten’ by poverty, illness, etc. I once heard someone say, “We’ve traded constant “fear” for constant “anxiety”.

Managing these two extremes takes self-discipline and prioritization, which is what I teach my students when I discuss the concept of “changing thresholds”. When we’re in a home, school or office, our fear of physical danger is reduced greatly, but our sense of anxiety to be productive members of society is increased. Sometimes the two will merge and reconfigure into some sort of hybrid – like running late to an appointment or realizing that we still have 30 questions left to answer and only 5 minutes left to answer them.

It should seem obvious now that we cannot create “safe spaces”. But, we can create safer conditions in a dangerous world. In order to do that, we have to build up the self-discipline that is needed to prioritize our anxieties and fears along with our love and passion for life. Once we establish a stable formula for ourselves, we can then begin to concentrically widen our sense of safety, much like a child explores and conquers their own “dangerous world”.

Internal Struggle

As many of you know, I do not do a lot of group testing. Sometimes serendipity and camaraderie intervene but testing a student is about them triumphing over themselves and not others.

Occasionally, a child or parent will compare someone else’s time or grade to themselves or their child. However, this undermines the student in question and their efforts. Everyone is different and I try to offer each student individual feedback as best as I can, even in a group classes.

The struggle of self-mastery is personal, even though we often enlist others as our sharpening stone. I would never judge one student against another, but I will encourage every student to bring out the best in each other. Life is, above all, about relationships. After all, one cannot improve oneself all by one’s lonesome.

Are you a better version of yourself today than you were yesterday? May the struggle to better ourselves never end.

Failing is Natural, Giving Up Should Not Be

I’m a big fan of TED talks, and recently watched one by Adam Grant called “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, a talk on ‘original thinkers’. What inspires the most with talks like these, is that every attempt to climb up the so-called ‘mountain of success’ is always fraught with the possibility of failure.

I often use the following metaphor whenever I explain the essence of martial arts study to a new student: Martial arts is the art of swimming in a sea of failure in search of the shores of success. The simple act of choosing to swim in this sea of failure is a good sign that a student wants to change themselves for the better.

Once a student accepts adversity as a tool to help shape their character, they quickly find pride in grinding off their ‘rough edges’ of instant gratification and expectation in favor of sharpening their intellectual and physical ‘edges’ with perseverance and patience.

The seesawing nature of failure and success soon becomes a normal part of life. Where certain adversity would sideline many, now both adversity and failure are used to fuel students’ motivations and act as a foundation from which dreams of success are built.


You Never Can Tell

One of the great gifts of martial training is learning to trust people. One of my black belts, who also happens to be an accomplished musician, likens the higher level expression of martial arts to music. The reason being that musicians need to have implicit trust with each others skill sets in order to play off of each others notes, especially when jamming.

In this video, Bruce Springsteen is in front of 45,000 people preparing to play a song his band has never played before. It’s great to watch a group of professionals, who trust each other implicitly, taking a short time to create a novel experience for all to enjoy, right before your eyes.

Achieving this level of trust takes time, but the more I learn to trust my fellow practitioner, the higher I know we can collectively take the art. To me, this video is the ultimate expression of joy when a group of people establish collective trust. I’m guessing none of them could ever have known who those trusting band mates would have been if they hadn’t learned to trust themselves first.

New Year New Leaf

As the year comes to an end, it’s always a good time to focus on ‘new beginnings’. If you have any negative habit that you’ve been needlessly conforming to, then I want you to make the active decision to leave all of those negative thoughts and feelings behind.

You’ll be thanking yourself for getting rid of the negativity that you surrounded yourself in and, more importantly, the people around you will be thankful that you are in a more positive place.

Some of you may be thinking: “But I don’t know if I can do it!” The simplest way to start is by turning your perspective upside down. Try to engage your life from one that imposes skepticism, self-consciousness and self-doubt to one that embraces positive change. Small steps in mindset are needed in order to make any significant improvements in your life.

Worst comes to worst, fake it ’til you make it! Just let the old habits go like the ball dropping at midnight. Take a deep breath and say goodbye to your self-doubt and your fear of failure. Instead, embrace YOUR desire to change and make the conscious decision to improve. Take the first step towards re-creating your new self.

Sure it’ll take time and of course you’ll meet resistance from everyone involved with your life – yourself included. But, did your “negative habits” NOT meet resistance? Resistance, friction and conflict get such a bad rap, but without them, we would never move forward…or never stop!

Never forget that this life belongs to you. If you love yourself (which, if you don’t, you should make sure to fix that problem first) and respect yourself, then you should protect yourself. After all, you can’t save anyone unless you save yourself first.

Do yourself a favor and make this your year of positive change. Resistance and conflict are a natural, reoccurring part of life. However, if you make the choice to actively diminish the amount of bad habits and negative actions that you partake in life, then making positive changes will eventually become a daily and refreshing event in your everyday. Make your mark!

Martial Music

Music, especially ‘jam sessions’ have the quality of controlled chaos, which is very much at the heart of martial study–understanding and managing conflict. 

Everyone is always trying to get their ‘notes’ in. Sometimes one on top of the other. Sometimes in concert with another. Sometimes in complete contradiction or conflict with the other.

Jazz is the perfect example of martial music. A musical conversation that involves high speed changes of leading and following.

Then there are lyrics that speak to me as a student and teacher of martial arts. Especially lyrics where I can find a double entendre that pairs my passions of martial arts and philosophy.

For those who study with me, you might have already pick up the double entendres while watching the video. For those who haven’t, you’ll find some paranthetical notations next to the lyrics below in order to get you started. 

Go ahead and listen again and ‘let go’ of whatever Monday mania you might be engaged in.

Either way, enjoy the music and I hope you enjoy my musical musing.

Let Go (Frou Frou)

Drink up baby doll (infatuation of starting)

Are you in or are you out? (do or do not do)
Leave your things behind (ego, shoes, socks, baggage)
‘Cause it’s all going off without you (sweat/work it out)
Excuse me too busy you’re writing your tragedy (feeling bad for yourself is a waste of energy)
These mishaps
You bubble-wrap
When you’ve no idea what you’re like (don’t let mistakes anchor you)

So, let go, let go
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown (rebuilding yourself)
So, let go, let go
Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here (I’m a bit biased)
It’s all right
’cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

It gains the more it gives (relaxation is power)
And then it rises with the fall (drop your breath/stance)
So hand me that remote
Can’t you see that all that stuff’s a sideshow?
Such boundless pleasure
We’ve no time for later
Now you can’t await
your own arrival
you’ve twenty seconds to comply (lol!)

So, let go, so let go
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s alright
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
So, let go, yeah let go
Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

So, let go,
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s alright
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
So, let go, yeah let go
Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

In the breakdown
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
The breakdown

So amazing here
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

#whitetigerdojodifference #martialmusic #musicalmusings #berkeleyheights #martialarts #music

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Who Teaches the Teacher?

As a teacher of martial arts, I want to build awareness. Awareness is the first key to de-selecting yourself from violence. You do not have to study or be interested in the reality of violence to become the target of violence.

Mr Douglas introduces himself and has the practitioners introduce themselves on day one.

As a human being and a teacher of martial arts, I strive to evolve. As the owner/operator of White Tiger Dojo, it is imperative that I continue to grow and evolve my teaching methods and skill sets.

After 30 years of study and entering my​ second decade of full-time teaching, one lesson remains constant — I must never become complacent with my skills as a practitioner or a teacher.

In order to ​provide​ the best service I can to my student body, I am constantly challenging myself. Four years ago, I sought out a professional named Craig Douglas, of Shivworks, in order to test my own skills, hone new ones and discover what I did not know.

Mr Douglas explains and demonstrates the default position.

On the weekend of March 19th & 20th, 20 men and one of my female black belts could enter the altar of scrutiny that has been built by Craig Douglas’ internationally recognized coursework — Edged Weapons Overview (EWO). The coursework is 18 hours long and runs from 8AM-6PM each night with a one hour lunch break each day.

Other than myself and two of my black belts, the other 17 participants consisted of a large contingent of tri-state area law enforcement professionals, including Berkeley Heights Police Department, and a potpourri of civilian professionals.

Roberto Andrade, a black belt at the White Tiger Dojo and owner of Natural Integrated Medicine in Florham Park, assesses an attendee’s prior injury before starting an exercise.

Although the age, location and background may have varied, the goals and the excitement over the coursework was unanimous. Awareness and safety for the sake of oneself and one’s family was paramount and all agreed that this was coursework that was not readily available anywhere else.

A rare moment to breathe and socialize.

White Tiger Dojo was proud to partner with Berkeley Heights Police Department and Craig Douglas in order to provide such a great training module for so many people.

And what did law enforcement professionals get out of this coursework? Berkeley Heights Chief John DiPasquale had this to say:

Berkeley Heights Police Department was pleased that Craig Douglas could provide our agency with coursework that cannot be duplicated in terms of safety and awareness. Mr. Douglas is a humble instructor that provides his students with the tools to combat predatory violence.
The Berkeley Heights Police Department emphasizes the highest level of training in our effort to keep our community safe.
On behalf of our department, we would like to thank White Tiger Dojo owner, Darren DeMarco, for making this type of training possible and partnering with our community.

In the end, whether you are a civilian or law enforcement professional, when an attack occurs, it will take time for help to arrive, if someone even knows you’re in trouble. Sometimes winning isn’t an option and survival until the cavalry arrives may be your only hope. As Douglas says about his own coursework, “This is not coursework you win, this is coursework you experience.”

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