Category Archives: Uncategorized

Do the Right Thing

One of the largest casualties of the Zero Tolerance Bullying and Harassment, Intimidation & Bullying (HIB) policies being enacted over the last 25 years is the average student’s understanding of personal responsibility. These policies provide young, impressionable minds with the maxim that all types of peer pressure are in fact negative. That, in order to live a healthy life in mind and body, one must do so without the negative reinforcement that the reprimands and judgement of others would present. In fact, these policies teach students that there exists only three archetypes – and only three – that any one person could fulfill in reality: “bully”, “victim” or “bystander”. Ask any student which label they would rather wear and they’ll resoundingly claim “bystander” because no one wants to be seen as a bully and no one likes to think they are weak enough to be a victim. Which makes sense when those are the only options offered.

But what if there was a fourth alternative?

The position of the “leader” is a difficult one to fulfill. As far as I can tell, leadership and hierarchy aren’t supposed to exist in the student body today because doing so would legitimize the presence of peer pressure. In this sense, without a designated leader in place and without a hierarchical system to follow, if students do come across a problem of any nature, the first thing they are to do is contact someone who isn’t part of the student body. A faculty member. A teacher. In rare cases, their own parents.

No wonder kids are confused, stressed out, and unsure of how to socialize. Anxiety wreaks havoc on their minds because of the lack of social boundaries that exist in the reality that they are presented with. Interestingly enough, prior to the last 25 years, children used to self-actualize themselves in social groups. They’d gather in the neighborhood, school playground, and just hang out. They would organize themselves. They would solve the social squabbles of adolescence. They would find ways to and from places and still be home in time for dinner. They could think for themselves.

Now, with all the technological leashes we have for each other, we have less, not more autonomy. We have less intense social bonds, not more intense social bonds in our community. Everyone is supposed to get along, yet no one’s supposed to be different. Everyone has to come to the party, without a doubt. And, most of all, nobody can ever fail because everyone must win and receive some sort of trophy just for trying. But if a problem occurs, which it shouldn’t given all the above caveats, how does a child solve the problem that’s not supposed to occur?

When everyone around you thinks the same way and problem-solves the same way, then how are you supposed to solve the “one” problem that you all have? The answer is: get someone who is different than you. Well, then, how does a child learn how to be that person who can think differently than others when the protocol they all abide by is to follow in unison?

When we teach children that they are incapable of solving their own problems, by solving all of our kids’ problems for them, all “children” problems become adult problems. The whole point of being a kid is to experience the slings and arrows of childhood so that they may become strong, competent, and resilient adults.

If children aren’t allowed to experience life without being constantly refereed, then how will they know how and when to do the right thing? If the only time they are doing the right thing is when “someone different” is watching them, then do they really know what the right thing is or are they just afraid of the capricious whims of “someone different”. How do you even become “someone different” in this modern era, since all of the ways that difference is born are deemed as negative forms of peer pressure?

Let kids self-actualize and someone will always end up leading the group. In the end, it won’t always be the same leader, because good leaders know when to follow someone who knows how to do the right thing. And how do you know when someone is a good leader? By first experiencing what it feels like to be lead by a bad one.

Thoughts are People Too

One of the toughest things about growing up is figuring out where you end and the outside world begins and vice versa. Not only is it difficult to manage your ever expanding social landscape, but it is also difficult to manage one’s own internal dialog about who you are and how you fit in the world, especially given today’s technology and connectivity. If we look at it in a different light, we need not only establish boundaries with negative people, but we also need to establish boundaries with our own negative thoughts.

Boundaries clarify and solidify our identity. Establishing boundaries with people allows US to focus on OUR own thoughts, valuations and goals. The establishment of boundaries also creates confidence in OUR own mind because doing so makes it easier to discern when it is appropriate to follow someone else’s advice instead of our own.

Just as a person can intrude on our space, so can our own thoughts. Developing a value scale to segregate thoughts that are helpful over thoughts that are hurtful is important. This kind of prioritization makes it easier to establish firm yet movable boundaries as people and thoughts do change over time. Burning bridges to thoughts or people can often blind us to them never having been experienced.

Regularly maintaining healthy boundaries helps us handle our daily issues with as much kindness and openness as the circumstance requires. Kindness can help you recognize that patterns can be comforting and negotiated with, whereas unbridled anger can start an all out civil war of mental self-abuse where thoughts wage an unending battle of chaos. This is the importance of evaluating which thought patterns are helpful and positive versus which patterns are subversive and negative.

Taking some quiet time out of our day to establish boundaries with our own thoughts is as important as establishing boundaries with those you love and those you might have just met. The earlier we learn to establish boundaries, the easier it will be to maintain and renovate those boundaries as we grow older for the benefit of ourselves and others around us. Because thoughts are people too.

A Choice to Control

When people think of martial arts, they typically think of discipline right after they think of kicking and punching. However, I like to add one four-letter word prior to discipline — SELF. Discipline implies that one is being trained to obey, whereas self-discipline is the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.

At WTD we use logic, compassion and dialog with our students so they may learn how to control themselves and their feelings. The very first lesson we teach every child is that in order to protect yourself, you must first learn to control yourself. Not “let me control you” or “have someone else control you” but “control yourself.”

As the flight attendant explains to passengers, “please place the oxygen mask on yourself prior to helping anyone else in need.” We are no good to ourselves or anyone else if we do not learn to take care of ourselves first. This is not selfishness. This is an intelligent choice we need to make on our own. In an emergency we may not have the time nor our ideal disciplinarian lurking over our shoulder to remind us what to do first.

The earlier we start the habit of self-discipline the earlier we free ourselves. This in turn frees those around us from having to correct our behavior. After all, what could be more freeing for an adult or teacher than watching our children and students freely make intelligent choices in life?

Everyone is Different

I have a quip about the way we teach at WTD: We teach everyone the same way, differently. It amuses me because in an age where everything is personalized, the one thing we seem to forget that is truly personal is ourselves. Meaning, why is it that we can personalize all of our belonging but we want to move in the same direction, at the same time, in the same way when it comes to our education?

At WTD it is rare that I test more than a few people in any class precisely because of this difference. Some students are incredibly dedicated, come to more classes, work out on their own and maybe even have some physical or mental attributes that are above average. I know, right? It’s almost like we all aren’t cardboard cutouts.

Other students aren’t in a rush or don’t have the drive or time to push for rank and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it is why each student is given their own personalized optimal challenge. An optimal challenge is designed to keep a student walking the tightrope of failure while forever reaching for the lifeline of success. Learning this way helps create self-discipline, fosters resilience, and establishes confidence all the while reinforcing that never-quit attitude.

No matter what kind of student you are, we are invested in you doing the best you can do. After all, the real optimal challenge is about you triumphing over yourself.

All of the Failure Behind Success

Although I’ve posted about this before, it bears repeating – every happy face and stellar performance you see posted is the result of a lot of time, hard work, perseverance and failure. It’s impossible to capture in one minute of video what that time has been like for anyone, because time is relative.
Some of my students have worked for a year or years to earn a stripe or belt whereas others have worked a few weeks to a few months to earn the same stripe or belt. Sometimes the same student experiences both outcomes over time.
This is why we foster a never quit attitude and taking pride in everything we do. What is hard for some is not hard for others and vice versa. No one’s station is permanent as long as their mind is not stuck.
In short, this is a shout out to all of my students, because I know they have struggled, failed and spent a massive amount of time to get their face and video on this wall. Let us also not forget their parents, their other teachers and most importantly, their fellow students who stood by, held them accountable and actively encouraged them to keep pressing on. Fail forward!

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.

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.

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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