Sensei Darren DeMarco
Sensei Darren started studying martial arts in 1986 and now holds the rank of yondan or 4th degree black belt in Isshin Kempo. In 1994, While earning his B.A. in Philosophy and Asian Studies at Drew University, he met his mentor, Shifu Goedecke. Realizing that his life’s work would consist of teaching karate, Sensei Darren set out to expand his career. By 1997, he was teaching throughout Morris, Essex and Union counties.
White Tiger Dojo Approach
Sensei Darren uses the three pillars of discipline, awareness and organization to unlock his students from these patterns and allow them to begin re-balancing their lives. Awareness alerts us to internal and external stimuli while discipline holds us steady and calm so that we may take that moment to organize and prioritize rather than reflexively react.
The three pillars will be tested through solo practice (kata), cooperative, non-competitive partner practice (bunkai) and uncooperative, competitive partner practice (jiu kumite).
When a student begins using all three pillars of discipline, awareness and organization consistently, they begin restoring balance and extinguishing internal conflict, thereby also reducing external conflict. When a student masters these three pillars, they will find more peace, balance and joy in their lives as well as maintain a sense of vigilance capable of staving off the negatives and seizing all of life’s positives.
The study of conflict allows us to understand both our limitations and our possibilities, giving us guide rails of support during times of great stress. If we study who we are and how we cope with stress, then we become better regulators of stress, more enjoyable people to be around, and better able to engage in the positive activities that enhance our lives.
HABIT AND PEER PRESSURE
“Creating good habits early on can ensure that we have appropriate action/reaction responses. Good habits are like having good friends that remind you of who you are during tough times.”
When teaching the martial arts, Sensei Darren is all about creating good habits from tongue to toes. Discipline, awareness and organization: these are the three most important skills Sensei Darren instills in his students. “When students begin to understand that being disciplined, aware and organized is their recipe for success, then I know I’ve done my job as a teacher.”
Good habits start with mental discipline and eventually extend outward toward physical and social discipline. Thoughts are just like people — if you keep hanging around with bad ones, it will become difficult to resist their negative influence. Sensei Darren teaches his students to become acutely aware of their own learning style and internal dialog. As a result, they become self-correcting, self-disciplined and self-reliant.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Anyone who has ever raised or taught a child knows that they can be willful and even manipulative when faced with not getting their way. What I find most interesting about the modern student is how often they use words they don’t understand in order to be ‘excused’ from the ‘the trial’ of perseverance.
Typically, the child does not learn about ‘boredom’ on his own. Somewhere along his development, someone has offered the word ‘boredom’ as a means to coax understanding from a situation.
Once the child understands that telling someone he is bored can stop whatever he does not like, he begins to use it as a ‘safe’ word. This little word allows him to quit an activity he finds difficult with little or no consequences.
Persevering through one’s sense of “boredom” is essential when developing any skill. Learning to achieve success despite mental or physical setbacks is a great positive consequence. As adults, parents and teachers, we know the positives of perseverance, and it is our job to encourage children to develop the habit of meeting their goals despite life’s challenges.
“I would rather have a student persevere through a million speed bumps in their training, than have them view their future life challenges as insurmountable obstacles.”
At times, a child will feel that the repetition of movements or the need to triumph over his previous execution is ‘tedious’, ‘difficult’ or ‘fatiguing’. Inevitably, a child will run to his ‘safe’ words and say, “I’m bored!” or “This is boring!” and stop moving altogether. This is normal, and it is our job as educators to help guide children out of the disempowering trap of ‘boredom’.
At the White Tiger Dojo, we teach students to take pride in persevering through difficult times and to find joy in learning, earning and achieving. By bringing pride and joy into achievement, children will not only rise to new heights, but they will begin to seek new heights to conquer on their own. That is what we call exceptionalism.
We believe that these ‘speed bumps’ are necessary for students to become exceptional. Perseverance, determination and the shared camaraderie of ‘the trial’ are what drive students through suffering and towards success.
CONFIDENCE EASES ANXIETY AND FEAR
Fear, anxiety, or nervousness often stems from a lack of preparation. Preparation allows one to calmly address the moment in order to make a good decision. Sensei Darren’s method of teaching emphasizes life preparation through the study of martial arts. A prepared mind and body are confident.
Maintaining focus and calm when a fist is flying past one’s face takes practice. Martial practice teaches the importance of making critical decisions under stressful conditions. After a student begins to show mastery of a fundamental movement, another layer of movement is added, driving the fundamental movement out of the conscious mind and into the unconscious mind. Each new layer of skill takes focus, but previous layers become ingrained. What once took immense concentration is now a reflex. As a student masters this skill in class, he will then begin to translate this skill directly into his everyday life on his own. This is self-confidence and self-discipline in action.
Most of the time fighting isn’t the answer, which is why we focus our teaching methods on verbal, mental and physical preparation. Preparation leads to a sense of calmness. Calmness leads to clear decision-making. Clear decision-making allows one to consider consequences. Understanding consequences reinforces the cycle of good decision-making. Good decision-making helps us maintain balance in a high-speed world.
“The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”
— L.P. Jacks
Benefits of Martial Arts
If you are reading this far, it is safe to assume that you are interested in the martial arts. You probably already know the three most obvious advantages to studying the martial arts: coordination, focus and self-defense, but let’s list some other great benefits.
- Self-discipline (self-correcting)
- Awareness (internally, externally)
- Organization (in mind, body and daily routine)
- Body mechanics
- Conflict resolution and avoidance
Sensei Darren’s main goal is to instill each student with a passion for learning how the mind and body work together. Gaining control of the mind and body is the first step. Once the mind and body connection is strong, a healthy, balanced, and flexible body will follow. In the beginning, a student will be happy learning how to stop an altercation, but, in the end, he or she will be equipped with the tools necessary to thrive in his or her life, not just survive.
About Isshin Kempo
We practice a traditional Okinawan karate (as popularized by Hollywood in the original 1984 Karate Kid movie) called Isshin Kempo. Literally, these words mean ‘one heart/mind’ and ‘clasped hand’, but Sensei Darren expresses this as “the direction of one’s heart and mind is firmly within one’s grasp.”
Historically, Okinawa is considered the birthplace of modern day karate. This martial system was created by farmers in order to fend off invading Japanese samurai. Isshin Kempo is a direct descendant of Isshinryu, an art unique to Okinawa. Isshinryu was founded by Master Tatsuo Shimabuku in the mid 1950s. Isshin Kempo’s kata today still mirror the traditional Isshinryu kata handed down to us by Tatsuo Shimabuku over 60 years ago.
In the 1970s, after returning Marines had propagated the art in the United States, W. Scott Russell expanded Isshinryu’s horizons through his unique physical training methods and philosophical approach. In 2000, Shifu Goedecke, founder of the Wind School and noted author on the martial arts, picked up where Sensei Russell left off and furthered the inquiry into the ‘how’ the martial arts were developed and ‘why’ they are still very relevant today.
Today, Sensei Darren continues to teach the Isshin Kempo system in Berkeley Heights, NJ, where he holds classes 6 days a week to a thriving student body.