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Everything I Know About Martial Arts
I Learned From The Wizard of Oz

By Master Mike Bogdanski - 8th Dan
Quest Martial Arts, Putnam, CT

 

 

After having taught martial arts for decades I always try to give the first class a fun, simple and achievable lesson that teaches one punch, one block and one kick. I believe our program is fundamental in teaching mental and emotional skills too, tying in the mind, body and spirit concepts of moo do (martial way).

In the movie "The Wizard Of Oz" (original) Dorothy lands in Oz and of course wants to return home. She gets advice from the munchkins to follow the yellow brick road and find the wizard who has all the answers to her problem. Soon we find out it is the journey, not the destination that helps her realizes the true answers.

 

Dorothy, along with her dog Toto meets their first new friend, the scarecrow. He is in a quandary and can't figure things out because he has no brain. Dorothy convinces the scarecrow to join her on the trek to see the wizard in hope of getting him a brain. The lacking of a brain in turn teaches us that we need to find a good school and good teacher because we are seeking knowledge. Some students want to look cool and learn the kicks, some want the muscles, and many want the powerful personality and demeanor of a Black Belt. Like Dorothy, the martial arts student does not always realize yet what they really need or want and look to the wisdom of the teachers in the path we call "Do"- the way. New members truly come in as white belts, the "tabula rasa" (blank slate). It is up to us to point out the attributes they gain on the journey.

 

Down the yellow brick road she travels and we meet friend number two, the tin man. He is frozen with rust, totally immobile and barely able to make sound. With a little lubrication he is able to tell us his story. He was bewitched, rebuilt as a tin man but missing an essential piece, a heart. He was unable to have any feelings and he needs a heart. In the story he is the most tender and emotional of the trio. We as teachers and seniors to our junior students must have a tender heart to nurture students along. Great teachers communicate emotionally and from the heart, and hope to instill a love of martial arts to their students. It is always a sad day for me when a student tells us they are quitting. One of my favorite stories of having a good heart is about adoption. A teacher is talking about the concept of adoption and then has the children explain what they thought it meant. From one student to another they all had slightly different versions of understanding and had many questions. Finally, one little girl put it well. "Adoption is when a baby goes from the tummy of one Mom, to the heart of another." If that one sentence doesn't hit you directly in the heart, nothing will. We talk about fighters having heart but I think teachers that have the patience and love to teach any beginner has a special heart to help everyone along with the many failures beginners experience. How many times do we tell beginners, no - the other foot, no - the right hand, no -the other right hand!

 

When I teach introductory classes I like to teach the concept of courage to new students. Many children, teens and adults come in with courage already. You need a little courage and humility in starting a karate class. Many students come in shy, apprehensive and doubtful that the experience will be for them but they show up wondering, what can I learn? Children especially come in wary to a room where there are dozens of people training with intensity and lots of noise. It is easy to forget what a new member sees when all you see is your "normal".

Yong Gi is the concept of courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is being afraid and being able to take action anyway. Although we get students in that are perfectly confident, we can all use a little practice in building courage, especially in new situations. I know I have! When I teach new students a high block, I test their arm strength and then I tell them it is time for a test, a courage test. I smack a focus paddle to my palm to show them how hard I will be attacking. The big "thwack" sound makes a few eyes bulge at the impact. Now the student wonders, what am I doing here? My question to them, do you want me to attack you like a little tyke (and I gently tap my hand) or a future Black Belt (and I give my hand a big impact with the paddle)? Ninety nine percent of the time the student asks for the Black Belt version. They are choosing a path to test their inner courage and we know this is never easy.

The cowardly lion was the trifecta on the yellow brick road although we can add advice and mentoring from the munchkins. Escaping the wicked witch taught indomitable spirit, the end of the yellow brick road to the see the wizard taught perseverance, and finally she realizes at the end, there is no place like home. Martial arts schools all over the country are like second families and second homes to many. I know many of our Black Belts are as close to me as any family member. Many I have spent substantial time with and we have a strong bond.

These topics are the perfect summary of things needed to be a Black Belt. Knowledge (a brain), a heart (compassion) and turning cowardice into courage. Martial philosophy at its best from L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz.

And by the way, I am still afraid of flying monkeys.

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