Open Mat – It’s in Your Hands

“It’s in your hands” is one of the principles of our art. We learn to dig deep on the workout floor and give it all we’ve got. We practice making choices about our training – which classes to go to and how to prepare for testing. We embrace being fully present when we teach. And we figure out, slowly over time, that the more we put into our training, the more we get back.

As students, if we only run forms and standards in the presence of teacher and teammates, and only during class time, we miss out on a very special experience. “It’s in your hands”, (among many other things,) includes finding times and places to train outside of class. Not only do we get to practice what we’ve been taught, but we also get the opportunity to connect to our art in a deeper, more personal way.

We train in backyards, at the park, in the basement, in line at the bank…In fact, ask any advanced student to list off the variety of places they have practiced this art, and you might be surprised.  In a bit, you can read about the myriad creative places Tulen students have trained. It’s really quite impressive!

As members of Tulen Center, students can take advantage of “Open Mat Time”. There are times scheduled every week for students to use the workout floor. In the spirit of Gatong Rajong (share and share alike) Goldens generously give their time and energy to help make this possible for you. (Open Mat time is for teammates to workout solo or together. If you are looking for a higher ranking student to work with you on specifics, that’s called a Private Lesson and is a little different. Just ask the front desk or one of the Goeroes for information about that.)

Here is how open mat time works.

1. Look at the schedule to find the times that work for you.

2. Check the calendar to make sure there are no workshops, birthday parties or events happening on the day and time you choose.

3. Connect with a Golden who is available to let you in to the school. (Goldens have a gold stripe on their black belt or gold fringe on their sash. It’s best to talk to a Golden in person, but you can also get their numbers from the front desk and call them.)

4. Arrange your time/s.

5. When you get in to work out, sign in on the open mat sheet on the clipboard hanging by the front desk.

NOTE: An adult (other than the Golden) needs to remain on site while there are kids under 18 in the building. Kids may not be left alone.

You are still encouraged to workout on a rooftop, mountain slope, in a pool or on a trampoline. One of my favorite Tulen memories is when I ran Set One in a Sufi Temple in the Cholistan Desert on the Afghanistan border in Pakistan in 1989. I thought I was alone, but when I got up from meditation, an old man approached me. He came up to me, looked into my eyes with a huge smile and bowed. I bowed back. It was an incredible moment of connection that passed between us crossing invisible boundaries of space, time and culture.

I thought it might be fun to ask some advanced students for stories about the unusual places they have trained and would like to share this incredible list with you:

From Mas Emily Trubits, a second year college student in Monmouth, Oregon and 2nd Degree Black Belt: Most of the places I’ve trained in the last year have been a bit unusual! I’ve trained in dorm rooms, dorm basements, a bunch of various grassy areas at both Western Oregon University and Oregon State University and at the beach. Today actually I had a day to myself so I hiked to the top of Bald Hill, which is nice and grassy at the top. There’s just enough space to run some forms and today was the perfect weather for meditation. I think the best thing about training on your own is that it really is all in your own hands, and when you are by yourself you don’t have to worry about being “right” or “wrong” you can just train.

Bald MountainI’ve attached a picture of my training space today 🙂 the picture might not do it justice but there is a great view of the sisters.







  • Mas Lisa Nolen who is a 2nd degree black belt, Associate Director of Development – Special Gifts at OHSU, and mother of two: I have practiced in my living room, back yard, the beach, an empty hotel basketball court, a hotel courtyard, campsites, the park, my aunt’s driveway…during a break at a church, at a retreat, in a friend’s gym, the copy room at work, my cube at work (nothing too big). On the bus I memorize my hold order, run holds in my head and do bus meditation.
  • Mas Autumn Sun Pardee: I train in my back yard on Mt Tabor often. Summer time I put on my head phones and flow fight/kumbongs in the grass. Couple of years ago, I came out and ran Lunkas in the snow.
  • Pendekkar Gerry Donaghy who works at Nike:  I used to practice Chinese weapons in the park across the street from my apartment. Yeah, got a few concerned glances from folks walking their dogs.
  • Pendekkar Emily Ahsoon lives in California, trains in Oakland at Studio Naga, and teaches at a Montessori School: I trained in the grass under a big banyan tree in Hawaii near the beach. Its branches were the roof of my training space. I think it’s the only space big enough for a form… Xo
  • Mas Goeroe Agoeng Jennifer Jordan, who lives in Boston, runs the Tulen School there, and is a Financial Analyst: I have worked out in the park on the top of Nob Hill in SF! On beaches on both coasts! A roof deck! My hotel lawn in Cali, Colombia. Oh yes and the Tuileries Garden in front of the Louvre in Paris.
  • Mas Colleen Bean, First Degree Black Belt living in Austin, Texas: During the Peace Corps, I trained in Huaylas, Ancash, Peru – my tiny village in the Peruvian Andes. I taught self-defense to teen girls in my town and a fellow volunteer’s town. I also had a little “kung fu” club with a group of younger kids, in which we played a lot of Poekoelan games and crawled. I still remember scoping out the fields for various animal feces before practicing my standards and movement!
  • Mas Adam Bleeker:  My honeymoon was in Bali, and I ran Lunkas in the jungle around our rental home and crawled in tiger in the neighbor’s rice fields. I ran an inspired Set One in the monkey temple among a thousand screeching monjets!
  • Mas Cheryl Hagen, a grandma who has been training about 4 years: At the beach, on my patio, but where I got the strangest looks was in the hallways, and ladies room at Portland Community College, usually around mid-terms and finals.
  • Mas Krystin Krause: The main basketball courts at the student gym at Notre Dame. The courts are open to a track two stories up, and the whole place echoed. Also, an empty room above a bar in Antigua, Guatemala. A yoga school used the space during the morning, but the owner of the bar let me use the room in the afternoons sometimes. He was an ex-pat from New Orleans and we bonded over talk of Spanish moss, live oaks, and zydeco music.
  • Pendekkar Scott Wagenhoffer-Zahn has been training since he was a little boy. He works for a hotel in Provincetown, MA and during off-season, he lives on site to take care of the place, and has it all to himself! He likes to train in the lobby!
  • Nils Hasche-Vasquez is a Second Degree Black Belt running the Tulen School in New York City. He is a Professional Fine Artist and his work has been featured in numerous publications and media: A couple of years ago I meditated and trained on Kailua Beach in Hawaii. It was intense energy and really cool.
  • Pendekkar Tim Cuscaden is a busy dad who appreciates and loves beauty. He remembers: In the hospital, I ran Set Three whilst awaiting a fellow practitioners surgery!
  • Bantoe Brett AugsJoost is getting ready to test for 4th degree/Pendekkar: Burning Man.
  • Mas Justine Metteer, Brown Sash, and mom to a very busy toddler: Super light crawling, between early contractions in the middle of the night back when my son was induced.
  • Bantoe Shannon Foxley, mom of two and Counselor at an Elementary School: Set One in the jungle in Ecuador with monkeys watching.
  • Mas Kim Manchester, First Degree Black Belt, mom, photographer and professor at PCC: Pelejaron Poekoe in my tent on the Pacific Crest Trail at 9,000 feet. Oh! And in the old racquetball courts at PCC.
  • Mas Layli Conway, First Degree Black Belt and brand new mom: Set One during our honeymoon on a secluded beach in Cuixmala Mexico. The shower – go figure, all my Kumbongs come to me in the shower. And just last week I chanted ‘I’m a strong and powerful kid’ during my strongest active labor contractions. It helped!
  • Bantoe Dee Hampton who lives and trains in Oakland, CA at Studio Naga: On the way to Reno stopped at tiny piece of grass along side some train tracks ran forms. Forward rolls in casino in Reno: I think there’s a theme!



Imagine a world where everybody grows up learning self-defense just like they do riding a bike, swimming, learning first aid…

Raleigh Hills Self Defense 1


What would it be like for kids to grow up with the absence of fear, knowing that they are safe? Knowing they have a right to be safe, knowing they have the skills to stay safe?


Hi, my name is Goeroe Silvia, I run Tulen Center in SW Pdx. We’ve launched an Indegogo Campaign with the intention of raising $3500 or better for the Tulen Foundation. The Tulen Foundation is a national non-profit 501c set up to make self-defense and empowerment training available for people from all walks of life all across the country. Please donate here!

I think of self-defense training as a basic life skill. Kind of like swimming, first aid and fireMas Zoe and Mas Matt drills. People need to know how to protect themselves from all sorts of people and situations so they can live with confidence. Tulen Center provides free self-defense classes in elementary, middle and high schools in the Southwest Portland and Beaverton neighborhoods. We teach free classes at Rec Centers, Portland State University and wherever and whenever we can! There are costs associated with providing these classes and the Tulen Foundation helps defer them.

In the martial art we train, Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen, the first six months to a year of sweeptraining is completely focused on basic and very effective self-defense skills, For people qualify, who want that depth of training but can’t afford it, the Tulen Foundation provides partial scholarships.

A lot of parents want their kids to learn self-defense but live paycheck to paycheck and struggle with the basics, let alone sending their kids to a martial arts school or self-defense workshops. Your gift will go directly toward supporting families so their kids can get these life skills that are so important in the world we live in today.

In the elementary school closest to Tulen Center, 34% of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunches and the Beaverton School District has the highest number of homeless kids in the state. The kids in our neighborhood can benefit from self-defense training and you can help them get it! You can donate now through PayPal or with a debit or credit card. Thanks in advance for your tax-deductable contribution!



Crouching Tiger

My very best buddy from High School is testing for his black belt this Friday. He trains a different style martial art than we do here at Tulen Center, but the spirit of it feels familiar. The style of Tae Kwon Do that he trains is traditional, based in compassion, even as the students learn to fight with all their heart, just like we do.

One summer, a few years back, my husband, my two kids and I were visiting Jon, his wife and his two kids in Western MA, and we had the opportunity to join his Dojang for a class. Both of our families were there and it was a wonderful evening, full of sharing and respect. Even though the style wasn’t Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen, we all felt very at home and very welcome.

As part of the black belt testing process, students at Ashfield Tae Kwan Do are asked to write an essay. Jon sent me his, and I loved it. Jon’s a writer, he’s smart and he’s pretty funny. So I’m grateful he’s letting me share this with you. Enjoy!

Crouching Tiger
Essay submitted for the rank of black belt
Ashfield Tae Kwon Do
Master Roger Lynch
April 20th 2012

Jon visiting Tulen Center in 2008 learning Choke Front Second Variation

An author and father of two whom I admire once wrote that, the moment you become a dad you find yourself making some big promises. As you cradle that baby in your arms you silently swear to be a paragon of virtue; to be strong, kind, brave, prudent, smart about money, and good with tools. In short, you promise to be someone else, someone better, and someone who will instill in his children a sense of discipline, confidence, power and safety—which is why I thought I might need some help. So as soon as my sons were old enough I signed them up for a martial arts class.

We chose Tae Kwon Do because the school is close to our home and is run by a
man who conducts the classes the way Jesus would if he thought the best way for “peace and love to be multiplied” was to teach children how to use their bodies as weapons. A year after enrolling the boys I joined too. As I quickly discovered, when you take up a discipline like Tae Kwon Do at my age you’re probably not going to develop ‘abs of steel’. A starring role in the latest martial arts blockbuster “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cellulite” is more likely. Why would my opponent bother with a wrist grab when I have love handles I kept wondering to myself?

Riding home from the Dojang (school) last month my oldest son, Julian, asked me
how I thought his class had gone. “I’m really trying to bump my game up a notch or two
and train as if I were already a red belt,” he said. I told him it showed. And then he
started talking animatedly about a match he’d had with one of our young black belts, Eli.

When I first met Eli he was a painfully shy, awkward teenager. Eli started his training when he was seven, the same age as my sons Julian and Oliver began theirs. Despite his formidable skills—his flying kicks have the hang time of a LeBron James dunk shot—Eli had to wait a long time to test for his black belt. This is because our Master won’t test anyone for the rank of black belt before his or her eighteenth birthday. However, the match Julian was referring to took place six months ago just before Eli
headed off to the Coast Guard. “Master Lynch said we were so fast he was having a hard time keeping up with our kicks and punches—that was my best match ever!” he said excitedly. He was right. Julian then remarked how much he loved sparring with Eli and that he missed his gentle presence and intense, wiry energy in the Dojang since he’d been gone. I realized that I love Eli too. For the same reasons Julian does. And that got me thinking that there isn’t a single man I’ve met who sits on the board of this school, past or present, that I wouldn’t be thrilled—ecstatic—to have either of my sons turn out like. Not one.

You just can’t imagine how good that feels to me as a father. I am privileged to
have my sons be part of something like that. I want them to understand that when you
find a place as special as this you don’t sit on the sidelines and watch, you join in. When
you discover something this good, you do whatever you have to do to support it and
while that will, inevitably, entail a lot of hard work and sacrifice, it’s neither. It’s service.

My Journey
This strikes at the core of what has been, for me, the most challenging part of this journey—that is, trying to figure out my place in the Dojang and Tae Kwon Do’s in my life. What is the meaning and purpose of all this training, beyond staying healthy and fit?
I often feel like the Emma Goldman of Tae Kwon Do: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to
be in your martial art…” Taking myself, and the form, more seriously has been an
important part of the process for me. More specifically, learning how to channel my
natural joy and zest for life in constructive ways so my energy doesn’t distract from, but
contributes to, the work of the community has been crucial to my process. Like most
journeys or quests of this type, it’s involved a lot of searching.

In my case, it’s required my trying to stay more in the present moment during
class—in stretches and basics, not just when sparring or doing forms. My mantra for the
past six months has been focus, Focus, FOCUS. Honestly, that’s been a lifelong project
for me.

One of the most stressful moments in this effort took place when I was testing for
my yellow belt. Prior to demonstrating my test form, Master Markey asked me to
describe, “In one word, please” the most essential part of Tae Kwon Do. As the black
belts sitting on the board in front of me waited patiently for my response, I could feel the
stares of all the friends and family members gathered in the audience behind me. Hoping to buy a little time, I inhaled and stood up on my toes with my arms raised over my head, as if readying to perform one of the moves in Palgwe Pal Jang or Koryo. And then I found it. “Breath,” I said, exhaling and lowering my arms to my side. No matter what else I manage to accomplish in my training, I will always remember the look of astonishment and pleasure on Master Markey’s face when I came up with that answer. I felt as if I’d uncovered the secret of the universe. But this master student exchange, with its Freudian overtones of child-like admiration and parental approval, did not result in my cracking the code of an ancient practice. These moments, as gratifying as they can be when they happen, are more like flotation devices than Rosetta Stones. They buoy our spirits and help us stay afloat and remain calm when we find ourselves in a tight spot or trying to comprehend one of life’s inexplicable mysteries. Similar to the haikus Master Lynch occasionally reads before class, they’re little alleluias. They are our way of offering praise to the world.

Tae Kwon Do hasn’t unlocked the secret of happiness or blessed me with wisdom
beyond my years. It hasn’t mended my parents’ broken marriage, healed the wounds of
childhood or filled that empty space deep inside me. What Tae Kwon Do has done is gift
me a Dojang full of people who love me despite my shortcomings, or, more accurately,
because of them. I haven’t experienced a sense of community this powerful or a love this unconditional outside a twelve-step meeting. It provides me a spiritual practice that gets me through my toughest days (most of them anyway). And, best of all, for the first time ever, I’m actually meditating in the company of others—even if we spend the rest of class, trying to kill each other or learning how to inflict terrible, horrible, unmentionable pain on an unsuspecting attacker.

It Takes a Village
On Saturdays the Dojang transforms into a Korean version of Brigadoon, the
village of Scottish folklore that appears out of the clouds every hundred years. You never know who is going to show up. Former students return from college. A green belt and mother of two who took thirteen years off to raise her family comes back to continue her training. Black belts visit from strange, exotic, faraway lands like Japan and Turners
Falls. And, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, time freezes.
Relationships pick up right where they left off. It’s an odd kind of intimacy. You can
stand next to a person for three, five, seven years without knowing much else about him
other than what brand of deodorant he uses (or that he doesn’t), but you share this intense bond together. Or, conversely, between bows and a quick handshake, you might learn about a huge death or tragedy in someone’s life. Two of my sparring partners, Dan and Louise, lost parents last year, Louise her mother, Dan both his mom and dad. Sometimes our toughest fights are the ones we face outside the Dojang.

One Tuesday in class we were learning how to perform the butterfly kick. Crescent kick. Plant. Spin counterclockwise. Fall on my ass. Repeat. Crescent kick. Plant. Spin counterclockwise. Fall on my ass. Mine was a beautiful kick (other than that last part). At the end of class, I was sparring with one of my teachers, Ms. Lorde. Ms. Lorde is a third-degree black belt. Pound for pound she is easily the most powerful person in the
Dojang. She’s also the reason they call what we do an “art.” During sparring lower ranks
are encouraged to try out any new kicks or combinations taught earlier. Mae West said
when choosing between two evils, she likes to pick the one she hasn’t tried before. So I tried my butterfly kick (again). Crescent kick. Plant. Spin counterclockwise. Land…Land! Ms. Lorde just stood staring at me, her feet cemented to the floor. I did another. This time, neither of us moved. And then (I feel like Dave Barry when he writes, “I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP”) she took both my gloved hands in hers and started jumping up and down shouting, “Oh my God, Jonathan! You ARE a butterfly!!”

The majority of students who make it to the rank of black belt, in any practice, not just Tae Kwon Do, are not, necessarily, the most skilled or talented martial artists in their disciplines. Some, like Ms. Lorde, clearly are. What it takes for most of us to achieve this milestone is, more than anything, a boatload of persistence and resilience. It is a long, long journey. There are so many setbacks and detours you encounter along the way—some good (e.g., children and school), some bad (e.g., injuries and family crises). When Ms. Lorde, or one of the other black belts, carries on like that in response to some small thing we did in class, well…Reactions like that have the half-life of plutonium. They can sustain you through a lot of the hard times and help you roll with all the little speed bumps life puts in your path.

The Heart is a Muscle
Ours is a family Dojang. The majority of us are not athletic, young twentysomething
year-olds like Eli or testosterone-charged teens like my sons. Consequently, some of the most impressive displays of Tae Kwon Do come from our hearts not our bodies, or surface in random acts of kindness.

It all starts with Master Lynch. In the kids class he sees where the children are, where they’ve been and where they’re ready to go. He doesn’t pander to them. And the kids know it. He teaches the adults the same way. He has a gift for finding that one special thing each of us does well and nurturing it. He brings grace and beauty out of clumsiness. Out of crudeness he gets poetry. He’s constantly asking us to stretch beyond our limits. He leads by example. I’ll never forget the morning Master Markey and Master White carried him into the Dojang to teach class following his abdominal surgery. Their love for him was so tangible that day you could have broken it like a board. Collectively, these men have over eight decades of Tae Kwon Do between them. Seventeen stripes adorn their black belts. But, to me, that tender exchange between the three of them was as powerful as any move executed by a Zen warrior on a field of battle.

Another of my teachers is a second degree and a breast cancer survivor. After she was diagnosed, our whole class sat with her in Muknyum (meditation) and prayed for her treatment to go well. She attended classes right up until the day of her operation. As soon as the stitches healed she started chemotherapy and resumed her training. Up all night. Sick. Sometimes she would just stop in the middle of one of her forms, like an exhausted caribou at a watering hole, and stand motionless in the middle of the Dojang. After a couple of minutes had passed she would continue on like nothing happened. I’ve never witnessed a more daring act of bravery in my life.

For some, just standing is an accomplishment. A young girl who trained with my sons in the kids’ class, suffers from a potentially life-threatening neuromuscular disease. Her parents are two of my teachers I’ve worked with the longest. They have three daughters, two of whom have the same illness. I don’t know how this family found the time to cook breakfast, never mind achieve the rank of black belt. In class, we’d take turns helping this student keep her balance and stay on her feet.

In the Dojang, life works the way it does in a family or in church: The less broken
take care of the more broken.

Giving Thanks
I keep coming back to parenting. Barbara Kingsolver wrote that mothers parent from the bottom up. That’s the way Master Lynch teaches class. We don’t separate ourselves by rank or skill. Everyone stays together. When a new student joins the Dojang, we all practice getting into Junbi (ready position) and learn how to bow all over again.

The Hyungs (forms) we study en route to our black belt are named after different elements found in nature—such as heaven, lake, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountain, and earth. They are patterns with set moves we repeat each time we demonstrate them, but, as in the natural world, there is room for self-expression. In class, we visualize ourselves moving like the wind (Oh Jang), leaping like flames in a wildfire (Sam Jang) or
ascending a steep mountain (Chil Jang). The images are powerful and archetypal and lend themselves easily to interpretation. Except for Koryo, which, simply, means Korea. The first of the black belt forms, the name “Koryo” derives from a proud dynasty whose spirit is reflected in its movements. In the opening move, we cup our hands in the shape of a circle (yin yang) and hold it out in front of us. Mr. Rawlings shared with me that when trying to make this form his own he pictures holding someone he loves and admires inside that circle. For me, this would include my wife Dana and my sons, Julian and Oliver, especially. Tae Kwon Do is a lifelong bond, one we will always share no matter what adversity life throws at us, or what conflicts transpire between us.

Another person who inspires me in the Dojang is my training partner, Dan, whom I have been blessed to have as a guide and companion on this adventure. Dan is a black belt and advanced student in two other martial arts. I’ve both marveled at and benefited from his ability to synthesize the myriad disciplines he’s studied. Observing Dan’s process made me realize that I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about what I need Tae Kwon Do to do for me—for example, helping me write and be a better father to my kids—than I have thinking about what I need to do for my Tae Kwon Do. Of course, there is a strong kismet between the two. The things I most need to work on in life— patience, balance, grace, and focus—are the same skills I’m trying to concentrate on in my training. What’s more, there’s hope!

On a recent trip to New York City I was practicing one of my forms in the hotel’s fitness center when I found myself confused about the position of my hands between moves. Four years ago that conundrum would have sent me dumpster diving into my computer bag searching for the wrinkled, folded up worksheets with the pictures of all my forms. You know, the ones that always manage to illustrate everything except the one move you’re seeking to clarify. (I don’t have much experience with weapons training but if I had to pick one to use in a fight I would become a master at drawing those tiny diagrams as nothing frustrates and brings a grown man to his knees faster.) However, this time I wasn’t panicked. I was simply curious. Because, while I didn’t know what my teachers would say, I understood enough to appreciate that there wasn’t a clear answer to my query. It was the sort of question that generates a kind of Talmudic dialogue among the black belts in the Dojang that reminds you that Tae Kwon Do is not a science with set rules and laws. It’s a tradition, handed down from one generation to the next. Becoming a black belt means that I am now part of that dialogue.

Like the bell Master Lynch rings during Muknyum to indicate the beginning of class—the first chime, to honor our past teachers, the second, our current instructors and the third, the future ones we will soon join—if someone asked me what to call my black belt test I would answer, “A good start!”

NPR, All Things Considered: Teaching Violence, and Control, to Children, by Goeroe Louise Rafkin

Please listen to this awesome radio piece. Goeroe Louise is a fifth degree black belt in the art of Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen


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And just so you know, May is FREE self-defense month at Tulen Center:

Pre-registration has begun for our summer day camps:

XOXO Pendekkar Silvia

The Gift of Meditation

The gym was full. The crowds were loud. This was our son’s big wrestling season finale. Districts! Even the grandparents were here to cheer him on!

It had been a good year. Henry, who at the time was 10, was in his first year of wrestling, and was undefeated so far. He was ready to face his final match, a kid in his weight class who had several more years of experience.

My husband had checked in with Henry, so we knew he was nervous as he anticipated the big match. Up in the stands, we chatted amongst ourselves whiling away the eternal wait.

Henry was next. I searched the crowds looking for him and there he was! There was my son in cross-legged position, we call it “silat”, with wrists on his knees, thumb touching middle finger, back straight. And though I wasn’t close enough to see or hear him, I knew he was breathing deeply in through his nose and out through his mouth.

Henry Meditating at Districts 2011 Before the Final Match

Sitting in silat position is one of the ways we do our meditation in Poekoelan class. The art that we train is very physical. We learn to strike and hit, to defend ourselves against attacks. We push our bodies and build our strength. The practice of meditation brings balance. We learn to quiet the mind and connect to spirit. This art is Compassionate Balanced Action.

When I do my daily meditation, it’s a chance for my brain to rest. I can literally feel it relaxing. The world is a busy place, and to be able to find some quiet and peace in the midst of it all is a real gift our art gives to each of us.

So the crowds were loud and the gym was vibrating with energy! In the midst of the chaos, Henry was preparing himself for his biggest match yet in the best way he knew how: by breathing deeply, quieting his mind, and setting his intention.

I’ve taught a lot of kids over the years and this is one thing I know to be true: when we share a genuine gift with children, one that they sense is pure, honest and authentic, they know it, they feel it and they “get” it. And what a gift! To know that no matter what, be it scary, sad, overwhelming or negative, they always have a tool they can rely on. They can do their meditation and face their challenges from this place of internal strength, being calm and clear. I am so grateful to receive this gift, and so blessed that I get to pass it on.

Terima Kashi Banyak,

Pendekkar Silvia

Kindling Kindness

A martial arts teacher explains how bullies grow—or don’t.

By Goeroe Louise Rafkin who runs Studio Naga, our sister school in Oakland, CA.

At the end of every one of my martial arts classes, the kids shake hands with each other. It’s my favorite moment, and one that not every child is comfortable with, initially. As I watch them pumping their arms—some, eventually, with the enthusiasm of puppies—I think, this is why I teach. The training is about learning to get along, about respecting each other, about being connected.

But in 25 years of teaching martial arts, I’ve noticed a gradual slippage in the ways kids relate to other kids—and to adults—a sad trend away from kindness.

The news is everywhere: Bullying is epidemic. In the current frenzy about bullying at school, fingers are pointing every which way. Mostly they’re aimed at school administrators, who toss cash at the situation, both out of genuine concern and to guard against lawsuits.

Mandates for safe schools mean action, and there’s interesting work being done. Yet remedies to bullying have generally focused on the victim—“Learn to fight back,” or “Just walk away,” or, more popular these days, “Stand up to the bully.” All of these strategies can work, at times, and I support—and teach—them all; I’m especially committed to self-defense.

But since when has the best solution to a problem been the correction of the victim? As if the bully is an immutable object, when, in fact, the bully is another kid (or adult) with hopes and fears and insecurities, seeking a way to belong and get by. The popular assumption that bullies are misfits with rotten self-images is challenged by major studies, at U.C.L.A. and elsewhere, showing that bullies are actually considered “cool.” Bullies are often popular, wield power in their peer groups, have friends, and even possess a fair shake of self-esteem. What they lack is impulse control, empathy for others, and respect for authority.

So what is our responsibility? What can we do as parents, teachers, and neighbors, to teach a more inclusive and compassionate way of relating?

Because anyone with a toddler knows behavior is monkey-see, monkey-do from the get-go, the first thing we all can do is look at our own behavior. When is the last time you cursed a bad driver (modeling poor impulse control)? Called a coworker or family member an idiot (exhibiting a lack of empathy)? Undermined your child’s teacher or coach (showing lack of respect for authority)?

Was any of this in front of kids, yours or others? We’ve all done it, and worse. And these days, our kids bear witness to a lot more of our questionable behavior than in yesteryear. The imaginary wall between kids and parents has been all but erased; they’re listening to our telephone conversations, watching us work at home. Monkeys are seeing and monkeys are doing.

Since the 16th century, when fight-to-the-death life skills were eclipsed by the age of weaponry, martial arts training has focused on teaching a way of life, about how to live without fear, gain confidence, and be better people. We’ve got centuries-old traditions shaping our community. Yet martial arts philosophy is adaptable to both home and school. Away from my studio, I (too often!) have a salty mouth and can be as catty and demanding as the best, or worst. But around my students, both in class and out, I know I’m the “highest rank” and both my kicks—and my behavior—will be copied.

Running a school with zero tolerance for bullying, I’ve had to think deeply about our community values. We have slogans: “Cliquey is icky”; “You can’t say you can’t play.” But the most central tenets of martial arts are civility and respect—not always culturally lauded these days. Last fall, when the president of the United States was called a liar by an elected representative during a congressional address, I felt we’d reached a new low. “You can disagree without being disagreeable” is a phrase easily understood by kids, though it takes guts to use it with adults.

As the head of my school, I am often on the receiving end of what I’ll politely call “disagreeable behavior” by parents. There are those that challenge my school policies (no, there is no exception, not even for you), and those who strongly question our rules (children must wear uniforms, even if they don’t feel like it that day). Last week, a parent was outraged that his child, underage for the school yet “gifted,” was not allowed in. In each of these cases, parents tried to verbally bully me into their way of thinking; in two instances, I was criticized personally.

In martial arts, our code of conduct doesn’t depend on context but is applicable to everyone—parents and kids—all the time. This challenges those who want special treatment or who think the rules shouldn’t apply to their kids, for whatever reason. But a single set of rules creates a safe container for everyone. We don’t put up with disrespectful behavior on the training floor, nor is it okay for kids to bow respectfully in class and then treat their parents like servants.

Decades of martial arts experience have shown me that compassion can be taught. Last year, at our Tilden overnight camp, a young boy new to our school brandished a pocketknife at another threateningly. We set up an apology session where each talked about what they felt. It went . . . okay. But that night, during the great game, “Five Minutes of Fame,” in which kids talk about their lives, the new boy spoke: 27 foster placements before a forever home. The next day the bully and the bullied became buddies; compassion and understanding won out over fear and anger.

When kids come to Studio Naga, they are taught to say hello, to ask about my day, and to respond when I ask them about theirs. They are required to mentor newer students, to clean bathrooms, to empty trash. And at the close of every class, the last thing we do is exchange the Indonesian phrase gotong-royong. Roughly translated, it means, “I learn from you, and you learn from me,” or, more formally, “We share a goal.”

In martial arts, we bow an awful lot, but it goes both ways: I to them, them to me. We share the responsibility of what we create. It comes back to all of us, really. Those fingers are pointing right at me.

Published in The Monthly, East Bay’s Premier Magazine of culture and Commerce

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The Rose

The symbol of Poekoelan is a red rose lying on a black background with bamboo on either side. The rose is beautiful yet if you grab it, it has thorns. The bamboo symbolizes the flexibility we strive for in body, mind and spirit. In a heavy windstorm, the oak tree may fall over or break, while bamboo bends, and then snaps back. The black background shows the mystery of this art. There is always more to learn!

We have all sorts of kids training at our school. Big kids, small kids, kids who do well in school, kids who struggle with academics. We have kids who can stay focused for a whole class and kids who are easily distracted. We have kids from all walks of life and from all possible points on any given spectrum. There is a place for each and every one of them in this art.

Our Teacher, Mas Goeroe Agoeng Willy Wetzel, said that as his students, each of us is like the rose. We are all different and yet we are all beautiful.

As an instructor, we get to learn just as much from our students as they learn from us. Say I have a student on my mat that has trouble focusing. If I find myself getting irritated, I am encouraged to look inside myself and figure out why that bothers me. Maybe there is something about myself that needs changing, some way in which I could be more understanding or set boundaries more clearly or compassionately. If I am working with a student who interrupts me or other students, or talks out of turn, I get to find joy in their enthusiasm. As I teach them how to protect themself, I also get to guide them to find and harness their own self-control.

When we bow onto the floor to instruct, we are taught to open our hearts. If I look for the beauty in each student, then that is what I find! This principle holds true even when I work with students who challenge me in some way. As I dig deeper to find more patience, this gives our students breathing room to be who they are, and at the same time, it makes me a better teacher.

As instructors we are reminded to let go of our ego and to focus on reaching the student who is right in front of us. I might discover a new way to explain or demonstrate a particular move or strike. One of our instructors might see a special glimmer of strength or speed we can nurture as the student develops. A shy student is accepted exactly as she is and begins to feel safe speaking up. She finds strength in her voice and a new confidence with friends, family and in school.

We are taught to practice compassion as a primary principle in our lives and on the floor as we teach. All of this makes us stronger instructors, and what joy it brings to us as well!

One of the many gifts of the rose is that it teaches us to look for beauty in each and every person that walks through the door of our school and onto the training floor. Some days, I think I am the luckiest soul alive, to be surrounded by so much vast beauty! My heart is full to overflowing almost every single day, and for this I thank my Teachers and that amazing flower, the rose.