One of my instructors, Ann-Marie Heilman, has a rather intense day job. She has to guide children with autism and other special needs in a classroom environment. As you might suspect, her job entails slower lessons, more attention per student, and emotional understanding. But it also comes with random bouts of violence and sporadic launching of bodily fluids.
The real challenge of this job is the bureaucratic freeze placed on teachers and administrators regarding what they can do to defend themselves and control the children. Teachers must essentially cover-up and take beatings handed to them (don’t underestimate the angry violence 11-13 year olds can dish out). Luckily Mrs. H has years of training to guide her in protecting herself while caring for the children and keeping them safe. Other teachers are not so lucky and have been choked, clawed, and hit with blunt objects to the point of unconsciousness.
I have a few other dojo-mates who are teachers in the public school system. Luckily for them things aren’t often as severe as Mrs. H’s encounters, but they face their own special obstacles.
In public school, children are forced to attend. This can create an innate resistance which becomes even more acute when things get difficult or boring.
Teachers, therefore, are in an interesting position where they must rely on the educational infrastructure combined with personal creativity. They must figure out ways to engage students, even during times of resistance. Unfortunately, many teachers are too lazy or fearful for their job to chance unique ideas. Even if they do try something special, the educational institution frequently squashes that which doesn’t fit neatly into the ‘bigger picture’. Furthermore, too many parents are ready to hand off complete responsibility for their children to teachers, but then complain about anything that doesn’t fit their sensibilities. The parents won’t spend the energy to understand the teachers motives, allowing easy ignorance to make their choices for them.
Fear and laziness are a very real and potent combination in this world.
Tools of the Sensei
Different from both of the roles discussed above is that of the martial arts teacher. The “Sensei” is a unique figure in modern culture, as he/she is not a school teacher, nor a coach, nor a guidance counselor. The Sensei is somewhere different, with an intriguing mixture of tools and responsibilities.
- One of the most powerful assets of the Sensei is a student’s commitment. Martial arts are voluntary, which means there is a higher probability for emotional investment on the part of the student. Therefore, the Sensei needn’t fight the constant uphill struggle presented to public school teachers. Unfortunately, this can also breed laziness in an instructor. When the burden of creativity isn’t forced it can be forgotten, to the great detriment of the students.
- The Sensei possesses the ability to ‘expunge’ any student or parent who is belligerent or intolerant beyond repair, unlike school teachers. If a parent refuses to allow his/her child to bow because he/she is too lazy to understand the true meaning of a bow, then that parent can take their business elsewhere.
- Dojo ownership has the added concern of business. Just as public school teachers have to worry about ‘teaching to the test’ in order to appease the higher-ups, so are Sensei compelled to give a ‘product’ as desired by the paying clientele, be it in the form of ranks, achievements, quantity of material, etc etc. All too often Sensei find themselves in moral conundrums where they are being pressured to offer what will sell vs what they believe to be true art. While it is possible to reconcile the two through creativity and hard work, instructors are often too lazy or scared to engage in such a task (opting instead for easier and safer blueprints of martial business).
- A martial arts instructor has the right to make physical contact with students, as it is inherent in the curriculum of the place. This can be highly beneficial as an out-of-control student can be more easily, and even more gently handled with physical restraint. Unfortunately this same right can manifest itself in very negative ways when instructors choose to abuse students or enforce ego superiority.
- Senseiship comes stock loaded with a bit of mystique and trust. Due to the cultural heritage of the position, students and parents are more inclined to take a Sensei’s word and suspend disagreement. While this can be a great benefit, if misused the Sensei will likely be the recipient of a barrage of disparaging verbal attacks and public defamation.
The added freedom of Senseiship brings with it added potential for abuse.
Becoming a good educator requires an understanding of the framework you operate under as well as an intense desire to do the best you can for the charges under you. If you find yourself in the role of Sensei or educator, what tools do you have at your disposal? What limitations? What’s holding you back from doing an even better job?
By now you’ve certainly heard about the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused massive destruction off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan. The results from this natural disaster are still unraveling, but I would like to share a few pieces of information that might help you more fully understand the situation. I’ll also provide a handful of verifiable aid resources that you can utilize in case you feel compelled to donate.
First, let’s quickly assess how the earthquake actually occurred. According to USGS.gov, the quake “resulted from thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates. At the latitude of this earthquake, the Pacific plate moves approximately westwards with respect to the North America plate at a rate of 83 mm/yr, and begins its westward descent beneath Japan at the Japan Trench.”
A thrust fault refers to the situation where one piece of the Earth’s crust is pushed over/under a neighboring piece.
As you might imagine, there are many different kinds of thrust faults and the matter gets quite complex. But this is the general idea of what happened off the coast of Japan. (image courtesy of Wikipedia.com).
The tectonic shift that occurred in March resulted in the most significant quake in verifiable Japanese history. “The March 11, 2011 earthquake was an infrequent catastrophe. It far surpassed other earthquakes in the southern Japan Trench of the 20th century, none of which attained M8. A predecessor may have occurred on July 13, 869, when the Sendai area was swept by a large tsunami that Japanese scientists have identified from written records and a sand sheet.” – USGS.gov.
Although the death toll from the quake itself was moderate, the ensuing tsunami raised the number significantly. At last measure the toll was over 1,600 and looking to rise. The number of injured is many more thousands still.
The quake itself ripped apart many homes and roads and caused near disastrous shaking in highrises. After the major quake event (lasting over 2 minutes), the real danger came in the form of tsunami. As reported by Yahoo News, “The earthquake unleashed a 23-foot (seven-meter) tsunami along the northeastern coast of Japan near the coastal city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture. The quake was followed for hours by aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey said 124 were detected off Japan’s main island of Honshu, 111 of them of magnitude 5.0 or greater.”
Large fishing boats and other vessels rode the high waves ashore, slamming against overpasses or scraping under them and snapping power lines along the way. A fleet of partially submerged cars bobbed in the water. Ships anchored in ports crashed against each other.
The tsunami roared over embankments, washing anything in its path inland before reversing direction and carrying the cars, homes and other debris out to sea. Flames shot from some of the homes, apparently from burst gas pipes.”
As damaging as the quake was, and as devastating the tsunami, even more concerns abound now as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is struggling against meltdown and radioactive emissions.
“The quake caused serious damage at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 65 kilometers south of Sendai. Three of the plant’s six reactors, which came into service between 1970 and 1979, were already shut down for inspection at the time the disaster struck. Those still in operation are designed to also shut down in the event of a quake, with diesel generators pumping water around the reactors to keep them cool.
But when the tsunami hit, flood water swamped the generators, causing them to fail. The reactors began to heat up.” – CNN Disaster Timeline
Over time the cooling systems proved inefficient and small amounts of radioactive cesium began to leak from the plant. In response the plant owners began a process of flooding the containment unit with sea water. This maneuver is nonreverserable and indicates a willingness to essentially destroy the facility to prevent meltdown (the corrosiveness of the salt compromises the long term usage of the facility).
Despite a series of fires and explosions, focused mostly around the No. 4 reactor, the containment vessels are still in place. These containment fields are built to hold or at worst leak, hopefully avoiding the kind of failure that occurred at Chernobyl. To learn more about the strength of these safety measures, view this article. To learn more about the worst case scenarios that are still possible, view this video.
As of right now, the area surrounding the plant is experiencing heightened levels of radiation, now at the point that could affect human health. Therefore precautions have been initiated to remove local citizens, U.S. Navy ships based nearby, and plant employees.
Social Media Impact
Due to the remarkable spread of social media, the world is experiencing this tragedy in a very visceral and connected way. More and more amateur video is appearing of the flood, the quake, and subsequent damage.
Here is some footage of the wave breaching some of the barriers already in place to guard against high waves:
And here airport visitors are stuck watching as the water floods around them, hoping that the glass and supports don’t give out:
Aid to the Japanese
Communication isn’t the only thing increasing with technology; the opportunity to help has improved as well. It’s important to recognize legitimate resources that are connected with rescue operations and avoid the scams and cons that are cropping up even as this situation unfolds.
Google has set up an outstanding Crisis Relief Center that makes it extremely easy to donate to the Japanese Red Cross, Unicef, or Save the Children. They also provide updated information on people and news in the area. Visit to donate.
CNN has also created an excellent article exploring the different organizations that have mobilized, including International Medical Corps, Shelterbox, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humane Society for Animal Rescue.
Samurai – To Serve
The term “Samurai” actually means “to serve”. Many of us that study budo believe that we have something, even just a thread, in common with the ethos of those old warriors. This is a way to thank the Japanese for the arts they’ve given us and to serve those in times of need.
If you check any tourism guide for Pennsylvania (yes, they exist) one of the ‘must-see’ stops is Longwood Gardens. Longwood is a beautiful piece of property that is rich in both natural conservation and history. I won’t belabor the details; suffice it to say that the place developed out of an odd mixture of arboreal enthusiasm and gunpowder barronism.
Amongst Longwood’s 1050 acres of finely tuned gardens and landscapes lies a very large conservatory. Areas inside the conservatory are dedicated to different climates and varieties of plant life. One such room is dedicated to bonsai.
For those unfamiliar, the term “bonsai” refers to the growing of miniature trees in pots or amidst small landscapes. “Bonsai” (bone-sigh) is not to be confused with “Banzai” (bahn-z-eye), which is used as a cry of enthusiasm meaning roughly “ten thousand years”. Banzai also has a connection to Kamikaze pilots in World War II, so it is proper to understand the difference.
Bonsai are famous (and infamous) for the amount of skill and care that goes into their care. The number of species used in Bonsai planting is extremely vast, as is their longevity if properly cared for.
The goal of bonsai growing is to test the imagination and skill of the grower, as well as spur contemplation and appreciation in the viewer. It is not entirely unlike Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement.
Here are a select few Bonsai on display in the Longwood Conservatory. Note their age and the amount of careful guidance that has gone into their growth. Click any of the images below for a closer look, and please excuse some of the glare. These trees were kept behind glass in a carefully controlled environment.
Japanese Black Pine Bonsai. Training begun 1949. This tree represents a recognizable and well known style of bonsai design.
Sargent Juniper Bonsai. Training unstated. This tree has a particularly strong ‘Karate Kid’ feel to it. I know I’m lessening the artestry of it by saying that, but it’s true.
Loose Flower Hornbeam Bonsai. Training begun 1990. This was a really cool display as it was like a miniature forest. The ground moss helped perpetuate that feeling and worked in proper scale.
Azalea Bonsai. Training unstated. Showed great symmetry and balance via the bifurcation in the trunk.
Ginko Bonsai. Training begun 1909. This was a Chinese styled bonsai with an incredible age of over 100 years.
Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper Bonsai. Training begun 1966. This is an interesting specimen because it shows the Japanese penchant for intentional asymmetry.
The care and patience that goes into the development of these artful trees corresponds significantly with our martial arts. A product like this is not the result of a year of pruning, or even five years. It takes decades, and the more the tree grows the subtler it’s beauty becomes.