I am usually walking at a brisk pace when I enter the retirement facility, as I don’t want to be late for the class. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that I need to be punctual, especially for this class. The chairs are already assembled in a circle, and most of the participants have parked their walkers near their chosen seat. Many of the group are already there and seated by the time I arrive.

Over the years the class has morphed and changed from a straight Qigong class into a class geared toward all areas of self-improvement, as we often discuss having a positive attitude and living in the moment. The class is one of my favorite teaching opportunities as it allows me to focus on how we use our bodies and how we relate to others.

The average age of the students in the class is about 85, but some are in their 90’s. They are eager to learn and always willing to try something new. The students’ positive attitude towards learning speaks volumes about their longevity. From them I learn the value of keeping such an attitude as I go through life.

Good Times Learning Martial Arts

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Some do the class seated, and some are able to stand, and so they stand as long as possible. All of them try their hardest to do the exercises correctly. I usually teach from the middle of the circle and move around to assist and provide an example that they can follow.

“I’m not sure I’m doing it right,” said one of the students. She is about 92.

To which I replied, “Just do your best, and keep doing.”

We go through various Qigong exercises involving breathing deeply, and moving our arms as well as using gentle stretches. At the end of the class we take turns placing our hands on each other’s shoulders. It is the way we close the class. By using this touch, closing our eyes, and thinking good thoughts we reinforce the idea of giving each other positive energy. I encourage them to do the same with the person sitting closest to them.

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I used to just go around the circle and put my hand on their shoulders as a way of closing the class, until one day a student said, “I’m gonna give YOU some energy” and put her hand on mine.

It really surprised me. I was touched by her sentiment, and I felt her positive intention because it made me feel good.

The message I leave them with is that any time that they are interacting, or touching another person, that they are giving and receiving energy. When we shake hands with someone, or when we hug them, we should give people our good.

Teaching Martial Arts to Old and Young Students

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In addition to teaching older students, I also teach the very young and those with special needs. There are many different issues that fall under the title of special needs, but most often I deal with the things on the Autism spectrum.

Over the years I have acquired some skills in working with students with special needs, and I teach, and have taught many of them. I have never stopped being surprised at the change that happens and the amazing things that they are able to do once they begin training.

I once had a young student that was unable to control themselves in the class. They were unable to focus. In addition to their lack of attention to instruction they were unconcerned with their class mates’ feelings, and they had difficulty controlling their body. After a few months they were able to conduct themselves much better in class, and in a way that improved their school and home interaction.

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They went from being unable to stop moving, to being able to stand still for one complete minute. When their parents witnessed the demonstration it made their eyes mist. (Standing still for one minute is difficult for some adults to do, try it.) I couldn’t have been more proud of them. It was through martial arts that they were able to bring their mind and body in sync.

Through these classes and others like them I have learned that there are many types of power. Though martial arts primarily may focus on how to deal with an unknown and unexpected violent encounter, it is what it teaches us about ourselves, and how to treat others that is most important. The confidence and bravery to be kind first is more powerful than any strike.

We Must Treat Others How We Want to be Treated

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Over the years I have heard many people scoff at the idea that the martial arts are for anything other than developing a more aggressive version of themselves. While most people can understand and appreciate the idea of the martial arts for developing the self by developing confidence, achieving greater self-discipline, and strengthening their bodies, they are dubious about its ability to improve our relationships with others. However, through teaching martial arts and Qigong there is a path to relating to people on a level beyond violence.

To me, it seems obvious now, though it did not before, that a positive feeling about ourselves enables us to feel positively toward others. My first teacher used to stress the importance of being calm, and making good decisions, not emotional ones.

“We don’t go looking for trouble,” my teacher would say. I was surprised, because I thought he would be promoting an aggressive way of dealing with people, wanting me to be like the kids of the “Cobra Kai” dojo in The Karate Kid, but he didn’t. That couldn’t have been further from his philosophy. Only a fool has to prove themselves.

We must treat others how we want to be treated. The golden rule should be especially important to anyone training in martial arts, as the very nature of the skills being studied requires a higher level of maturity.

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There have been many moments of my martial arts career that have been meaningful to me, I have been lucky enough to have had several. However, the day my elderly student wanted to give me some energy, or the day one of my special needs students said, “Bye Shifu, I love you!” have been the most memorable.

In developing your martial arts skills, don’t forget that how you treat those around you is you practicing your martial arts. It may be that the greatest weapon to develop is not a loud Kiai and a strong punch, but a kind word, a smile, and a gentle hand on a shoulder.

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