As a young teenager growing up in the phenomenon that was ‘Bruce Lee’ and like so many aspiring martial artists of that time, I began training for all the wrong reasons. To be the cool and tough “warrior”, (or so I thought). But along the way to learning to become a big tough guy, a strange thing happened. I also developed a little humility, a little self-respect and indeed respect for others.
I now realise that that being a “warrior” does not always have to relate to fighting. But rather, to a way of being, an attitude or spirit.
I had expected martial arts to change my outward image; instead it had started to mould my inward character and the seeds were planted for what has become a life long love and study of the martial art traditions.
For me paradigm shift occurred when I left a school where I had been training. My departure would probably not have occurred were it not for the lack of integrity of the board of instructors of that school, but I have to thank them for it, because as a result I have found a much more satisfying path for my evolution in Karate-Do, and am now discovering the self-defence aspects of karate (Koryu Uchinadi) through the wonderful instruction of Kyoshi Patrick McCarthy.
Character development was the last thing on my list of things to be gained originally. But along the way I have been privileged to be inspired, study and train with various martial arts and teachers. Who have all imparted something of themselves upon me, and thus my passion for the philosophy and path of Budo has gone from strength to strength. I would like to thank them all if not for the fact that they are so knowledgeable that is so impressive, but the fact that they were willing to share with us what it has taken most of us a lifetime to gather from all our other sources combined. They also taught that ‘observation is a strength and judgement is a weakness when it comes to other styles, personality and character’.
It is my sincere hope that student’s of SOMA-KAI, will grasp that the martial arts and the martial ways (Budo) are merely a vehicle to guide the inner being towards a realm of deeper understanding of oneself. Again many practitioners of martial arts initially take them up to learn how to fight. But then the strange paradox occurs, namely the more one knows how to fight the less one is inclined to do so. The path of life parallels the ‘Way (Do)’ in the martial arts. Both are journeys that can be fraught with fear. But inner fears are merely shadows that fall away in the light of greater awareness. So let the seeds of our destiny be nourished by the experiences of our past. And remember the Chinese proverb: ‘The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.’
Teaching has given me the opportunity to further realise my strengths and weaknesses. I have committed myself along with my wife to discovering, implementing and teaching others in the most effective strategies available for learning the martial arts. How many times have I heard that it takes 100 white belts to make a black belt? Those odds in a classroom would depress most enough to stop teaching. Yet still the journey its self is the reward for me.
The world is full of highly skilled martial artists with an abundance of wisdom and ability to pass on to the next generation. However, few only pay lip service to the non-physical side of the arts. Here at Soma-Kai we believe that one must train the mind in the same way that we train our bodies - with conviction and passion. An even balance between the physical and philosophical is required to master the arts. Yet so few martial artists try to resolve or teach anything other than fighting. Many more just insist on their way alone and their truth as the only truth.... if it were truly the "truth" then it would work for everybody.
It has been to my dismay that the cerebral side of the arts has taken a back seat to that of the physical. Anger, self doubt, ego, fear, character development and other related problems often go unchecked in our training and often it is these very areas that need attention the most. To quote Charles Haddon Spurgeon “Beware no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”
Martial artists (in general) are not only on a path of physical self-improvement, but also on a path of spiritual or emotional improvement, as well. The allure of Martial Arts for many of us is the "promise" of the development of our character and our mind-body connection. After all, isn't that the goal of every true Martial Artist...clarity and wisdom? In the end, when our bodies give in to age, isn't that all we have left? By focusing upon and discussing these issues in the dojo with the students I hope to give something back to the art’s that has already given me so much and continues to serve as my guide in my own life. The club and students themselves challenge me to test my character both in and out of the dojo and are outstanding models of what it will take to be a good martial arts instructor. I am deeply grateful for all their time, attention and patience in helping guiding me along the path and hope that my efforts will prove worthy of their commitment.
In writing this profile, I do so as much for my own illumination as anything else, for we teach best what we most need to learn, and I would emphasize that I am a traveller on this journey and by no means a guide, already familiar with the terrain! That having been said, I have been blessed with a thirst for knowledge and have been born into circumstances (20th century western society) that have allowed me to quench that thirst.
Again I borrow a quote from Bernard of Chartres (c. 1120 AD) - We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size. Let us then take a few steps together and see what lies ahead...
I was born in August 1959 to a family in Bayswater. I am the middle of 5 children. My Mother became a high school teacher and my Father a minister for the Uniting Church. Due to this I moved around a lot as a child living in many places including Foster, Williamstown, St Arnaud and finally Ballarat. I am told that I was a quiet child and was never one to pin pictures of the famous on my walls . . . that was until I saw Bruce Lee.
I never liked violence and would never had considered training in martial arts of any discipline. When I met Shodai Peter he was training for his Brown Belt in Tae Kwon Do. At my first session I sat watching with my hands covering my eyes. I did not know what to expect.
Over time I came to understand that martial arts is not about violence at all. It is actually about the prevention of violence. By developing a person’s confidence, awareness, and knowledge, it enables them to be less of a victim.
I watched Sensei Peter train for his black belt and in 1988, just after we got married, we opened our own club in Grovedale. I assisted with the books for a while and then started assisting in other ways. We decided that I really should start training as I was at all the classes anyway. I loved it.
The physical side was great but it also provided a mental challenge. Perseverance. Over the years we have taught many talented students. Very few of them have made it to Black Belt.
I have discovered that people who are really talented, rarely master the art of perseverance. Things mostly come easy to them, so they never learn to work hard for what they want. I have seen may talented students give up when the going got tough. What is a black belt anyway? It is simply a white belt who never gave up.
I have learnt that Martial Arts teaches you many transferable skills for life in general. Monitoring of the mind, management of stress, correct breathing and that you can achieve anything you want with a bit of hard work.
Now back to Bruce Lee.
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own”
This is how we made our martial arts but it is also how we will teach our students to make their own.
Our bodies are all unique. Peter is male, 190cm tall and extremely flexible. Me, on the other hand, female, 177cm tall and maybe not so flexible. Peter has height, strength and distance on his side. He likes mitt drills, kicks, and knees. I am more a close-range fighter. Elbows, throws, locks and controls are more my style. We both like the ground . . . but in reality would prefer not to end up there.
In 1993, with a major push from our students we broke away from the Tae Kwon So style that we had been associated with. With had been cross training with a number of other styles and systems and had introduced our students to other ways of thinking and reacting. Breaking away from what we knew was a scary thing to do but once the door of knowledge had been opened it was the only thing to do.
We owe our development to a number of people. You can find them listed here.