Kids say they commit suicide because of bullying. Why do their schools deny it?
[This is an article originally published in Psychology Today on March 3, 2014 by Izzy Kalman ]
Author’s Transparency Declaration: I declare that I am part of the anti-bullying industry that I am criticizing. I have a financial interest in a company that offers products and services that may be related to the content of my writings.
I recently gave a presentation in a school where two weeks earlier a 15-year-old girl who had been cyberbullied committed suicide. Every one of these suicides breaks my heart because I know how easily they could have been prevented had the kids been taught properly how to handle being bullied.
What struck me, though, was that staff members seemed more concerned with informing me that bullying was not to blame for the suicide than with expressing their grief over the girl’s tragic death. I am in no way criticizing them for their reaction. As I will be explaining, I believe it is very understandable. Of course they were terribly saddened and disturbed over the death, but why did they feel the need to communicate to me that bullying was not the cause?
That school is not alone. I have seen this over and over again in the news. Whenever a bullied child commits suicide, the school administration insists that it wasn’t the result of bullying but of the child’s unrelated underlying psychological problems. Even the official government website on bullying, stopbullying.gov, which provides the teachings of our leading bullying experts, informs us: “Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history.” (If so, what then is stopbullying.gov’s motive in paying for an expensive billboard advertising unambiguously that bullying causes suicide?)
I find this interesting because it is “bullycide” that has given the anti-bullying movement much of its power. (Bullycide, by the way, is a misnomer. It is intended to mean when a bullied kid commits suicide. Linguistically, though, it means, “killing a bully.”) Anti-bullying organizations take advantage of these tragic acts to fight for tough anti-bullying laws and to get funding for their anti-bullying activities. Many state anti-bullying laws are named after kids who committed suicide. Bully Police, the number one organization in our country that lobbies state legislatures to pass tough anti-bullying laws, was founded by the mother of a child who committed bullycide.
I just finished reading a beautiful novel, The Time Keeper, by best-selling author Mitch Albom. One of the characters, a teenage girl, attempts suicide because of a cyberbullying attack. Though the story is fictional, the author understands people. His presentation of her thought processes makes it perfectly clear how a girl in such a situation would feel so desperate that she could see suicide as the only way out.
If you read the writings of kids who committed bullycide, or if you are a mental health professional that works with bullied kids who contemplate suicide, it is probably obvious to you that their fatal despair is because of bullying.
I recently watched a powerful episode of NOVA, the terrific Public Broadcasting science show, titled Mind of a Rampage Killer. It informs us that most people who commit suicide do not suffer from depression. They do it because they find themselves in a desperate situation and they see no way out.
There is a simple way to determine if a person committed suicide because they were bullied. Just ask, if the person hadn’t been bullied, would they still be alive? If the answer is yes, then bullying is the reason they did it. Of course you can say, “But they also had home problems, and traumatic events happened in their lives!” Well, just about everyone has home problems, and we have all had traumatic experiences. But when people commit suicide, it is usually because of a current painful situation they don’t know how to handle. Many people commit suicide when the stock market crashes. If they hadn’t lost their money, they would still be alive.
If you are a mental health professional and you teach a client who is contemplating suicide how to solve the problem that is tormenting them, their desire to commit suicide disappears. On the other hand, if you spend your sessions talking about their childhood but don’t teach them how to solve their current problem, they may still be in danger of suicide. Their current desperate situation is obviously the reason they are contemplating ending their lives.
So why do schools and anti-bullying experts tell us that the bullying was not the cause of the suicide when the victims themselves insist that it is?
I propose that the reason is self-protection. The psychological field of bullying tells us that children have a basic right to attend school without being bullied, and therefore it is the school’s responsibility to make it stop. This responsibility has been mandated by law. Thus the first people to be sued in bullying related lawsuits are the school officials.
The school officials don’t want to lose these lawsuits—and rightfully so. Who wants to be blamed for someone else’s suicide? So their first line of defense is to argue that the child had other problems that were the real cause of the suicide. And that’s why the news articles about these tragic events focus more on the school officials’ attempts to avoid responsibility than on expressions of sadness over the loss of the child’s life.
But why would the very same psychological bullying experts who teach us how terribly destructive bullying is then go ahead and tell us that the suicides are not because of bullying? I believe that this, too, is because of self-protection. These experts believe that they know the solution to bullying, which is to get society to refuse to tolerate it, to have everyone stand up against bullying, and to fight for tough anti-bullying laws. Yet despite these laws, and despite the omnipresence of anti-bullying lessons in schools, bullying continues unabated, and children continue to commit suicide because they cannot tolerate being bullied. If the suicides are because of bullying, it means that the worldwide war against bullying that the experts have instigated is failing. However, instead of considering the possibility that there might be something wrong with their approach to the problem, it is more convenient to claim that the suicide was not due to bullying.
A CNN report from several months ago reported about a bullying-related suicide. Brad Lewis is the father of Jordan, a bullied teenage boy who killed himself. Mr. Lewis suggested that an anti-bullying presentation in school the day prior may even have unwittingly encouraged his son to end his life.
What was the response of the school administration? “Carterville Schools Superintendent Robert Prusator acknowledged that Jordan Lewis participated in a multimedia presentation about alcohol and drug abuse and bullying, but he said no reports had been made to the school’s staff or administrators about Jordan being bullied.” He means that the school can’t be blamed for the suicide because it wasn’t informed about the bullying. Rather than expressing condolences to the grieving father, the superintendent is defending the district. (Perhaps he did express condolences, but that wasn’t in the news report.) This is a byproduct of the anti-bullying laws for which we have so eagerly fought.
The article says that “Brad Lewis is looking for answers,” and, “I want to find out who those kids were who bullied my son and forced him into taking his life…The only way for it to stop is to let people know what is going on so that the school can get more involved and that no other lives has to be taken.”
The assumption is that bullies forced Jordan to kill himself, and that the school could have prevented it had they known about the bullying. But no one forced Jordan to take his life. He did it by himself because he didn’t know how to handle the bullying, and the school’s typical anti-bullying lessons didn’t provide him with the necessary knowledge. It only reinforced his despair.
Mr. Lewis also repeated the popular idea that the school needs to do more to stop bullying, apparently forgetting that the school did do something to try to stop the bullying: it had just conducted the typical anti-bullying intervention that he claims inspired his son to commit suicide!
How, then, can these heart wrenching suicides be prevented?
Simple. When Mr. Lewis says, “The only way for it to stop is to let people know what is going on so that the school can get more involved,” he is wrong. That is not the only way. In fact, many suicides happen after the school gets more involved, because its interventions often escalate hostilities and cause the victim to become known as a snitch. The best way to stop the bullying is by teaching kids not to get upset by it. Just because people are being mean to you, it doesn’t mean you have to get upset. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And if you can’t believe that kids can easily learn to stop being bullied, please read this PT post.
A Deep Dive into the Story Telling and Karate of Cobra Kai
Season 3 has arrived!
When Cobra Kai first was announced I was concerned. Like many of my friends I’m very sentimental about certain shows, movies, and books. I didn’t want to see the wonderful Karate Kid characters that were created by Robert Kamen treated as poorly as I was seeing other great characters (Disney I'm looking at you). I didn’t want Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence to suffer the same fate. I also admit I had conceived of a story or two of my own about how Daniel and Johnny had turned out myself, being that I started martial arts hard core back in the 80s and had become an instructor myself along the way.
To my great relief, the YouTube Red -turned- Netflix series is an interesting exploration of the characters. Cobra Kai didn’t take long to find its footing and managed to introduce almost a dozen characters that were unique and engaging.
That all being said, I thought it would be fun to recap some of my biggest questions and takeaways after having watched the show. Be warned – this is spoiler heavy. If you aren’t done with the show, consider binging it and then coming back.
I’ve broken the article up into two major sections:
One caveat before you continue – this is just a TV show, a story, and an entertaining one to be sure. It truly does not need as much thought and analysis as I’ve done in this article. Please disregard the whole thing at your convenience.
Show Thoughts – Reflections on the Storytelling
Johnny’s Struggle was a Joy to Watch
80’s movie bad guys were generally pretty one dimensional. In the original movies, Johnny was a fun to watch, but his character arc was pretty simple and straightforward. He was a rich kid who joined a karate school, had a crew of buds hanging around him, and made life hell for the new kid. In However, in Cobra Kai William Zabka breathes so much more into the life of this character, allowing us to look at him then and now from a different perspective.
I think that one of the more interesting qualities that is displayed about Johnny is his persistent conflict. He seems to be at odds with himself at all times as he clings to what made him special in high school, occasionally recognizing that it is those same things that have led him to ruin. This conflict is played out in many subtle ways every time he is on camera. For example:
The Kreese Backstory
Sensei John Kreese was just a great vintage vintage bad guy. Back in the 1980s he just was rotten to the core in the Karate Kid movies. He is fun and just so easy to hate. But, just like Johnny, Cobra Kai has managed to give him more nuances and much greater depth than I originally anticipated.
It was well established in the movies that Kreese was a Vietnam vet who carried a lot of emotional baggage around with him. In Karate Kid III we learn that he saved fellow veteran Terry Silver on multiple occasions, resulting in a perceived life debt that Silver shows up to honor.
Kreese’s backstory is brushed only briefly touched upon in the movies. But in Cobra Kai we actually get to meet Kreese’s mentor, an elite captain who has experience in Korean Tang Soo Do. The captain also happens to have very black-and-white beliefs regarding friends, enemies, life, and death. it’s from this source that Kreese not only gains his martial ability but also his ‘no mercy” mindset.
In the end Kreese is forced to fight his mentor. Even making a decision to drop his would-be mentor into a big pile of snakes, which is likely where he sourced the name of his dojo. Thanks to these small flashbacks we see where Kreese’s mental outlook comes from and are even, on some levels, able to empathize with his struggle.
So much that got packed into the story, while so many other characters in the show are running around having dramas!
Snowflakes and MAGA’s – Too on the Nose with the Satire
The journey of Johnny reintegrating into society was a really nice narrative tool. Because of his emotional trauma and drunken haze throughout his 20’s and 30’s, Johnny is just now reemerging into society almost as if was in suspended animation. He struggles with modern times because he is so out of touch. He bounces humorously off of things like vegan food and asthma. On one hand, we laugh at Johnny for not understanding how far we’ve come in understanding technology, medicine, and societal acceptance. On the other hand we laugh with Johnny as he observes oddball modern trends set in front of a superficial L.A. backdrop.
That’s the good part. Unfortunately, Cobra Kai loses control of that tight storytelling in a lot of other ways as we see a smattering of callous, cartoonish representations of cultural extremes.
Throughout the show our main characters are constantly barraged with soft, ineffective Los Angeles snowflakes (to quote Kreese) who can’t seem to do their jobs. Teachers are obsessed with safe spaces, micro-aggressions, and other zeitgeisty buzz words that are stale. The teachers also cower at the first sign of trouble and have no ability to lead or control their student populace. Police are lethargic and incompetent, citing impotent protocols while desperately hoping the problem goes away on its own.
The local government council session in season 3 manages to pack multiple embarrassing moments into a few precious minutes. The council board, which seems to be a commentary on diversity in its own right, is led by a woman who is incredibly easy to sway and manipulate, I mean a simple plea from two youth, who were involved in the violence problem to begin with. Really they only want a waiver? Kreese ingratiates himself by insisting she be referred to as “councilperson”, because…you know…gender pro/nouns. In the same scene we see a gritty old man complaining that “there is an ordinance to change the name of manholes to maintenance covers. Do you know what we called manhole covers back in my day? Manholes!” lol lol lol. Gender pro/nouns, so topical so funny.
This feels like the show is playing to the basest of audience members. The kind of people who spend most of their time sharing political memes on Facebook and yelling about the youth. Why do that? The show already has a vehicle for clever social commentary in Johnny and a way to juxtapose him off of an extremist like Kreese. I think the show could rise above this easy low self nonsense.
Cobra Kai Seems to Exist in a Time Bubble
There’s a widely accepted assumption that the modern attention span lasts about a nanosecond before we flitter away to the next thing. Certainly there are some compelling examples of this (Facebook, Instagram, etcetera). Unfortunately content creators often ignore the flipside: our desire for long-term engaging experiences is still running strong.
Consider the following:
Cobra Kai rushes some things. Miguel goes from a hapless nerd to successfully defeating 4-5 older bullies in the course of 5 episodes. He doesn’t just survive, he turns into John Wick and is embarrassing them as he beats their collective butts. Don’t confuse this for what happened with Daniel in the movies. In Karate Kid I Daniel never beats up the whole Cobra Kai dojo. Mr. Miyagi buys him some time and then manages to teach Daniel just enough to narrowly win at the All Valley Tournament (some might even say illegally). Daniel never goes John Wick, and certainly not after the first 1-2 months of training.
This impatience also manifests itself in weird ways with the action on the show. These kids are fighting each other on a weekly basis and yet their wounds heal almost instantly. Even Miguel after his disastrous spinal injury seemed to go from “might never walk” to “karate fighting” in a few months. I believe the show made an assumption that the audience needed to see big fights almost every episode and that we would get bored and impatient if it didn’t happen. This resulted in a lot of logical and realistic leaps in order to hypothetically satisfy a meandering audience.
Martial Meditation – My thoughts and takeaways on how the martial arts were portrayed
Where we See Karate (and Where We Don’t) in Cobra KaiIn the original movies Daniel is taught techniques that are karate like. They resemble the fundamental basics and stance-work most dojo(s) would teach. Of course, they take some liberties with the crane technique, drum technique, etc., but that’s fine – it’s a movie. In Cobra Kai we do see some moments where karate is represented:
Here’s the kicker – we see students from all three dojo(s) performing techniques that are largely based on a variety of martial arts, including some light grappling. It looks fun on film, and we’ve all grown accustomed to this kind of on-screen action. But it’s a far cry from the source karate material.
Miyagi-Do is Not a Particular Karate Style
Individuals in the karate world were thrilled when a picture of Chojun Miyagi kept showing up in the TV series. But Miyagi-do isn’t really a karate style at all. It’s not Goju-Ryu, although there are some influences (like bits of kata, and techniques) which serve as an homage to writer Robert Kamen’s personal experience in the art. Miyagi-do is not Shito-Ryu either, despite Fumio Demura’s personal impact on the movies.
In Karate Kid II we see a smattering of karate portraits borrowed from various styles. They are described as ancestors to Mr. Miyagi. The photo below is described as Miyagi Shimpo, the founder of Miyagi-do karate (but it’s usually assigned to Aragaki Seisho in real life).
This is all fine as long as we don’t attempt to assign a particular style of karate to Miyagi-do. Like the portraits on the wall and the techniques used, it’s just a collection of stuff used to make a show.
Okinawan Kobudo (Weapons) Needed more work
Karate Kid II featured a few kobudo implements (weapons) as Daniel took on his new rival Chozen. The nunti was featured prominently, I was very happy to see this as an old school Okinawa Kobudo student since this weapon is somewhat niche. Cobra Kai decided to ramp up the stakes by integrating kobudo into season 3.
Yuji Okumoto (Chozen) and Pat Morita showed good competency with the weapon in Karate Kid II. They kept the techniques basic and usage to a minimum. Anyone who has handled a nunti will tell you, you don’t do a lot of tricks and gimmicks with this weapon. Outside of Miyagi breaking the weapon over his knee, the whole thing feels believable.
The young cast of Cobra Kai were asked to recreate the kind of action we might see in a Bruce Lee movie. In fact, the nunchaku used by Tory are of the style Bruce Lee made popular (black handles with a chain attachment). Unfortunately, the nunchaku used in most karate/kobudo dojo do not look like that. The traditional construction is plain wood with a rope connector, which might seem like a small detail but if the show went through the trouble of showing off Chojun Miyagi pictures why not continue that attention to detail in something so prominent as a climactic fight scene? If they needed the metal+black version for visual interest perhaps Tory could have brought them from her Cobra Kai dojo instead of picking them up inside the Miyagi dojo.
The kobudo element was problematic from the start. When Daniel is coaching Sam on the bo it feels like both had barely touched the weapon before beginning filming. I believe taking the time to really become acquainted with kobudo implements would have gone a long way in making this part of the arc worthwhile.
There needs to be more than simple Lip Service to The Ethics of Karate
I’ve heard that a lot of parents are enjoying this show alongside their kids. It makes sense, the parents can revisit the original characters while kids can enjoy the story with the younger cast members. The problem is that the real heart of the original movies is only paid lip service, brushed quickly aside to make room for more fights or romantic intrigue.
When you watch Cobra Kai as an adult you get some enjoyment from the nods to the original movies. Daniel loosely quotes Miyagi’s lessons and starts off every student’s training with karate-centric chores. The problem is that none of those lessons are ever lingered upon because the show is constantly keeping a fast moving pace. They don’t want anyone to lose interest and they need to cover ground for a myriad of major characters. This leaves those original lessons as little more than nostalgic footnotes. Individuals who aren’t familiar with the source material would barely notice.
On one hand I enjoy the struggle of both Johnny and Daniel as they attempt to guide their students. They try to communicate lessons about having mercy and using karate for defense only but their actions immediately undermine those words as they both routinely resort to violence and petty behavior. Even in season 3 after Daniel supposedly navigates through his uncertainty arc, he still thinks booting up his dojo and meeting fire with fire is the best choice. Having moral ambiguity in these characters is cool and interesting but at some point the viewer should be able to discern the real karate path of ethical action from the missteps taken by our major characters and I don’t believe that has been executed clearly enough. The problem here is the general public's perception. As an instructor of almost 35 years I know the pains both Johnny and Daniel are going through. They are essentially new Instructors despite their years of life experiences they are unsure where to guide their students. Mr. Miyagi did have some experiences in teaching the skills and philosophy he developed before meeting Daniel.
In the original movies we see Mr. Miyagi make difficult choices that lead away from violence and confrontation even at the cost of his pride. He only resorts to action when cornered or when needing to protect others. Cobra Kai gives these moments a brief nod (like when Daniel walks into the Cobra Kai dojo for a confrontation and walks away without fighting) but almost always undermines it shortly after for the sake of storytelling sizzle.
The truth is, in the world of Cobra Kai, the best bet for all of the kids in the show would be to get out of karate entirely. They would stop getting into gang fights and could actually learn other forms of conflict resolution. Staying in the karate cults, or switching between them, only serves to increase their personal confusion and dig them deeper into moral and ethical pits. I have to predict that we’ll see a turn toward cooperation and resolution in the coming 1-2 seasons, but since they’ve spent three seasons setting a basis for what motivates the characters into certain actions a change of heart will seem too sudden and unconvincing. The real lessons are already imprinted in the viewer’s mind.
I have used the original Karate Kid as a source of inspiration even when the real martial arts world doesn’t live up to that hopeful movie standard. I’m not confident Cobra Kai is setting itself up as the same kind of guidepost for Gen Z, although I do believe with some work it can still come to fruition.
Every year in January, May, August, heck almost any given month, a super-contagious disease spreads through Martial Arts schools across the country. Whether the school teaches 50 students, or 500 students, kids around the world suddenly become inconsolable when it comes to attending the very same classes that they were so excited to be a part of just 2 weeks ago.
What the heck is going on?
“He LOVED Martial Arts before Christmas!”
“She just wants to try new sports now.”
"He wants to spend time with his friends."
“They cry every time I say to get ready for Karate!”
I’ll give you some insight into the mind of a child to tackle this tough problem, but first, something really important that you need to know:
You’re. Not. Alone.
I went through it too, with my youngest. He’s grown up in the dojo, but he’s lost his drive. It has literally been a part of his life since he was born, but now, it’s a struggle just to get him to practice outside of class. I come work at the school. He wants to do Theater now.
And what’d I do? The owner of the Dojo? The headmaster of classes?
I told him okay. I said he could pull back from his martial arts, and pursue other adventures. I encouraged him to take up Theater.
But I didn’t give him the option to quit.
Let’s go back further for a moment with a personal story. When I was about 8, I played baseball and was a catcher. During warm-ups I lost the baseball in the sun and was struck in the mouth. It was painful, there was blood, and yes I had had a lot of work done by the dentist to get things fixed up.
That week, I started to hate Baseball. I told my mom I wanted to quit. She dragged me to the front door, kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to be there; I was done with this.
So she kicked me out of the car, saying, “I’m paid for this. You’re doing it.”
So, with tears in my eyes and a scowl on my face, I stomped off to the ballfields, prepared to let everyone know how I felt. Yet, the moment my coach saw me, he pulled me aside and discussed with me why I felt that way. He told me how often those that met pain and injury in sports often wanted to quit.
So, let’s get back to your kid (or maybe yourself), and let’s analyze what in the world is going through their minds…
In the beginning, your child was excited to start Martial Arts classes. They would put their shoes on every Mon/Wed or Tue/Thu and wait by the door. Or, they’d ask you, “Is tonight a Karate night?” constantly. But then, after a few month, there’s a break. Either Summer Vacation or Christmas Break comes along, and we give the kids a break from the routine. The kids build a new routine that involves Video Games or Outside Playtime. They schedule every evening as “Basketball in the Driveway” or “Football in the Backyard.” They create new habits, and those don’t involve Karate.
You prepare them to go back to school by pulling their bedtime back, making them wake up earlier, and cutting back on their video game time. You remind them that school is coming back up, and they whine or cry or complain, but you know the value of school (for them, and for your own sanity). So you ‘force’ them to prepare for school. That Monday rolls around, and you drag them, pouting, to school.
But then, at the end of that first day, you pick them up and tell them it’s time for Karate.
They weren’t prepared for that! They were going to play video games when they got home! They have “Basketball in the Driveway” scheduled! Their friends are coming over!
So you let it slide tonight. We’ll try again Wednesday.
Wednesday comes around; same thing happens. Tears, pouting, “I don’t wanna go!”. It’s time to throw in the towel. It’s time to call and cancel.
Hold on a second! Your martial arts instructor is a part of your TEAM! Together, we’ve built your child’s confidence, focus, and respect. We’ve inspired them to achieve amazing things, and built a love for exercise and cultivated friendships they didn’t have before!
I’ve never had a person tell me, “I’m so mad that my mom and dad pushed me to get my Black Belt,”
but I’ve had many tell me, “I really wish I’d stayed long enough to earn that Black Belt.”
Black Belt is a goal that makes all other goals pale in comparison. When your child spends 3 or more years achieving something they’ve worked for, they learn the value of putting in the time and effort necessary to accomplish their dreams. They learn that the best things in life come after struggle and hard work. And they carry those lessons throughout the rest of their life.
Black Belts statistically earn better grades, have more friends, and attend college at higher rates than those with no training.
“Okay, okay, okay! Martial Arts is great for my child! I know this. So what do I do about the fits?”
-A frustrated parent like you
Easy. Let us be on your team.
You know martial arts is great for you child; just like school, bedtimes, and limiting tablet times.
Tell us at the first sign of trouble. Don’t wait for it to escalate. Don’t wait until you want to quit. The first time they say, “I don’t want to go!”, talk to them about how it would feel to be a Black Belt, how they get to see their friends, and how good they feel after class.
Get them excited to come in, and then tell their instructor.
We won’t be able to help if we don’t know!
Set the routine.
Clear your child’s schedule the week before a break ends. Set aside their normal Karate times as “practice times” that week. Hold the pads for them; put training videos on the computer or TV for them to practice with; show them pictures from their last graduation with all of their friends. Prime them to be excited to come back to class.
Let them do other activities.
You may still be wondering what I did with my son, the one that wants to do Theater now. I said I didn’t let him quit, he still trains maybe at different times and days but he trains still.
See, Martial Arts goes hand-in-hand with every other activity for kids.
Theater takes Confidence, voice projection, discipline, and practice.
Band takes Focus, practice, and ability to follow directions.
Football takes Practice, communication, and a bit of fearlessness.
Soccer takes foot-eye coordination, determination, and great cardio.
Basketball takes hand-eye coordination, agility, and teamwork.
Wrestling takes balance, fortitude, and indomitable spirit.
Dance takes balance, coordination, and poise.
I haven’t seen a single thing in here that isn’t magnified by practice in the Martial Arts.
I let my son pull back to 2 days a week (he was doing 4 or 5, because yes, I’m that parent). But I’ll never let him pull out completely, because it’s too good for him. It made a MASSIVE difference in my life; most of who I am today was because I achieved, and continued past, Black Belt.
Who am I to let my child’s ego get in the way of her success?
So, let your child pull back to one or two days instead of 3 or 4 per week. Let them try other activities. Let them ‘take a break.’
But prime them for the day they come back and take ahold of that Black Belt.
Remind them every day that they have what it takes on the inside to be a Black Belt, but they still have to earn the right to wear it on the outside.
And maybe, just maybe, they’ll look at you one day and say,
Mom & Dad, I’m so glad you didn’t let me quit anything as a child.
NOTE: This is with respect to the Japanese five element theory: GODAI (earth, water, fire, wind, void), and not the Chinese five element theory (earth, wood, fire, metal, water) which is equally interesting, but not what I'm talking about here. I've been fascinated by such element theories since for decades, heck since I was a child. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with the creative categorization of the world. Perhaps it's the connection to nature, or the ability to dissect all phenomenon into parts which we can focus upon individually. Anyway, it's something often on my mind and thought I would share some of those abstractions with you here.
There are set specifics in this godai with characteristics of each element (basic info can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_elements_(Japanese_philosophy). I'm aware of these, but as I am an imaginative creature I have allowed it to take hold and change them how I see fit. Maybe there's more than one way to see them. What is written below is my pure unedited thoughts on the subject
Earth is simple and foundational, it's the physical world which we touch and feel and interact with. It is the stones and rocks and solid ground, it is also the trees and plants, and it is also the animals and humans. Lessons are immediate and effective: we touch, we feel, we know. It's cause and effect and the basic world all of us operate on together.
When I think of Earth I think Taekwondo. I see that we punch and kick and block and move. We use our bodies to learn simple techniques and patterns (kisul & hyung). It is simple empty handed techniques based on practicality. Danger comes, we neutralize and conquer or evade.
Like deer and foxes in the woods, we wake up, eat, live, die. We must survive. This is earth.
Water is higher in intelligence. We utilize earth to survive and operate in the world because this is necessary. But water is a better way to engage the world, a smarter way. We see water's effortless movement, its purity, its patience and its immortality. We also see it overcome the solid earth. Water is cultivation and refinement. We are the stones that become polished by utilizing water.
I think of Hapkido. By using softness, fluidity, and intelligent anatomical alignments, the muscles are not needed and one can overcome the stronger and faster. It's learning to breath through our movements and overcome somebody without using force generated by excess effort.
Fire is fierce and consuming. It doesn't reason or pity, it just burns, and burns everything it can as long as possible. It is the harsh lessons of life that burn us with no regard for our safety. It is that which will overcome us if we do not protect ourselves against it. Even attempting to protect our self against it we can be defeated. It cares nothing for feelings or abstract justice, it is chaos bent on nothing more than consumption.
I think of blades, like swords and knives. Think of this because of the intent to kill. One does not use a blade unless it's life and death, not unless the intent is to kill. Lessons learned by the sword are sharp and bloody.
It is the real world, with real violence whether we like it or not.
Wind is ... difficult ... I think it is high technique, metaphysical even. High, way high above the realms of humans and trees and animals and mountains is the world of the highways of the wind. It is an ever changing powerful world of wind, and to navigate it requires utilizing all of the phenomenon around at once. Wind is not simply one thing moving pushing through the air, but an ever changing world of displacement. The wind blows in a multitude of directions at different times. For birds, they do not simply flap their wings and fly, but soar and glide and dive. Motionless in the sky, hawks utilize a multitude of different kind of feathers each that react differently to the subtle changes of the wind. At the moment that hawk wants to dive, he but makes small changes and enters the flow of the winds to fall at lightning speed.
I think of marksmanship. We utilize tools to achieve goals normally unattainable by humans: shooting something from a distance. It requires intelligence of design and physics. It's utilization requires a fine balance of using our bodies to stabilize and manipulate the equipment while also getting our minds out of the way as much as possible to let the machine move on its own. In marksmanship, we must use our muscles intelligently, in a genius way, to fire a weapon at its full capacity.
Void is nothing, and yet it is responsible for everything. It comes after all of the other elements as the most advanced stage, and yet it was there before all of them existed. All of the others were able to exist because of the void's existence, or non-existence. From this void comes the potential of our world. Then all of the phenomenon changes eternally, and within the seeds of that change is the void, allowing for that change to come to pass. It is the beginning, the end, and the transitions. Because we talk about it, it is. But really, it's nothing at all.
I think of crisis communications. It is us interacting with the world, reacting to different phenomenon before the use of thought. Once thought emerges and is utilized, it is a child of the void. The void is us reacting to someone attacking us or stealing something from us. It is what we experience after un-learning a technique. It is responsible for what we do, and then it is the space afterward allowing for reflection and change.
I want to thank Master Dan McCarthy of Zanshin Martial Arts for helping me come to appreciate the Godai a bit more in my thinking.
May the Force be with you!
This spring's pandemic in the guise of COVID-19 has given me ample opportunity to re-watch my Star Wars. I am an almost obsessive fan of the story-line (all of them including novels comics, and even the comic strip from the late 70's early 80's)
Naturally, I’m re-watching a Star Wars: The Clone Wars which opens with the John Williams’ Star Wars Theme and a short quote that serves as the episode’s motif.
I enjoyed the show most of it is not terrible; after Season 1 the episodes become pretty enjoyable and there’s some good humor and drama interspersed throughout. Not required viewing for Star Wars fans but certainly an easy way to burn a weekend or four. Since I’m devoid of other commitments presently I figured that if I’m watching the series again anyways, I decided to Chronicle them here.
[Season #]x[Episode #] – [Episode Name]: [Opening Quote] format:
01×01 – Ambush: Great leaders inspire greatness in others.
01×02 – Rising Malevolence: Belief is not a matter of choice, but of conviction.
01×03 – Shadow of Malevolence: Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego.
01×04 – Destroy Malevolence: A plan is only as good as those who see it through.
01×05 – Rookies: The best confidence builder is experience.
01×06 – Downfall of a Droid: Trust in your friends, and they’ll have reason to trust in you.
01×07 – Duel of the Droids: You hold onto friends by keeping your heart a little softer than your head.
01×08 – Bombad Jedi: Heroes are made by the times.
01×09 – Cloak of Darkness: Ignore your instincts at your peril.
01×10 – Lair of Grievous: Most powerful is he who controls his own power.
01×11 – Dooku Captured: The winding path to peace is always a worthy one, regardless of how many turns it takes.
01×12 – The Gungan General: Fail with honor rather than succeed by fraud.
01×13 – Jedi Crash: Greed and fear of loss are the roots that lead to the tree of evil.
01×14 – Defenders of Peace: When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side.
01×15 – Trespass: Arrogance diminishes wisdom.
01×16 – The Hidden Enemy: Truth enlightens the mind, but won’t always bring happiness to your heart.
01×17 – Blue Shadow Virus: Fear is a disease; hope is its only cure.
01×18 – Mystery of the Thousand Moons: A single chance is a galaxy of hope.
01×19 – Storm over Ryloth: It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.
01×20 – Innocents of Ryloth: The costs of war can never be truly accounted for.
01×21 – Liberty on Ryloth: Compromise is a virtue to be cultivated, not a weakness to be despised.
01×22 – Hostage Crisis: A secret shared is a trust formed.
02×01 – Holocron Heist: A lesson learned is a lesson earned.
02×02 – Cargo of Doom: Overconfidence is the most dangerous form of carelessness.
02×03 – Children of the Force: The first step to correcting a mistake is patience.
02×04 – Senate Spy: A true heart should never be doubted.
02×05 – Landing at Point Rain: Believe in yourself or no one else will.
02×06 – Weapons Factory: No gift is more precious than trust.
02×07 – Legacy of Terror: Sometimes, accepting help is harder than offering it.
02×08 – Brain Invaders: Attachment is not compassion.
02×09 – Grievous Intrigue: For everything you gain, you lose something else.
02×10 – The Deserter: It is the quest for honor that makes one honorable.
02×11 – Lightsaber Lost: Easy isn’t always simple.
02×12 – The Mandalore Plot: If you ignore the past, you jeopardize the future.
02×13 – Voyage of Temptation: Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.
02×14 – Duchess of Mandalore: In war, truth is the first casualty.
02×15 – Senate Murders: Searching for the truth is easy. Accepting the truth is hard.
02×16 – Cat and Mouse: A wise leader knows when to follow.
02×17 – Bounty Hunters: Courage makes heroes, but trust builds friendships.
02×18 – The Zillo Beast: Choose what is right, not what is easy.
02×19 – The Zillo Beast Strikes Back: The most dangerous beast is the beast within.
02×20 – Death Trap: Who my father was matters less than my memory of him.
02×21 – R2 Come Home: Adversity is a friendship’s truest test.
02×22 – Lethal Trackdown: Revenge is a confession of pain.
03×01 – Clone Cadets: Brothers in arms are brothers for life.
03×02 – ARC Troopers: Fighting a war tests a soldier’s skills, defending his home tests a soldier’s heart.
03×03 – Supply Lines: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
03×04 – Sphere of Influence: A child stolen is a hope lost.
03×05 – Corruption: The challenge of hope is to overcome corruption.
03×06 – The Academy: Those who enforce the law must obey the law.
03×07 – Assassin: The future has many paths – choose wisely.
03×08 – Evil Plans: A failure in planning is a plan for failure.
03×09 – Hunt for Ziro: Love comes in all shapes and sizes.
03×10 – Heroes on Both Sides: Fear is a great motivator.
03×11 – Pursuit of Peace: Truth can strike down the spectre of fear.
03×12 – Nightsisters: The swiftest path to destruction is through vengeance.
03×13 – Monster: Evil is not born, it is taught.
03×14 – Witches of the Mist: The path to evil may bring great power, but not loyalty.
03×15 – Overlords: Balance is found in the one who faces his guilt.
03×16 – Altar of Mortis: He who surrenders hope, surrenders life.
03×17 – Ghosts of Mortis: He who seeks to control fate shall never find peace.
03×18 – The Citadel: Adaptation is the key to survival.
03×19 – Counterattack: Anything that can go wrong will.
03×20 – Citadel Rescue: Without honor, victory is hollow.
03×21 – Padawan Lost: Without humility, courage is a dangerous game.
03×22 – Wookie Hunt: A great student is what the teacher hopes to be.
04×01 – Water War: When destiny calls, the chosen have no choice.
04×02 – Gungan Attack: Only through fire is a strong sword forged.
04×03 – Prisoners: Crowns are inherited, kingdoms are earned.
04×04 – Shadow Warrior: Who a person truly is cannot be seen with the eye.
04×05 – Mercy Mission: Understanding is honoring the truth beneath the surface.
04×06 – Nomad Droids: Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?
04×07 – Darkness on Umbara: The first step towards loyalty is trust.
04×08 – The General: The path of ignorance is guided by fear.
04×09 – Plan of Dissent: The wise man leads, the strong man follows.
04×10 – Carnage of Krell: Our actions define our legacy.
04×11 – Kidnapped: Where we are going always reflects where we came from.
04×12 – Slaves of the Republic: Those who enslave others, inevitably become slaves themselves.
04×13 – Escape from Kadavo: Great hope can come from small sacrifices.
04×14 – A Friend in Need: Friendship shows us who we really are.
04×15 – Deception: All warfare is based on deception.
04×16 – Friends and Enemies: Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.
04×17 – The Box: The strong survive, the noble overcome.
04×18 – Crisis on Naboo: Trust is the greatest of gifts, but it must be earned.
04×19 – Massacre: One must let go of the past to hold on to the future.
04×20 – Bounty: Who we are never changes, who we think we are does.
04×21 – Brothers: A fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished.
04×22 – Revenge: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
05×01 – Revival: Strength of character can defeat strength in numbers.
05×02 – A War on Two Fronts: Fear is a malleable weapon.
05×03 – Front Runners: To seek something is to believe in its possibility.
05×04 – The Soft War: Struggles often begin and end with the truth.
05×05 – Tipping Points: Disobedience is a demand for change.
05×06 – The Gathering: He who faces himself, finds himself.
05×07 – A Test of Strength: The young are often underestimated.
05×08 – Bound for Rescue: When we rescue others, we rescue ourselves.
05×09 – A Necessary Bond: Choose your enemies wisely, as they may be your last hope.
05×10 – Secret Weapons: Humility is the only defense against humiliation.
05×11 – A Sunny Day in the Void: When all seems hopeless, a true hero gives hope.
05×12 – Missing in Action: A soldier’s most powerful weapon is courage.
05×13 – Point of No Return: You must trust in others or success is impossible.
05×14 – Eminence: One vision can have many interpretations.
05×15 – Shades of Reason: Alliances can stall true intentions.
05×16 – The Lawless: Morality separates heroes from villains.
05×17 – Sabotage: Sometimes even the smallest doubt can shake the greatest belief.
05×18 – The Jedi Who Knew Too Much: Courage begins by trusting oneself.
05×19 – To Catch a Jedi: Never become desperate enough to trust the untrustworthy.
05×20 – The Wrong Jedi: Never give up hope, no matter how dark things seem.
06×01 – The Unknown: The truth about yourself is always the hardest to accept.
06×02 – Conspiracy: The wise benefit from a second opinion.
06×03 – Fugitive: When in doubt, go to the source.
06×04 – Orders: The popular belief isn’t always the correct one.
06×05 – An Old Friend: To love, is to trust. To trust is to believe.
06×06 – The Rise of Clovis: Jealousy is the path to chaos.
06×07 – Crisis at the Heart: Deceit is the weapon of greed.
06×08 – The Disappeared Pt. 1: Without darkness there cannot be light.
06×09 – The Disappeared Pt. 2: Wisdom is born in fools as well as wise men.
06×10 – The Lost One: What is lost is often found.
06×11 – Voices: Madness can sometimes be the path to truth.
06×12 – Destiny: Death is just the beginning.
06×13 – Sacrifice: Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself.
07×01 – The Bad Batch: Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole.
07×02 – A Distant Echo: The search for truth begins with belief.
07×03 – On the Wings of Keeradaks: Survival is one step on the path to living.
07×04 – Unfinished Business: Trust placed in another is trust earned.
07×05 – Gone with a Trace: If there is no path before you, create your own.
07×06 – Deal No Deal: Mistakes are valuable lessons often learned too late.
07×07 – Dangerous Debt: Who you were does not have to define who you are.
07×08 – Together Again: You can change who you are, but you cannot run from yourself.
07×09 – Old Friends Not Forgotten: No opening quote
07×10 – Phantom Apprentice: No opening quote
fSo here we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Children have been out of school already for a month, they are doing some educational enrichment through some aspect of online education from their school teachers. Some of the parents have even begun working from home, some are struggling with perhaps not working.
In all of this I'm reminded of a post by my good friend and senior student Master Dan McCarthy where he talks about building Legos with his boys. What is really important is that he has taken the time to spend with his children.
As my boys are teenagers it becomes harder and harder to get them involved with family activities, but I still try. Last Sunday my wife and I played a card game with the boys. We have to look to have fun with them because before we know it they will be off to college, or like our oldest two, about to have children of their own.
Take the time and enjoy the time with them.
Michael Rowe is the Founder of Alpha Omega Martial Arts and has been dedicating his life to the study and teaching of self-defense. It is his goal to motivate, inspire, and transform the lives of all his students; young and old!