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Welcome to the Martial Play Parents Page! Some of you have asked for a resource of ideas and concepts that I use in Martial play that will help both students and parents while they are not in class.


ONE MINUTE: The most important feature of Martial play is to sit still and quiet for one minute when you feel yourself getting too upset or angry, or sad, or even excited, to be able to think carefully about whatever is happening around you. When we act from a place that is very emotionally charged, we tend not to have good judgment. This is one of the reasons that traffic schools state that a driver should never drive when angry. Just as adults get caught up in road rage, young people get caught up in play rage- which has negative consequences. Often, when this emotionally charged, we just do not have the capacity to reason it out- the threat of consequences do not reach the part of our frontal cortex that would see the error in our behavior. For this reason I have sought to teach students to learn how to stop whatever they are doing just for 60 seconds, just one minute. It turns out that this is about the amount of time it takes the frontal cortex to start to make better decisions.

NO BLAME: Many famous Eastern texts use this concept- rather than blaming people for feelings that have arisen from a difficult situation, we can look at things a little bit removed, realizing that we are all doing the best we can in any situation. While we are accountable and responsible for our actions, I think that we need to allow ourselves to feel however we feel, without having to react in any particular way. My favorite Zen story regarding this is the "Empty Boat." The basic version goes like this: On a foggy morning on a narrow river a person is piloting their boat up the river, a difficult task, and out of the fog they see a boat coming downstream towards them. The person yells to the boat to look out, to get out of the way, and as the boat slowly approaches without changing course, the person gets angrier and angrier, believing that the other driver is doing this deliberately to cause them pain and suffering. The person's rage builds and builds as the boat gets closer and closer, and finally the boats gently bump together. Boiling with rage, our pilot is ready to yell and scream and beat up the driver of the other boat, only to find that it is an empty boat that had come loose and was just drifting down the river with no one inside. There is no one to blame, no fault, no one to beat up- but suddenly we are left with all these powerful feelings and no where to dump them! How easy would it be at this moment to get angry at the wrong person? How easy would it be to unleash all this anger at the next person we saw, no matter who they were?

WHAT NOW? Here we are, angry, but there is only an empty boat- things in our lives that are no-one's fault, are just the way things are. The world is set up in such a way that we must do certain things we don't want to do, but our lives are generally better if we do them. No one wants to be late for school or work, but we know that we must stop at red lights. If we, as adults, drive through red lights, we know we will get into tremendous trouble if we get hit or caught by the police. As I said before it is difficult for many young people to understand consequences in the heat of the moment. This is my reason for teaching instead the skill of impulse control- how to keep from reacting on impulse and instead being able to work things out in a way that benefits everyone. To be able to do that we must find ways to develop self control.

SELF CONTROL: Like discipline, which has roots in physical punishment, control is often seen as a negative kind of power- a way of manipulating or forcing others not to do something. However, I feel that self control can also be seen as a positive way of keeping one's self in check. Since we are all powerful people we are all capable of harming others, although some of us do not know that about ourselves until it is too late. Another fable I like to use tells the story of a parent with a child known for their temper. The parent plants a fence post out in a field and tells the child to pound a large nail into the fence post every time they have an angry outburst. Each time the child is able to control their temper, they are to pull a nail out. In a short time the post is full of nails, but slowly, over time, the nails come out of the post. Finally the post is nail free. The parent and the child examine the post together. The parent explains the damage the nails have done, rendering the post unusable for holding a fence for the wood of the post is completely shattered by the nails. The point of the story is that it is not enough to cause damage and then say you are sorry- once you have caused the damage there is no way to take it back. Thus the lesson is to learn to develop self control- to find ways to redirect our anger so that it does not harm others and our relationships with them.

REDIRECTION: What does it mean to have the right amount of anger at the right person at the right time? What if we could identify, label and express our feelings appropriately and meaningfully- without throwing chairs, dishes punches or kicks? What would happen if we could just feel sad rather than stuffing our feelings and eating sugary foods? How would our lives be if we could sit with our feelings, be responsible for our actions, and develop healthy plans for dealing with our lives in ways that benefit ourselves and those we love? In the martial art of Aikido, incorporated into Martial Play, I use several tools to help us learn to blend with a situation rather than react. The basic concept is to understand that the person who may seem to be trying to hurt you, a bully perhaps, is in pain himself. Instead of letting them hurt you, or hurting them, there is a third option- finding a solution that works for both of you. This is a difficult concept for many people to practice in daily life, which makes it worth learning!

COOPERATION and COMPETITION: While we live in a very competitive environment, I feel strongly that our emphasis on competition is ultimately harmful, to ourselves, to the environment, and to the world. I think we are seeing that violence has a tendency to create more violence, not peace, as we watch the situations in war zones. While there are situations in which survival requires the use of force, it is not a long term solution to living. Cooperation - over time - produces better results. Yet as humans, I notice we have a tendency towards competition, so we cannot naively pretend that we will stop acting that way anytime soon. Thus we must accept that both sides exist- like two sides of a coin. By accepting that we are naturally competitive, we can then strive to be cooperative, even when we don't feel like it.

COMPASSION: Given this situation, I think it is easy for young people to feel that others will and do try to take advantage of them . Often, when one person wants to compete and the other tries to cooperate, the cooperative person seems to be taken advantage of. The challenge here is how do we keep from feeling that we have been taken advantage of, which might cause us to feel angry and resentful at the other person. The martial arts have a long history of developing compassion for others while also defending ourselves, which is different from aggressively competing with others. It is the difference between standing up for yourself and what you believe in, and attacking someone else or what they believe in. While this is a difficult and challenging goal, I feel it is worth spending a lifetime to learn.

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