The Art of Winning Blog

Monday, November 18, 2013

Becoming a Black Belt: Jesse Corwin Shafroth

Becoming a Black Belt

Jesse Corwin Shafroth

        To-Shin Do, I believe, is a way of prophesying peace, telling others that violence is not a way to conceive peace. I have learned that, and much more, from my mentors at this sacred dojo.

I look at To-Shin Do as an analytical and scientific art. For example, whenever I encounter another ninja attacking me during a free response round, I pause the world around me for just a few seconds, and analyze my attacker(what is he/she going to do, how can I stop them from doing that action?). My teachers at the dojo have helped me create this power and I have learned much from it.

To-Shin Do is also a means of protecting others as well as yourself. I find myself becoming more and more aware of my environment around me, looking for any troubles that could potentially physically and or mentally disturb me and the others around, as to stop them from happening. Either with my words or physical response, I always seek to make myself, along with others, comfortable in their current state. It seems now, with about four years of training, an aura of safeness surrounds me and those who love me.

Many people believe that martial arts is a means of just killing everything around you for your own safety-I myself have met many people who have said this to me countless amounts of times-, though To-Shin Do says otherwise. Reciting a line from the Code of Mindful Action...“I protect life and health, I avoid violence whenever possible”...I do this every day. When I do get angry with someone, I do not attack them, but rather revert to my original state of calm. This was something else I was taught, for as a small child, I believed that violence was the only way to solve problems. Thanks, again, to To-Shin Do, I have seen the other side of things.

To-Shin Do has changed me. Forever. I now think more clearly and I feel  healthier. My agility has increased tenfold and I feel as though I have taken four years of analytical quizzes. Though now I am ready. I have studied my mental notes for quite a time now, and I believe I am ready for the test. The “Big One”. My Black Belt test; the test that is superior to all tests. Why? 

Because I am intelligent. 

Because I am ready.

Because I am a Ninja.        


To see Jesse test for his black belt, join us at Winter Warrior 2014 (2/28-3/2).,-sat,-sun)/

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lisa Turner's Black Belt Essay

Levels of Learning: comprehension, synthesis, and how I learned not to care about cool
By Lisa Turner
            I sat down to write my essay, intent on producing a grand thesis, an eloquent

summation of all that I've learned over the past four years. My mind was busy, rich with words and crafty ideas. But when I tried to write, nothing would flow. I was so stuck in thought, I couldn’t get to action.
            It was a fitting metaphor for the best part of my training: realizing that, when it came right down to it, “learning” had less to do with mental constructs, and more to do with dirt time—the sheer amount of days, weeks, months, on the mat. 
            The more I trained, the more my body, rather than my mind, learned the technique. In free response, it became less about thinking and more about perceiving—a curious blend of thought and intuition. When I keep my mind soft but alert, and let my body respond, things go better. (Not surprisingly, this is true off the mat as well.)
            In Bloom's Taxonomy, a system of classifying learning objectives, learning is loosely categorized into six stages: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. I was curious how my ninjutsu training fit into this system. Here’s what I found:
            The first step, in Bloom’s system, is knowledge. This stage is all about memorization and learning terms, facts and procedures. This came in very hand with the Student Creed and the Code of Mindful Action—and, to a certain degree, the initial introduction to each Element. Angles, names of Kata, meaning of the words To Shin Do, the kiai for each Element, even the procedure of bowing in: it was all about memorizing the appropriate series of movements and positioning of the body.
            When I first heard the entire Code during one of my earliest classes, I felt overwhelmed, like I’d never learn all those words. I’m a smart cookie, but memorization is not my strong suit. I was sure I’d be the only person in the history of To Shin Do to be denied a black belt because I couldn’t memorize the code. So when I received my brown belt, and got to say all those words—start to finish, with no mistakes—it was as almost exhilarating an experience as passing the test.
            (As an aside, I noticed something interesting when I took my first black belt class; after years of saying the long, complicated and involved Code, the black belt Transformational Powers synthesize all the concepts in the Code, and become quick, efficient and direct—much like the attacks. Hmmm. Very sneaky. I think there’s a metaphor in here.)
            In Bloom’s construct, after knowledge comes comprehension—an understanding of how, when and why a concept works, and what its primary function is. In my training, this meant understanding core principles, like how to use my frame and skeleton, how to properly position my feet, how to align my body in the appropriate kamae, when to apply a lock, when to run. For me, this also included a layer of physical comprehension: an embodiment of the technique in which I not only “got” it with my mind, but also felt it in my muscles, bones and tendons.
            The next step is application, or actually using a series of movements in the context of attack. I also learned to modulate the intensity of the application, so my response was appropriate to the attack (and, more importantly, to the skill level of the attacker). For me, this was dirt time—the sheer repetition of attack/defend/attack/defend that allowed kata and kamae to move downward from my brain, and sink into the cells of my body. Over time, my mind did less and less, as my flesh and bones actually memorized the technique.
            After application comes analysis. This had many levels for me. In the analysis stage of learning kata, we broke down an attack into different parts, noticing that a slight shift in kamae could change the attacker’s onslaught, or how the correct placement of an knee here, an elbow there, could disrupt the attacker’s skeleton. During free response, especially randori style, I learned to quickly analyze the situation. Over time, I also learned that my clever brain was essentially worthless when a bunch of black belts came charging at me with shiny knives. So my body learned to do what Bloom calls analyze, what Mr. Hayes calls “discern” and what I think of as “intuit” or “move with initiative and courage.”
            Synthesis is next. For me, this is where the magic really happened. Like analyzing a situation, synthesizing involved making rapid choices of response.  At this stage, I put all the parts together—kamae, kiai, disrupting the attacker’s skeleton, and so on—to create a new pattern. This is when my brain started to soften and widen back, and my body really started to take over; I could feel my skeleton and muscles and hara in unity and alignment, operating as a system and not a bunch of disjointed parts. I felt less like a marionette, all wooden angles and joints bouncing chaotically, and more like a fluid, comprehensive energetic being. For the first time, I started to feel like I looked cool. Interestingly enough, I also started to not care so much that I looked cool.
            Evaluate. This is where the blessed, cursed test DVDs came in. For a bunch of years—maybe the first three—I practiced invisibility during my tests and didn’t buy the DVD. Then I realized how much I was missing by not watching myself during free response. Over the last year, I’ve been buying them, studying them, and learning where I can improve; it’s especially helpful to watch them right before a test. This little exercise has also proved to be enlightening in terms of how I react. My humiliation over mistakes made has diminished. I’m less in my head, and more in the enthusiasm of the moment. I like it when I occasionally look  supercool, but it’s not a tragedy when I (frequently) don’t. And I enjoyed the freedom that followed when I admitted out loud that I totally freak out before free response.
            But I guess that’s the point. For me, I’ve learned that it’s not about thinking, it’s about feeling. It’s not about winning the battle or defeating the attacker, but about mastering the inner self. And it’s not about how cool I look, it’s about how authentically I move—both on and off the mat.

To see Lisa test for her Black Belt, please join us for Winter Warrior weekend,-sat,-sun%29/.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Aidan O'Brien Turner's Black Belt Essay


Black Belt Essay
By Aidan O’Brien-Turner
Aidan when he started training.
As I go through life I often think back on the code of mindful actions and the eight transformational powers. They make a crucial part in most of my decisions. Though they all are helpful, I find that six certain transformational powers and codes are especially helpful in my daily decisions and choices.
The first one, see the value of each moment, helps me find that rarely anything is a waste of time. This can help me when I’m doing things like boring school work. All I have to do is remember all the things I’ve learned and how important they are. I can also think of how I would operate in the world as an adult without these tools. Then I can get back to work and think of it as a good use of time, not a waste of time.
Also, if I get in an argument with one of my friends or parents, I’ll think it’s a huge waste of time. Sometimes it is, in which case I’ll drop it, but most of the time it’s not. When it isn’t, I’ll think what would happen if they didn’t know what hurt my feelings and kept doing it (usually on accident, of course). Also, it almost always clears something up. Either I was mean to them and I didn’t know it, or they were mean to me and they didn’t know it. Once I remember this, I’ll let them know what’s bothering me or ask what’s bothering them.
The second one is say the right words. This helps me keep important friendships with people. If I’m about to blurt out a retort or a sarcastic comment, I’ll think about how I would feel if they said that to me. I also think about what would happen to our friendship if I say that. It’s usually not that good, so I hold my tongue. If I am deciding weather or not to say something that could feel negative, I all most never say it.
Also, if someone is feeling down or needing support, I try to find words that would comfort them most. If they’re sad, I’ll try to cheer them up. If they’re just having a rough day, I’ll give them some words of encouragement. If they’re mad at me or someone else, I’ll ask them what they need or try to make it up to them. And if nothing’s wrong, I’ll still try to compliment them on something if they’re doing a good job at it.
The third one, see things as they are, helps me realize what’s really going on. Sometimes when I hear a rumor or see an argument, I’ll think I know what’s going on, but the reality of it is really very different. In this case I usually get pretty watery and observe the situation before I get all fiery. This helps me to not get fooled by any silly story.
Also, if a story seems unlikely, I try not to just assume that they’re lying. I consider the fact that they might be exaggerating, telling a white lye, telling the truth of an unlikely story, or just saw the situation differently. Assuming someone’s lying is a good way to get one in trouble.
The fourth one is I avoid the dull contentment of gossip and small talk. This helps me and others feel good. If I tell something bad about someone behind their back, it might spread and they might feel bad. Also, if I say something bad about someone, the person I say it to might not want to be friends with them. And if the person hears, they might think that other people think the same way about them, and soon become very sad and lonely. That person could also think that people were spreading other untrue rumors about them.
Gossip can also hurt you and make you feel bad. If you say something bad about another person and they find out, they might not want to be your friend. You might also feel very guilty about it. If the person you tell is a friend of the person being gossiped upon, they might feel like they shouldn’t be friends with you. If this keeps happening you could lose friends at a very quick rate. People would mistrust you, and might spread gossip about you to. Gossip is a bad idea if you want to keep strong friendships.
The fifth one, I avoid the negative affects of worry, doubt, and regret, reminds me that you have to take care of yourself before taking care of others. It is more important to avoid the negative affects, as it says in the code. The negative affects can, for me, include anger, jealousy, and selfishness. These are not good qualities to have whatsoever.
When one has these characteristics, life can be difficult for them. They might not get good jobs, and might not have strong friendships. Most people, including myself, tend to get nervous around these people and might not want them in their life. This person might then get angrier, more jealous, and more selfish. This would create an ongoing circle, is not a good way to go though life.
The sixth line is I avoid causing alienation, doubt and division among others. It makes me realize how powerful words can be. But the worst thing about them is that once they’re said, there’s no taking them back. Saying words that can push someone out of the group or make them less confident in their abilities should just never be said. Even if you don’t mean them, they can still be harsh and cause trouble. Thinking about the affect your words will have on someone is a good strategy for one who wants to make and keep friends.
To see Aidan test for his Shodan, 1st Degree Black Belt, please join us at Winter Warrior Weekend, Feb 28-Mar 2.

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