Student & Personnel Services Division
Breathing Martial Arts into the Curriculum
Over the past two and a half years, the Physical Education for Body, Mind and Spirit (PEMBS) program has become an integral part of life for many of the students who attend Santa Cruz County Office of Education Alternative Education schools. Currently, six different forms of martial arts, yoga and meditation plus a course that focuses on developing lifelong fitness and nutritional practices are offered at Watsonville Community School, San Lorenzo Valley Community School, STAR, Cesar Chavez School for Social Change, YES School and OASIS. Through these courses, students have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of disciplines and techniques that they otherwise might not have been aware of.
Why is this of interest?
Most high schools across the country offer only conventional sports for students to fulfill their PE requirements. The concept behind PEMBS was to create a program that includes broader choices for all students who attend the Alternative Education Program (AEP). Many of the classes offered through PEMBS do not have physical fitness as their only focus. The disciplines offered are steeped in traditions that focus on respect and discipline towards self and others. Physical education then becomes more about a student’s own personal goals and challenging themselves, rather than competing with and being compared to other students in the class. Students are able to experience growth physically, mentally and spiritually. Teaching students martial arts has also been shown to reduce levels of aggression and substance abuse.
Below is a list of brief class descriptions offered through PEMBS.
- Confluence Aikido Systems classes promote sound physical structure, positive discipline, practical self-defense and a full body, mind and spirit workout. Fast attacks are met with flowing, elegant turning and precise timing. Quick directional shifts and fluid movements absorb force and neutralize aggression. Attacks are redirected into open and dynamic throws. Students learn to roll gracefully, so practice is fun and safe. As a method of mind, sitting, walking, and moving meditations are a part of every class. Classes combine ages and abilities and students leave more invigorated and centered than when they arrived.
- Tai Chi, as it is practiced in the west today, can be described as a combination of yoga and meditation. Involved are a number of ‘sets’ which consist of a sequence of movements originally derived from the martial arts, although in Tai Chi they are performed slowly, softly and gracefully with smooth and even transitions. Learning to do the exercises correctly leads to better posture, alignment and movement, combining to ease tension and injury. The meditative nature of the exercises is calming and relaxing.
- Warrior Yoga was developed as a training tool, to be used in conjunction with martial arts training. A series of stories, oral traditions, and personal practices in the yoga system are founded on the importance of turning obstacles into opportunities, problems into solutions, challenge into growth, and conflict into harmony.
- Quantum Jujitsu is an integrative approach to martial arts and life defense which combines multiple forms of combat and conflict resolution to create a discipline whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Emphasizing grappling arts both on the ground and in takedowns/throws, Jujitsu offers a unique approach to martial arts that includes, but does not emphasize, striking for PEBMS students. Principles and concepts of body movement are used to teach effortless power and disclose greater detail of the “gentle art” (Jujitsu). Quantum Jujitsu suggests that the most difficult battles we fight are on the inside and that true conflict resolution starts with oneself. A great martial artist must be more than just a good technician; the martial artist must also work towards developing mastery in life. Quantum Jujitsu brings students into contact with their true source of strength and courage, and teaches power in the context of sensitivity. If one truly respects life, one will learn to preserve it.
- Martial Arts Fitness blends the philosophies, movements and practical aspects of the martial arts with the fundamental principles of fitness and physical health. Lessons focus on flexibility training, strengthening exercises, self-defense techniques and strategies for overall improvement in health and wellbeing.
- Come and Get It! Nutrition and Physical Fitness for Lifelong Health teaches nutrition and physical activity principles to students along with the skills to utilize the information beyond the walls of the classroom. Students are taught basic nutrition information and how it applies to food labels, the food pyramid, calorie intake and setting goals. Students learn the components of physical activity by participating in different exercise and meditation practices and design an individualized exercise prescription. Students are taught skills to identify positive and negative influences and how those influences play into their choices and decision making about their overall health.
- Mindfulness and the Art of Living teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a powerful tool to decrease stress, enhance academic performance, and promote emotional and social wellbeing. Mindfulness is gaining increased recognition as an essential support for students, teachers, school administrators, and parents. MBSR focuses on developing a person's capacity for attention and awareness, and creates the optimal underlying conditions for all learning and teaching.
Comments From AEP Teachers
"The teen parents were able to see themselves as role models and understand the importance of setting a good example for a healthy family lifestyle."
–Dorrie Stalling speaking about the Nutrition and Physical Fitness for Lifelong Health course at Watsonville Community School
"We cannot imagine not having Warrior Yoga as part of our curriculum, as it has been a positive force in the well being of our students."
–Larry Tousey talking about Warrior Yoga at San Lorenzo Valley Community School
Visits from other School Programs
Due to the innovative nature of this program, interest has been expressed on local, state and national levels. In November of 2006, a group of teachers came from Orange County to observe the program. They had heard about PEMBS and wanted to implement a program similar to it at some of their Alternative Education sites. The teachers spent the day visiting and participating in a Warrior Yoga class at San Lorenzo Valley Community School and an Aikido class at STAR. They also had the chance to meet with a group of teachers, instructors and program assistants to ask questions and talk about the program. The Orange County teachers were very impressed with the Santa Cruz program and are currently in the process of starting a similar program in their own county.
This project is a true collaborative partnership between the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and ETR Associates, a Scotts Valley based health and education non-profit organization. ETR Associates is developing a web-based program guide on how to develop a program like PEMBS. Teachers and school administrators nationwide will have access to the lessons learned in Santa Cruz County. This will enable them to build upon documented effective practices in order to establish this type of innovative PE program in their own settings. The guide should be available before the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.
At the end of the 2005-2006 school year, parents, teachers and peers gathered at STAR Community School to watch the Aikido class hold a demonstration performance to highlight many of the skills that they had acquired over the previous year. Many of the students who participated in the video had never heard of Aikido prior to learning the martial art. They have come a long way and we are all very proud of them.
Star Aikido Movie (27.6 MB, requires Quicktime Player)
Confluence Aikido instructor Jen Smith wrote the following article. In it she reflects on her experience as an instructor over the past two years at Star Community School.
"Daily practice in Aikido will make your spirit shine."
–Motomichi Anno Sensei
The day is beautiful. Plum blossoms are bursting from bare stems, strawberries are groaning their way through cold mulch, and bulbs are again beginning to provide the yearly promise that spring is around the corner. The oceans hush is so constant that no one seems to notice it anymore. Doka (students) are filing into the dojo (sacred place of the way) one by one. Today is a winter day. Today is another day of aikido practice at Star Dojo.
For almost two years I have been meeting with students four days a week at Star Community School, an alternative high school on Frederick Street in Santa Cruz, California. Together we practice Confluence Aikido (CA), a progressive form of traditional aikido. Aikido means ‘essential joining with the universe’ or ‘path of harmonized energy’. Confluence means ‘flowing together’ and is literally a location in nature where two bodies of water merge. Aikido is translated often as ‘The Art of Peace”. Traditional aikido emerged from ancient Japanese and Chinese Budo (martial traditions). Together, Confluence and Aikido refer to a ‘flowing philosophy’ or ‘moving Zen’ because physically effective movement generates a place of deep knowing within and results in the realization of our own unique wholeness. From that inner wisdom students learn how to move effectively, freely and wisely in the face of life’s turns. CA shares the joyous quality found in dance-embedded arts, like Capoeira, and is strictly a method to subvert violence through harmony. Just as the stream doesn’t fight the river, competition is useless in the pursuit of harmony and is ultimately forbidden among practitioners of Confluence Aikido.
Our daily practice begins with warm-ups, a bell meditation, and rolling exercises to prepare our bodies for receiving the immensely powerful throws and joint locks that are the signature of aikido form. One student raises her hand “Jen Sensei, I’m tired. I don’t feel like practicing aikido today,” she says to me. “I know how that feels,” I say back to her. “Why don’t you just do the warm-ups and then see how you feel afterwards? Sometimes my feelings change when my body gets more relaxed.” I am intimately familiar with the levels of resistance that fly through the body in the space of growing. These students are growing both upwardly and inwardly. “OK,” she say, “I’ll try”. Later in class I see her laughing and practicing with a friend. All her groans of resistance are long forgotten; the tension has left her body and she is enjoying herself and is practicing with great enthusiasm. The founder of Aikido (O’Sensei) wrote: “True victory is self-victory.” I believe this is what he meant.
Upon entering the dojo one student slows, bows, and says to me “Konichi wa, Sensei.” “Konichi wa, kohei,” I reply in earnest. The next student passes through the door nods in recognition of my presence, walks past silently, and looks around the room as she removes her shoes. In the room already are several students engaging in the daily ritual of assembling our training space. Tumbling mats are laid on the floor; clocks removed from the wall; clutter is tidied; flowers are arranged on a desk in the front of the room and a picture of O’Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba the celebrated founder of aikido) is hung respectfully on the shomen (front wall). After the mat assembly has been completed the students line up in a single file on the edge of the mat and sit in seiza (traditional Zen seating) as they wait for me to lead the class. Three bows symbolize respect to our ancestors, our parents, and to our practice. Four claps represent the harmony of all things, and then one final bow commits our learning in respect for one another.
True harmony sees no disadvantaged students. Every person who enters any dojo comes with a mixed group of skills. Confluence is a method for gaining balance in all elements of our life and this is the martial beginning point. While some of these students have lacked in formal education, they are not without knowledge. They have had an education of ‘the street’, of multi-cultural richness, and of the emotional razors edge that life provided, for some, too early. Sometimes looked upon as burdens the aforementioned qualities are invaluable and even advanced in the context of martial arts. They are skills that you cannot buy. The young students of the Star Dojo will most likely tell you that Confluence is a way of life that doesn’t involve fighting. “There is no wrong in Aikido!” one of them said to me “Correct,” I smiled, “as long as you are practicing harmony principles, there is no wrong, only different.” He nodded his head and returned to his technique. These students are quick detectives, rapt in curiosity when not habitually chatting with one another.
Some students who have been practicing for the entire span of the program have become natural mentors (sempai) to newer students (kohai). These exceptional young people exercise instincts in appropriate ways toward younger/newer students by helping them absorb etiquette. The sempai provide modeling of correct technique; they offer a guiding hand to grab first; they exhibit sincerity that can only be developed through the sincere repetition of etiquette and fluent form. The older students offer a glimpse into the future of practice for the newer students—a future that is immediately calmer, confident, tolerant, dedicated, directed, and enjoyable, a future that is already beginning, a future that is theirs.
Today we practice. One foot in front of the other, turning, entering, right, left, forward, backward, triangle, circle, square. This class is a balancing act. It is an exquisite dance of force and receptivity, a fight of no enemy, a win with no loser, a martial art of maximum benevolence. This is the ultimate paradox of non-dualism, the teacher guiding while learning from the student. The Japanese term for this state of eternal learning is shoshin, which means ‘beginner's mind’. It is my privilege to train with the students and staff at Star Community School.
Today let us all begin again. Onegaishimasu (I ask you a favor).
Download the printable Physical Education Body, Mind and Spirit brochure (requires Adobe Reader, a free plugin, available here).
Thank you to Karen Lemon for providing the photos and video accompanying this article.