Feel the Power

With the physical benefits of martial arts training comes more mental focus, which means finding peace in the here and now.

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Pat Caputo, of American Karate Studio in Wilmington, says the martial arts can help children and adults be more creative. Photograph by Tom NutterThe martial arts are inextricably linked to their pop-culture images—David Carradine as the Chinese immigrant stoically making his way through the American West, Bruce Lee battling evil with his fists, Jackie Chan performing feats no stuntman would attempt.

Amid all the noise, however, has remained one of the hidden aspects of traditional martial arts training: the need for practitioners to stay focused, in the moment and mindful of their movements.

It’s an element of all martial arts styles that is often overlooked by the masses, but it is the one, say Delaware instructors, that can provide the most benefit to one’s physical, mental, emotional and professional well-being.

Making that clear involves cutting through the clutter, says Pat Caputo, owner and head instructor at American Karate Studio in Wilmington.

“I think people are looking more for the fitness and mental focus and confidence benefits,” Caputo says. “I don’t think that’s changed overall, but I think people expect more than they did 20 or 30 years ago.”

Consider this: Bruce Lee created the life he desired while turning his philosophies into an entirely new style of martial arts.

Martial arts have benefitted from the popularity of Eastern-based practices such as yoga and tai chi, which have reminded many fitness buffs that discipline and focus are key elements of achieving both physical and mental goals.

The difference is that yoga focuses on individual poses to stretch the body and meditation to calm the mind. Tai chi, meanwhile, is a slow version of effective self-defense moves. It requires the practitioner to visualize what the moves are supposed to accomplish.

For some, both are just a little too slow, says Rick Berry, owner and head trainer at Wilmington Aikido in Wilmington. Still, relaxation and a meditative state remain important parts of successful martial arts training, and both yoga and tai chi have made that concept acceptable to the masses.

“The nature of aikido is, in order for it to work properly, you have to learn to relax,” Berry says. “People don’t realize, though, that they think in terms of relaxing the body, but they also have to relax the mind. And when they’re both relaxed, you achieve something called mind-body coordination. All the arts strive for that, and the difference in aikido is we start students working out in that direction.”

Many people don’t realize that the quick punches, kicks and throws of traditional martial arts are learned only through repeatedly performing those movements slowly, Caputo says. To master them requires both commitment to the goal and focus on precise form and style.

“Contrary to what people think, there are a lot of slow movements in traditional martial arts,” he says. “There is slow, flowing motion in all traditional martial arts, and along with the slow movements, you learn a lot about proper breathing, focus and form.”

Michael Graves, owner and head trainer of Mahato Karate in Wilmington, has a saying to emphasize the need for dedicated practice: Learn once, practice 1,000 times. Practice 1,000 times to do once.

In other words, while the practical need for martial arts techniques may never present itself, once a person’s execution of those techniques is improved and eventually mastered, the benefits on and off the mat are manifold.

One important result is an increase in confidence and awareness of one’s environment that allows people to cut through the fears we face every day.

“It’s all about life,” Graves says. “You really want to be in awe every day and aware every day and at the point where you say, ‘Here I am and I’m going to live my life,’” he says. “We’re not really thinking that, as you turn the corner, you’re going to get mugged. But whether it’s fear of a shark attack or fear of being late to work, it’s still fear. Martial arts is all about that word confidence, because you’re always tasking with that world around you.”

Page 2: Feel the Power, continues...

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