Friday, October 17, 2008

Can you hear the clouds?

Chad asked in a previous post about a comment I’d made about teaching “quiet seated concentration games” in kids' judo classes. The main activity that I’m talking about is this…

Have the kids sit on their tape spots so they can’t touch each other.  The seated position minimizes motion and noise. Tell them that when you call, “go,” we are all going to close our eyes and be completely quiet – no noise at all! And while we are being quiet we are going to count the sounds we can hear. I set a timer and at the end of a minute I ask each kid in turn to name one sound they heard.  Sometimes I ask them to try to figure out exactly where the noises they hear are coming from.

Immediately, you will find that there are a couple of kids that want to deliberately make little noises to see if the others can hear them. I try to reiterate to these kids that they can’t hear as many noises when they do this, so they are just making themselves lose the game.

You will also find a subset of kids, usually older pre-teen boys, that want to sit cross-legged with thumbs and forefingers in circles on their thighs, a spacey look on their face, moaning, “ohmmmmmmm…” I usually try to emphasize to those kids that this is not what we are doing. We’re supposed to be listening – not acting goofy.

There is another reason for not allowing the goofy kids to adopt the meditation clich├ęs – and that is you want to go out of your way to NOT present the image to the parents of these kids that you are teaching TM or anything like it. This is especially important in the Bible belt in the U.S.A.  I emphasize to the students and to the parents that we are working on being able to be quiet, block out distractions, concentrate, and listen, because those are critical skills in learning, and because you have to be able to do that to be a winner.

A lot of times, we’ll repeat this quiet seated listening game several times, successively eliminating the more obtrusive sounds. I might run the game for a minute, then turn the air conditioner off and run it for another minute (we can often still hear water draining out of the AC), then run another minute with the lights off (they hum). We can often hear birds, parents taking outside, and cars on the road. Recently we heard crickets for the first time.

I’d personally like to play this game somewhere miles from roads and technology – some place you can hear the clouds.


  1. One of my favorite parts in Redbelt was when the new student asked, "So, am I supposed to be meditating or something?" And the teacher said, simply, No.

  2. Thanks... That helps, and definitely sounds useful. Do you find that you can pop this exercise out whenever the kids get unruly, or do you need to sort of... transition to it?

  3. There is no transition, and I have only used it at the end of class. I just shut things down and play enough rounds of this take up the rest of the time.

  4. Personally, I find this more a reflection on "The Bible Belt" more than on Trancendental Meditation...
    Why can't people just learn to do quiet introspection?
    -You have a fine line to tread, my friend! I really, really appreciate all your good efforts,
    - D.R.

  5. I dont think bible belters have a problem with quiet introspection as much as they do with teaching kids to 'transcend' or teaching them something that has the appearance of belonging to another religious tradition. Some generally religiously-conservative folks would rather forego martial arts training than even possibly present their kids with something that could lead them astray. I agree with them on this whole-heartedly.

    I've found that with this game of quiet listening we can get the kids some benefits of quietness, introspection, concentration, etc... without the religious associations. This game does not offend religious folks any more than playing the "quiet game" in school does, but I still am cautious about letting goofy kids adopt the trappings of meditation when we do it.

  6. Hi Pat;

    What (for instance) would the parents reaction be if you played a recording of Monastic Christian chants in Latin?

    I realize this sounds like a silly rhetorical question, but the scenario you present does suggest the stereotype of the closed-minded Bible Belt type.
    No offense intended at all, but we are talking about Asian arts and their historical trappings...
    -Your friend, D.R.

  7. Friend DR,

    Let me start by saying that Bible belters are not the knee-jerk frootloops that it sounds like you inferred from my post. Most are hardworking, intelligent, and perfectly sane - as well as being devoutly religious.

    Also, no actual parents have complained about any actual practices at my class. I just suggested that there may be segments of the religious community around here that could see a conflict between TM-looking practices and Christianity - and that it would be a good thing to avoid senseless confrontations with these folks. My post was precautionary - not reactionary.

    As for playing Christian Latin monastic songs - I suspect that a large group of my current parents would decide I was some sort of dangerous nutjob and take their kids out of my class if I were to do that.

    And I think we (MA bloggers) have all mostly agreed in the past that martial arts can be divorced from their historical cultural and religious trappings without diminishing them. I think that the Gracies have shown that you don't have to be Japanese to do jiujitsu, and I don't see you guys wearing silk pajamas with frog buttons in your videos with the beer keg in your dojo ;-) Nobody thinks that to enjoy Chinese food you have to eat with chopsticks.

    The game that I describe is a completely secular thing intended to develop non-supernatural, non-spiritual cognitive qualities in kids, and just doesn't need the controversial TM trappings any more than it needs Christian chants.

    No offense taken - glad to have you reading and thinking about what I write.


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