Make It Spicy!!!

By Stephen Dale

I’m often asked to talk about my experience with martial arts and meditation and its value in my life.  

For context, I use a certain phrase a lot when teaching, “Make it Spicy!’

When I first became an instructor, I tried to find a teaching language that could be understood by any student, whether 5 years old or 65. And I thought, everyone understands food! So, when more effort is required, “Make it spicy!”

I developed other vegetable, noodle, and pizza-related maxims also.

In this spirit, I’d like to present to you my recipe for “Sifu Steve’s Burrito of Martial Arts.” It’s a family recipe, of course. I started honing this process at 6 practicing Karate in Canada, but after moving to the US, I more seriously studied Judo and especially Taekwondo earning a black belt as a teenager. I continue today through my Kung Fu practice. This recipe bas been baked in the oven of trial and error and garnished with both victories and failures; but it has been a satisfying dish so far.  

My base ingredients are the five values of The Warrior’s Path Academy: Tranquility, Diplomacy, Vitality, Tradition, and Spirituality.

Let’s start with Vitality. The protein of the burrito!  Holistic training steels the body.  Engaging in physical practice from a young age until now, has kept me strong, healthy, and helped me avoid injury.  It has allowed me to connect my mind with my body in new ways, to overcome different challenges. Developing vitality not just through athletic movement, but also the rigorous stillness of meditation, contributes to sharpening focus, mental stamina, and flexibility as much as it builds muscles.  

Diplomacy.  One must engage with people you disagree with.  One of my favorite ingredients! This is the salsa, the zip, the pop in the mouth. We all know when two parties engage, the possibilities are endless. One of those possibilities is aggression, but diplomacy can help us avoid conflict. I attended an all-boys catholic high school in an era less concerned with bullying than now. My martial arts training was an invaluable supplement to diplomacy. Having the confidence to know I could handle myself in an aggressive encounter, enhances my ability to remain calm while dealing with all different types of salsas, not only enjoying the heat but finding value in it. As Teddy Roosevelt once said: talk softly and carry a big stick.   

Plus, it allows me to express my opinion (which I love to do) and if it all goes sour in the end you have the hammer fist in your toolbox.

Spirituality. The merging of individuality and community. I consider this the beans of the burrito of life. Like beans, it’s loaded with all sorts of nutrients, keeps us regular and controls our appetite. I did not fully appreciate this ingredient until I was an adult. As a kid martial artist, I did not pay much consideration to spiritual development. Although, I’ve always liked beans. However, through time and with the help of the school’s mindfulness programs, I came to understand the way spiritual development, like beans, can fill in one’s philosophical and devotional life.

There is a warning with this ingredient though; have too much and you’ll just be full of gas!

Tranquility. Anyone who has heard me sneeze can appreciate this one may be difficult for me, but this practice relates to the peaceful warrior remaining centered. I consider this the rice or perhaps sour cream. Either way, the ingredient that merges with all other flavors to help balance and enhance the whole of the bite. Having a distinct nature all its one, yet remaining an accent, it cools the zesty nature of the salsa that can come from energetic practice. The Qi Gong and meditation practice offered by Warrior’s Path has been instrumental in proving the quality of this ingredient. 

Finally, Tradition. Experiencing the historical heritage of Shaolin Chan, or ‘Zen.’ This is the wrapping, the tortilla. The aspect that holds the other ingredients in place and provides a servable dish, instead of a confusing mess. The traditions that were passed down to me from my Sensei in my Taekwondo days and through Sifu Paula today is what holds the sometimes-ephemeral ideas of martial arts, meditation, and Qi Gong together. It saves the other ingredients from spilling out of the burrito. Keeping every teaching in context so one does not become focused on one flavor alone or miss out on another. For it is only when they are all tasted together, bound by the tortilla of tradition, that the full flavor and benefits of this practice can be properly digested.  We have a rich tradition, but I’ll leave it to the website if you’d like to learn more about it.

Please understand the layering order and quantity of each ingredient is your choice. You may wish to add other flavors, but these are the basics and remember balance is key.  I hope you find this dish as satisfying as I have.