The Words of the Servito Family
Every Monday and Thursday nights, the large chapel at the Learning Center at 4 W. 43rd Street in Manhattan is converted into a training hall. Mats are laid down, which run almost wall-to-wall. Trainees remove their shoes, and participants, dressed in white, bow upon leaving and entering the room. Meditation commences the practices, followed by stretching and warm up, followed by demonstration, observation, application, and coaching for the next two hours. This focused practice is an activity that is deeply in keeping with the purpose of the chapel, which is to be a special place for inspiration, honest self-examination and internal improvement, and for the support of like-minded aspirants; the chapel becomes a dojo (training place) that is set apart from the bustling world outside.
In 2009, when the Lovin' Life Learning Center opened, and a number of exciting programs began, the existing martial arts program naturally fit in with the concept of a Learning Center which aims to be a venue for life enrichment in multiple areas.
Martial arts had, in fact, been taught there for several years, initially instructed by Master Vincente Belmonte, who had been an international head instructor of the Tongil Moo Do system (Unified Martial Arts). The current head instructor of the Lovin' Life martial arts program is Master Larry Benaloga, a highly skilled craftsman devoted both to his students and to constant expansion of technique. He is assisted in all aspects of the program by Mrs. Benaloga.
Tongil Moo Do is a Unified Martial Art developed by Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon. In the late 1970's, Dr. Joon Ho Seuk brought this particular martial art to America. The current U.S. national head of Tongil Moo Do is Reverend Master Shota Iwasaki. During the 80's, the system spread worldwide, and by now, the most recent generation of senior instructors is active on several continents. The system is envisioned as a technically "open" system, i.e. it is able to grow as new techniques are integrated into it. But most significantly, it is guided by the thought and teachings of Reverend Moon and is meant as a unifying association to which various martial arts can be affiliated, while being guided and elevated by Reverend Moon's concepts of human nature, physical and internal development, social responsibility, and the conflict of good and evil.
Students in the Lovin' Life Martial Arts Program are young men and women drawn from Manhattan and surrounding boroughs, including students and professionals, as well as young families. They come by word-of-mouth, when members discover that their friends have an interest in martial arts. Their reasons for coming span the gamut of desires from self-defense, to personal fitness and weight loss, to an interest in the spiritual benefits of martial arts.
Though Tongil Moo Do is largely a system for stand-up defense, under Master Benaloga an excellent ground-fighting component has become prominent in the training mix. The practical reason is that -- in a street altercation -- a larger person often will put a smaller person on the ground. If the smaller person knows how to handle this dangerous situation, he/she will not be helpless.
Master Larry sometimes invites his own instructors (trained in Brazilian Jui-Jitsu) to serve as guest-instructors of the classes. One is Professor Peter Cascino, who is not only a skilled martial artist with advanced ranking in several martial arts, but also a gifted and inspired instructor, so his visits are always a treat for the students.
The "Special Seminars" are a new part of the program and were initiated by Mrs. Heather Thalheimer -- Director of U.S. Education -- in late 2009. Mrs. Thalheimer, who is herself a martial-arts student, values the "internal" tradition of the martial arts and believed that the Lovin' Life Ministry could offer a particularly valuable service to the martial-arts community by presenting an examination of the "internal" tradition that is so often mentioned, but in fact is rarely discussed in depth. Master Gerry Servito assisted her in this, and the result is a four-session cycle of presentations entitled: The Do -- a Path to Growth. The presentations are part of a special monthly seminar (most recently held Saturday, January 9th), and consist of a technical clinic with a single presentation embedded within the one-day practice sessions.
The Chinese character Do means "art", "way" or "path" and is in the name of not only many martial arts, but of other Zen-informed Asian arts. Each of the four presentations examines one internal aspect of martial arts study:
1) the meaning of the Do itself;
2) flawed tendencies of the unrealized human spirit;
3) mind-body unity and its expression through personal virtue; and finally
4) the scope of virtues learned in dojang relationships and their extension to other aspects of a practitioner's familial, social, and professional life.
The presentations are informed by key concepts drawn from the Unification Principle and Unification Thought. These sessions are kept brief so that the key points remain memorable enough to be worked with on the training floor. It is not by listening that one learns defense skills, but by practice. The same holds true for understanding the inner aspect of the Do: the ideas must be practiced in the training hall, repeatedly and consistently.
The end goal of the sessions is to help a practitioner of any martial art understand his or her study more deeply from the perspective of Unification Thought and thereby get the most out of it. And by deepening his or her understanding of the Do, they become able to quietly raise the bar in whatever training hall they personally attend. This can be an "elegant" way of witnessing, whereby we contribute a deeper understanding of an activity to others, by naturally sharing the experience with them.
These seminars are aimed at serious students of any martial art but could be most valuable to Unificationists and their associates who assist instruction at other schools, or who in fact head their own schools. The seminars do not promote one martial art style over another, nor do they require membership in the Tongil Moo Do Association. The program is somewhat like an interfaith project, which embraces all faiths without requiring renunciation of one's faith and conversion to a new one. The seminars' intent is to recognize each practitioner as a sibling in a family, wherein members are not alike, and where their different talents and interests add variety and vitality to the family. To this end, the seminars often feature instructors with different backgrounds, in the belief that this enriches the seminar.
At the end of the day, the hope of the program directors is to provide an educational experience that is one expression of Rev. In Jin Moon's desire to have a vibrant center where the most meaningful and valuable learning takes place among siblings, a place where devoted practitioners can share their passion with others who can appreciate it and learn from it. To that end, we are interested in meeting with folks who would like to join our programs , and most especially with those who are advanced practitioners of any established martial-arts traditions, indeed with any who wish to help others get the most Principled experience out of their involvement in their Do / Art.
Contributed by Gerry Servito -- Lovin' Life Martial Arts program