Mushin Dojo – “Nailing” the Beginning of my Training

How does one “nail” their training?  You can have an ah-ha moment and understand the technique you’ve been struggling with; you suddenly realize this art you are learning really does work; but in this case, my initiation into the world of black belts was definitely an intiation.  Training in the martial arts teaches you to face your fears.  Somewhere along the way you realize your mind is sharper and your mental control is more astute.

The great swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, described a warrior as someone who has “iron will and an indominable spirit.”  Iron becomes stronger when forged in fire, and if you want to be an accomplished martial artist, you must be able to withstand the fire.

Here we talk about how Mushin Dojo got started and how I “nailed” my training.  Give it a minute, it isn’t what you may be thinking.

When pushed to the limits of endurance, you realize there is more within you to give, and that you do indeed have an iron will.

In the dark jungles of South America in the 1980s, Mushin Dojo was given life.  That’s when Shihan Ron Pickett, the founder, was in Special Forces, fighting the cartels and rebuilding villages.  He started a dojo in every village he visited, and soon, there were quite a few quality-trained fighters that went on to defend their villages.

man breaking wood with spear finger

This is the signature break of Master Pickett.  As you can see from the photo, no spacers between those two boards!  Do not try this at home or you might break your finger!  It takes time to train and condition your hands.  If you have broken any board, you know it takes many years of practice (and many aching and broken fingers), to perfect this interesting side of martial arts.

Breaking has long been a test of strength and endurance – the thicker the piece of wood, the stouter the concrete block, the better.  From wood to large chunks of ice – anything that will break is game.

Beaten by a chunk of ice

An interesting story about a large chunk of ice.  A “master at breaking ice with his head” wanted to wow the crowd with his prowess.  It was a hot, hot August day, and that large slab of ice (3 feet high, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet long) sat in the gymnasium throughout the afternoon where he was going to give his demonstration.

When a chunk of ice this size melts, it doesn’t just leave a big puddle on the floor.  Not taking into consideration the conditions of melting ice on a blistering hot day in an air-conditioned room, the icebreaker nearly broke his head!

His secret trick to breaking this piece of ice was to saw through the top several inches to loosen it up.  But as the ice melted, the grooves he put in the ice melted and hardened too.

Imagine the look on his face (and the pain in his head) when that ice did not break!  He did not try to break the block with a hand or a kick.  He used his head!!  He didn’t use his head very well, did he, or he would have realized the block was frozen solid.

Edge your ego out

Well, that is an interesting story, funny if you have a raw sense of humor, but it also has a moral.  Be very sure you know what you are doing, know your surroundings, and keep your ego under control!  This does not just apply to breaking wood and ice, but to everything you do in life.

A solid martial artist respects self and others.  He does not let his confidence (ego) get the best of him.  Always on the alert, never having to use his art in a physical way and negotiates conflicts peacefully.

Breaking boards and bricks teach you that your ego has no place in the martial arts.  It takes concentration and focus to break.  The secret to breaking is not to break the board, but to send your energy to the floor, through the break.

Man breaking six bricks with his head
Sensei Jack Kobizaar

Breaking a concrete block

My first – and only experience – of breaking one piece of concrete, like the six in the picture, with my head was interesting.  There was a great element of fear at first.  If I missed, I would give myself a concussion.  I had broken boards stacked together, and knew the power of the mind when breaking, but still, I was hesitant.

My sensei, of course, was standing right there, coaching me on, helping me clear my mind – but in the end, this is your baby – only you can break the brick, no one else.

I took a leap of faith, bent low and deep, and did it.  The surprise!  The brick broke like cutting through butter!  It just fell apart at my feet, and I didn’t even feel it.

swami reading a book laying on a bed of nails
Swami Reading a Book on a Bed of Nails

That was a weekend of initiation – to see if I was able to handle the heebie-jeebies aspect of the martial arts.  A test to see if I would be a good black belt.  This was more to prove to myself, I think, because my sensei already believed in me, or he wouldn’t have trained me to this point.

Besides breaking a brick with my head, I was introduced to the Bed of Nails.  No, I wasn’t resting comfortably like this swami.  I wish I had a picture of it to show you.  It was primitive, as are most martial arts training tools

Nailing it!

A 4 x4 piece of plywood with nails driven in strategic intervals.  It depends on the size and weight of the person as to the proper spacing of the nails, and this board was not customed made for me, but rather a man the size of my sensei.  They had me lay on the floor next to the board, told me to become as stiff as a board, and by my shoulders and feet, placed me on this bed of nails.

As if that wasn’t enough.  Next, my sensei is looking around the room for something – and I’m lying there trying not to move and be impaled by a nail – it seemed like forever.  He finally found what he was looking for – a sledgehammer!  He put a brick on my stomach and broke it with that hammer!!!

This is how the traditionalists trained their students.  This was karate.

It was a fun-filled weekend.  We stayed at another Mushin Dojo black belt’s house, and he was a snake man.  Literally.  His house was full of cages with huge snakes.  He kept rabbits and mice in his basement to feed them.

Me with a snake phobia in a houseful of snakes!  Yes, that weekend was a test.  And I passed.  I went on to what my sensei called his “greatest accomplishment.”  His goal in life was to produce a godan (fifth degree), and he spent many years training me for this role.

It is a gift.  My sensei passed on a training style that is nearly obsolete.  The brutality of Tomari-te sent instructors to form other schools, less brutal, not as effective, and this art has nearly died out.

This website is part of my effort to share this long-lost art with you, my readers.


man breaking two boards with a tampon
Breaking a brick with a tampon