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The Yin and Yang of Dr. Bruce Mann

April 11, 2012

The image of the college professor, antiquated though it may be, is often of the individual behind the cluttered desk and surrounded by equally cluttered bookshelves in a dim office somewhere. The only time they leave is to go to a lecture theatre and discuss their specialty with students for an hour.

If anyone would lead the charge against such an image, Dr. Bruce Mann of the Faculty of Education would have to be the guy.

Mann, a specialist in educational technology, also happens to hold black belts in both karate and judo. When he's not teaching at MUN, he's teaching at Zanshin Dojo.

"My father put me in judo when I was about 13 years old. He took me to the YMCA, and it turned out to be very beneficial to me. I was able to defend myself in the schoolyard a couple of times. I became interested in it as an artform, entered some competitions, and kept with it through university."

Upon receiving his judo black belt in 2008 and receiving special permission from his karate association, Mann opened Zanshin after some research and trial and error.

"We tried a lot of places in St. John's - churches, schools. It was very hard to get a location that worked," the graduate of Concordia and the University of Toronto recalls.

"We spent a lot of money on advertising but it wasn't taking off at all, just a few students here or there. We recently moved again, and that's been very good for us. We have everyone from little kids to experienced martial artists, so I've been pleased with how it's working out."

For his part, despite so much of his time being devoted to running some form of class or another, Dr. Mann says that the relationship between teaching in the university setting and teaching in a martial arts environment help him to keep perspective for both.

"I've always been interested in moving the body. You're mentally more acute if you're more physically active. Whether it's mental gymnastics in [the university] or physical gymnastics [at the dojo], it's two sides of the same coin. You have to try to be physically active in order to be mentally acute."

To that end, parents and psychologists alike have lauded the capacity of martial arts to improve focus, discipline, and self-confidence in school aged children. Dr. Mann is another who supports the notion, though he suggests it spreads into other areas and reaches beyond the youngest practitioners.

"People who come [to the university] have goals, be they measured or more esoteric. It's an analogy for martial arts," he suggests. "You find yourself going through martial arts and travelling on a plateau, then one day you'll start to do something and find something within yourself that takes you to another level. It's not even necessarily physiological, it's more mental, that feeling of going to this other level. Focus becomes more attuned, you become much more acute. It's a pursuit of self-perfection, which is really what we do in education."

Furthermore, beyond the positives that are often noted for practitioners as students, Dr. Mann suggests that the pursuit of martial arts goals aid those who are teachers as well.

"It helps them to manage their emotions," he says. "Whether they're college instructors, military folk, or teachers in the school system, it can help with focus. Focusing on specific techniques that they can apply to their personal lives or their martial arts lives, even to their body type. It makes them a person of recognition. It gives them a chance to continue to develop."

Now, with time spent training across six decades and his own school finding its footing, Dr. Mann is more focused than ever on putting in work as both a student and a teacher. It certainly isn't time to rest on laurels, he says.

"I don't see [opening the school] as an end. [Martial arts is] an end in itself. It's about the perfection of character, improvement of character and serenity of the soul. It's similar to what we do in education, always trying to improve ourselves and become better at what we know. That's what I'm working on now, explaining myself instead of simply doing a technique. It really is an end in and of itself."

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