Rock and Water

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Rock and Water in Taiwan

I had the most amazing and enlightening experience recently, when I was asked by our Rock and Water coordinator in Taiwan, Shiow-Chyn Chung, to conduct the three day training at St. Johns University in Taipei. Apart from the obvious problem that I could not speak Chinese, there was also the sense that I was “taking coals to Newcastle”, in that so many of the wonderful games in Rock and Water are drawn from the Chinese arts of Tai Chi, Chigong and also other “harder” forms of martial arts. I assumed that all participants would have a sound understanding of the principles of centring through breathing, a good feeling of the course of vital energy through the body, and a propensity for introspection to seek ones way forward in difficult or perplexing times.

The first problem, of language, was actually easy to overcome, through the splendid ability of Shiow to translate simultaneously. I only needed to slow my speech a little, and to take slightly longer sentence breaks, and the wonderful Shiow was right there with her translations to Chinese. She even moved with me, and when I found myself on one knee making a hilarious lampoon of a histrionic child ( abandonment of one’s centre), I glanced around to see Shiow mimicking the very same gestures and facial expressions. She was superb and I am grateful to her. What I really learned though, is that language is a very small part of our communication, and we could all connect, relate, laugh and learn together though our primary modality of physical movement. Rock and Water teachers all know this, but for me it was a wonderful endorsement of the efficacy of the psycho-physical didactic.

The second assumption needs explanation. The participants were teachers, some from Beijing, and although many were very well grounded, and some even had extraordinary knowledge of Tai Chi and energy control, all expressed the same frustrations we feel in Australian schools. Bullying is becoming an increasing problem, children are disconnecting from their culture, young people don’t know what they want or where they are going, families are changing and culture is shifting. The education system has been “Westernized” and there is less time to explore the really important things that all educators know intuitively that children need; self reflection, self esteem, self control and internal and external communication to allow one to navigate a way forward. Social and emotional development are the foundations of resilience, and all educators know this. The frustrations of the Chinese participants were the same as those teachers express in Australia, and their epiphanies were the same. So many of the participants were delighted to find a program that offered permission to teach the very things they intuitively knew about the importance of developing physical, mental and emotional skills in order to develop the resilient child.

This journey in Rock and Water is a wonderful experience, and I am ever grateful that Freerk Ykema was coaxed to Australia nearly twenty years ago to share his program, that is now taught all over the world. And a big thankyou to Shiow for her amazing hospitality.IMG_0831

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Focus on Girls and Women


Master Instructor Liz Mahler presented an excellent Focus on Girls and Women workshop in Newcastle in September. Over 30 participants enjoyed two intensive days learning to apply the principles of Rock and Water to the specific developmental tasks and qualities of girls and women.

Liz drew on her vast experience as both an educator and a martial arts coach to teach the participants the various skills and understandings to support girls and women in finding their own strength and courage to live their lives. She introduced a ten lesson program that includes;

  • Becoming aware of your own body, attitude, emotions and response patterns.
  • Feeling strong in your own body and learning to direct this power from a calm standpoint
  • Learning to convert this power into actions
  • Dealing with stressful situations without losing contact with yourself.
  • Boundary awareness
  • Learning to take action in “paralysing” situations.

For many girls empathy often clashes with their ability to make their own personal choices in life. Making sacrifices, the daily drudge, pleasing others and an aggrieved feeling of maintaining imbalanced relationships (in their personal and work lives) all contribute to undermining the self image, self confidence and independence of far too many girls and women, leading to the creation of an inner vacuum and uncertainty. This gives rise to a vicious circle that is hard to break, and results in the loss of their mown power and happiness, the ability to make their own choices and to explore and discover their own self-selected path.

The above issues and more are covered in the two day training. Exercises from the Rock and Water basic program and many others are introduced in a gender-specific manner that is suitable for girls and women.

One participant wrote “.. this is the best PD I have ever attended.”

Liz has become an important part of the Rock and Water team through Lighthouse Education and she has taken responsibility for all Focus on Girls seminars in Rock and Water throughout Australia. For more information on Rock and Water programs offered through Lighthouse Education, go to our page at www.rockandwater.com.au .

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Understanding the Golden Triangle

When I teach the Rock and Water program I am ever mindful that no matter what exercise I am doing with students, I must make an effort to connect the physical to the mental and emotional self. I have in my mind at all times the golden triangle, of body awareness, mental or self -awareness and emotional awareness.


A good example of this process is found in the wrestling games. Students grapple with each other in a very physical game, striving to push each other off a mat. They learn that rock, or hard strategies, are not enough. The student must have a feeling for the other’s strength and centre, and use this understanding to re-direct the opponent. This re-direction would be a water strategy. Easy enough on a physical level, but we are mindful that the aim of rock and water is to promote reflection and dialogue about the ways in which we handle our personal and social struggles.

The Rock and Water teacher then introduces a new game, where the students must handle a conflict, but in a verbal manner only. Just like in the physical game, students must feel out the strengths in the opponent’s argument, communicate their own values (rock), empathise with their opponent’s position (water) and try to arrive at a win-win result.

During these conversations, a lot of children will completely lose their sense of centre and ground. They will fail to notice their physical signals, such as increasing heartbeat, tense muscles, raised shoulders and clenched hands. When this happens they run the risk of losing their self- control, and also damaging the relationship with the other by showing a lack of respect.


The golden triangle of body awareness, mental awareness and emotional awareness is therefore at the centre of the Rock and Water method. The good teacher constantly makes these important connections to encourage the student to reflect and make a transfer from the game to their developing social and emotional selves.


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Implementation Models for Rock and Water

One of the first questions people ask me in workshops is how to effectively implement Rock and Water in a school. Many schools send one or two teachers to training who are then asked to run Rock and Water in their school. This, of course, is the obvious start and I find most schools will run a group for a period of about 10 weeks in lessons of around 50 minutes, then move to another target group in the next term.

I visited Campania District School in Tasmania recently and found there a strong model for implementing Rock and water effectively in the school. Several teachers had already done the two or three day training and had run programs of varying lengths in the school. They wanted to do more to imbed the philosophy of Rock and Water throughout the school, consistent with their core values of promoting respect, resilience and a positive learning environment. Welfare Coordinator David Morris invited me to visit the school and to do some extra training with targeted staff, as well as do a workshop with the whole staff, so that the language and principles of Rock and Water were clear to everyone in the school community. In this way, the teachers who ran the programs could expect that the key words and principles of Rock and Water could be reinforced in every classroom, in the playground, and in the language students used with each other.

I spent a day teaching demonstration lessons with groups ranging from 14 to 40 students, with classroom teachers taking the role of co-facilitators. I found that many students already had a good grasp of the principles of Rock and water, knew how to centre, breathe, ground and focus, and were open to the games and discussions that I offered. The Rock and Water posters were on display in the school. I had lots of discussion with enthusiastic staff about the various ways they could implement the program in the school.

At Waratah High and later at Lambton High, where I had been a Deputy Principal several years ago, we used a model where I combined what I call an inoculation strategy and an intervention strategy. All students in Year 7 completed 10 week courses in Rock and Water, with the idea that in four years all students from Years 7 to 10 would have a sound understanding of Rock and Water principles, expect respectful behaviour from each other, understand boundaries and have the skill to negotiate through conflict rather than default to aggressive responses. In Year 8 and again in Year 10 we ran intervention programs with students recommended by the welfare team. These were smaller groups, taught by myself and a co-facilitator, and we targeted children who had demonstrated problems with self- control, aggression or bullying behaviours. We also formed other groups with children who had been victims of bullying and at Lambton we ran a girls group after a staff member had attended the Rock and water Focus on Girls workshop.

In order to implement Rock and Water effectively in the school, all staff need to have some understanding of the program. An excellent approach is to invite one or more staff to complete the three day training (or 2 Day specialized course) and then to ask a Master Instructor in your state to conduct a One Day Workshop in your school. For more information visit www.rockandwater.com.au, or the international Gadaku website at www.rockandwaterprogram.com .

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Evans River High Hosts Rock and Water

Workshops this year have been quite successful, with some notable new venues and some emerging champions of the Rock and water program.

Craig Gillespie at Evans River High has been teaching Rock and water for a long time. When I was a Deputy Principal at Waratah Technology Campus in Newcastle, back in 2000 and 2001, I shared a challenging group of Year 10 boys with Craig. Friday afternoons was a critical time for these restless boys, and since I was the person these boys invariably ended up with as they wore out their welcome in the classroom, we decided to hold Rock and Water sessions on a Friday afternoon. It sounds like a good way to guarantee failure for the program, but we recognised the challenge and set our lessons accordingly. They were very physical, and sometimes the boys would stop for a break, exhausted after rounds of high intensity exercise, and gasp, “Sir, can we take a break and talk for a while. We’re stuffed!” Of course, we were looking for just that, and Craig and I would then do some mindfulness exercises, or talk about their trials at school or in their family lives. This may not be the best formula for a Rock and Water program (I always advise to do the lessons in the mornings), but at our school, with these boys, I daresay it saved a few suspensions on Friday afternoons. Of course, we also held a morning class for this group that ran on a more conventional RW lesson plan.

I must say I was delighted when Craig called two years ago and offered to host a three day workshop at his new school at Evans Head where he had accepted the role of Head Teacher. We agreed that if the school hosted a workshop every two years, Craig would be able to put enough teachers through the training to ensure the program could be sustained at the school. I love to do workshops at Evans River High school. The catering is first class and provided by the school canteen. The venue is clean and roomy, and the staff know why we are there and are supportive. To ensure that the program becomes part of the school culture, Craig has booked me to conduct a One Day Workshop with the whole staff, so that he can promote a common language in the school around RW principles.

This is a great example of how to take a powerful program like Rock and Water and ensure that it is enshrined in school culture. Craig knows he will have enough trained staff to do what I call an inoculation program. This is where all of, say, Year 7 do at least a ten lesson program, ensuring all students 7-10, after 4 years, will understand thoroughly how to stand strong, speak up, respect boundaries, walk away from conflict, and support each other in these things. They will have the skills to make a choice about how they respond in times of difficulty. For students who need more support, he will have staff trained who conduct intervention programs for particular withdrawal groups, such as underachievers, or students who default to aggressive responses under pressure, or victims of bullying.

There are many schools in NSW, the ACT and in Tasmania that adopt a similar vision to the one exemplified at Evans River High School, and I look forward to describing their approaches in future blogs.

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Why do we Break the Wood?

An important part of the Rock and Water 3 Day training is the very last exercise, where participants break a piece of wood with their fist. Why do this?

The wood break must be seen in the context of the training. For three days, participants have challenged themselves. They have re-assessed what it means to stand strong, have a voice, challenge limitations and set goals as they gain new understandings about the power of breath and the amazing physical, mental and emotional possibilities that go with really knowing your centre.


The culmination for the newly accredited Rock and Water teacher is the board break. It is a rite of passage, a challenge to do something that seems to be quite difficult at first thought. Freerk Ykema wrote, “This board means that you can follow your path, supported by a positive conviction and self- image. A path that is sometimes difficult, because it will involve many difficult decisions that you will have to take yourself, on your own.”

The participants write a personal goal on the board. Breaking the board symbolises the strength and perseverance needed to reach that goal. In this way, it forms a powerful mental anchor. Participants then work in pairs, with a partner to encourage, count together, shout together and also celebrate the achievement. To have a witness to one’s effort can be a powerful affirmation and help promote a deep memory of this achievement, which anchors one in future moments of personal doubt.

Many teachers, inspired by the experience, include the board break in student programs. Although a powerful conclusion to a Rock and Water program, teachers must be mindful that younger hands are soft and it would be wise to use thinner boards that are more appropriate to the age of the student. Many teachers prefer not to do the board break and encourage students to complete some other assignment that demonstrates their authentic understandings of the Rock and Water journey. For the Rock and Water teacher, however, the board break can be a powerful affirmation. As one participant wrote, “ I can’t believe I broke the wood! At first, I thought that I would refuse to try it, it looked so crazy. It is one of the best things I have ever done. I feel now that I could do anything I set my mind to.”