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Whidden tells of 'calling'

Zone owner pens childrens book
By Micah Flores
Roger Whidden's intuition told him long ago that he was destined to teach.
"It was a calling," the 55-yearold martial arts expert said in the lobby of his Marshfield studio, the Zone, formally known as Whidden's School of Fitness.
That calling intensified shortly after a childhood accident in which the toes on Whidden's left foot were severed by a lawnmower.

After much rehabilitation, including reattachment of the toes, Whidden entered grade school a changed child.

"I had a feeling that I was a teacher," he said. "I started playing baseball when I was 11 and I felt this chi ball when I was pitching, and this aura bubble, and I thought, 'Well, that's what I'm going to teach.'" However, Whidden admits he didn't exactly know what "that" actually meant until he took his first martial arts class in his hometown of Dedham.

"I just knew that's what I'd be teaching," he said.
Thirty-five years of continuous teaching later, Whidden has written and self-published a children's karate book called "Master Roger and the Karate Kids."

Master Roger, known as Mr.
Roger to the children he teaches, dedicated the book to his own adopted children, Jocelyn, Cory and Jian.

Along with giving the reader a brief background on martial arts, the book also tells the individual stories of some of Whidden's more memorable young karate pupils.

Whidden's 15-year-old daughter Jian is featured in a number of photos throughout the book, as she illustrates the correct way to perform several karate poses, grabs and basic routines.

Mr. Roger's Mentor It wasn't until age 35 - a decade after Whidden reached the level of black belt - that he would meet and study under Yang Jwing-Ming, founder of the Purdue University Chinese Kung Fu Research Club.

According to Whidden, Yang, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, is widely considered as the world's foremost author and practitioner in martial arts. Yang, he said, has learned and taught specialized forms of martial arts such as Shaolin White Crane, Shaolin long fist and Taijiquan.

"I knew I needed to do something," Whidden said of that first encounter with Yang, a native of Taiwan who taught in the Boston area at the time. "I was already an expert and I started from scratch again."

Whidden, who continued to teach children karate at his Needham YMCA studio, went on to dedicate the next two decades of his life learning from and training under Yang.

"It was the greatest part-time job in the world for over 20 years," he said. "I was always working in addition to that. I was always going to school and then built houses for 12 years."

Whidden ended up earning the title of master in 2005, completing 35 years of martial arts training.

In the end, he would become the only one of Yang's students to do so.
"I'm 55 and I do stuff most 25-year-olds can't do," Whidden said. "It's almost like I was old when I was young because I had a lot of physical pain, and now I'm young when I'm old."

Whidden has won several local, national and world championships over the years.

Enter Marshfield Whidden spent his childhood summers in Marshfield. In particular, he would spend time with his grandparents, who had a home here.
He said he always had a sense that he would end up here, but that decision was easier said than done. His biggest question after he built his studio on 822 Webster St. in 1999 was whether he would be catering to parents and students looking for what he refers to as "McDonalds martial arts and factory fitness."
An example of factory fitness, he said, is people hooked into iPods, their empty gaze fixated on the television, running on a treadmill and or climbing a Stairmaster. Whidden said he had always wanted to get away from the mainstream.

"That's what people know and that's what they're comfortable with because everyone is doing it," he said.

Whidden is proud to offer what he calls a more authentic form of internal and healing arts. In addition to teaching beginning and adult martial arts classes, Whidden's facility also offers wrestling, yoga and dance classes, as well as acupuncture and shiatsu.

Being authentic for people who really want to learn martial arts is what Whidden's vision is all about.

"Parents come and see all of this paying attention," Whidden said. "(The students) all want to learn and (the parents) say, 'I don't know if my kid can do that.'" Whidden said balance is key to learning martial arts.

"I think they need to learn to pay attention because they've forgot. I also think I need to bring my enthusiasm, my joy, my love to the whole medium, which of course is what we're here for," he said.

Re-emerging from a rough patch Life changed for Whidden approximately five years ago, when he struggled to cope with a divorce.

"I was going through my own hell," he said. "I had insomnia."
It was during that rough patch that much of the inspiration to write a children's book was born.

"My old students came back to me. Especially the kids as grown adults I felt their presence and I just started writing," Whidden said.
Writing, he said, turned out to be good therapy.

Whidden attributed his accounts of students in past classes, which are written in the third person, to his keen "feeling sense."

"As a teacher, you go into rapport with them at that age and so I just spoke from memory and it was healing," he said.

While Whidden often wonders what happened to some of his past students, including many of those written about, one former student, Mike Cermak, not only kept in touch, but also ended up formatting Whidden's book.
Another Michael (last name not included) was written about in "The Story of Michael," which is printed below. Whidden describes the essence of his first children's karate class at the Y, which Michael helped make memorable.
Recalling stories such as Michael's helped Whidden reinvent himself and reinvigorate his passion for teaching martial arts to receptive students.
"It's almost like I went back to the original vision," he said.
"Intuition is a funny thing. It's not timed for anything."

In the meantime, be on the lookout for Whidden's second book, which he's currently writing.

"It's geared toward adults," he said. "It's called 'Ultimate Teaching: Inspiring Elders to Guide with Grace.'"

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