When Benjamin Andron, a second-degree black belt, bows in at the beginning of the martial arts class he teaches, he always keeps his eyes raised.
This subtle variation on the traditional Chinese and Japanese lowering of the eyes acknowledges that respect for God is supreme above all else.
It is one of several differences in approach that makes Tora Dojo a distinctly Jewish discipline. Founded about 35 years ago by Yeshiva University professor Haim I. Sober, Tora Dojo takes the philosophy and structure of the martial arts and places it in a Jewish framework.
Andron, whose father, Michael, was the first Tora Dojo black belt and mother, Lillian, was the first female black belt, for the first time brings this discipline to Los Angeles, with classes taught at a Westside congregation.
Tora Dojo -- Tora is the Japanese word for tiger -- focuses and channels a person's energy to help him or her achieve the centeredness that is necessary to handle blows, both internal and external, as they come in, Andron says.
"The moves are combative by nature. But while we might be fighting anti-Semitism or an enemy, we are also fighting the things that are holding us back, the veils that hide the divine spark within us," says Andron, a 24-year-old who moved to L.A. from Florida to get into the movie business, possibly choreographing fight scenes.
Thus, when Andron begins his class, the rooting, or guided meditation, is grounded in kabbalistic methods. That kind of concentration can be an asset not only when doing battle. Andron, who is modern Orthodox, says it helps him achieve a higher level of kavanah, concentration, during his daily prayers.
And always there is the knowledge that the discipline, founded in the post-Holocaust era, can make the Jewish people stronger.
"It may be difficult for Jews to stand tall and try to be an example for other nations to follow, with all the things that keep pushing us down," Andron says. "The martial arts helps us fight from a centered position so we don't get knocked over."
Benjamin Andron teaches Tora Dojo classes Monday and Thursday evenings at B'nai David-Judea Congregation, 8906 W. Pico Blvd. Children's classes (ages 7-11) 6-7 p.m., adults 7-9 p.m.
Michael Andron, one of only two seventh-degree black belts in Tora Dojo, will be holding an exhibition in forms, weapons, breaking and meditation Thursday, Dec. 14, 8 p.m., at B'nai David-Judea.
For information, call (310) 788-0045 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.kodesh.org.
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