Morro Bay martial arts teacher Dana Charvet doesn’t have a press agent, but one of his students was eager to get the word out when he was inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame as their 2019 Tai Chi instructor of the year.
Charvet has a storied career which includes work with students across several disparate walks of life, from military special forces operatives and law enforcement to the set more apt to believe in alternative medicine, his personal résumé includes representing the United States judo and boxing teams at the Olympics and a wall of accolades and certificates representing milestones achieved in his own training.
He’ll tell visitors at the Grateful Body Martial Arts Studio on Shasta Avenue all about the framed pieces of paper if they ask, but his conversation inevitably turns to explaining the one thing he knows is at the core of life.
“If you’re not breathing you’re dead,” he says, noting the only connection to the nervous system which an individual can alter and control at will.
Simple and obvious as a statement of fact, but immeasurably complex as a useful discipline, to the phrase encapsulates much of the form of wisdom Westerners expect from Eastern philosophical practice. Communication of the deeper knowledge and helping his students put it to use is where structured oversight and certificates of achievement fit in, he explains.
To receive the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame award there was an extensive interview process, after being nominated, during which he paid particular attention to the four types of breath patterns that humans use when dealing with matters mental, emotional, physical, or even spiritual.
The body will breathe on its own to exacerbate symptoms or act on stimuli without control, he notes, or one can take charge to focus it for effect.
“I talked a lot about those practices with the panel,” he said, of the experienced judges in Chinese and Japanese mixed-martial arts, who made the Hall of Fame selections. “I think my deeper level of understanding of breath was more impressive to them than [achievements.]”
Charvet previously operated gyms in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Texas before “retiring” to the Central Coast. He was also on the ground floor of the modern format of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting, now televised by ESPN.
Starting with Judo and Kung Fu in his youth, he said, he came to Tai Chi after personal injury but it was important to him to go through formal processes.
“I don’t tell people not to listen to the guy doing lessons in the park, whatever brings you into practicing [a martial art] is great, but what I do and what my teachers have done, is to make sure we’re constantly checking in that it’s the best way,” he said, noting that an experienced teacher can do a move for years and still be corrected in their form.
The control of breath and focus of the mind and body is something he knows is effective even in life’s most painful moment.
In April this year, Charvet’s son Sean, a decorated Army Ranger, and an achieved martial artist in his father’s footsteps was killed in action.
Standing just inside the studio’s entrance, Charvet said, “I would have passed out when they came, right here, in this doorway, to tell me.”
Mental reflexes and recognizing the situation both inside his body and mind made him able to cope with the devastating news.
“I felt the signs. I could tell what was happening,” he said. “This work helped me through that moment. It’s also kept me going after losing him.”
Charvet doesn’t bring it up to focus the listener’s sympathy, but as an illustration of the range of application the practice of martial arts can have in one’s life, something to keep in mind as, for instance, he helps a retired firefighter regain motion in his knee or corrects the posture of someone too used to riding a desk five days a week.
Those interested can check into classes at 850 Shasta Ave. or arrange an appointment by calling, 805-701-7397.