The following is an explanation of the Rock & Water program by the program creator Freek Ykema.

As an answer to problems of bullying, violence, depression  and a lack of self esteem amongst young males, a comprehensive school in Schagen in the north of Holland has developed the Rock & Water program.  The program appears to appeal enormously to both boys and teachers. Last year, the program was awarded the first prize (Jan Brouwer prize) for best educational program in Holland. In Australia, in the course of two years more than 1400 teachers were trained to work with the program and a thousand others were informed about the program by way of conferences and various publications.

The Rock & Water program can be considered as a defensibility program, but only as one that distinguishes itself from other programs in its multiple goal and wide pedagogical perspective within which the training of self defense has an essential and natural function.

The development of physical defensibility is not merely a goal in itself but primarily a means to develop mental and social skills.

The program uses psycho-physical didactics, which means that the physical starting point is a basis for teaching and learning mental and social skills.  That is why the program is very physical and it is supported by short group discussions with room for self reflection and by brief assignments.  This starting-point was chosen because boys are first and foremost physical in this world. They possess a huge amount of energy that invites them and sometimes even forces them to move.  Besides, most boys – as compared to girls- have difficulty with verbalizing their thoughts, feelings and emotions. A psycho – physical approach kills two birds with one stone: boys are taught to control and focus their energy and at the same time a range of physical forms of communication helps them to learn other communicative skills.

Self- Control, Self Reflection and Self Confidence

The building blocks of the Rock & Water program are self control, self reflection and self confidence.  Building on to this foundation, it si possible to pay attention to the themes of safety, assertiveness, communication and finding their own way (the inner compass) that connects them to others (solidarity) and gives them direction (spirituality). The inner compass means that every person has different qualities and that these qualities manifest themselves in the psyche as forces that strive after fulfillment. Self realization gives a deep feeling of power, joy and meaningfulness. This is an important concept, especially for young people who are on the threshold of important choices.  An answer to questions about meaningfulness and direction is very much related to becoming aware of one’s own qualities and desires.

The themes mentioned above are interrelated in the program by 4 leading threads.

  1. Grounding, centering and focusing: learning how to stand firm and relaxed, how to concentrate your breath in your belly and focus attention (first external, later transferred to an internal goal).
  2. The golden triangle of body-awareness – emotional awareness – self awareness: emotions are expressed in the body by way of muscular tension.  Therefore, increased body awareness can lead to more insight and experience of one’s own patterns of creation, which in turn can offer a chance to deepen and further develop the emotional awareness and self awareness.  In fact this concept is the basis of every martial art that has an eye for the development of mental and inner power.
  3. Communication: the development of physical forms of communication as a basis for the development of other, more verbally oriented, forms of communication.
  4. The Rock & Water concept: the tough, immovable rock attitude versus the mobile communicative water attitude.  This concept can be developed and applied at various levels: the physical, the mental and the social level. At a physical level it means that an attack can be parried by firmly strained muscles (rock) but also – and more often even more effectively – by moving along with the energy of the attacker (water).

At a social level- for instance in a conversation – it is also possible to choose between a rock or water attitude and the same applies to the way in which one maintains relationships with others.  Finally, at a spiritual level, the apparent opposites between rock & water disappear.  Then the insight and experience come about that both ways are needed to reach self -fulfillment and that people, in their deepest essence, are connected to each other and go along a path together.

Gender-specific approach

Rock and water was developed as a gender specific program especially meant for boys.  Experience has taught us that girls can profit from and enjoy the program at least as much as boys do.  However, boys and girls clearly differ at a number of points, they undergo a different socialization and, therefore, they have to go a different path of development and are confronted with different tasks of development.  For these reasons, both boys and girls have a need and right to education and guidance that respect these differences.

This means that for the girls (and also for some boys) an extra building-block had to be added to the program: learning how to get into action in a threatening or stressful situation.

It goes without saying that Rock & Water program works best in gender specific groups.

The need for a program like Rock & Water is huge and stretches across the Dutch borders.  In Holland, slowly but surely, the insight grows that boys tend to fall behind in many areas – as compared to girls.

The Rock and Water program is an inspired program that originated from the love of working with young people. It appears that this source of inspiration is the common and binding factor that makes Rock and Water what it is: a program that allows teachers and coaches to develop their own form.

Freek Ykema

February 2002