Daito Ryu FAQ v1.4
Updated: September 1, 2011
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
Before the reader goes any further, we would like to express apologies if any of the replies in this FAQ appear disrespectful. It is not our intention to criticize or belittle any ryu, any organization, any teacher or anyone. We have based this writing on our own views, our own research, and the views of our organization. The opinions expressed apply only to us, and are not intended to impose any ideas, patterns or criteria on any other. We thank you ahead of time for your kind understanding.

1. Do you know if there are any Daito ryu dojos in my area?
2. Can you recommend another martial art for me?
3. Do you know anything about Sensei "so-and-so"? Is he legitimate?
4. Do you have colored belts in Daito ryu?
5. How long before I become a 10th Dan (or Grandmaster, Shihan, Soke, etc.)?
6. Are you available for seminars?
7. I am a master of "so-and-so" style. How can I join your organization?
8. Does Daito ryu have competitions where I can win medals and trophies?
9. Can Daito Ryu improve my health and spiritual development?
10. When would I start using weapons?
11. What kind of uniform would I train in?
12. Am I too young or old to start Daito Ryu?
13. Can women train in Daito Ryu?
14. Is Daito ryu an effective street fighting style?
15. Why is your dojo so traditional? Isn't it time to modernize?
16. How much Japanese do I have to learn?
17. Why do you call your style Daito Ryu "Aikibujutsu" and not "Aikijujutsu"?
18. Can I get hurt training?

1. Do you know if there are any Daito ryu dojos in my area?

We would do our best to help locating a dojo in one particular area for someone who is genuinely interested in the art, but, please, do not become disheartened if we cannot. There are several Daito ryu organizations which have dojos in foreign countries. They may not have the exact same curriculum, the same structure, or the same methods, but they all have something of great value to offer, regardless of their affiliation. Visit other web sites, or write to their Hombu dojos. Some of them have a printed directory that includes foreign branches.

Most open Daito ryu organizations have their own web page now, which makes them quite accessible to anyone seeking instruction. Please, even after finding the dojo's address, make sure to contact them and set a proper appointment. Do not just drop by at any time expecting to be tended to. Realize that it is you who have to modify your schedule according to the teacher's or the dojo's schedule and not the other way around, so do your very best to be available at the day and hour offered. Make sure you keep that appointment and arrive on time. Once you are there, do not march in calling for service, or walk around browsing. It is a dojo, not a shoe store. Once you are inside, make your presence known in the most inconspicuous way possible, and wait. Eventually, you'll be approached and you'd be able to state your purpose. Sincere and proper etiquette is quite important in the first meeting, especially if you come recommended by someone else. This has nothing to do with either pretentious formalisms or stereotypes. It is an issue of respect and consideration from the start. If you are indeed serious about Budo, you'd have no trouble sustaining it, and your relationship with the art, the dojo and the teacher would be a pleasant and fruitful one. Please, take notice of these recommendations. I am aware that you may know them all already, but judging by the mail we receive, not everyone remembers to apply them, which is rather unfortunate. That is why I feel obliged to offer this reminder.

Of course, you may not find a Daito ryu dojo in your area, which brings us to the next question.


2. Can you recommend another martial art for me?

The logical choice would be Aikido, since both arts are so interconnected. And since there are many Aikido organizations and teachers who adhere to the traditional ways of Budo, chances are you might find a dojo in your area whose environment and methods of teaching retain the beauty of those ways, and all the benefits they bring to the training. So, by the factor of probabilities, Aikido would be the first choice of art I would recommend.

However, I would like to go a bit further. Before you go in your search, I'd like to advise you taking some time to define what attracted you to Daito ryu. Was it the techniques, the history, the philosophy? The reason I ask you this is that Daito ryu shares many of those things with other arts, which you might be able to find in your area.

Whether or not you adhere to the school of thought that affirms Daito ryu is part of Ko-ryu or to the one that claims it isn't, that would be irrelevant to your search. But, I must assume you might like the "old style" Bujutsu structure which Daito ryu undeniably has. Otherwise, why consider it? But there are other ryus being taught outside Japan now which would be as valuable.

Please, allow me to suggest some ryus you may look at, if you cannot find a Daito ryu dojo close enough for you to join: Takenouchi ryu: It is quite an ancient school, rich in traditions and with beautiful techniques which can be traced to the Sengoku jidai. Tenjin Shinyo ryu: A no less fascinating and very comprehensive art, whose connection with the origin of Kodokan Judo makes it even more appealing to those interested in passing through "the bridge" (old to new) to which Kano Jigoro referred in the early days. Takeda ryu: A very interesting school, and indirectly connected to Daito ryu through the Takeda family lineage. Enshin ryu: Another school of the Sengoku Jidai, with a very comprehensive and extensive curriculum. Hakko ryu: A school of relatively recent creation, and certainly connected to Daito ryu.

I could not possibly list all the possibilities. I have chosen these ones for two reasons.The first one is the nature of the art, which is similar to Daito ryu in many aspects. But the second one is that they are out there. They have branch dojos in several countries outside Japan, so the law of probabilities makes them good candidates. It is not my intention to overlook any school. For example: I like Asayama Ichiden ryu, Koyama Tenmon ryu, and Sekiguchi ryu very much. They are wonderful schools and I would feel no hesitation in recommending them, but the chances of finding a dojo offering any of these arts in your area are remote at best, since they are quite scarce.

But, I would like to add that, regardless of the art being taught at a dojo, let that not be the determining factor in your choice. An appealing title is not enough to determine the quality of a book. Of course, it is profitable to know the history of the ryu, so you can understand it better, as it is mandatory that you familiarize yourself with the ryu's philosophy so you will know what path you are taking. But also be discerning regarding the dojo, the teacher, the atmosphere in which the classes are taught. Observe the interaction between teacher and student and between the students themselves. Be perceptive regarding the dojo's spirit. Following this, if you find the dojo to be true to Budo, judge the sincerity and level of your commitment. If you find them compatible, then you are ready to make a decision.

Let's end by saying that although there are many people looking for the ideal ryu, the ideal dojo, the ideal teacher, only a small number of them are wondering if they are the ideal student, the ideal budoka.

If you are fortunate enough to find a good school, a good dojo, and a good teacher, please, appreciate the privilege of such an opportunity and behave accordingly. Earn every single day the privilege of being there. Any ryu of Bugei is a noble path to follow.


3. Do you know anything about Sensei "so-and-so"? Is he legitimate?

There are ways to obtain information regarding the credentials of a particular teacher, like contacting the main dojo of his organization, for instance. But even if the references given offer nothing but praise, there is no better way to evaluate a teacher, or a dojo, than making direct contact.

An appealing title does not guarantee the quality of a book. Good references are fine, but they are not enough. Perhaps they should be, but the fact is that they are not.

If what you seek is to enhance your own reputation, then the rank, school and affiliation of a teacher is all you need to know. If they are striking enough, they would serve you well, since those credentials will become part of your own resume, and all else is irrelevant. If you what you seek is to feed your own collection of techniques, the equation remains pretty much the same: If the teacher knows enough to provide you with new "weapons" and knowledge to demonstrate, then nothing else makes any difference. To you he is little else than the means to an end. That attitude would make you many things, but certainly not a budoka. Therefore, you need not read any further.

But, if what you seek is a true teacher, you need more than that. A teacher is not a source of self-promotion and/or an arsenal enhancer. A teacher is also a source of guidance at times, at times an adviser, or a counselor, at times even a confidant. If you are indeed a budoka, Budo is not something you add to your life as a sideline activity for a time, or a hobby. It is something that transforms your life and your perception of it. Your teacher becomes quite an important part of your life. It is wise to look carefully. And you have no better source of information than your own perception. Discard all pre-conceived notions, ignore "the sheepskins displayed on the wall" and let what you feel speak for itself. As I have already stated: Use your own discerning.

I am fully aware that you cannot judge technical expertise in one visit. But you can judge character, and demeanor and conduct, much in the same way that you sense the atmosphere in the dojo. You can read the signs regarding the dojo's environment: Is discipline properly maintained? Is reigi observed? Are the students respectful and helpful with each other? Is the teacher respectful towards his students?, etc. When appreciating a teacher, you can do the same. Arrogance is a trait unbefitting a budoka, let alone a teacher of Budo. So is rudeness, flamboyancy, boastfulness... Such things would be warning signs, and you'd be wise to stay away. But on the other hand, you could find respect, humility, proper manners, and those would be encouraging, and you'd be even wiser in staying a while.

I must beg you, however, not to confuse dojo etiquette with arrogance and/or rudeness. Do not expect for a teacher to go out of his way to please you, or try to coax you into joining his dojo. He would hardly say anything resembling a sales pitch. If anything, he'll answer your questions and let you make up your mind on your own. There won't be enticements, or any tacky display of trophies or awards.

Do not hope, or ask, for a teacher to explain to you how much better off you'd be joining his dojo than you'd be if you join the dojo down the street. That may be acceptable when selling life insurance, or promoting cell phone services, but to enhance oneself by diminishing others is quite unethical, and would demonstrate a total ignorance of a fundamental precept of Budo. As my own father explained, the "we are the best" claim is an attitude more befitting to a "24 mon yotaka".

Do not expect for a teacher to drop what he is doing and come to you as soon as you come in the door. A dojo has a social structure that must be maintained. Do not judge a teacher badly for this. It is more than a tradition. It is a necessary requirement.

I realize that my answer may give the impression that I am contradicting the ages old principle that it is the teacher who evaluates the student. Nothing is further from my mind. I know that a student presents himself to the dojo. He is accepted on probation, and he'd eventually be taken as a true deshi according to his attitude. It is the teacher who accepts the student, not the student who accepts the teacher. For Budo to be real, it has to be that way. There cannot be any compromise. I would never go against that.

The recommendations I am giving in this answer should be taken into consideration before an individual has formally asked to be accepted as a deshi. At that point, it is not unethical to judge the quality of a teacher, not just his knowledge, but his human qualities, because technique alone does not make a budoka. Give good knowledge to a good man, and it becomes part of his wisdom, and it would bring forth humility and virtue of character. Give good knowledge to a man of small spirit and you'd be feeding nothing but his vanity. Remember: There are no credentials given that validate human values.

Surely, as the old phrase goes, "Even in the Imperial house there are many shades of purple." Not all teachers have the same personality. When my uncle returned from his journeys, he brought back with him many tales and a considerable amount of knowledge. He did nothing with it, other than drilling away at whatever he had learned. But, regardless of how idle I thought he had become in his old age, there is something I always enjoyed from him: the stories about the teachers. I realized that among the teachers of Bugei there were some who were a little like Musashi, others like Kojiro, and all the way in between, including some with a bit of Tartarin de Tarascon in them.

So, ask away, if you wish, but, as a very wise man once said "go and meet the man on the road." If the teacher is true, he may realize you are studying him, but he won't be offended. If he is what he claims to be, there won't be any contradictions between how he asks you to conduct yourself, and how he acts; nor between his actions and the tenets of the art he teaches. That is the best possible reference.


4. Do you have colored belts in Daito ryu?

Some Daito ryu organizations use the colored belt system while others, such as ours, does not.

There is neither right nor wrong in either policy. The use of colored belts is a relatively recent practice and not all schools were willing to adopt it. Some reasons were given, others we could speculate about, but there is no point in dealing with that in this answer.

As has been pointed out to me many times, colored belts were not meant to be badges of achievement. They served more like identification, or "level markers", as an old Judo teacher described them to my brother. The fuss about them came later, and it has been taken too far in some instances.

Historically speaking, some sort of ranking has always been part of Budo, one way or the other, but it was very rarely openly displayed.

The oldest "belt" method I know of within Daito ryu consisted of only two levels: white obi for mudansha, and black obi for yudansha. And this occurred when, out of necessity, some students were not able to wear hakama and informal white clothing was worn during training. I do not know for certain how this practice came about, or the path it took to become accepted. I have never thought about it much.

So, the unavoidably ambiguous answer is: Yes, and No. It all depends where you go to train.


5. How long before I become a 10th Dan (or Grandmaster, Shihan, Soke, etc.)?

This answer should be quite simply I haven't the foggiest! And I should be able to stop there and go on to other things. But I guess I could not do that in good conscience. After all, someone must have asked that question for it to be included here, even though this is one of those loopy ones I mentioned in the preamble.

Let's start by saying I have never heard of a twelfth dan in Daito ryu, so I couldn't say how long it takes to get there, and why would you even want to?

Now, about becoming a Grandmaster: I have asked several people what that title really means in English, but I got conflicting definitions. If by that word you mean "meijin", I am afraid that is not really a rank. It is more like a title, an honorific. And it would be quite hard to put a time limit on it, especially, since it is awarded to you by others after practically a life time. So, if you did not know that, I am afraid you may have a long way to go yet, and I would not worry too much about it at this point.

The Shihan rank is comparatively more accessible, since it is a title awarded to high ranking teachers. How long does it take to receive it? A long time, and since you asked, I am quite certain you are not ready to receive it.

One word of advice: Budo is all about the journey, not the destination. It is not about ranks, or awards, or recognition, or reputation, or prestige. We reap the rewards as soon as we fumble with the first technique of Ikkajo, or try not to make fools of ourselves while attempting bushihokou for the first time. Seven times we fall, in the process, but eight times we get up.

Shoshin means that we realize that we keep starting the journey again and again. No matter how far we go, we are still taking that first step. And that is not a contradiction of terms. The instant that we become so vain that we resist that cycle, that is the instant in which we cease to be, and nothing is left but the boasting.

All the best teachers I know dislike having clocks in the dojo. I do not think they would be too fond of calendars either. Just focus on giving your very best on the tatami. Other than that, value each day, and the years will take care of themselves.


6. Are you available for seminars?

As a rule, we only hold formal seminars for members of our organization, or at affiliated dojos. Every year, however, some members of our organization have been kindly invited to teach at Martial Arts symposiums, Aiki seminars, etc, and we have gladly participated in such events.

But, regarding Daito ryu in particular, there are several very qualified instructors from different organizations who travel abroad to offer seminars regularly. I realize seminars are not the ideal way to learn an art, but they are a good way to familiarize yourself with one, and they are usually conducted in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, which makes them a pleasant experience.


7. I am a master of "so-and-so" style. How can I join your organization?

This is a question more frequently asked than I would have expected. And I will reply to it in the same way I have done by regular mail. Beginning with a question: Why would you want to? Only by knowing your reasons I would be able to truly answer your question.

You have already defined yourself as a master. If I understand the usage of that term correctly, I believe that does not only convey a high level of expertise, but also a great deal of responsibility. Isn't that so? If you have spent such a long time in a ryu to deserve that title, doesn't that also imply that your duty lies with your style, and its organization? Please, consider that first and foremost.

Affiliation for affiliation's sake means nothing unless you have something in common with that group, and something that you wish to offer to that organization for whatever reasons. Sometimes politics, and sometimes personality clashes play a part in a budoka's decision to change paths. That is why your reasons and motivation are so important.

Our organization does not seek converts. If we have something that appeals to you, we could hear you out. But not in a cloak and dagger fashion. Not going against giri. If you are currently someone else's student you could apply for instruction only with the recommendation, or approval, of your own teacher.

I could understand a person's desire to find and embrace an art more traditional, less traditional, more internal, less internal, and so forth. Many budoka have embarked in such a search. However, I assure you that a person in a sincere search would hardly begin his question by saying "I am a master of..."

We are all very familiar with the proverbial "full cup" and "empty cup" as applied to the attitude of someone willing to receive knowledge. This is one of those occasions in which this parable comes in handy.

When you approach another ryu, requesting to be accepted, whatever you were before, whatever you learned, whatever you know, must be put aside. You would not be asked to forget it, just file it away, so it does not interfere with your new path. If you do not, every piece of knowledge offered would be taken by you as if they were submitted for your approval, and most of it would be sadly wasted.

Therefore, when you approach another teacher, or another organization, all you need to offer is your name. All you need to bring with you is your willingness to learn.

There are many good organizations out there. Look at them all carefully, get to know what they stand for, and then decide which one is the one that inspires your sense of loyalty. If you base your choice on that, instead of what you could profit from it, your choice would be a sincere one, and any organization would benefit from having you in it.


8. Does Daito ryu have competitions where I can win medals and trophies?

No. Our organization does not. And I do not foresee any change in that particular characteristic of the ryu in our organization any time soon.


9. Can Daito Ryu improve my health and spiritual development?

Yes And No.

See, it all depends in the way that you receive it. As you begin your training you will be faced with challenges of every kind. Physical, emotional, cultural, intellectual... And that is before you learn the first technique. If it is of any consolation, your ego will sustain more bruises than your coccyx, but at times, they will both be quite sore.

You would be learning a martial art. There is no way, or reason, to diminish that aspect of your training. You will learn a technique and that technique will meet an attack. And your teacher shall assess your assimilation of that technique by judging how effective you are at neutralizing that attack. There are risks involved, as with any Bugei, but also benefits, and the latter vastly outnumber the former.

I have always disliked comparing any ryu to a fitness program, because that is not what Bugei is all about. Quite frankly, in some points they have somewhat opposite views. But neither am I going to minimize the fact that your body does indeed become stronger, your endurance increases, and I could recite a long list of health benefits that you would experience as your training advances. However, I am not sure that list would be a good enough consolation when your knees gets sore after a long time of shikko, or your hands and forearms become numb after swinging the suburito for hours, or you poke yourself in the ribs with the shouken. I say this not to discourage you from training to increase your health, but to let you know that health benefits should not be the main focus of your training. Embrace the training fully and whole-heartedly, without any rationalizations, and you'll have no need for any list of benefits. They'll come to you pretty much on their own. And the best part of that is that eventually you won't care. Being on the mats and experiencing all that it involves would be more than enough. That is the easy part, and the simplest one.

The hardest part is that the process of learning the techniques, in the context of the dojo environment, brings forth the best and the worst of you. How receptive you are to the teachings will determine what side will take precedence. To put it in another way: it helps you in the measure of your sincerity.

This brings me to the spiritual development part of your question. To define spiritual development is very difficult. If by that you mean strengthening the virtues of character that give a man full accountability over his actions and a sense of self that makes him decent, trustworthy, kind, considerate, humble, courteous, and gives him the strength to keep those virtues in every circumstance, then I would have to say, quite emphatically, YES. It would help you.

I am not being idealistic in my answer. Actually, every teacher I know of, who is true to his ryu and true to his role, is that type of person.

There is something cleansing and transforming that takes place when we embrace our training, our ryu, with sincere selflessness. A halfhearted or cynical approach produces less than mediocre results. But when the heart is true, the art is true and that makes all the difference. It makes the difference in technique; it makes the difference in character, and in spirit. Then, and only then, you can say that you have experienced Budo.

In the end, you will reap what you sow. By this I mean: the effect the training will have on you is directly proportional to your sincerity, to how much of yourself you put into it. True Budo does not play along with the current trend of self-entitlement.

The potential for development, however, is very real.

I am not speaking of a mystical transformation. One must make a decision first, and then, little by little, that decision becomes our identity. It is very hard to explain, but once you do it, you can recognize it, and once you have truly experienced it, you would not want to let it go. It becomes your source of strength and also your source of compassion.

It is not surprising. There is great strength in true Budo, and as it has been said: There is nothing stronger than true gentleness. There is nothing gentler than true strength.


10. When would I start using weapons?

The use of jo, bokken, and wooden tanto begins relatively early in the training. But how early is up to each teacher to decide.


11. What kind of uniform would I train in?

Most dojos in our organization require the student to use formal wear from the start. You would need a regular white keikogi, obi, and hakama (black or blue).


12. Am I too young or old to start Daito Ryu?

Young children are allowed to train in some dojos. The classes are, of course, tailored to their age. In our organization, the average age for formal training to begin, however, is 12 years old. But the final decision is made by the teacher. I have never yet heard of a teacher turning down a young child who shows enough maturity to be able to properly participate in a class and receive its benefits. Some teachers may ask a child to come to sit through some classes, give him some light tasks to perform, and watch him for a little while before he is formally enrolled.

As for too old, it would be hard to set an age limit. It depends on the individual. One very good Daito ryu teacher began his training when he was 40 years of age. He has said that his late start helped him to understand aiki, since younger men rely too much in brute force, and are unable to comprehend, or apply, the subtleties of true aiki. He went on to found his own school.

Also, if you have some severe physical limitations, no matter what your age, a good teacher would be able to modify his teaching in order to make it accessible to you. Actually, on that topic, there is a wonderful Japanese movie called "Aiki", which I recommend to any one interested in martial arts. It is quite inspirational, and based on an actual story of a paraplegic student of Daito ryu.

So, too young, too old? That question would be better answered by the teacher with whom you'd like to train.


13. Can women train in Daito Ryu?

The answer is YES. Women can train in Daito ryu as in any other school of Bugei. It would not be too difficult to find references to women warriors in history books. Some of them predate the Nara period. So my answer has nothing to do with political correctness. I would recommend reading about the Joshigun, the women warriors of the Aizu clan.

There have been women who have carried on their shoulders the survival of a ryu, even when they have not been mentioned in the ryu's genealogy. There is a particular incident of a Bugei ryu, brought to Hirosaki by a goshi (country samurai). It survived there for a time, until the last teacher's oldest son, who was supposed to take the mantle from his father, met a very attractive lady newly arrived to the area, and became infatuated with her. This lady had a rather dubious past. She claimed to be a widow, and with her she brought her dead husband's son. The alleged widow knew how to manipulate the teacher's son very well. She refused to accept his advances until he was able to support himself and keep her and her son in proper comfort. The weak young man told her that he would eventually inherit his father's house and money, but she wanted her provision right away. The spineless man, blinded by lust, could not do enough for her, and he lost interest in anything that wasn't trying to make her want him. His father refused to provide for him, and the son went into a pathetic state of mind, obsessed with not losing the favors of the widow.

He abandoned any pretense of training in the family's art, and began rejecting his own family who saw him as the fool he was. Eventually, it was discovered that the lady was no widow, and certainly no lady. Some of the money that teacher's son provided, went into the pockets of the child's father, who wasn't dead. He was a shady gambler and skimmer who had come to reside in Aomori. Even after this was known the teacher's son still begged the dishonest woman to stay by his side. He became the laughing stock of everyone who knew him and badly damaged his father's name.

The teacher, on his death bed, made the decision of disinheriting his son and asked his daughter, who was also learning the art, to carry on with the ryu. She agreed and for two generations the art was taught by women, since no son was born into the family until the third generation, and none was adopted into it. The ryu is still in existence, even though the name has changed slightly and it is now another family's possession. Sadly, the names of those ladies do not appear in the genealogy, and they are mostly remembered as part of a tale of a man's weakness and shame. Still, the fact remains that those women were able to carry on with their duty.

Women have demonstrated martial skill and martial valor throughout the ages. I am particularly fond of a formidable lady named Yamamoto Yaeko, who has been my inspiration since as long as I can remember. There have also been, and there are, many great women teachers who are a testimony to true Budo spirit.


14. Is Daito ryu an effective street fighting style?

It would be impossible to demonstrate the validity of our opinion one way or the other. I have heard all the arguments for and against classical Bugei techniques as a method of self-defense. Personally, I know of some who attempted to use them and failed, but I also know of many who used them quite effectively in similar circumstances.

The reason for this is that a technique, or the principle that the technique teaches, are tools. Nothing more, nothing less. It is the person using those tools what makes the difference. And I am not talking about his technical prowess, his speed, or his physical strength. Those are factors, of course. But what seems to bring everything together is the mind set, the attitude of the individual.

I know a certain tall, lanky, lady with limbs like windmills' sails. She could pass, easily, for a professional basketball player, but few would think of her as a Daito ryu teacher. I have been told that she had a hellish time when she was younger, trying to adapt her body to some techniques, especially when training with partners much shorter than she was. Still, this shy and awkward young girl held back her tears, bit her lip and persevered. I have also been told that she began to develop a special edge to her character, a certain kind of calm determination to survive that made her stand out in class (apart from the fact that she was taller than anyone else). Her teacher helped her to develop that edge to the point that it became her main trait. Now, due to her profession, she has to deal with dangerous situations often, and physical confrontations are not a rare occurrence. And, in her own words, she has never needed anything else but Daito ryu to deal with those occurrences. When I had the opportunity to see her in action, I fully understood what that edge was. I would not say it was a flawless execution; I will not praise her elegance while performing technique, nor discuss her use of aiki. All of these could have been there, I do not know, but it does not matter, because what brought it all to a safe conclusion was a simple, well timed and "to the point" choice of action, without fanfare nor overreaction. The same poker face with which she confronted the assailant and kept throughout her response to his attack was precisely the same expression she had when it was all over. Whenever I hear skeptics saying that Mushin and Zanshin are just inapplicable theories that we toss around in the dojo to put on airs, I always remember that moment when I saw it all beautifully coming together miles away from the dojo, against an opponent who neglected to bow before attacking.

It could be pointed out that most Bugei schools have methods of training in their curriculum whose purpose is to develop a heightened awareness, a better response to multiple attacks and/or multiple attackers. That proper Budo environment should include a definitive sense of real danger, starting at the attack's intent. Most teachers emphasize this factor, but there are no guarantees, since part of the success of the method depends on the student's capacity and/or willingness to be receptive to it. The very old definition of "death dealing hand" when referring to the attacker has a great validity in the training at the right time.

The number of techniques that the student has in his memory (mental and physical) says nothing about his ability to apply them under stressful (real) situations. This is especially true when, even if one knows a thousand techniques fairly well, the truth is that we - as average people- would make use of only two or three at the most in our life times. When one technique has become particularly effective, it becomes our reaction by default. Fortunately, all the wrongs and rights and ups and downs we face on the path to learn that thousand will feed and hone those reliable three of which we are so fond, and that is our edge. Should it be that way, or should it not be? It matters not, because it just is.

Attackers haven't changed that much over the years. Biters, pokers, grabbers, pullers, kickers, tacklers, chargers, jumpers, crawlers, punchers, dancers, spitters... A familiar gallery of nasties that were, are, and are to come. It is as impossible to predict them all as it is trying to create a chapter for each of them. But, the wonder of properly taught principles of Heiho is that they engulf them all in such a way that a student with just a bit of common sense has a fair chance of success, be it against an opponent wearing a kabuto, or a backwards baseball cap, given that he has developed the right kind of mental attitude.

I know of two paramilitary and police organizations that adopted a Daito ryu based system of defense for their members, and a third one that is in the process of doing so. I guess this should serve as some sort of endorsement, but, once again, these fellows take every technique they learn in a "survival" mode (i.e. quite seriously). They could not be more receptive, and their frame of mind is according to their needs.

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the dojo is not the street. There is an obvious difference. And the student must prepare himself for that difference as he trains, as the teacher provides him with tools to engage his senses to make them more able.

That said, I need to end this answer by clarifying one important aspect of so-called "self-defense". What we learn in the dojo is not just technique. There is a lot more to Budo than waza. True Budo prepares us not just for dark alley fighting, but for life. It gives us the best weapon we could hope for: an identity. An identity that compels us to make wise choices. Wise choices of friends and partners, of places we frequent, of personal attitudes, of lifestyle. For most of us that will be the best and only self-defense we would need to use. But do not misunderstand me, that aspect of our training is the hardest, because there lays the subtlest and most deceptive attacks we would ever receive, and the least fair of our opponents: ourselves.


15. Why is your dojo so traditional? Isn't it time to modernize?

When the late Onishi sensei was asked a somewhat similar question a long time ago, he replied: "Our dojo is very modern. It has electricity and we are installing an American toilet bowl".

This happened in the late '40's, and the only change that has taken place since then is that the dojo has now a new and very modern toilet bowl, this time an auto-flush Japanese model.

Of course, the tone of the question was quite different, not surprisingly given the circumstances. It was meant to be a put down that failed to cause the desired reaction.

But, in Onishi sensei's joke there is an element of truth: Even traditional dojos have changed. There is nothing that has passed through time totally unscathed. You obviously think we have not changed enough, but I know of many who regret we have changed too much already. And they are not talking about electricity or indoor plumbing.

I would not enter a debate about what tendency should prevail. I could only express my opinion.

As I said, some change is unavoidable. But change should be approached with the wisdom of strategy. When change means compromise, or betrayal of a fundamental principle of Budo, then change is not an alternative.

The first part of your question states that we do not live in feudal Japan, but I beg to differ. We live in a kind of feudalism. There are quite a few little daimyos around (daimyos in their own minds, that is) with a great sense of self-entitlement, who demand some sort of tribute, most of the time undeserved. There are quite a few samurais, even more samurai wannabes, and a great number of self-appointed ronins. There is a new Kami (can anyone guess what that is?) which is irreverently but very sincerely worshipped. The new so-called etiquette is based on transaction. And with so many people jockeying for top positions, pushing others out of their way at any cost, alliances and betrayals are happening on a daily basis, wars and rumors of wars. Doesn't that sound a bit like Sengoku Jidai?

That aside, I must explain that, to teach Budo, a certain type of environment is necessary, a certain type of interaction between teachers and students and between the students themselves is required. It is part of Budo pedagogy, so to speak. The characteristics of that environment are as much a part of the training as taiso, or waza. If one compromises that aspect of training, nothing is the same. It all suffers. The decay might not be noticed immediately, but it won't take long before it begins to manifest itself. At the end, the Budo taught in such conditions would be little more than a self parody.

Budo traditions are not those strange imitations of Chambara cinema that we often see. I have seen a gaijin teacher walking around in a gaudy kamishimo and posing in an awkward imitation of a courtier like a character out of a Kabuki nightmare, and another prancing around in an obvious, and quite overdone imitation of the late Mifune Toshiro's walking style in "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro" (not all cowboys walked like John Wayne, right?).

To "look" and "act" traditional means nothing. That is not tradition, that is pantomime.

The traditions we strive to keep are not for the sake of mere outwards appearance, but because they play a very definitive role in what we are trying to teach. Even those which are kept out of respect also have a special meaning. But it is not for me to explain all that in this page. It is up to your teacher to do so whenever he finds it necessary.

I am happy to say that I know there are teachers out there, gaijin teachers, who are quite informed regarding proper Budo traditions and etiquette. Some of them can run circles around many of today's Japanese teachers when it comes to that knowledge and the observance of it. That is commendable for the foreigners, but quite shameful for Japanese. I feel no pleasure in saying it, but it is true that some Japanese teachers have become ignorant of these things, and some who are aware of them have become indifferent and neglectful, or have compromised them in favor of more profitable ways of doing things. I say this not out of malice, but in the hope that we could bring back some of what has been lost.

I hope that those who read these lines do not find me close-minded. I do not believe I am. After all, aren't you reading them on the Internet?


16. How much Japanese do I have to learn?

To become an interpreter for the United Nations, or to order a meal at Tokyo's Hayashi restaurant, a lot. To learn Budo, not as much.

Extensive knowledge of Japanese language wouldn't make you a better Budoka much in the same way as learning Spanish wouldn't make you a better torero. Language does not even come into the equation, so do not let that scare you from pursuing your interest in Bugei.

Surely, there are a few phrases that are used in the original language, but it does not take long to memorize. Technique names are also in Japanese, but you'll learn one at a time, and you will spend a long enough time in each to be able to become quite familiar with each of them as time passes. Sometimes your teacher will translate the meaning of the technique to facilitate the understanding, but in some cases that does not help much when the translation of the name is "rock drop", or "armpit squeeze". Well, bad translation, but you get the idea.

It is a common misconception that you have to become Japanese, or "Japanese like", if you want to learn Budo. That is not a pre-requisite.

It is true that a budoka should familiarize himself with the history of the ryu he studies, and it would not hurt him to read some literature that helps him to understand Budo in general in an historical context. But neither the Nihongi, the Kojiki, nor the treatises on the strategy of Yamamoto Kansuke, for instance, are obligatory reading for any ryu. Those who pursue that type of knowledge do it on their own accord, and it is quite commendable.

However, I recognize the fact that once a person becomes interested in Budo, and embraces it with a sincere heart, a certain transformation seems to take place and he develops an appreciation for things he would have never paid attention to otherwise, like Shodo, and Ukiyo-e for instance. And, perhaps, a certain degree of affinity for Japanese tastes may develop. But they are not harmful. These things are incorporated into the budoka's taste without undermining his own cultural identity. The result of that is always positive, because nothing wrong is learned from that. Quite the contrary: the mind and the spirit of the person are enriched. It would not rob him of his own nationality.

This transformation is logical and unavoidable if the budoka is sincere, because he would develop a natural respect for the culture from which his art came. But why should it be avoided?

My great grandfather befriended a Russian while he lived in Hokkaido. This White Russian, who for some reason ended up there with his family in the 1930's, and worked as a cloth salesman, was as my great grandfather described, "a mountain of a man with many rude habits", but as their friendship grew my grandfather taught him some skills, and for some reason the Russian man took a liking to calligraphy. My great grandfather was always amused watching that otherwise loud and rough man trying to handle the brush with great care and delicacy, smiling like a child when the results were pleasing. He tried his hand at Shodo every day, and that was his quietest time. Perhaps that is why his wife thanked my great grandfather for teaching her husband.

It works the other way too: Right now there is a very wonderful TV series being played in Japan called "Musashi" (I am quite sure I do not have to explain what it is about, right?). The main character is played by Ichikawa Shinosuke; Kojiro is played by Matsuoka Masahiro and Otsu by Yonekura Ryoko. They are excellent actors, and the series is very well put together. But as amusing as the TV series is, even more so is the sight of several foreigners, sitting before the relatively small screen TV at the Language School library, straining to understand every word and quite enthralled with the previously taped misadventures of Takezo and Matahashi. One of them, however, felt compelled to ask me why I did not join them and had picked up a book about the history of ancient Egypt - in English! - instead. After all, I am Japanese. She meant well, so I told her I had seen that chapter the day it was aired, which was true. But I did not tell her that I could be fascinated by ancient Egypt, love the Sphinx, the temple of Karnak and Abu Simbel, and still be quite Japanese, and a so-so budoka. However, no matter how much I would be tempted to do so, I would never to put my fists on my hips, stand with my legs apart and say "So let it be written, so let it be done". I promise!

So, you may study ancient Egyptian, if you like, and when you go to a Japanese restaurant, just say "Omakase shimasu" and you can't go wrong.


17. Why do you call your style Daito Ryu "Aikibujutsu" and not "Aikijujutsu"?

Not all our teachers use the term Bujutsu. It all depends on what is included in their curriculum. Jujutsu refers to teachings which emphasize tai-jutsu, or unarmed techniques, with a comparatively lesser emphasis on weapons disciplines.

The term Bujutsu applies to a curriculum which keeps a more even balance, including a wider range of weapons disciplines in their teaching. It is sometimes called Sogo Budo, although the meaning is not literal.


18. Can I get hurt training?

You bet!

And I tell you, without a hint of sado-masochism, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

If you have read the previous answers, you may remember that we spoke about dojo environment and the importance of a certain frame of mind during training to create a mind capable of adequate defensive responses when in danger. Well, to paraphrase Nishida Kitaro "one cannot claim to have ventured onto the bridge if one has not dared to look at the river down below." The potential risk is an inherent part of the training. Being aware of that risk and learning to keep composure is quite helpful.

Of course, all precautions are taken. Recommendations are given to ensure that the risks are minimized. The teachers and senior students remain vigilant that no unnecessary roughness or unsafe practices take place. There is no need for ambulances to be waiting at the back door of every dojo. But the risk of injury is very real, and it would be misleading to even suggest that it would never happen. On the other hand, we couldn't make such a claim about bicycling, jogging, golfing, or even about pachinko playing for that matter. Given the actual ratio of accidents elsewhere, the dojo is actually quite a safe place.

But, yes, Bugei is about conflict and deals with conflict. No apologies or excuses are necessary. As one teacher pointed out a long time ago "the kisaki is always aimed at your throat. Do not ever forget it, even when you are bowing." It may sound extreme, but it is not. You will learn to deal with it, without being flooded with your own glucocorticoids. Your hippocampus would be quite safe, and so - we can only hope - will be the rest of your anatomy.

In any case, and without any fear of sounding overly emphatic, I say it once and I say it all over again: It is all worth it.


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