June 29, 2008


In the absence of formal Taikai around the world, many folks have begun scheduling their own over the last several years and so far, regional efforts have been quite successful. The Bujinkan’s yearly theme for 2008 is not only Togakure Ryu, it's also a time Hatsumi sensei wishes all those training to form a greater union amongst ourselves, strengthening the ties of friendship and support. It is with this spirit I have reached out to all Midwest Shidoshi, instructors, and students to participate in the “Prairie State Taikai,” an event that invites everyone to train together as Buyu and donate all proceeds to charity.

This first and hopefully annual gathering will take place on Saturday, September 13th, 2008, at Illinois’ Sand Ridge State Forest, just south of Peoria. Instructors from around the great state of Illinois and across the Midwest are slated to come together and work cooperatively to demonstrate and elucidate ideas on a variety of aspects. Subject matter will include unarmed Taijutsu, bojutsu, sword, and the Bujinkan’s yearly theme – Togakure Ryu - as well as answering questions from participants. Rather than assign timeslots, we’ll be using a ‘hoop-training’ theme, so we can include more instructors, provide them more opportunities to contribute, and keep all instructors engaged and teaching throughout the day.

Participation will be $20.00 paid to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, “serving military personnel who have been catastrophically disabled in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and veterans severely injured in other operations and in the normal performance of their duties.” See http://www.fallenheroesfund.org/ for more information. Checks can be made out directly to the fund.

If you have interest in participating as an instructor, please contact me at: james@sgtidojo.com

Check back for updates and thanks for your support!


June 25, 2008

Serve the meal, not just the ingredients

Imagine sitting down at a restaurant and ordering your favorite dish. You take a sip of vino and stuff a napkin in your collar, but when the food comes, it’s not a meal at all, merely the ingredients to it, raw and uncooked. Had they been prepared together, it might have been something tasty, but as they stand they are simply store bought, separate parts of an uncompleted whole. Last Friday night I tried to avoid that when a visit from a couple of out-of-town guests, brought in by one of my students, turned out to be his younger sister and mother. They were passing through and wanted to see and experience training for themselves, but had zero experience between them. I took it as a challenge.

I like to think I can teach martial arts to almost anyone, but these were certainly not our typical student types. So, we started with an overview and I used instances from their own lives to show them how they already thought “tactically” in certain situations. For example, when given a scenario about being followed, they gave all the right answers about what they should and shouldn’t do. I explained training as the physical interpretation of that way of thinking, as we practice to out maneuver opponents, gaining leverage to prevent them from harming us or others. Then we sat on the floor and I showed them how to use their weight and posture to give way to gravity as the first method of experiencing Ukemi, injury prevention. I used images like ‘the body has no corners,’ and showed them how to spread out on the floor as they moved, like a water balloon, instead of like a ball. In about ten minutes they had a good feel for it.

They also seemed to get the rest of the night as well, learning to move their feet first, breaking balance with their movement, instead of looking for some technique to escape the various grabs and punches the gang were giving them. By the end of the night, they were even changing their movement, using Henka to escape. It was all pretty cool.

What I didn’t show them was how to perform anything “correctly” - no form, kata, techniques - I felt it would‘ve wasted their time, muddled their contextual understanding, and even bored them, turning them off to even the possibility of training in the future. It seemed to work, as Mom and sis had a great amount of fun and sis was intent on learning more.

Too often, it seems to me, we can get caught up ensuring the freshness, origin, or pureness of the ingredients, and forget our role is that of chef, not the freshness-origin-pureness patrol. Chefs fit ingredients together at the time they need to use them, noting how they apply to the whole. This creative preparation is a challenge to make certain every meal is edible, nutritional, and tasty.

June 6, 2008

Is Life the Highest Value?

Recently sent to a radio personality:

I think the world of you and your show. However, I just listened to your, “Ultimate Issues Hour – Is life the highest value?” and in saying that it is not, I have to disagree with you, in part.

There is a subtlety to this question I believe you have missed. In asking if life is the highest value, you are really asking if your life is more important than the obvious set of values we have based our great nation upon. You did not believe, of course, this to be true, which you stated. Who honestly believes their own life is worth more than truth, freedom, or democracy? But the question of whether life is the highest value is more complex.

We take chances with our own lives everyday – we cross the street against traffic, eat foods that are bad for us, and take up habits that can ultimately do us harm. We do so with full knowledge of their consequences and yet continue them. Why? Simple, we take our own lives for granted. You must ask yourself the real question here – are the values of our nation higher than the value we place on the lives of our family and loved ones? Patrick Henry did not say, “Give me liberty or give my family death!” At the moment Pvt. First Class Ross McGinnis dived on a live grenade in Iraq, did he do so to uphold truth, freedom, and democracy? I have a feeling he sacrificed himself for a much higher and nobler reason - to save the lives of his friends, which he did so, magnificently. His belief in American values may have brought him to Iraq, to serve his country faithfully, but at the moment of truth, it was his humanity that protected others.

Around the world, human beings define themselves tribally, where cultural values are relative - not everyone extols freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (even in our own country). But the real value of life transcends any and all cultural value, affirming mankind’s single most important impulse since the dawn of our beginnings, as well as the key to true human equality. This “life value” states unequivocally that people of all cultures and creeds from around the world share one vital instinct - they each value their life and the lives of loved ones the same as we do and will give up their life to protect those they love. Beyond any cultural, relative value, it is man’s single connection to our fellow man and is expressed by the desire to be viewed as equals. I doubt Islamic terrorists actually believe they are out to kill their equals – it is far easier to justify killing an infidel than a fellow human being. The life value is our inherited, sacred, unwritten law - if the Golden Rule is, “Treat others the way you wish to be treated,” then the Life Value’s Golden Rule is, “Treat others the way you wish them to treat your children.”

Early Americans fought against the tyranny of the British and were willing to sacrifice themselves and place their own families in jeopardy from British reprisal, precisely because England violated the life value by not treating us as equals. This nation’s greatest values – truth, justice, liberty, freedom, and democracy - are all life-affirming and expressions of this life value – the desire to be treated as equals, the recognition that your life and the lives of your loved ones are just as important to you as mine are to me. All of this was captured within the spirit of our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” May we all be so disciplined, as to read it every July 4th.

Those who violate the life value, such as those who seek to kill innocents, violate our basic human nature, alerting the rest of us as to who the bad guys really are. When we activate the life value by treating others as our equal, we cultivate compassion for our fellow man, fine tune our moral compass to live fearlessly, stand up for what is just, and are willing to protect and defend others even if it means sacrificing our very life.

Keep up your great work!

With warmest regards,

James Morganelli
Chicago, Illinois

May I suggest this book: Values for a New Millennium, by Robert Humphrey. It is a brilliant work.