December 20, 2009

Bonenkai 2009

Okay, this will be my last post of 2009. It's just we had such a great time the other night at our Bonenkai, I wanted to share. We had several groups coming together, which only happens once or twice a year, due to distance. We trained and talked about what we learned over the last year, saw old friends (Shawn!), ate some of the best sushi in Chicago, drank Asahi (Super Dry!), opened presents, and all with our Buyu, some of the best folks I know.

I want to thank Shidoshi Jeff Patchin and his boys for coming in once again from Rockford (almost a two-hour commute). When I got Jeff's yearly nobody-knows-how-to-drive-in-Chicago call, I knew everything was coming together. And it did.

Thanks to everyone who came, hope you went home with a smile, a full belly, and a nice little gift. I got a copy of one of Soke's Kuden series from the gang, and 'stole' a copy during White Elephant of "Nine Deaths of the Ninja,"
which, looking back, might not have been the smartest of tactical decisions, after viewing the credit sequence where Sho Kosugi swings a Ninjato in the middle of three dancing babes to the vocal stylings of a woman who probably (and thankfully) sang herself into obscurity. Check it out here, but be warned:

For my gift, I brought a ham.

Let's do it all again next year!


Check out the pics here:

UPDATE 12/21/09 - "Nine Deaths of the Ninja" - Best bad Ninja movie ever ... ever. Do yourself a favor, watch this movie. Watch it with Buyu. And alcohol. Why?
1. Ninja vs Filipino midgets.
2. Screechy gay wheelchair Nazi guy doing his best Dr. Strangelove.
3. Hot "Foxy Brown" type doing her best Pam Grier.
4. You will learn more about attaching shurikens to a camouflaged jumpsuit than any other movie.
Complete your training - don't miss this!

December 17, 2009


We're back (again) from another 'Buyu-tiful' (I know, I'm a little tired) New Jersey weekend with Jack Hoban. This time, Tomo led a morning session of Makko Ho before Jack's end-of-the-year seminar. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Jack and his wife Yumiko's adverstising and local stomping paid off with plenty of folks, both those who train and those who don't. Check out our slick camera phone shot:

Huge thanks for their hard work and trust in allowing Tomo to teach. By the sound of it, we may be back sometime next year for another round. We'll look forward to it.

We also joined in the fun at the annual Buyu Christmas party, which had great food, an open bar, and plenty of laughs. Our thanks to Judd for setting it all up - great toast as well, sir! It always feels good to talk shop with Buyu over cocktails.

Our own SGTI dojo will be having its Bonenkai/Christmas party this week, a tradition we've enjoyed for many years now. Don't forget a wrapped gift for 'White Elephant!'

This will be my last post of 2009. But on New Year's Day, look for my annual "Under the Blade" that will outline our Bujinkan and SGTI dojo themes for 2010.

Have a very safe and wonderful Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December 1, 2009

Why do we train?

Tomo and I just returned from our fifth trip to London, England, in three years. We had a terrific time of it. Everyone was enthusiastic and many have supported us from the beginning. Special thanks to Steve Kovalcik, without whom none of this would have been possible. He is my good friend and a dedicated student of Budo. If you're ever in London, I recommend training with him if you get the chance.

We had quite a good time at the seminar, concentrating on 'tactical space' - out maneuvering opponents safely and efficiently. But beyond the Kukan, beyond the sword, and 'nawa no kankaku,' the most fun and fulfilling part of the weekend was by far defending others. As one participant said with a big British grin, "it just makes you feel good." He's so right. And why? Simple: coming to the defense of others is what training is all about; there is just no better reason to train.

When folks tell me they're interested in "self-defense," my answer is usually short - join a nice gym, get into shape, and learn to run as fast as you can. Running away is mankind's oldest form of self-defense - all children should be masters of it. Sure, it makes for lame stories over beers, but it'll keep you safe.

For most of us, though, it's difficult to explain why we feel the need to train. We just do. And we're content to leave it at that. But if we were to explore why, we might just find, not a reason we can all agree on, but a truth none of us can deny; one that tells us, we are a person who chooses not to run away. If you are new to martial arts or deciding whether to begin, this realization alone can inspire the first steps onto the mat.

The truth here is common sense: martial arts began when early man couldn't run away, when he had to defend someone else who couldn't keep up, like a loved one, a spouse, a child. Is it really any different today?

In a previous post, I wrote that fear was the root motivation behind anyone choosing to train martial arts. I still believe that. Fear, in all its various forms, can be a powerful motivator for change, a challenge to surmount, so we can rise to our own personal image. But, the best reason to keep training, is to learn to defend others, for it points to the deeper moral imperative at the heart of training itself - the acceptance of our role to deliver security to loved ones as well as the rest of the tribe. In others words, warriorship.

I understand for many, training is a personal endeavor, one tied to their own wants and desires, and the need to overcome fears. But the simplest and best way to overcome fear in high-stress situations and life and death encounters is to dedicate oneself to protecting someone else, a loved one, a friend, even someone we don't know, someone who simply needs our help. Suddenly, we're not so afraid, we have a job to do and the skills to do it.

I am honestly unsure whether those training solely for themselves can ever really overcome their fears. Submersing oneself in the minutiae of the art (or any art for that matter), looking constantly inward, searching always to collect that next technique, can segregate us from the application to our daily lives, the part that compels us to live better than we did the day before. As I see it, this is the difference between practicing and training.

Of course, some degree of practice is necessary, I just don't rely on it to make up the bulk of my experience. Practicing techniques, memorizing and perfecting them, cannot calibrate their application, cannot teach us when it is right to use them, when we should stand down, and most importantly, when to stand up.

"Solo training" is practicing. Moving through Sanshin, Ukemi, swinging a sword and staff around is similar to staying at home to read the Bible, instead of going to Church for the religious - it supplements training, but it's not the same. It's not the same because it is the volunteering of our time, the sacrifice of it, to meet with like-minded others and experience the group ethic, when practicing becomes training.

Going to church doesn't make one good, but it does provide a time to learn how to apply the lessons of life - just like time spent at a dojo should. We choose to volunteer our time to learn a physical philosophy that challenges us to back it up with ethics (morals in action). There is power in the group ethic, for it's easy to cheat in the weighing of priorities on our own, but much harder within the group, which is why it can help coordinate us.

So, in your own dojo, try setting up scenarios to protect others. Make changes to the variables and placement of the 'good' and 'bad' guys and seek to apply Taijutsu's tactical efficiency. At the very least, you'll have fun. At most, you'll get 'activated' and realize there's something more to it. And, of course, there is. Marital arts wouldn't exist, if there were nothing worth fighting for.

Training is overcoming - overcoming the physical (technical), mental (tactical), and spiritual (ethical) odds that align against us everyday. Training is the way we acknowledge to ourselves and others, that the volunteering of our time, the sacrifice of our money and resources, the endurance of soreness and pain, the acceptance of infinite patience, the perseverance of bygone ideals, the preservation of universal values, and the belief - the simple belief, with childlike naivete - that merely because we live, we can make a difference ... are the means by which we accept the burden of knowing what is worth fighting for.

Don't just practice. Warriors train. Go train.