February 21, 2011

10 Questions with Jack Hoban

On Saturday, April 16th, 2011, I'll host a Taijutsu Workshop with Shihan Jack Hoban in Chicagoland. We've been seeing quite a bit of Jack lately and he has again worked us into his busy schedule. I am not at liberty to speak on all the opportunities ahead for him, but suffice it to say, they are numerous and exciting! My small contribution will be an upcoming interview with him accepted by Black Belt magazine.

Why is there such buzz for Jack? The answer is simple ... and not so simple. Throughout our world's often violent history, lesser men have found a useful tool in the chronic dehumanization of their enemies and of the society in which they fought to subjugate. Institutional dehumanization, exemplified by the world's most vicious regimes and now on full display in this year of near constant revolution, enables brutalizing and killing more rapidly and without question while safeguarding despots to steal or maintain the reins of power they so selfishly desire.

But one archetype has held fast against such easy victory - the iconic noble warrior. They alone questioned the very nature of their use of force. Inspired by the ethical leaps forward offered by the tenets of religion and divine faith, they were compelled to reconcile the honing of their individual martial skill with its justifiable use on others, its effect on society, and the greater good. In Japanese history, such notable samurai as Miyamoto Musashi and Yagyu Munenori, no less than the Kenpo teacher to a shogun himself, were challenged to contemplate the virtues of warriorship by Takuan, a Buddhist monk, and would leave behind astute works on the subject including the "Book of Five Rings" and "The Life-Giving Sword."

Today, we are far removed from the integral role martial arts once played in a secure society and as a result, in the modern training of martial skill there can often be a disconnect between the attainment of ability and its intrinsic moral imperative, providing little if any practical grounding for ethical application. This can result in the purely selfish pursuit for combative ability in and of itself. At its most basic level, Jack's training dispels the fog that for many obscures this innate moral-physical connection that can provide the clarity of justified use as well as virtuous core values. Training these ideals can make us realize our role in the storied history of warriorship and remind us just why we started training in the first place.

How is he able to do this? Jack has through his decades of martial training and apprenticeship, developed a keen understanding of nothing less than the profound: a simple, practical theory of human nature. The causality of our human nature is among the oldest questions - if not the oldest - in human history. Answers to 'why we are the way we are' carries implications for every aspect of society. Just imagine if there were common sense directions to resolve individual conflict, even war, a simple way to respect the equalness of our fellow man, improve cross-cultural relations, a remedy to dehumanization, and even a basic recipe for human happiness. Jack's theory, the "Dual-Life Value," provides clarity on these matters of the human condition, and people are listening, including the Marine Corps, Law Enforcement from across the country, and many in the civilian sector.

Along with shifting perspectives and changing minds, Jack's greatest breakthrough has been to turn the theory into actionable physical lessons by reconciling the many years he spent under the tutelage of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, the wellspring of the last true warrior arts, and his mentor, Dr. Robert Humphrey, the DLV theory's original articulator, who was not a PhD, or any tenured academic, but a World War II Marine who fought on Iwo Jima, and formulated his theory based in part on the profound self-sacrifice of his men during some of the darkest horrors of war.

Join us for truly inspired training!

Saturday, April 16, 2011
1:00 - 5:00 pm
A Center for the Martial Arts - Soseikan Dojo
6856 West 111th Street
Worth, Illinois 60482
Cost $75.00

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10 Questions with Jack Hoban

Below are my "10 Questions" for training in this enigmatic art. In formulating them, I hoped to zero in on the foundational elements - the grounding balance and equilibrium we can sometimes lose in training's minutiae. I try to answer them myself every once in a while, if only to chronicle my own development. Please enjoy. ~James

What is your personal martial arts biography?
I studied some karate as a teenager, and then karate and escrima while I was in the U.S. Marines. I also boxed a little. I read about Stephen K. Hayes and went to some of his training in the early 80’s, including the first Ninja Festival. It was Stephen who was my first sempai and who introduced me to Japanese martial arts master Masaaki Hatsumi in 1982. I have been studying Bujinkan Taijutsu with Hatsumi Sensei ever since.

Why do you train?
I train – or practice – so that I can keep my mind and body sharp and healthy. Of course, I am always learning a little more each time I practice, but I am more focused on living a full and ethical life. That’s the purpose. Ethics to me are moral values in action – in other words being ethical has a physical aspect and a values aspect. These two aspects, the physical and moral, combine to create an ethic. The ethic of a warrior is the ethic to protect the life of self and others – all others.

What do you think is/are the core value(s) of martial arts training?
There is really only one core value, and that is life. I learned that concept, from two different perspective: from Masaaki Hatsumi, as well as from my Marine Corps mentor, Robert L. Humphrey, who articulated the Dual Life Value of human nature. They both said that the core of martial arts is to protect life. From the life value, all the other great moral values flow. Moral values protect the self - happiness, health, serenity, and so on. And moral values protect others – honor, courage, commitment, justice etc. As you can see, some of the great moral values protect both self and others. And they all have one thing in common – when they are functioning correctly, they are all life-protecting.

But they are still relative values. Our relative moral values must be constantly examined to ensure that they are always performing their life-respecting mission. For example, courage can become foolish martyrdom; commitment can become irrational fanaticism; honor can become self-righteousness, conceit, and disrespect for others. As relative moral values they must always remain grounded in the Life Value.

Can you explain your method of training and teaching?
This is one of the secrets I learned from my teacher. I don’t really teach. I train, and then, kind of, talk out loud about what I am doing and feeling. Martial arts, I don’t think, can really be taught; the student has to learn them on their own. Actually they have to be “snatched” from movements and actions of others. Sometimes they also can come out of “nowhere.” That is the creative mystery of martial arts training, and it only happens sometimes.

Is there a “secret” to training?
Well, I think there are two important things: luck – you have to be lucky and find the right mentor. The second is perseverance – you have to keep going. Some innate aptitude or “knack” for martial arts and physicality can help. But I think luck and perseverance are the most important factors and can make up for a lack of natural gifts.

What would you recommend others do, to improve their training?
First: Clarify your ethic – why are you training? Is it for yourself? Is it for others? Does your desire to train flow from your relative values or emotions? Or does it come also from your desire to protect life? Second: Practice! Practice by yourself and practice with others. Live a flexible, but healthy and physical lifestyle. You have to practice incessantly – every day.

What are the biggest differences today, than when you first began training?
Well, I am older and have a different view and deeper motivations, so I have changed. Another thing is that there is so much more information on martial arts – all kinds of martial arts – readily available. And there are so many more people than there ever were practicing. There have also been many environmental changes – types and availability of weapons, different kinds of enemies. But in a way, nothing has changed. The principles that are represented by the art we call “Bujinkan” are fundamental to the human experience and have a life of their own. They are the laws of the warrior. They will endure as long as there is one true warrior in the world.

What is the role a martial artist plays in our world?
A martial artist is a rather all-inclusive term. Many people have differing perspectives on what martial artists are and what their roles are. Therefore, there can be many roles: from someone who is interested in self-defense, to someone who is interested in exercise and “getting in shape,” to people who have an affinity or interest in the cultural and historical aspects of the martial arts – particularly if they originated in a country other than their own. Martial artists can play less benign roles, as well: some people want to be involved in martial arts because it gives them status or control over others. Frankly, I am not interested in any of those reasons. I see martial arts as the physical manifestation of our human proclivity to be protectors of life – self and others. Particularly others. I guess you would call that aspect of the martial arts “warriorship.” I often say that it starts in the schoolyard. You see a bully. His thinks he is “top dog.” That is fine. That perception is a relative value. But when his relative value supersedes the life value of another kid – in other words, when the bully picks on and/or punches the other kid – this is wrong! Here is the rule: relative values, no matter how “great,” cannot supersede the life value.

You see the bully picking on the other kid. You feel – in your guts – that this is wrong. Congratulations, you are moral. (By the way, most people are moral – they know the difference between right and wrong).

Now…you see the bully picking on the other kid. You overcome the “freeze,” you overcome the embarrassment, and you go tell a teacher. Congratulations! You are ethical. (Ethics are moral values in action).

Now…you see the bully picking on the other kid. You overcome the “freeze,” you overcome the fear, and you go to the aid of the kid being bullied. You put yourself at risk. Congratulations! You have the makings of an Ethical Warrior.

And it doesn’t end in the schoolyard. Almost all problems in our society and the world are caused by bullies – those who would supersede the life value of others with their own relative values. Warriors counter the bullies.

What one thing would you contribute to a “Book of Knowledge?”
I really don’t think I have anything special to contribute that hasn’t already been said, done, or is already part of our human nature. I do think we have made a clarification with our articulation of a warrior as a protector of life – self and all others – who will fight only when necessary to protect life. This contrasts greatly with some definitions of a warrior, and I am good with that.

Do you have any great hope for the future of martial training?
Absolutely, once things are clarified and articulated, the chances for them to spread and do their good work increases. Our ability to share information and travel will facilitate some bad things, but I believe mostly good things. And what could be better than the feeling of being a protector of life? Here is a little story. One time I was hinting to my teacher that I was concerned that I might not have copies of all of the densho (written documents containing the art’s techniques). He looked at me as if I were a little slow and said, “Jack, I made fifty videos!” I thought, “Of course!” Five hundred years ago things were passed from person to person and had to be written down on paper. Now we can share knowledge in a much more open and interactive way. We have all the techniques – with commentary, good and not so good examples, and countless henka (variations) all on video. So that part of it is handled pretty well.

There are also great examples of people with beautiful hearts and perspectives on martial arts, who are also fierce, brave and capable. Not all of us fit that description, but great role models are out there – and more accessible than they have ever been in history. That’s a good thing. Just as long as we pick the right role model – and are a little lucky.

February 7, 2011

An Attack on Dr. Humphrey's Dual-Life Value Theory

If you haven't already read Jack Hoban's piece "Developing the Ethical Marine Warrior" - check it out, it's a great read.

But also check out "Chappy's" retort as well as rebuts in the 'Comments' section.

Interesting ...