August 29, 2015


UPDATED 9/27/2015

SHUGOSHIN (Japanese for “protector ethic”) is a high-intensity course in martial arts fundamentals geared to training the essential mindset and physical habits for conflict defense of self and others.

Shugoshin training identifies itself as “PROTECTIVES” and empowers practitioners through heightened awareness and intense physical training twice a week, for an hour each time, during its four-week run.

Popular and commercialized martial arts often attempt to mold student reactions to fit a stylized set of predetermined movements, an approach that has little to do with realistic application across variable threats. Protectives are trained in the opposite manner, using threat contexts for “escape, resist, extract, and intercede” to naturalize counters for defensive movements.

As a fundamentals course it will concentrate on vital mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of the martial way:

    1. Body flexibility and resiliency
                                                    i.     Warm ups and stretching
                                                   ii.     Tumbling and breaking falls
                                                  iii.     Striking and kicking
    1. Maneuvering drills and principle-based responses
                                                    i.     Punching
                                                   ii.     Kicking
                                                  iii.     Grabbing
                                                  iv.     Throwing
    1. Counter-maneuvering
                                                    i.     Escape
                                                   ii.     Resistance and escape
                                                  iii.     Extraction of others
                                                  iv.     Interceding for others
    1. Scenario-based training
                                                    i.     Defense of self
                                                   ii.     Defense of others

    1. Recognizing and clarifying universal values
    2. Empowering oneself as a “protector”
    3. Critical thinking for ethical problem solving

    1. Ethical value stories
    2. Ethical use of martial ability

Protectives cultivates one’s resolve to persevere, where instinct supersedes technique and is sharpened with a set of principles outside the realm of pure physical might. By cultivating natural responses during initial training, larger, stronger, even multiple opponents can be defeated without reliance on brute force, speed, or strength. Instead, the student’s instincts of positioning, leverage, and initiative are sharpened as tools capable of outwitting even the largest adversary at a time of their greatest disadvantage. 

Protectives replaces static, imitation of techniques – a hallmark of commercial martial arts - with a direct connection to the ebb and flow of martial principles in constant flux. This acuity fosters tactical awareness and creative adaptability, the necessary skills to claim ownership of one's ability to “be” skilled today, instead of always training to “become” skilled.

If you're interested or know someone who might be, please check it out at the Japanese Culture Center, and on Facebook: SHUGOSHIN Protectives Course

Introductory course: Fundamentals I

Time: Two 60-minute long classes twice a week
Length: Four weeks

Cost: $190.00
($20.00 per session/8 sessions & $30.00 sign-up fee
includes a detailed training handbook/journal.)

Tuesday         November 3, from 6:00-7:00pm
Friday                        November 6, from 7:00-8:00pm

Tuesday         November 10, from 6:00-7:00pm
Friday                        November 13, from 7:00-8:00pm

Tuesday         November 17, from 6:00-7:00pm
Friday                        November 20, from 7:00-8:00pm

Tuesday         November 24, from 6:00-7:00pm
Friday                        November 27, from 7:00-8:00pm

Japanese Culture Center
1016 W Belmont
Chicago, Illinois 60657

If you would like to participate, please contact the instructor directly:

James V. Morganelli:

July 10, 2015

To Die or Not to Die?

The internet blew up over last weekend’s brutal murder of 24-year-old Kevin Sutherland aboard a DC Metro train by Jasper Spires. Sutherland was on his way to July Fourth celebrations when Spires attempted to rob him and instead stabbed him 40 times or so with a pocketknife.

Everyone else on the train car, about 10 other souls, did not physically intervene to save him. This has, predictably, led some to denounce or applaud the inaction. Aside from the mass opinions on Reddit, there were two notable accounts on each side of the issue and both got it wrong.

John Daniel Davidson wrote a scathing attack in the Federalist on “Beta Males” and Petula Dvorak questioned the merit of defending others for the Washington Post. As an expert on conflict resolution, a trained ethicist, and a martial artist of 35 years, here’s me weighing in.

The central question in debate is this: is it morally wrong not to intervene to save another’s life under brutal attack?

Answer: It depends.

It depends on (at the very least) two allied factors: one’s physical capacity for such action and the circumstantial context.

First, one’s intervention must be fairly weighed against one’s own physical capacity for such action. If someone falls overboard in turbulent waters and you know that leaping in to save them from drowning is a likely death sentence, it is not morally wrong not to leap in. Instead, do something else (and others on the train did) like throw a life preserver and alert authorities. As the alarm raiser, their life is in your hands.

Now, if one is a professional swimmer or a lifeguard, the answer might be different. I say “might” because individuals must still fairly weigh their chances to help strangers against condemning themselves. But let’s face it: if Superman is witness to this attack and he chooses not to intervene, it is most certainly immoral. The second aspect deals with the circumstantial context: those turbulent waters might not seem so turbulent if it’s your baby that’s drowning.

I like the fire of Davidson’s piece, but he goes messily off course. He should cut the “beta male” name calling and misplaced analogies to Flight 93, in which every single person was inescapably at the mercy of murderers. And as a technical matter, I can assure that his assertion, “Any two adult men in that subway car could have stopped (Spires), no matter how crazy or strong he was, and saved Sutherland’s life,” is demonstrably false, and if he’s serious, dangerously naive. Subduing a crazed murderer, weapon in hand – and possibly on synthetic drugs - is terribly tricky business, let alone one covered in sweat and gore, occupying the middle of a train car’s narrow walkway. Not only can a stab to an eye from a simple pocketknife permanently blind, the victim blood on its blade threatens blood borne pathogens to the next victim and their family. Fun stuff, reality.

There are innumerable times when Police Officers have ganged up on (unarmed) perpetrators and still been unable to reasonably control them (and they at least have some training). This is not to say Davidson's “stopping” scenario is not possible, it is to acknowledge it is most likely not probable. I don’t know if Davidson trains martially. If he does, I urge him to keep training. If he does not, he ought to, as well as write a clarion call for the broader study of warriorship.

Where Davidson is Aristotelian foolhardy, Dvorak is just sad. Not only does she openly ridicule any idea for intervention, she builds a case against it. Readers are led to conclude that any physical defense is somehow unjustified, even to the extent of re-examining a spur-of-the-moment, successful life-saving action and end her piece with the unspoken question, “Is it worth it?”

The answer, Ms. Dvorak, is a throaty “YES!” especially to the person (and their loved ones) whose life was actually saved. Dvorak’s intellectual dishonesty (or willful ignorance, take your pick) on the merit of Concealed Carry boggles. As Leftists enjoy saying, “the debate is over” and in this case it most certainly is. For had there been a “good guy with a gun” (CCW or a Police Officer) on the train who took action, Sutherland would have had the very best chance of surviving his attacker.

I get that even thinking about dealing with this kind of horror leaves good folks inert – an utterly normal response. But that is no excuse to tonally poo-poo any defensive action, which always favors inertness. Dvorak even softens the blow of her relativism by empathizing, “It makes a lot of us uncomfortable to think we would have cowered instead of confronting Sutherland’s killer.” Of course it’s uncomfortable, since this part is where it gets ethically sticky – we are all perfectly capable of intervening, we choose not to.

See, universal common sense informs that each of us, which is to say, all of us, does have the mental, spiritual, and physical capacity to intervene on behalf of another who needs our protection when the victim is a loved one. In the case of say, a child or sibling or spouse being brutally attacked, there is not a single person that loves them who would be unable to at least throw themselves in front of or upon their body to shield them from further violence. Everyone who is mobile, is capable of doing this, from grandma to junior, and they have. No one has to be Batman to intervene because doing violence to the aggressor is not the point, protecting the victim is.

This is why for the majority of untrained people it can feel so difficult to answer this ethical issue. That’s because they are most probably asking themselves the wrong question. It isn't “should I intervene or not?” But rather “am I willing to die or not?” The untrained must ask themselves who it is they are willing to die for. (Trained folks have already answered this.) If you are unwilling to die to protect a complete stranger, that doesn't make you weird, it makes you human. Is it moral then, for normal folks to not intervene? No. The decision to not intervene is not moral. But it is also not immoral. Thus the bland call of inertness. However, if you are willing to die to protect a stranger, that makes you super human and we call those people "heroes." (And just so we’re clear, if one is willing to physically confront the aggressor and subdue or kill them to protect the life of that stranger, this makes you a warrior.)

The untrained majority has a far higher chance of succumbing to violence when intervening, which is why they generally choose not to. Had Spires not had a knife and only been beating Sutherland to death, the odds increase that others might have stepped up. But the melee weapon was a game changer.

Some time ago I wrote a piece called Sensei Obvious when atheist-at-large Sam Harris, himself I believe a proponent of “jiujitsu,” wrote a rather simple-headed piece on his blog called the “Truth About Violence,” and unfortunately propagated the idea that regular folks will fight back. But the wrenching “truth” is that most folks will not fight back, or help others under attack. If they cannot escape they are more than likely to give in and give up. Nobody wants to get hurt and die. Fighting back, like any cultivated personality trait, is a practiced response. And this is where I stand with Davidson: we ought to physically protect others as best we can.

My advice? Get trained. The best thing martial training can do to prepare anyone for conflict is not provide the necessary skills to respond to it - that's a matter of long term personal integrity. But rather calibrate ourselves morally to know that we ought to respond to it. It is this thinking that presents a clear and present danger to the ambivalent inaction of moral relativism for it disarms and de-legitimizes it.

What options do the untrained have when they choose to intervene? Here’s just a few ideas:
Suit up. Zip up any jackets and even layer them if you must confront a knife. Put a bookbag on backwards covering your chest. It won’t be any kind of replacement for actual body armor, but it’ll be better than nothing.
Folks were headed to July Fourth festivities. Did anyone have a field blanket? Used like a net it could envelop the attacker and control him. Holding a jacket like a two-handed shield in front of oneself could do some good.
When it comes to confronting weapons the best choice is always another weapon. Period. Strike the attacker to separate and distract him while others pull the victim away from the attack. 
Of course, all these options and more are predicated on the notion that one has already consented to intervene. And this is truly the scariest issue because human conflict is by far the number one phobia of the species. Why is it that moral relativism in action (as Dvorak wields it) and political correctness in language have become so mightily attractive? Simple: obfuscating truth blurs the sharp divides that often dictate battle lines and their decisive actions. Those who espouse these views honestly believe they are doing the “right” and “moral” thing, even though clouding truth obscures the matter of “rightness” itself. And of course there can never be escape from history’s cruel tutelage that disorientation from truth always places lives into greater, not lesser, jeopardy.

It is not immoral not to wish to sacrifice oneself for strangers. But it is moral should we choose to do so in order to defend their life.

Knowing this, we ought not revel in selfish protectionism. And should certainly not finger-wag others into dispassionate inaction simply to justify ourselves. This is how moral relativism propagates itself.

We ought to protect and defend others to escape violence.

And we ought to want to.

July 3, 2015


We had a great time in California this past week seeing and training with old friends and getting a tan in the process.

On Friday, we shared an awesome visit with Shureido, makers of superior-quality training gear from Okinawa, Japan, and even got to move with a kokutan (ebony) bokken, the only one I've ever laid hands on.

That evening Tomoko took us through a very informative and enjoyable Makko Ho class with our group and their significant others. Saturday we did some bojutsu in historic Griffith Park, home to the Griffith Observatory, and had a surprise visit from Shihan Michael Glenn of the Santa Monica Bujinkan Dojo. Sunday we rested. Monday we hit Disneyland to see Walt; lots of fun.

Los Angeles can be a tough gig to play and it feels good to know that our West coast friends are in good hands with Shidoshi Mike Govier who "keeps going!" no matter what. My great thanks to him and his wonderful wife Eliza for hosting us.

Until next time!

Thanks Eric!

"Shureido" - handmade artwork by legendary Karate Shihan Fumio Demura. 

Great to finally meet Shihan Michael Glenn.
Bojutsu in the park.

A little Gyokko Ryu.

Proud of these folks! Let's Keep Going!

June 18, 2015

REMINDER: Los Angeles Workshop, June 26th & 27th

Makko Ho's Position One
Just a reminder about next week's workshop Tomoko and I will have, hosted by our good friends at the Los Angeles Shingitai-Ichi Dojo. 

On Friday, June 26th, Tomoko and I will make our way to LA and join Shidoshi Michael Govier (SGTI Dojo LA) for a two-day Makko Ho and Taijutsu seminar - a rare trip for us to teach in sunny California.

I've long considered Makko Ho to be the flipside of training in which we learn to use Taijutsu to heal and keep ourselves and others healthy. It's a remarkable method, complex in its simplicity, much like Taijutsu. Hatsumi sensei even studied Makko Ho at one point and the Bujinkan knows its basic movements as the Ryutai Undo

Tomoko happens to be one of only two licensed Makko Ho instructors here in the United States. On Friday evening she'll take everyone through this esoteric Japanese stretching art, including the Hodo Taiso - partner bodywork that teaches practitioners to use positioning and alignment for healing purposes. Check out the interview I did with her: To Look Straight Forward.

Then on Saturday, June 27th, I'll engage everyone with my perspective on Taijutsu and conflict ethics, specifically the "protector ethic." 

We'll be in two separate, but close, locations: a city park and the same studio from the night before - the outdoor/indoor difference should be highly informative. We'll be covering unarmed movement, specifically how to make the tactical "viable," or capable of sustaining and protecting life, and any and all weapons available and the overlapping universality of their use. 

Makko Ho Workshop with Tomoko Morganelli
Friday, June 26th

DanceGarden LA in Atwater Village
3191 Casitas Ave, Suite 112
Los Angeles, CA 90039
A large, free parking lot is available

Taijutsu Workshop with James Morganelli
Saturday, June 27th

2 Locations:

Part I: 12-3pm 
Griffith Park
4730 Crystal Springs Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Merry-Go-Round parking lot 
Training will be behind the tennis courts 

Part II: 3-6pm
DanceGarden LA in Atwater Village
3191 Casitas Ave, Suite 112, 
Los Angeles, 90039

$25 for Tomoko's Workshop  
$60 for James' Workshop

Join us on our Facebook page and show your support! 

Questions? Contact Shidoshi Govier at: 

We look forward to meeting new folks and sharing some great training!

Tomoko and James

June 11, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Tactical to Viable

This word "tactical" gets thrown around in martial arts nowadays. I've seen "tactical combat," "tactical martial arts" even "tactical name-your-art" - it’s overused and for the wrong reasons because it doesn't describe what folks are actually trying to say.

“Tactical” is an adjective that describes “tactics, especially military” and is “characterized by adroit procedure” and related to “a maneuver or plan of action designed as an expedient toward gaining a desired end or temporary advantage.”

By this definition everything in martial arts or combatives is already “tactical”: every strategy, tactic, technique ever devised has been refined toward its aim of “expedient” (read "efficient") utilization through “adroit procedure.”

Thus saying your martial art is “tactical” is like saying you’re drinking “wet” water. “Wetness” is an inherent feature of the water, just like “tactical” is of any martial art. And even though buzzwords can better marketing, it still puts us back at our beginnings because “when everything is tactical, nothing is,” and we still have not articulated what we’re really trying to say. So what are we trying to say?

This may actually be true.
“Tactical” describes a thing’s functionality, i.e. a tactical vehicle, or tactical maneuver, indicating a thing’s purposeful adroit proceduring or tactical-ness. It seems we could ascribe nearly any thing or action as tactical merely by purposing its inherent procedure adroitly. One dictionary example: “They gained a tactical advantage by joining with one of their competitors” – pretty broad usage. And this still doesn't indicate, especially for training, what we’re actually searching for: how best to keep from dying.

Too often, martial technique is devised, understood, or trained outside of conditional use. A technique may look efficient, since it has no rough edges, but when trained against an honest partner trying to keep us honest, is ineffective because we've not accounted for it. So, if we think being tactical will keep us from dying, guess again, it’s only the first act of a three act play - the second and third acts involve identifying openings and closing them off.

Mmm, tactical bacon ...
Seriously, where can I get this? 
“How ought I train to habituate protecting life?” This is the optimal question for training because it relates to the shaping of actual use. It goes beyond mere procedure to ask for “manner,” “degree,” and to what end or “outcome” it is to be used for - important stuff, in fact, the most important for training.

And so I stopped saying tactical to mean “life protecting,” since something done tactically may simply be the most efficient way to gain one’s end, even at the expense of one’s life.

Out of frustration for clarity, I turned to the word "viable" to mean "in a way that protects life." “Via” comes from the Latin “vita” meaning “life” and describes that which is “life-enabling” (I like "life-able" myself). I now use “viable” to describe just how to apply our manner of usage, degree of that usage, and contextual outcome in training under various conditions, to perceive how best to protect life – our own, others’, and even the enemy’s - as we employ whatever tactic or technique we deem necessary.

Since there is no such thing as a technique that “works” in and of itself (they must all be applied), sharpening our instincts and perception of how best to protect life is the furthest we can reach or even hope for in training. At its core, effective training is about better decision making, so the finer our instincts regarding viability, the better chances we give ourselves.

That being said I can think of least five aspects regarding the "how" of viability, presented hierarchically. And since these are to be considered the parameters or restrictions of how we ought to habituate ourselves physically under conditions, they are chronicled in the negative, but explained in the affirmative.
1. Do not be a danger to oneself.
Know self-awareness. Be a protector of yourself from threats or danger you might impose through actions and behavior. Listen to common sense when it speaks and heed its message. 
2. Do not endanger those who need protection.
Be a protector of others, including the enemy, if possible. Calibrate what one ought to do by context. 
3. Do not allow conditions to prevent viability.
Know initiative. Be ahead and lead according to context. 
4. Do not allow the opponent to be a danger.  
Know positioning, leverage, and proportionality to outwit and outmaneuver. 
5. Do not allow the opponent to prevent their own endangerment.
Deny vulnerabilities to those who would use them against us.
How we might apply the "tactical" to make it “viable” is for me the dividing line that separates knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the minutiae of martial arts and its information comes in the form of strategy, tactics, and techniques. But what’s far more important is the wise (read prudent or judicious) application of whatever knowledge one does have.

Ultimately, all martial arts are thousands of years of refined physicality in order to embody our visceral sense of "ought" - the mental, willful, emotional drive that compels personal obligation. So this concept of viability, while reaching toward the physical, as it is trained and carried out that way, is rooted in our ethical bearing, since "action to protect life," whether our own, others’, or the enemy’s, is an inherently moral consideration.

June 9, 2015

To Capture the Spirit

A good video piece on training is hard to come by. It's like any bit of writing that aims to make a solid point and inspire others by message - they're out there, but can be hard to find. Capturing the spirit of something, especially a something like martial arts is tricky. But this piece does it well.    

When I was first contacted by Brenda Mak, a young student journalist here in Chicago, I was skeptical that anything of long-term merit would be produced. So I resolved to simply help her out by granting her the access she needed.

She would focus her attention on my student Amaris, a smart, lovely young lady, who's been training with me nearly a year. Please bear in mind, nothing Amaris says was scripted or coached. Her thoughts are her own and I could not be more pleased. My thanks to Brenda - she can look forward to a bright future.

There was a great deal of footage captured in the two days Brenda spent with us, all of it spontaneous and unscripted, a lot like our training sessions. Moving forward, perhaps we'll roll more of that footage out.

June 4, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Train the Metaphysical with the Physical

This actually came out of a question from a young student of mine saying she stunk at using weapons. Now, I had no problem with her actual ability – she’s relatively new - but I did take issue with her decision to identify herself as “stinky.” It’s an easy trap to find oneself in because we’re just calling reality as we see it. But we must learn to see these kinds of things a little clearer.  

This piece is not about “believing in yourself” – read Charlotte’s Web or something for that. No, this is about the metaphysics we engage in whenever we train and how we ought not take them for granted. Believing you stink may be reflective of actuality - maybe you do stink – but it is a metaphysic to believe so. As well, believing you don't stink is also a metaphysic.

Metaphysics are outside of objective reality, and includes our beliefs and values, even our emotions and feelings. Morality, ethics, our sense of justice and human rights, even numbers, are all metaphysical. This goes to show two things: one, metaphysics are really, really important. And two, we totally take them for granted. Here's how.

There’s a saying, “You will fight the way you train.” And it's true. If our training relies on intense, high stress, fear-inducing conflict, if we don’t look forward to training - maybe we’re even nauseated by its idea - and afterward we are emotionally spent and physically relieved, then we are most probably training ourselves to re-enact all of these same experiences during an actual confrontation. We may think we’re arming ourselves by engaging with these experiences regularly to "inoculate" us to their impact, when in actuality they might just be blunting our effectiveness.  

Training does not have to be some perpetual roller coaster of stress inoculation. Learning to become a good defensive driver does not entail constantly smashing into other cars to inoculate us to “take an accident." It means habituating one’s driving habits and awareness so as to have the time and space to respond effectively to emergency changes regardless of the conditions. This is not a perfect analogy, but I think it a far tastier recipe than brutalizing ourselves and others in regular training just to gain what we think is some modicum of advantage.

For dangerous jobs, like serving LE warrants and military operations, consistent, high-stress training can be beneficial for those specific high-stress moments because it trains known operational tactics reflexively, so they can become second nature. But in those cases, those moments of conflict are generally well known in advance to operators as well as who their enemy is. And success in those operations is most often shaped by operators' pro-activeness.    

But civilians do not have the luxury of prescient intel to know what kind of spontaneous conflict and/or violence they may face in the daily course of their lives, let alone from exactly who. Most folks train martial arts simply because they like it. And maybe they want to learn how to make a better way in their little part of the world and deal with life's difficulties and confrontations, which may – God forbid - include life or death struggle.

Thus training does not require us to rely on exposure to the X-men's “danger room” or put ourselves though the gauntlet of Sakura's ninja Octagon. (I say “rely” here because some “danger rooming” and “Octagoning” is a good idea and often a lot of fun in context.) 

Look, life is difficult, stressful, and scary enough on its own to provide us with all the itinerant changes and variable conditions that we can possibly handle. These conditions will be such that we’ll be forced to deal with them in ways that’ll make our responses far more difficult than we could possibly imagine or anticipate in any regular training sessions.

And this is why I often say there is no such thing as "realistic" training. Only real is real. Training is a educated fiction we produce for ourselves in order to account for the fundamental aspects that are always present in reality - change and its variables. There is no training scenario that anyone could ever craft to account for reality, there are simply too many impossibly strange variables and conditions to account for. Oh sure, some try by incorporating more variables, or raising the stress level, or crafting re-enactments of true-life situations. But this can only ever be a high-stress production; a tactical play put on by willing performers. Only real is real: no one tries to kill you in training, and if they did, it would not be training, it would be real and training ideals like learning to habituate new and better tactics, applications, awareness, and overall behavior, would not apply. 

And with this in mind, we must choose: how would we wish to respond ideally to conflict? With pent up anxiety and stress? Or cool and collected? I'm not saying that just by believing ourselves to be calm and cool we will be, under conditions. It isn't that simple – we have to train and habituate ourselves physically and metaphysically until we actually are. This is a far better idea than marinating ourselves in invented stress, anxiety, and fear that will only multiply with actual conditions.

Whenever we train or pick up a weapon we should have the confidence our common sense is telling us to have: mentally place ourselves in any kind of violent scenario. Would we want a weapon? Of course we would. A weapon means advantage in a way we might not have on our own. So we should be confident that we are in a better position, more capable, stronger, better prepared, than without the weapon or the training. The only reason one might feel less capable or empowered is because we are instead seeing it through a bias (another metaphysic), as in waiting for the instructor to teach us the "proper" way. And a little advice here: don't wait for permission to get better.

There is nothing to suggest that a “well-rounded training” ideal and the “highly competent martialist” ideal are mutually exclusive. In my world they are not, in fact, the more competent and higher ability one has, the more they can gain the confidence to reach goals regarding character and virtue. We should train ourselves to fight the way we wish to fight – calm and collected. That means enjoying training, laughing, having a good time, protecting your partners, telling a joke. Be inspired and look forward to training. And when finished, we should feel better (and better in ability) for having done it.

Simply learning to fight or defend yourself on its own are selfish, immature perspectives in the long run. The better way is to see training as a conduit to becoming the kind of person we wish ourselves to be - a protector, teacher, leader - the kind of person who is in control and command when there is conflict, even violence.

Training isn't just about learning to use martial arts more effectively. It's also about recognizing that we are more effective through training. It is this thought that must come first. For if it does not, then waiting to be instructed is all about training to "become" good at some point in the future, instead of "being" good today, at one's respective level - an entirely metaphysical difference.

May 29, 2015

California Trainin'

Cali here we come!

On Friday, June 26th, Tomoko and I will make our way to Los Angeles and join my close friend and Buyu, Shidoshi Michael Govier (SGTI Dojo LA), as host for a two-day Makko Ho and Taijutsu seminar. This is a rare trip for us to teach in the beautiful state of California.

Makko Ho is like the flipside of training, where we can learn to use our Taijutsu to help heal ourselves and others. It's a remarkable method, complex in its simplicity, much like Taijutsu. Hatsumi sensei even studied Makko Ho at one point and the Bujinkan knows its basic movements as the Ryutai Undo

Tomoko is one of only two licensed Makko Ho instructors here in the United States, and on Friday evening she'll take everyone through this esoteric Japanese stretching art, including the Hodo Taiso - partner bodywork that teaches practitioners to use positioning and alignment for healing purposes. Check out the interview I did with her: To Look Straight Forward.

Then on Saturday, June 27th, I'll engage everyone with my perspective on Taijutsu and conflict ethics, specifically the "protector ethic." We'll be in two separate, but close, locations: a city park and the same studio from the night before - the outdoor/indoor difference should be highly informative. We'll be covering unarmed movement, specifically how to make tactics and techniques "viable," or capable of sustaining and protecting life, and any and all weapons available and the overlapping universality of their use. 

Makko Ho Workshop with Tomoko Morganelli
Friday, June 26th

DanceGarden LA in Atwater Village
3191 Casitas Ave, Suite 112
Los Angeles, CA 90039
A large, free parking lot is available

Taijutsu Workshop with James Morganelli
Saturday, June 27th

2 Locations:

Part I: 12-3pm 
Griffith Park
4730 Crystal Springs Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Merry-Go-Round parking lot 
Training will be behind the tennis courts 

Part II: 3-6pm
DanceGarden LA in Atwater Village
3191 Casitas Ave, Suite 112, 
Los Angeles, 90039

$25 for Tomoko's Workshop  
$60 for James' Workshop

Join us on our Facebook page and show your support! 

Questions? Contact Shidoshi Govier at: 

We look forward to meeting new folks and sharing some great training!

Tomoko and James

May 21, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Proportionality

We buy clothes that exemplify our fashion style and personality. We don't (normally) wear them undersized or oversized and we often designate them for particular use, like work or recreation. This is proportionality in action and it's operative in martial training as well.

In a previous post, "The Athlete and the Protector," I outlined three differences in the use of martial principles. Those differences of manner, degree, and outcome are also present for proportionality, or the prudential (see prudent/prudence) use of techniques, the extent to which we use them, and why we are using them at all.    


Much like a fashion sense, martial artists should have a "technique sense" - a manner that sensibly pulls us toward techniques we have a greater chance of mastering and repels us from those that may give us more obvious trouble. Those hipster skinny jeans? You may think they look great with your sweet beard, but you may just want to start dressing like an adult, you over-40 so-and-so. Same goes for martial technique. Upside down spinning Capoeira kicks look great on that new Daredevil TV series, but they may not be the wisest choice for self-defense and/or use for law enforcement. This isn't to say we should only engage with the stuff we find easy to use, but rather toward that which best represents ourselves, our level, and the context of our intended use.

Our manner of technique use is dictated by a variety of personal concerns: ability and level, athleticism, health, acumen - they all impact the physical particularities we may choose and will speak to how effective and efficient we can make those choices.

Not photoshopped. 
Matthias Schlitte "has a rare genetic defect, 
which made his right forearm bone 33% larger than his left."

The know-how to shape technique under conditions characterizes the degree to which we understand them. This notion is akin to wearing clothes that "fit" us rather than squeezing into shoes that are too tight (ladies) or wearing baggy/saggy clothes that may be some kind of rebellious fashion statement, just an uninspired and dumb one.

Martial training requires us to shape techniques to "fit" us as well, so in practical use they do not represent a liability. Rather than "trying on" various techniques, degree involves knowing how best to embody and maximize the technical based on our individual dynamic. Are you fat, strong, skinny, or short? Very mobile or not so much? Being honest with ourselves in regards to strengths and vulnerabilities can indicate our direction in training as well as calibrate us to deal with obvious realities. One of my students wears a bushel of hair on his head - an obvious target for grabs in a violent encounter - so he's got to train for that eventuality.  

This is especially true if one is working from a position of handicap, whether temporary or permanent, that must characterize the technical in broader ways than the standard method. Knowing the standard is fine, and is often the way for most. But knowing how to broaden use so as to exemplify the standard under various conditions, well, that's always way better than fine.      


Outcome, or purpose, drives the overall ethics and justness of our usage. Outcome is the meat and potatoes of training as it speaks to the "viability" (a truth in itself) of how well one is able to invulnerably utilize techniques by manner and degree, which must include not being denied their use by the counters of an opponent.

We should seek to throw without being, say, stabbed in the process, strike without being struck, and of course use weapons of any size and shape, whether they are considered standard or have been augmented to fit our body types appropriately. All these aspects speak to ethics since we ought never unnecessarily risk ourselves or others due to poor training habits, or worse, misinformation or misunderstanding regarding the actuality of use.

Staff weapons in particular are a great example of proportionality. A rokushakubo is about six feet long, because at some point these tools were standardized to this length by the entities teaching their usage, which might account for their greater ubiquity. But even this standard length in Japan was most probably taller than any of its users and raises the question of correct use and whether we are today invoking this same proportional comprehension in our own training.

If one is naturally six feet tall, then a staff to grant us proportional understanding is one that is naturally taller than its user, perhaps about seven feet. In my Shingitai-Ichi Dojo we generally try to use staves that are at least one foot taller than the user, as this exaggeration teaches in ways far clearer than any standard length how best to maximize it.

Slipping into the trap of standardization may in fact train us to use our positioning and leverage at inopportune times within the interval of conditional use - a constant threat that all martial artists should train hard to avoid.

May 14, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Taijutsu is Bojutsu is Taijutsu

Recently I had a question from a relatively new student, who's been training almost a year. She was lamenting as to how awkward she felt using the Bo, whether it was a hanbo, or jo, or whatever. The Truth here is that if one is un-confident with the Bo, one cannot gain broader ability in Taijutsu. It's that simple.

The essence of this truth lies in the fact that Taijutsu, in its broad usage of tactical space and interval, is in reality a physical metaphor for the broad usage of tactical space and interval within Bojutsu, since anthropologically, weapons came first. At the dawn of man, Grog didn't wallop Gorg with a "Judo chop!" and then figured he could do it even better with a stick. No, sticks came first. The descendants of Grog would later discover how to deliver said wallop without said stick. This would lead to our larger understanding of the martial means and ways, which always returns us in some form to the Bo. Thus, "Bojutsu" here does not just mean art of the "six-foot staff," it means to use the Bo, the stick, in all its forms and lengths.

Yamamoto Kansuke (1501-1561) was a retainer of Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), who was one of the most successful and feared warlords in Japan. Kansuke developed a school of strategy called the "art of certain victory," which was adopted by the notable Miyamoto Musashi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who would ultimately pacify the country's warring ways.

In his seminal work, "Secrets of the Arts of Warfare," Kansuke writes about the Bo in a section called the "Chief of the Arts":
The pole is the chief of the arts. The explanation for this is that, for the spear and the halberd techniques, you cannot do without the pole too. So those who would acquire the techniques of long weapons first make this art the basis, learning the ways of using the body, hands, and feet, so they might attain the expert use of all the weapons in a warrior's arsenal. 
Kansuke killing a giant boar. 
It's quite a statement to say that learning the Bo is to learn "all the weapons." And it's true. The fact is nearly all weapons and martial tools were either refined from the Bo or relate to it directly in some way. Swordsmanship is directly related to Bojutsu. And Bojutsu was the initial stage of understanding for sojutsu, the art of spear, and all halberd arts. Even the bow and arrow was derived from the Bo - a stick configured with a taut string to propel other sticks with pointy ends. Hell, one could ever argue that the rifle is a Bo with a barrel mounted to it. Kansuke goes on to say that the pole is "approximately eight to eight and a half feet long" - a little longer than the standard "Bo staff" six-footer one picks up in a Chinatown gift shop.

If weapons and tools represent a conundrum for the practitioner, and a gap one is not likely to bridge, then something is truly wrong. Wrong because a firm understanding of Bojutsu in all its various forms - hanbo, jo, rokushakubo, yawara, tanbo, sutekki, and every other iteration (and length) one can think of - is required if we are to make the kind of wise decisions it takes to use Taijutsu successfully under conditions of conflict and stress.

Without the studied use and familiarity of Bojutsu we can wind up learning a false sense of positioning and leverage within the interval of conflict. Without the proportionality Bojutsu affords, (Another Truth: how does an average man of maybe five feet in feudal Japan command an eight and half foot Bo? Proportionality.) we cannot learn to habituate our observations, decisions, and actions on a naturally earlier continuum than that of our opponent. As a result, our unarmed Taijutsu is late instead of early, reactive instead of adaptive, and reliant upon physical might to force, rather than use of the body as a shielded fulcrum to compel compliance and deny the opponent's countermeasures.  

Bojutsu should not be thought of as simply a "good idea," but a necessary ideal. Recognizing that "Taijutsu is Bojutsu is Taijutsu" is to make a poignant discovery about the reality and use of Taijutsu because the Bo has played such a vast role in its design and our internal comprehension of that applicability.

Intuiting this truth means familiarizing oneself consistently with Bojutsu in all its iterations. Make it a daily habit to move with the Bo and integrate it often into training proper.

May 11, 2015

The Athlete and the Protector

This is my response to an old friend and his point made on a Facebook thread for my last piece, "Taijutsu Truth: Heart and Sole." It's in regard to how martial sports and warrior arts can use the same principles in very different ways.

You can view the conversation here.


I really appreciate your point here, that the difference between winning and losing at advanced levels in martial sport come down to the very same alternative principles I listed as being reliant for warrior arts. And this could of course, be true. Initiative, leverage, and positioning can all play favored roles in favorable outcomes for competition.

I have great respect for those who train competitive martial sports. The training is difficult and all consuming. But it would be whole cloth to say these principles of mindful initiative, technical leverage, and body positioning were used equivocally in manner, degree, and outcome. Or we could say the way in which it's done, the extent to which it's done, and why it's done at all.


Though there will always be some overlap between all martial endeavor, there can be no true equivalency between martial sport and warrior arts - the two are mutually exclusive and must be. If martial sport adopted the manner necessary for great ability in warrior arts, competition of said sport would stifle and by all measure become impractical as practitioners tried in vain to lure each other into un-counterable, devastating, possibly career-ending outcomes, not to mention death.

This manner would never allow any purely refined form or technique to take shape and flourish like it can and does under the highly controlled and regulated conditions of competition. One of the tremendous aspects of involvement with sports is simply this: it’s a lot of fun. But the above conditions are not fun, they would be dark and oppressive.

And if warrior arts adopted the manner of sport, practitioners would not learn foremost to close off any and all openings and vulnerabilities, since performance of technique would be all consuming no matter the circumstances of their use. Just page through any book of Judo or competition Jujutsu - its basic techniques have all been chosen, designed even, specifically for use in the strict two-person contest model.

But this model fails instantly when taking into account outside variables that make technical performance impractical and dangerous to the user when makeshift weapons, multiple opponents, and attack by ambush are considered. All of which are but a few of the most prominent issues in normal warrior art training.


Warriorship apprentices are trying to attain not simply a “tactical” perspective, but a “viable” one that engenders an advantageous life-protecting ethic for self, others, and all others, including the enemy if at all possible. It is this “viability” in training that directly shapes the habituation of these alternative principles into a broad, creative, asymmetrical, and technically unconventional arsenal of extreme use in extreme conditions to protect life - points and winning, notwithstanding.

Violence of tactics and method is also mirrored by situational awareness, clever use of the environment, and cunning manipulation of the moment for the purposes of escape, intervention for the defense of others, or most dangerously, confronting enemies (and possibly subduing them for arrest or confinement) to be killed to save or protect life.


Martial sports are not defined, do not inherently train for, intrinsically deal with, nor are expected to deal with, the range of variable threats under conditions of life or death. Martial competition is played between willing participants, who normally share similar value for tests of will, camaraderie, and fraternity in humanity’s long-standing warrior traditions. Even the Greeks and Spartans had team games they played involving moving a rock across a field (although death sometimes occurred and might have even been encouraged in doing so).

But getting home to one’s family or protecting them or yourself through violent struggle is not and cannot be considered any game. There is no voluntary participation for a test of will here, or camaraderie, or fraternity. There is only dealing with the violence of aggression and how well one survives it. Getting out ahead of such violence through awareness and avoidance, or adapting effectively to the least necessary outcome based upon one's conditions and context, this alone marks such a major difference between training methods and perception of those methods that in itself is enough to settle the stark difference.

It becomes quite difficult to equivocate martial sport and warrior art in these aspects of manner, degree, and outcome even for their overlapping principles. Take competitive shooting here in the United States. Targeting contests vary in the extreme for manner, degree, and outcome when compared to personal-protection training for concealed carry of a firearm and for the most basic of reasons: no one ever expects the target to shoot back in a contest. Even the practice of primitive skills survival differs tremendously from its life-protecting, defending role of the Scout, which in manner, degree, and outcome must still survive, flourish even, through the lens of stealth and invisibility.

On the surface, there is always much in common between long-time actors of the martial ways. We are all of us engaged in a process that changes us fundamentally and hopefully for the better. But if we dig into the details of our respective backgrounds, we will inevitably find many examples of differences in our training values. These differences ought not be compared ad nauseum, but celebrated! 

We ought to revel in the ability, sheer will, and technical expertise required to overcome such advanced levels of pure martial ideal. And we should treat with all sacredness the wisdom and clarity that the ancient touchstone of humanity's protector ethic imbues upon us to temper ourselves to stand up for, save, and defend the lives of self and others in the crucible of human conflict.

Let's - all of us - "keep going!"

We'll make it!

May 7, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Heart and Sole

Another piece from a work in progress, "Taijutsu Truths."

The secret to effective Taijutsu is efficient, habitual, and intrinsic activation of its principles. The right place to begin training those principles is through maneuvering, specifically out-maneuvering one’s opponents.

Most commercial martial sports practiced today rely heavily upon the principles of athletic endeavor, namely, power, speed, and strength. These form the basis of physical might and are intuitive to the human condition. In fact, if one wishes to know whether one’s training has become reliant upon these principles, they have only to ask themselves a simple question: would I be better at my martial art if I were bigger, stronger, and faster? If the honest answer is “yes,” then one can be assured they are engaged in training as a martial sport, regardless of the art.

However, for the training of warrior arts, that is martial arts based upon survival and usually carried out with weapons, the athletic approach can well hamper, and even defy true mastery. Thus over the ages warrior arts embraced and refined an alternative set of counter-intuitive principles to functionally activate themselves and reach for levels of ability un-matchable through the intuitive mindset alone. These alternative aspects come to us as the Sanshin, "three hearts" of the Shingitai, the mind, technique, and the body, and formulate the principles of mindful initiative, technical leverage, and body positioning or maneuvering.

Physical positioning/maneuvering is known in Taijutsu as Taisabaki, or from a tactical standpoint, Kuraidori, a concept that hails from the Koto Ryu to move and position oneself to gain spatial and variable, such as environmental, advantage against opponents. In initial training, the student must learn to position, re-position, and out-position their partner consistently, instead of clashing with them over the same ground and forcing them to give way. This broader understanding begins with movement itself, specifically from the soles of the feet on up.

In order for this counter-intuitive truth to become intuitive, the body structure must first change. I see many potentially good practitioners doing the same things wrong over and again. One of the most common is distorting their frame and posture. In too many cases, beginners often find themselves moving head first, jerking their body along for the ride. This is a mistake and should be corrected. As a general rule, it is advisable to keep proper posture: head over spine, spine over hips, hips over heels. Good posture generates good structure and better movement is the result.

Good posture keeps the weight centered in the heels and allows one to move from the soles of the feet first to take up better positions and the easy transfer of balance and momentum while doing so. While moving we ought not let our knee go past the toes when stepping - weight would then transfer to the balls of the feet, making it more difficult to move and means we should have taken either a longer step or more steps as the case may be. In fact, a general rule in my dojo is that after any same-side punch, as in namba-aruki, we should be able to lift up our front foot. If the practitioner cannot, they have placed too much weight upon it and cornered themselves in a vulnerable spot.

Once students intuit this aspect successfully they will discover a positive by-product: their movement will not only emulate better structure and resiliency, they will also notice they are moving earlier. And being ahead is of such vast importance to understanding Taijutsu it cannot be overlooked.

April 30, 2015

A Book Worth Reading Redux

This is based on an actual event. 


Some years ago,
I read a book on a bus,
headed to a job I hated.
I have since quit the job and finished the book.
I still ride the bus from time to time.

It was a good book,
as I remember.
Its cover was fine,
its print sharp and clear,
and sized to be carried without hassle.

It was sunny that day.
Perhaps it was summer.
I rode at rush hour,
reading my book,
which page I do not remember.

It occurred to me then,
this rush hour bus,
loud with conversation,
had quieted sharply and strangely so,
with nary an explanation.

This kind of quiet one does not welcome,
even while reading a book worth reading.
So, I put down my book and I looked and I listened,
to the bus that was no longer speaking.  

Two men,
sitting opposite each other,
were engaged in “conversation.”
One yelled terribly,
the other made faces.
It was an unusual situation.

Now had they been four, or six, or ten,
no one would have noticed.
No ear would they offend.
But they were old enough to know better.
Old enough to know they should act old enough.

The faces of the “Facer” were varietal and spontaneous –
kissy, scrunchy, a tongue sticking out.
Made to a baby they were cute and endearing,
drawing squeals of laughter or excited cheering.

But the “Yeller” receiving them was no baby.
He did not squeal and laugh.
He was not excited and did not cheer.
Facer’s “cute” faces poked and prodded him.
And he spit back profanity;
spit back anger and fear.

I didn't know who started it.
And didn't care to investigate.
I couldn't read my book.
And no one else could much concentrate.

Yeller’s yells were yelling louder.
Facer’s faces were face-ing faster.

I looked to the driver to intervene,
but he held himself quiet –
not a word, not a glance.
He drove his bus in determined ignorance.

So I folded the corner of the page I was reading
and made my way forward,
weaving and squeezing,
past the stolid riders of the tomb-like bus,
to step into the yelling and face-ing of the two-man gust.

Once positioned directly between them,
forcing their looks ‘round me to see ‘em,
I reopened my book and pretended to read.
Never once did I glare.
Never once did they stare.

Now, Yeller did not stop,
and Facer did not either.
There was more yelling and face-ing.
More spitting and egging.

But not for long.

Soon the yelling grew less and quieted.
Soon the faces grew less, exhausted.

And the bus’ quiet became loud again.
And the conversations banal again.
I found my rightful place upon the page,
and could even read my book again,
undistracted and engaged.

It was a good book,
as I remember.

One worth reading.

April 23, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Drop Out the Power

From a work in progress, Taijutsu Truths.

At class many years ago, Nagato sensei said:
Power to the martial artist is like alcohol to the alcoholic…We must strive to have the same will as the alcoholic who says, “I will never drink again,” and never does. This is the same with relying on power in training.
This was tough for me. As a senior in high school, I weighed a whopping 135lbs with my shoes on. I was seventeen years old and the giant of my family at five-foot-six inches. I was ultra lean and had been lifting weights since I was 13, so I was deceptively strong.

Before graduating, I bench pressed almost 290lbs – more than twice my own body weight. A few years later, in college, I did it again at 150lbs, pressing up 320lbs – 20 lbs more than twice my body weight. So it seemed only natural, during martial arts training, to compensate for larger or stronger opponents by meeting their power with my own. But I came to realize that for training in Taijutsu, relying on my physical might not only promoted a false sense of confidence, it was a tremendous weakness.

Just like "shit happens," we should say, "strength happens." For too many, it’s a foregone conclusion – when stuck in the mud, gun the engine. But in habituating that response, we’ll only ever be as strong as our next opponent. We can defeat power with power only so often, and those times don't include the countless situations where even our strongest would not be enough.

There's always going to be someone bigger, stronger, and faster than us. I'd also include someone with more weapons than us, better odds than us, more opponents than us, meaner than us, even less to live for than us. See, relying on our power alone is a weakness, for there are just too many variables that can work against us in which our might is the inappropriate response. We should always strive to be smarter, cleverer, and ultimately more skilled than our opponents. In that way, power becomes just another option among many.

Mark Hodel, a high-ranking Bujinkan instructor and close friend, once told me there are three kinds of Budo: good Budo, bad Budo, and bad Budo done well. “Bad Budo done well” relies on power. But when one is used to forcing techniques like this, it becomes very easy to lose the edge in a fight and get taken. Power requires so much energy that we can't help but act in obvious ways that are easily detected. We wind up giving up information, like our very intention, that if discovered under conditions of conflict could cost life itself.

Were we to face off with someone in a potentially life and death encounter, undue power could create a terrible opening. Physical might here is like the quintessential wind up before the haymaker, or the leg that cocks back before a spin kick – a telegraphed opening. If the opponent senses it, they can use that opening against us. With any reliance on power it's assured one will eventually face defeat. Typically, those who continue this kind of training become disillusioned, because their progress slows or in some cases stops all together. It also becomes increasingly more difficult to lose this kind of movement and mentality the longer the training is sustained.

Taijutsu is not supposed to rely on power, strength, or speed to overcome opponents. Instead it has three basic principles of advantage: position, leverage, and initiative. These concepts are more elusive to understand than strength, so training toward mastery is difficult, but the rewards are that much sweeter.

As a Budoka, one has to not only understand the "when," "where," and "what" of a technique or maneuver, but also the "why" of it, our context for usage and justification. This "why" is a tactical as well as a strategic issue (try not to confuse these two – strategy is your overall goal, the tactics you employ get you there) and can be betrayed by reliance on power.

Now, I'm not saying we should never use power – sometimes we’ll have to as we'll need it in a fight. But we should never rely on it in our training. In this way, when we put power into our "powerless" movements to save, protect, and defend self or others, we can have greater assurance in the outcome we need. Continue this way of training and after a while, one's confidence grows and gets stronger. And strength of confidence is a far better attribute for our overall life and ability than how much ya bench.