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.