January 6, 2016

Under the Blade 2016

Shinnen Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!

Much gratitude to all those who made 2015 a fantastic year!

2015 Gasshuku
We had terrific training, a great Gasshuku, and memorable Bonenkai. And our dojo is growing! We have new students, new digs, and new locations. We now have affiliates in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico, run by Shidoshi-ho Jason Cather and Edan Dalsheim-Kahane, respectively.

The Bujinkan Shingitai-Ichi Dojo is now located across northern Illinois: in Chicago at several different locations, Downers Grove, Palatine, and Rockford. We are also additionally out of state in Caledonia, Wisconsin, Los Angeles, California, and even across the pond in London, England!

Let’s keep going, everybody—we’ll make it!


Some of you may have noticed my blog KOSSHI has been oddly quiet. There’s been no recent posts or musings, no smarmy anecdotes concerning life on the martial trail or otherwise.

A-Ha! James has run his trap so much he’s out of things to say!


Those that know me, know. Don’t get me started on the government, or our nonsensical social trends, or even the new Star Wars, for the matter of that (a decent outing, but a little too safe for this fanboy).

The silence is by design. I’ve been developing a book with the folks at YMAA for publication. You know YMAA as the publisher of such works as “Meditations on Violence,” by Rory Miller, whose same editor I have been assigned, and “Fight Like a Physicist,” by Dr. Jason Thalken, number one on Amazon.com recently in the subject of martial arts.

I can’t say much more than this—even the title’s a secret—but I am very excited about this next chapter.

Theme for 2015

This past year our dojo’s training focused on the Shugoshin, a concept embodying the “Protector Ethic” to shape ourselves toward the virtues of the protector and train across a hierarchy of outcomes, from escaping to confronting and subduing opponents.

This perspective shifted the importance of training from a technique orientation to one of context, a far clearer way to activate and understand our own ability. We also concentrated on bojutsu and its inherent structure to extrapolate higher teachings regarding Taijutsu in general.

It was a heady year, but I think the work did us good. I have a far better take on these ideas than when I first introduced them a year ago. In fact, what I learned is set to be our focus for the coming year.  

Theme for 2016 

The “basics” will be our training theme for 2016. Great! Everybody studies the basics, right? Sure, but what or which basics are we exactly talking about? There’s a larger concept here: is there a way, a manner to discern true basics?

Most folks speak of the basics as given sets of techniques and tactics. But this is a debatable, vast, and varied lot depending on how one might quantify and categorize it. Even the use of the term “basics” seems out of place as it’s more likely to describe requisite elemental techniques of the art that uniquely define it as what it is.

However I’m reaching for the spirit of the word derived from “base,” and has come to mean “foundation.” I’m talking actual basics here, not simply the vehicle’s nuts and bolts, but its principles of combustion. This is the stuff that we absolutely cannot do without, where anything less than a firm grip precludes us from understanding anything more. Is there a particular set of basics that we must, ought, and should know first and foremost before we know anything else? I think there is.

The material basics I have in mind are what I consider to be formally necessary as a set of first steps to knowing and exploring Taijutsu, or the martial way in general, and its Protector Ethic. I have several ideas that I will detail throughout the year, four specifically, regarding health and physicality.

And as last year, we’ll be using Bojutsu as a catalyst for deeper study, so sand and oil up those rokushakubo, jo, and hanbo for some graduate level training. If you need a little refresher on the concepts, check out “Taijutsu is Bojutsu is Taijutsu.”

Lastly …

Technology and social media has changed the way we see ourselves. And due to the human condition’s failing for ravenous curiosity that too often flaunts the temperate and prudential cautions that are meant to keep it from harming itself, tech has become the MacGuffin so many seek to control.

In doing so, tech has spiraled exactly out of our control, so rapid has been its advance, leaving many ignorant to its impact and Pollyanna in cyber actions. We roam, speak, and do online that which we would never visit, say, or act in real life. It’s making us all weird.

Worse, this immaturity is getting the best of us, estranging and hardening hearts in forums and conversation threads in tech’s use as a caustic sword and a shield that lures toward anonymous activity. And make no mistake, anonymity is a perversion of the self, for when we believe we've a shield from the consequences of behavior, we are numbed to any responsibility for the sword.

As this occurs we can expect greater introversion and social awkwardness, less tolerance and compassion between even like peoples, and less patience to deal with a given day’s obstacles be they manmade or natural, since the real world moves at the pace of the real world, not an iMac.

In due time, the sickest among us will have even their sense of personal autonomy diminished as their living reality inverts for their online one. And then we’ll encounter yet another “marginalized” group seeking victimhood status and special treatment for their own willful behavior when they can no longer function outside the confines of a virtual experience.

In short, we can expect more conflict.

Conflict is inevitable between groups of people, even friends. When values clash, conflict ensues. This can occur when folks hold different values or when differing experiences lead to understanding similar values in differing ways.

To mitigate conflict and resolve values in dispute requires sober effect. It requires people to take responsibility for themselves and others. At the highest levels of that ability, it requires us to have sympathy, kindness, and even forgiveness for the carelessness of others.  

Typing words on the net is to fling them into an abyss, much like shooting a gun. Trying to retract those words after the fact is like trying to rescind the bullet shot. There’s no safety in a keyboard, it’s but a blunt instrument that refines or debases, a pallet of creative force that appeals or repulses with every creation. Each of us must choose which.

Yelling from the shadows of the virtual divide only causes confusion. Perhaps that awesome retort to your peer’s misinformed and misguided post or comment is better left unsaid or said better when in their company. I never “Share,” “Like,” or write anything online I am unwilling to stand behind and articulate as I grip and shake the hand of the person I believe needs to listen to it. Meeting and speaking directly with others calms us and elevates our prose as we understand and are understood—you know, communicate—in real time. Tech is fast making this person-to-person-ness as rare as any superpower, much like martial ability itself.

We have trained, sweat, and bled together and have always shook hands before and afterward. We have shared our stories and our experiences over drinks to talk shop. In training and under stress, we lay hands on others and deal with hands laid on us—a diminishing skill among a withdrawn and alienated populace. Thus, we should not be as susceptible to such online seductions. Petty squabbles turn us small. And the smallness of character is often the root of that which is petty.

Reclaim words like “gentleman” and “honorable” as we deal with one another off the mat. If you have issues with someone, don’t raise them online, take it up with them. Meet with them. Say it face-to-face. Grip their shoulder, shake their hand, and remember the kind of person they are in training (or at least the kind of person you are). Then say your piece if you truly believe it needs to be said. Careful and meaningful choice of words civilizes conversation for clarity, which creates the opportunity to change one’s mind. If clarity is not what you’re seeking, re-examine your motives.

If you cannot refrain from or cannot forgive invective because feelings, perhaps you shouldn’t be training. Perhaps the level-heading, fair-mindedness training imparts is lost upon you because you have misunderstood its greatest lesson: Being human is to have values, but valuing human being is to know what is essential to feeling, thinking, and acting upon them ethically.

This is the message of martial training. Let us all make certain we're receiving it.

Prodesse Quam Conspici

We are part of an extraordinarily small group of like-minded individuals—there are certainly not enough of us. We train physically to change the way we feel, think, and act. We train because good people who want to be better people, get trained. Training oneself in the ways of human conflict, arguably the most phobic aspect of human existence, is the best way to improve as a person.

In Old English, to “improve” something was to “emprofit” it. Old French meant it obliquely as “proud,” “brave,” and “valiant.” This came from the Latin, prodesse, “to be useful” in one’s essence beforehand. Esse is more Latin, where “essential,” ingredients of character, comes from. Prodesse Quam Conspici: Be known by one's achievement, not by one's claim.

To improve is to strengthen one’s character through feeling, thinking, and acting by what training informs us is inescapably, universally, and unquestioningly valuable to the human experience.

Share it, mentor it, and teach it as a protector of self and others.

Make 2016 your best year yet!


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