Ward's Rant

On this page I will vent all the gripes, thoughts and other things that bother me about being a martial artist. These are my views alone. The other students and instructors at the Kuroinukan may not agree with the below items. Obviously, they are not the views or statements of the AJJF or USJudo. The newest ones are at the top.

Coming soon: a rant on why you're a failure as a student  if you don't pass up your sensei.

Regarding the naming of the black belts lists

There is an ongoing destructive debate in the AJJF regarding the proper word and concept to be used to describe the name of the first black belt list. The words Shinin, Shinnin, Shinnen and others are all in the mix. Many bad feelings and a separation of people into various camps have resulted from this debate.

  I have had dogs my whole life. When they are young and I point at a squirrel or a dropped piece of meat on the floor, they look at my finger. But, they soon learn that if they follow the direction of my pointing finger, they will be rewarded with something very good. In Zen training there is an instructional metaphor of a finger pointing at the moon. The concept is that the finger is just a way marker and not the end of the journey. If a student of Zen (or any student) remains fixated on the finger the instructor has failed in his or her instruction.

  The terms argued over for the first black belt list and the terms Sutemi, Munen Musow, Kyoshi Tankei and others are all fingers pointing at the same moon. Debating the fingers and all of their assets and limitations limits the participants from actually seeing the moon that Master Okazaki wants us to see. Since he is no longer around to make sure his students focus properly on the moon, we need to correct this myopia and return to the training he so brilliantly laid before us. We at least owe him this simple lesson.

Why I don’t care what a green belt wrote 40 years ago in their notebook:

One day in a class at a clinic somewhere, I heard for the umpteenth time that the version of some technique being taught by the professor/instructor was the right one because s/he had gotten it from professor so-and-so’s notebook.  Of course, this needed to be said to justify the ineffective, bizarre, goofy or completely different version of that technique. This “validation by notebook” appeared to be a legitimate method for determining the “correct” version of any technique presented by anyone who had studied a dead professor’s notebook.

My shinin (dead-man) training kicked in at this point and I started to think about my students looking at my notebook after my death and using it to determine how techniques should be done.  And then the very depressing thought occurred to me that my notebook could be used to fight over which versions of techniques were ”correct” for the students of the Kuroinukan.  This would start the decline of everything it is to be a martial artist and the ascendancy of my students becoming martial Xerox-ers. Professor Browne had a quote that went something like, "Take the art and make it your own. After all, it’s a martial art, not martial Xeroxing." Taking the arts from my notebook would be counter to my sensei’s advice. They would try to do the techniques like I had written them up in my notebook. This would be a terrible legacy.

But, then I realized the worst possible part of all this “validation by notebook.”  It was so bad that I immediately told my students that if I were to die suddenly, the first thing I wanted them to do was to destroy my notebook. They were far better without it.  Any sentimental feeling should be discarded and the notebook destroyed. I even joked that I had my notebook rigged so that the minute my heart quits beating, the charge under the notebook goes off and it is launched a10 miles to the northeast- straight into Lake Superior.

So, what horrible realization did I have that made me discuss such extreme notebook destruction with my senior students? When did you write up the Nage list? 10, 20 or 30 years or more ago? What rank were you then? Blue or green belt? Does that blue belt or green belt have anything worthwhile to say to your Shodan and up students now? No, he or she does not, because you barely understood what you were writing. You wrote up the Nage list to pass your next test. Not to create a tome of jujitsu standards for all time and all students. The AJJF kata manual doesn’t even attempt that.

My fear was that my students would base ANY knowledge of a technique on ANYTHING I wrote as a blue and green belt.  I wrote almost my entire notebook before I had even passed my Shodan (25 years ago).Therefore, I want them to destroy the whole thing and train how I taught them to train. By figuring out how techniques work and continually trying to improve based on what happens on the mat- not on some book. Especially, I did not what them to rely on any notes or writings of a kyu. Even if that kyu was their sensei.

Finally, back to that “new” version of a technique taught in a class at the clinic explained by some instructor based on a dead professor’s notebook. I wanted to know when the professor wrote that technique up. I wanted to see the word-for-word copy of the description of the technique that the “new” version is based on. I wanted to know how old the professor was and his or her rank at the time of the writing. I think that, like me and my notebook, the dead professor’s notebook would be decades old written by a low rank student who didn’t understand the first thing about the technique and who also probably wrote things up WRONG.

I am sorry, but I am not going to do a technique in some manner written by a green belt 40 years ago who probably dashed it off the night before his test on a piece of paper using a pencil.
No way.


You think you’re tough?

Tough is:

1.    Showing up for class every single night.

2.    Letting a new student throw you badly over and over again as you patiently teach them.

3.    Doing “boring, old” Yawara every single class.

4.    Taking care of your injuries, i.e., actually getting an ice bag out and using it.

5.    Putting up with non-martial artist’s stupid comments about not “pissing you off.”

6.    Compassionately teaching a student who just drives you crazy.

7.    Teach the exact same thing to the exact same student class after class, week after week. 

If learning a martial art is like eating a 7 course meal, learning "mixed martial arts" is like eating 4 appetizers pureed in a blender.

Any sensei that has been teaching a martial art for any length of time will have students that want to “supplement” their previous martial or fighting experiences. They don’t care about the martial art; they want to learn techniques that fill in gaps in their knowledge. Once they think they have “mastered” those techniques, they quit and move on to the next martial art. Sohn and I call them “dabblers.” They dabble in a variety of arts thinking they are creating a superior martial art of their own making. Their ignorance and arrogance is astounding. Since they have never pursued any one martial art for any length of time, they have no idea what is involved in any of the traditional martial arts. 

In DZR and in many other Japanese martial arts, the first degree black belt is called Shodan. “Sho” is basic and “dan” is level. So, what society sees as the pinnacle of martial art accomplishment is in reality the beginning of real training in a martial art. A Shodan rank allows you in the door. I see the Shodan as having the basic skills needed to begin their real development as a martial artist. What is learned after the Shodan rank is how to make all those techniques learned on the earlier lists actually work. Without the advanced training those basic techniques are still largely useless for self-defense and for personal development.  

The dabbler has no clue what he is missing out on by not studying a complete martial art curriculum that all the traditional arts provide. This shows his ignorance. Also, thinking he can make up his own martial art without understanding what a martial art actually entails, demonstrates his arrogance.

A digression will help me make my point. When I was getting my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, many of the other students decided they would use an “eclectic” style of counseling. They would take the best of several counseling theories and combine them into a unique style of their own creation. I decided to pursue only Gestalt Therapy. I read everything I could find by the founder of that style of counseling and spent two weeks in San Francisco, CA at an intensive Gestalt Therapy training program. Later, when we all showed video tapes of our counseling session with clients, their tapes showed incredibly boring sessions of disjointed, ineffective counseling tricks. When I showed my tapes, my clients cried, got scared, laughed and hugged me in thanks as I applied the solid techniques of Gestalt Therapy that I had learned based on a clear theoretical framework. I was a Shodan in Gestalt Therapy, but I was beginning to be able to correctly and effectively apply the techniques I had practice many times.  The difference was obvious and embarrassing to the eclectic practitioners.

While eclectics and dabblers sneer at the traditional arts, mixed martial artists usually learn their “fighting style” from a dabbler or someone who failed at one of the traditional martial arts. This source of instruction is flawed from the outset. Usually such an MMA instructor will disparage and dismiss what he doesn’t understand- the traditional martial arts.

So, a student who learns a scattered, poorly understood collection of techniques from a questionable instructor and calls himself a “mixed martial artist,” needs to be gently informed regarding his misfortunate past training.

Applied Yawara

Two cars meet on the freeway going 70 MPH; One driver has their high beams on; the other, a macho, aggressive guy, turns on his high beams to “show the other asshole.”
Two blinded drivers careen at 70 MPH towards each other.

Two cars meet on the freeway going 70 MPH; One driver has their high beams on; the other, a passive, do-gooder guy, leaves his lights on low to “endure the other’s stupidity.”
One blinded driver careens at 70 MPH towards the other.

Two cars meet on the freeway going 70 MPH; One driver has their high beams on; the other, a Jujutsuka, briefly turns his lights off and then on again to signal to the other driver his mistake.
Two cars safely pass each other at 70 MPH their lights on low.


There are 10,000 reasons for not going to class...and all of them are good.

There are probably more than 10,000 good, valid reasons for not going to any one jujutsu class. Your mother is on her deathbed, you were in a car accident on the way to class and are in the hospital, your best friend just showed up at your door after finding out he is terminally ill and needs to talk to someone, etc. These are all valid reason for not attending a class. On the other hand there are as many excuses for not going to class: your mother invited you over for a home cook meal, you got a speeding ticket on the way to class and you are very upset about it, your best friend just showed up at your door and wants to go out partying, etc.

The crux of the matter is the dividing line between an excuse that allows you to rationalize not going to class and a reason for not attending that any rational person would agreed is valid. Obviously, this dividing line is not a black and white one. Also, it is not the same for every jujutsuka and may even waiver over time.

The criteria I have used for making these decisions over the last 25 years is based on my reason for doing jujutsu in the first place. I do jujutsu because it is largely who I am. I see the world through a jujutsu prism. In daily life, I feel how zanshin helps me to avoid conflicts with customers at work and with deer on the highway, I sense when someone wants to use me as their “uke” over their anger at their computer and I set my daily priorities based on what will make me be a better jujutsuka. I have twice in the past walked into boss’ offices with letters of resignation when they were insisting that I not attend jujutsu class to be at company meetings. Both times they relented on their demands, when they saw I was serious about my dedication to jujutsu. 

If you clearly understand why you do jujutsu, the excuse/reason boundary becomes much more defined. If you do it as a hobby, then going out partying with your friends may be classified as a reason for not attending class. If you doing jujutsu because you want to experience personal development physically, mentally and philosophically, then going out partying becomes an excuse. If you value your family more than your desire to do jujutsu, going to your mother’s dinner makes perfect sense. Also, attending your kids sporting events, school activities and wife’s holiday party would all be good valid reasons for not attending class.

If this internal conflict over attending class versus other events in your life is a daily struggle, your pursuit of jujutsu will never be satisfying. I think this is clearly seen when you “don’t feel up to” going to class or ”just didn’t feel like it.” This avoidance is a sign that your motivations to do jujutsu are being overridden by other concerns. Again, figuring out your true aim for pursuing jujutsu will help clarify what your avoiding.

In the past as a sensei, I had have to stifle my frustrations over the excuses/reasons my students give for not coming to class. Now, I look at the possible reasons a student is doing jujutsu (we ask them on their initial sign in sheet why they are starting) and then I can more rationally evaluate their absence. Once I realized that their personal excuse/reason boundary was what motivated their attendance, my frustration diminished substantially. Not that I still don’t hear what amounts to excuses for not being in class. But, I often remind students of what Professor Browne was famous for saying, “Those who come, get.”

“…and it will make your jujutsu better.”

Ever since I started jujutsu, I have heard the same phrase over and over again: “…and it will make your jujutsu better.” The speaker is trying to impress on me how some other activity will improve my jujutsu. Usually this other activity is a lot easier to participate in than a regular jujutsu class. For example, learning massage will make my jujutsu better, studying human anatomy will make my jujutsu better, doing Yoga will make my jujutsu better, etc. I am not saying that all of these activities are not valid pursuits. In fact, I am sure that if I put in many, many hours and tons of effort into any of these of hundreds of other activities, in some small measure my jujutsu will get better. But, the crux of the matter is the time and energy involved.

At one time I was introduced to rock climbing. I loved it. It was challenging and enjoyable just like jujutsu. After a few weeks of rock climbing, I realized that I didn’t have the time, energy or desire to pursue both rock climbing and jujutsu. I haven’t rock climbed since. Did I lose out? Maybe, but my jujutsu is far better now that I am not rock climbing. Why? The energy expended and injuries sustained rock climbing did not detract from my study of jujutsu since I quit climbing. I would have gained some minor cross training benefits, but my progress in both activities would have been limited by the very act of participating in both endeavors.

So, in reply to yet another activity I am being pressed to pursue, I thank them for their advice, but I am thinking the one truth that I know trumps all other arguments. Doing jujutsu makes my jujutsu better. Period.

What would Scooby do?

I just received a poorly copied letter saying I had been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame. Big whoop. This is another in a long line of lures that martial arts in the US dangle in front of your face to hook you into forgetting why you really do a martial art. Recently I have had students wanting me to design and provide for them dojo T-shirts and a dojo patch. For the patch, I suggested a bloody piece of athletic tape. That didn’t seem to be a hit. All these ego-satisfying devices do nothing to help anyone along the way they have chosen. After reading the Hall of Fame advertisement, I realized that I needed a standard, decisive reply to all of these gimmicks. I believe it comes down to this. We have all see the bumper stickers that say WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) and all the variations on that theme. My personal favorite is What would Scooby do? In response to the martial art gimmickry and self-promotional crap, my response from now on will be: Will this make my Seoi Nage any better? You can put in your own Tokuiwaza. At the basic level, this is why I go to class every night and why I still have such a strong interest in DZR and judo. I am eternally looking for the perfect Seoi Nage or Katate Tori Ichi or Ude Garami. Much less a full and complete understanding of Kiai Dori, Riuko or even, Munen Muso. So, ask me to participate in some martial art promotional crap and I may reply WTMMSNAB?


Hang in there, I am just getting started.