Saturday, February 3, 2018


I have mentioned I got into martial arts because I wanted to be Snake Eyes from GI JOE.
Another major influence along that journey was a movie I saw on cable television when I was 10 some odd years old.  A little gem by the name of "Berry Gordy's - The Last Dragon"

In that film, the hero, Bruce Leroy, is on a quest to reach the ultimate level of martial arts "The Glow"

Of course a 10 year old boy is going to think New York is full of rival martial arts gangs, which are run by the Shogun of Harlem, Sho Nuff.  Not at all ridiculous.

Of course a 10 year old boy is going to think that the glow could be a real thing.  And maybe spend the next 33 years of his life chasing it.

So imagine my joy and my surprise when about a decade later I came across a story about the founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba

In 1925 an upstart kid went his own way, and opened his own martial arts school.  Bold enough in and of itself but even more outrageous, he was teaching his own art.  Or rather his own version of an established art.

Dojo Arashi (school storming) was a common practice at the time.  You can see this in plenty of Kung Fu and Samurai Movies.  Someone from a rival school comes and challenges the "Master".  Usually they have to face a few of the top students first.  In many traditional Japanese martial arts this is why the senior students line up nearest to the door to this day.

If the Dojo Stormer works his way through the top students, then they fight the head of the school.  If they win the school closes down.

A Naval Officer trained in the same background as Ueshiba, Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, came to challenge this upstart teaching his own version of the art.

So they had a duel.  Ueshiba defeated the Naval Officer.  He didn't use Aikijujutsu, nor what would come to be called Aikido.  He did what was necessary as the circumstances of the conflict dictated.  He spontaneously created technique.

Ueshiba is known for flowery prose, so feel free to take this next part with a grain of salt.
Ueshiba said after the duel, stopping at a well to pour water over his head, he experienced a golden glow that sprang from the earth and was divine in nature.

Ueshiba claimed to have experienced the god damned glow.

Of course a 22 year old young man, with an active imagination is going to think that the glow could possibly, maybe, be a real thing.  And maybe spend the next 21 years of his life chasing it.

Who knows if Ueshiba actually glowed or if that was just a way to describe how it felt when he was able to spontaneously create technique as the circumstances of the conflict dictated.

Ueshiba labeled that feeling the highest level of martial art - Takemesu

"Take" is the same Japanese character as the Bu in Bushido, meaning martial.
"Musu" means to give birth to, or create.

The highest level, just like Bruce Leroy was chasing in "The Last Dragon"

Being able to glow might be ridiculous
Being able to spontaneously create technique as the circumstances of the conflict dictate is a worthy pursuit.

Which begs the question, if said young man (me) has spent 33 some odd years in that worthy pursuit, what has he found, how does one reach Takemusu?

I have found that the best return on investment (bang for the buck) to be able to spontaneously create technique is principle based training.

So, how does one engage in principle based training?  Well, shameless plugs, sign up for a Violence Dynamics Seminar.

Sign up HERE

While you are waiting, read this book

You can buy it HERE

I have never witnessed a golden glow.  However, I have experienced spontaneously creating technique as the circumstances of the conflict dictate.  There was a threat - something happened - the threat is pinned and I am cuffing him.

Damn!!! that was great!  What the fuck did I just do?

When it has happened to me, it was a very cool, almost scary feeling.  If I were alive in 1925 and fond of poetry I might describe it as feeling... golden.

Using principle based training to pursue the highest level of  martial art does create a type of paradox though.

My man crush Jesse Boyer and his lovely wife Andi were having a discussion which they shared with me on line.  That discussion spawned this question (which was the inspiration for this entire blog)

You may have written about something like this before, but the other night Andi and I were talking about the collision between the formal technique of a system (BJJ, Krav, TKD, Judo, etc) and the concept of learning through play. How play and improvisation helps one learn but how the adherence to the “rules” of a system is a requirement for advancement and progression. There can’t be play in a rank test - do this EXACTLY this way or you fail. So it’s important to learn via play and have fun, but balancing the play with the required techniques is also important. So, in the self-defense sense - no rules, maximum violence, maximum efficiency - play paves the way. But to establish a base in a system, you’re required to be precise and specific. 


If principle based training, learning through play, and individual specific instruction is the best way to reach the ultimate level of the martial arts.  How do you balance that with the strict testing / progression / rank requirements of martial arts?

Great question.

First, the strict requirements of martial arts, are primarily longevity oriented.  To make sure students stay part of the organization, and that the organization lasts for generations.  Not necessarily task oriented.  Nor necessarily in the best interest of the individual.

So the question becomes how to balance your task oriented (becoming the best version of you as quickly as possible) goals with the longevity oriented goals of an organization...

An organization you need to pursue your goals, to chase the glow.

How is this done?

The best Judo folks I know take from all of what Judo is, and develop what works best for them (task oriented)

This is known as tokui waza

The Japanese word tokui, pronounced "toe-KWEE", is translated to mean pride, or triumph. It is also often used to mean something that one excels at, or one's forte.

To pass rank tests (longevity oriented) they also have to show proficiency in all of Judo, including Judo kata.

Why???  So that they have the skill to help others develop their own tokui waza.

How so?

If I can't show you how to do a technique that I don't necessarily like, but may work perfect for you then I'm not much of an Instructor.

I can't help develop individuals if all I can teach is carbon copies of myself.

The system was there and I took from it what I needed.  I have an obligation to give back.  I have to make sure the system is there for someone else to take what they need from. What they need may be vastly different from what I needed.

The strict requirements of a specific system can also be used to help you reach individual goals.
Because they are strict, and because they are difficult, these benchmarks can serve as rites of passage, and to help develop discipline.

The strict requirements for progression within a formal system can be very frustrating.  Do them to help others, do them to develop discipline in yourself.

After that, I suggest you follow Mr. Downey's advice

Listen, smile, agree, conquer the obstacles put in front of you, then do whatever the fuck works best for you anyway.

How is this done?

I would argue that the most difficult / frustrating part of requirements for advancement and progression within a system is the route memorization of techniques.  The how, without the why.

Not only is this the most frustrating, but this type of memorization wires the information to parts of your brain that you will be unable access under stress.

Your foot has to be here, at this exact angle.  Why?  Because.

A solid understanding of the principles should provide the why, making memorizing the how, much easier, and wiring the information to the right parts of your brain.

Your foot has to be here, to block their leg, and at this angle so if they attempt to counter you can sweep.

What does this look like?  How do you get there?

The following example is very Jujitsu specific, because this is how it is done at The Keishoukan Dojo, but you can adapt the idea to fit your system.

When we train throws we start with a leverage and lever points game so that students gain an instinctive feel of how to manipulate a skeleton.

Then applied Tai Sabaki - body movement.

  • The best way to move them
  • If you can't move them what does that feel like, and what is the best way you can move around them.
  • Lastly, after those first two drills what is the most efficient way to put someone on the ground from the position you find yourself in. Felling resistance and not fighting it but using it to your advantage.
Only then do we go into technique.  However, because we have been working principles and naturally occurring throws, the technique of the day becomes fairly self evident.

Then we finish with some sort of force on force / pressure test.  Can you use the principles to make technique work against resistance?

Check out the Violence Dynamics Facebook page HERE next week to see video of the above mentioned drills

If principle based training can be used to create technique spontaneously under pressure...
Then every increasing mastery of the principles makes technique become self evident, and instinctive.

Instinctive - to do something with out consciously thinking about - to spontaneously create - the ultimate level.

"You knew without knowing"

The balance then is, to find the principles in the specific techniques you "have to do" so that the technique becomes self evident.  You don't have to memorize technique, the technique is just a name used to describe how these principles fit together in a particular way.  You know without knowing.

That makes the rites of passage easier and more worthwhile, further developing you as an individual, further developing your tokui waza.

Bringing you closer to "The Glow"

Otherwise, if the requirements of a system are too stifling for your continued growth, feel free, give yourself permission to say fuck it.

You may have to go your own way.

"You knew without knowing our time together is done"

If the organization becomes more detrimental than beneficial you may have to find the courage to leave and do your own thing.

You are not the first, and you won't be the last.

If you find yourself in this position (as I did) and you still have a need for an organization I suggest taking a serious look at the WWMAA

You can click HERE for more information.

The WWMMA is a legitimate international organization.  It can help provide structure and quality control while giving you the freedom to find your own path.


Train Hard, Train Smart, Be safe....When I say who's the baddest you say  SHO NUFF!!!

1 comment:

  1. "Who's the Master!?" Love this movie. My brother and I would quote it around the house for years. Another great blog post.