I have stayed away from developing relationships with entrepreneurial sensei who have commercialized, diluted, and to an extent corrupted the old and traditional martial art systems. The topics of philosophy, theology, strategy, poetry, and art no longer seem to be taught in any of the ryu I have visited. Fighting and physical force seem to be the only options on the self-defense menu. They merely seem to focus on the physical aspects of the martial arts, competitions, and mixing components of martial arts for more progressive forms of competition.
Aside from Aikijudo-Jitsu, there are but a few exceptions I know of: Morihei Ueshiba’s Aikido, and those remaining Aikido dojos with a strong and direct connection to the Hombu dojo in Japan, and some Judo dojos that are staying true to Jigoro Kano’s system.
Dojo – Practice Hall for Martial Arts
I believe there are still sensei today that are legitimate Shodan practicing within other systems—Shodan of old—dedicated to maintaining the old ways with virtue and integrity. I suspect they are like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. This is very saddening to me because many of the old masters are either now existing in their next life, or they are close to it. We are but a generation away from being disconnected permanently from our heritage, culture, and cherished traditions.
I’m sure you have heard many fables and stories of how it was in the old days, but I would like to give you an insight into how it really once was. I think it might help provide a different perspective for you; and possibly hope of finding what you are looking for.
Let’s go back about 500 years. Put me in a dojo in a small town, at about the age of 40. I am the sensei. The dojo was constructed with money donated by the parents of my students, or perhaps an endowment. My students provide for all of my needs in exchange for training. And then one day you show up, about 12 years old, and ask for training. If I accept you as a student, you will spend the next 20 or 25 years training at my side every day.
You will spend several months working on a single technique. You will perform chores to learn patience, humility, and to build up your strength. You will spend hours upon hours in study of philosophy, theology, poetry, art, general studies, and strategy. Eventually you will assist me in teaching the younger students. Once you reach age 35, and if I feel you are the right man, I will call you out among all other students.
I will be dressed to the 9′s in my ceremonial kimono and hakama. We will square off on the mats, bow, and say “onagaishimasu.” I will then present you with a very thick bound book, or series of scrolls. It is time for you to go, and I have given you a copy of the dojo’s complete training materials. You are ready to go and start your own (franchised) dojo with instructions issued, and promises made to keep the traditions and training methods the same as you were taught. This is what it means to be Shodan.
It is not the end of your training by any means. It is merely the beginning, as it was for me back in 1989.
Tall Prairie Grass at Dusk I was fortunate to live the modern-day equivalent of the story above. I have stated in the past that I felt like I lived the Karate Kid scenario, but that is only partially accurate. In truth my dojo was situated atop a hill covered with 3′ of prairie grass; not a building in a small Japanese village. I can still remember standing on top of the hill waiting for Manuel, close to dusk, with a nice breeze blowing through both my hair, and the tall prairie grass. That is a memory that I will always cherish. I remember wishing to stay in that moment for the rest of my life.
My sensei was a true master who trained in, and stayed true to the old ways. I reflect quite often on how very fortunate I was to have been invited by Manuel to train. At the end of my last day with him, before I shipped out to Navy boot camp, Manuel came bounding out of his basement with his arms full. He carried several books on philosophy and martial arts and put them in my car. He gave me a hug, smiled, and I asked him, “How can I repay you for all you have done?” He smiled very big and said, “you don’t owe me anything; just pass along what I have taught you in the same way.” He winked at me, and then he left. This was in July of 1982.
I did not realize it at the time, but that was the moment he retired. He passed the torch to me. Aikijudo-Jitsu Ryu is my tribute to Manuel, and it is my promise to him and all those who contributed before us to be true to, and to keep the old ways alive.
Troy M. Wussow
April 9, 2010