Tagged as: self defense classes

The Dojo – A Way vs. The Way


Different people train martial arts for different reasons. Some enjoy the health and exercise, some enjoy the sense of tradition, some want to learn to defend themselves, others the camaraderie of the people they meet and get to know over the years. Whatever the reason, Shoshin Ryu meets the expectations and the needs of the student, without mandating a reason for pursuing the training.

In Shoshin Ryu, the art that is trained at the dojo, there are often several ways to deal with the same situation. It could be considered an error to think that there is only one way. This line of thinking can limit the students ability to think in a broader sense, it can also stifle creative thinking as one follows the path of martial arts. This is why Shoshin Ryu often has several techniques for 1 particular attack. At the dojo, variations are introduced at the mid level kyu (non black belt) ranks in order to start to break students out of the mindset that you only need 1 technique. By having multiple options the mind can start to become more spontaneous, making the student “choose” a path rather than always going to a singular technique. As the student gains proficiency in “choosing” a technique the opportunity for a glimpse of mushin (no mind) become more frequent. With more options the brain can “decide” which direction to go based on the feedback they are getting from their uke (training partner, the one who is attacking). The ability to apply the best technique based on what the uke is doing is similar to “listening” to what they are doing. With the proper amount of training, this decision making process becomes very fast and often, higher skilled practitioners, will choose a technique without having to think at all. This is a goal of all martial artists who pursue mushin.

In a broader sense, we often hear “this system or style is superior to that system or style” and while each martial art has its strength and weaknesses, the idea that there is THE martial art that trumps the rest, can also limit ones opportunities to be prepared for all situations. This is why Shoshin Ryu has strived to incorporate several different martial art techniques from several different martial arts, each having its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Be it the kata of karate, the nage of judo, the newaza of jujitsu, the knowledge of knife and stick of kali, the knowledge of center of aikijitsu, all have something to add while at the same time, not one is complete. Traditional karate students will typically have strong atemi (strikes/blocks/kicks) but may be lacking in their newaza (ground work) ability. Jujitsu practitioners, while having superior ground technique, may not understand the subtleties and nuances of how to use a bladed weapon. Tae Kwon Do students are known for dynamic and powerful kicks but when it comes to unbalancing and throwing a person often will struggle unless versed in a throwing art (i.e. Judo or Aikido). So to say that this style or that style is THE style is false, and belief in THE way can leave them vulnerable to an art or skill that is foreign to them.

By starting to think in terms of A way rather than THE way, students of the arts can begin to apply this thinking to things outside of the martial arts. When dealing with confrontation at work or in a relationship one can see both sides with more clarity. By not attaching one’s self to THE way, THE idea or THE side, compromise and resolution are easier to accept. This mindset can reduce the need to judge others. The ability to recognize (not necessarily agree) another point of view, makes finding common ground easier.

So with that explanation, think of why you train and ask yourself this question: Is THE reason you’re training necessarily THE reason others train? Maybe, just maybe, THE reason you train might be A reason to someone else. Others may train for reasons that differ from your own, does that make it a wrong reason? Or are there a plethora of reasons out there to walk the path of Shoshin Ryu? If you train long enough, the understanding of “A” vs. “THE” can change the way you view yourself and the way you view others. If you don’t currently train, think of the dojo as “A” place to start on your path.

Should Children Earn Black Belts in Martial Arts?

the dojo kids class

Shoshin Ryu has a pretty straight forward policy when it comes to promoting black belts. Anyone receiving a black belt must be able to defend themselves against an adult attacker.

Applying this rule to children upholds the integrity of the rank. It also reinforces the idea of putting skill above rank. Regardless of what belt a student wears around their waist, the skill is what holds value. Many martial art systems incorporate “Jr” black belts, often times awarding higher Dan (black belt) ranks to children with as little as 5 years of training. This is not only a watering down of the rank, it sends a message of lowered expectations and a false sense of security for the person who achieves these types of rank. Shoshin Ryu and the dojo would rather keep a younger student at brown belt and let them grow in size and skill. Then when the time comes to test for Shodan (1st degree black) they can both truly defend against adult attackers and be completely prepared to perform well on their black belt test. This mindset also teaches younger practitioners patience, hard work and increases the appreciation for the eventual promotion.

There have been instances where students in the dojo started as children, trained 10+ years until age 16-21 and then tested for Shodan. The result was no less (and one could surely argue much greater) than if they had received a black belt at a younger age, since it is the skill that is sought after and not simply a rank. Rank can be said to have its place in any traditional dojo, but it is NOT the goal. It is nice to have a sense of accomplishment and progression along one’s path. It is good to have a general idea of the skill level of your uke based on rank, even if you haven’t worked together before. However, the need to show off what rank you are is opposite the philosophy of Shoshin Ryu. The instant gratification culture is one that does not belong in the dojo. Students put in the work, the effort and the time. A byproduct of their training is rank. By the time a student of the dojo achieves Shodan, the elation related to the promotion is less apparent. This is at least partially due to the teachings of the Shoshin Ryu Sensei who keep the focus on the training required to achieve this milestone and the letting go of the ego and pride. Not to say that when a student does reach this level that there isn’t a sense of pride and appreciation for the work done, it’s just that it is not the emphasis of the rank itself.

Next time you hear a conversation about someone’s 9 year old child achieving a 3rd degree black belt in a martial art, realize that this is in itself an indication of what is really being taught, and that while the rank may sound impressive, it is by all means misleading and does not represent what the rank is supposed to indicate. If you are seeing increased focus, skill and attitude in your own child then you know that they are truly progressing, and that along with the physical skill there is also a mental fortitude that is being developed. A mindset that does not worry about the immediate reward of an action, but knows that through consistent training and a resolute persistence that anything can be accomplished. In the case of learning self-defense, it is the ability to defend yourself. Think on this.

The Dojo: A Deeper Look at Martial Arts Self Defense

the dojo meridian idaho

The idea behind the methodology of Shoshin Ryu’s goshinjutsu (self-defense) is to give the practitioner a “starting point” for learning how to move one’s body as well as the body of another. A new student may look at a rear choke attack and ask “who would grab you like that?”, while the attack itself may be statistically uncommon, the motion of dealing with extended arms attaching to you from behind, be it one or both, is learned through this particular technique. The same motions used to defend yourself in a rear choke can be applied for one hand on a shoulder, two hands on a shoulder, rear hair grab, someone grabbing your shirt from behind or someone grabbing your neck from behind. Rather than train all those techniques individually and therefore bogging down the student, the student can practice just rear choke, and once proficient, can apply the same motions to any number of attacks.

Each technique taught in the self defense classes at the dojo can be applied to several situations, not necessarily just the one attack. These techniques are taught to adults as well as in the kids self defense classes. There is a saying: “from 1 thing know 10,000 things and from 10,000 things know 1 thing”. This is a concept understood by more advanced students at the dojo. By the time a student has learned the core curriculum through Shodan (1st degree black belt), there are very few, if any, situations that one cannot relate to something they’ve practiced 100’s or 1000’s of times over the course of their martial arts training. The same technique used to escape from a collar grab will have countless applications for other attacks. It may be the initial move, the finish or something in-between that can be utilized to defend yourself. By dedicating your body and mind to Shoshin Ryu martial arts training, the attack really becomes less important and the reaction becomes the focus. There are only so many ways someone can attack you (empty hand or with a weapon). Each rank in Shoshin Ryu adds core techniques that will equip you with the tools needed for successful defense. While the tools may not be specifically designed to handle that specific attack, there is a technique in your toolbox that can be applied that will allow you to put yourself into a position of familiarity and increase your odds of defending yourself.

So, instead of questioning the attack itself, think more of how you are moving, is it efficient, are you optimizing your power, are your eyes soft or are they scattered and unseeing? Are you moving from center or are you compromising your structure and making yourself vulnerable to counters? These are the things students practice at a higher level, not so much to say “If someone chokes me from behind I know how to get out” but rather knowing yourself, knowing how to move, knowing how to move others…these are the things that separate beginning students from more advanced students.

Technique vs Strength: An Article From “the dojo”


In order for a smaller person to defeat a larger person, solid technique must be implemented. Technique is emphasized because regardless of one’s personal strength, technique puts a person in position to utilize larger muscle groups against an attackers smaller muscle groups. If one depends entirely on muscle and strength they put themselves at a disadvantage if defending themselves from someone who is physically stronger. As we age, our strength weakens. Thus, training with only the mind set of trying to overpower a person will become less successful the older we get. Technique on the other hand, can be cultivated and refined as one grows older. As technique matures in a martial artist, the motions and application of strength becomes smaller and less important. One can think of technique as being like a stone sculpture. As you define the sculpture, the artist removes the parts that are not needed to define the end result. You don’t add to a sculpture, only remove. Same with your technique. As you train, one finds the parts that are unnecessary and you refine the motions to be most efficient. This will allow you to spend less energy and cuts down on inefficient motions. This increases one’s speed as well.

For Shoshin Ryu practitioners at the dojo, this must be at the forefront of the mind. If you find yourself needing to use muscle in order to make a technique work, chances are you have missed a key principle within the technique and rather than forcing your way through, it’s better to start over and find the piece that is missing. The word Jujitsu means gentle application. Think on this while training and ask yourself periodically if the motions you are using in your technique are truly the most efficient. This will often lead you to discoveries about how you move. Less is more. The Judo maxim of “Minimum Effort, Maximum Efficiency” sum this up quite well. Most traditionally trained martial artists will find that their peak will come much later in life compared to someone who counts on strength and physical ability to defend themselves. Longevity in your training comes from this mindset.

To look at it a different way, compare how a lower mudansha (ranks below black belt) works through a kata compared to a yudansha (black belt). If both perform 10 kata in a row, the yudansha will be less exhausted and will maintain a constant flow so that all the kata are done the same way, with equal speed and power whereas the mudansha will taper off as they progress through the 10 kata. The speed and power will be less as each kata is done. This is because the yudansha has learned over years and years of training that efficient motions not only allow you to move with less effort, but actually increase the power one can deliver through less tension and faster, more efficient and fluid motions. When you find this for yourself through constant refining and drilling, you have taken a critical step forward in your training and progression. This is a never ending path, a path that’s destination is one of absolute efficiency, using only what is necessary to achieve the objective. Couple this with the aspect of mind speed and mushin (no-mind) and you have a highly skilled Shoshin Ryu practitioner.