Traditional martial arts are known for the use of a training uniform, the "gi." The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano is credited with its creation along with the belt ranking system (kyu - lower grades and dan - black belt grades). The keikogi (kay koh gee) or dogi (doe gee) is actually an augmented under garment similar to a pair of long-johns that is designed to withstand the rigors of martial arts training.
For example, judo students wear a quilted gi meant for being grabbed and pulled because of the many throws and joint locks in the art whereas a karate gi may be single layer of cotton or and a bit less constructive to allow for punches and kicks. The jacket is held together with a belt that represents a students rank and status similar to pre WW II Japan.
There are a growing number of marital arts schools that do not use a gi and prefer to have students in shorts and t-shirts or street clothes because it allows for greater movement as well as a more "realistic" approach to fighting. And while it's true that the gi has only been around for a little over a hundred years, there are some great benefits.
Mental Focus. Anyone who have served in the military or is or has been a first responder understands that once he or she dons the uniform, their focus must be on the immediate task at hand. This is also true of traditional martial arts uniforms. Wearing a gi is a reminder to everyone (in the dojo) that the environment is one of mutual respect and discipline.
Cleanliness. People sweat a lot. A gi absorbs a lot of that sweat (and blood) that would otherwise end up on somebody else. Of course, those of us who practice grappling arts accept that fact that we are going to swap sweat with other people, but a gi will keep this to a minimum and help to keep the training mats from getting overly saturated.
Discipline. One of the most important aspects of traditional martial arts is discipline. Depending on the type of art you study, there is typically a formal way to wear, fold and care for the gi. In traditional Japanese martial arts such as aikido, jujutsu, Iaido and kyudo, the hakama or pleated pants are a part of the training uniform. The process of folding the hakama after class is just as much a part of the martial discipline as the art itself.
Our students wear a gi for training in our dojo for the majority of our classes. Some times we will have class with t-shirts and sweat pants or street clothes just to mix things up a little bit. One thing that I've noticed over the years, having had classes with and without traditional uniforms is that attitudes are visibly different when folks are not wearing a gi. What do you think?
During my second week of basic training for the United States Air Force, one of the guys in the barracks asked our training instructor (TI) when we would learn how to shoot the M16. The training instructor's reply went something like this: "You don't even know how to fold your *&@)& underwear yet! How do you expect to learn how to fire a *&(@% M16?
Anyone with basic military training experience knows that trainees have to perform all kinds of mindless chores such as folding underwear into six-inch squares, making hospital corners, spit-shining boots, etc. Failure to perform these simple tasks perfectly resulted in severe punishment. Why? Details.
If a trainee does not have the capacity to learn the simple tasks, how can he or she learn the important ones like loading, cleaning and firing a weapon, following an aircraft tech order or applying a tourniquet to stop bleeding? They cannot. All of these things require attention to detail. If you neglect the details in simple tasks, how can you expect to learn the really important, potentially life-saving ones? Martial arts training (Budo) requires the same discipline.
If a student is not willing hone foundational skills such as ukemi (rolling), stance, posture, footwork, etc., he will never master anything. It takes a long time -- perhaps a lifetime to learn such skills but it all starts with mundane basics. In the Bible, Jesus tells us to build our homes on rock rather than sand. Matthew 7:24-27. It takes much longer and it's lot more work, but a solid foundation is well-worth the time and effort.
As a young karate student, I never appreciated kihon (basic strikes and kicks) or kata (forms). All I wanted to do was fight and I became really good at sparring but really lousy at karate. I didn't really understand karate until I lived in Japan and found aikido...and budo. Karate is budo; aikido is budo. Judo, kyudo, iaido...all budo. Budo is roughly translated as "The way to enlightenment through warrior training." Training for war is far more rigorous than just learning how to fight; it involves strategy, planning, logistics...details. The way we line up before and after class, the bow, the way we fold our uniforms after class, kihon, kata, bokken training...all details.
Real budo training is rigorous and demanding because it focuses on details that could potentially save your life some day. Mundane, boring details...like folding underwear, making hospital corners and spit-shining boots.
Jissenkan Aiki Budo
Why do we incorporate karate training into our system? Because from a practicality standpoint, it is relevant to the real violence out there. Precision striking is karate's speciality. Body conditioning, mental toughness, grit, the ability to take a hit, etc., all come from good karate training. The two primary styles of karate we borrow from are Shoinji Ryu Karate Do - Japanase (primarily kata and some kumite) and Matsubayashi Karate Kempo - Okinawan (kihon, body conditioning, kumite). There are 21 kata available to our students, but you are only required to know Teno Kata (basic form). From now on, you may learn any of the kata you wish, but not through video. Ask me and I will be happy to teach you a kata any time. You miss a lot when you try to learn from film. Karate is important and relevant because you can always practice and perfect your technique.
Aside from several Nage techniques, most of our strangulation and joint locks come from an independent jujutsu system known as Yoshimi Shinki Ryugi. It was founded my my teacher, George Sherman Sensei (Professor) who studied under Ray Law, who studied under Henry Okazaki from Hawaii. Okazaki Sensei formed his own system that stemmed from his family name and many generations of jujutsu practitioners. Sherman Sensei formed his own system due to the push for making jujutsu a sport style under the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation which established rules for contests, specific arts, testing, etc. Because of his experiences growing up in the streets as a young African American in the 50s and 60s as well as being a police officer, Sherman Sensei wanted to keep his training combat oriented. He was no fan of padded sparring and any sparring in his classes was without pads at full speed. He was very adamant that none of us studied (or "played" as he put it) Judo - he said it would ruin our jujutsu technique. He was very proficient in Japanese karate and our classes, usually two or more hours long, always involved kihon and kumite (non-padded) followed by rigorous sessions of throwing and grappling. Sherman Sensei was the most intense teacher I ever had. He would often make udansha (black belts) do entire kihon and kumite sessions in full uniform (gi and hakama) and accepted no excuses. All udansha had to carry a jutte (metal rod with a hook for catching swords) when in the dojo. He was proficient with many weapons, including the iron fan. Sherman Sensei left the dojo when some of his undansha began to question his promotions to other students (we had no formal testing). After that, no one ever heard from him again. Sherman Sensei never wanted or accepted formal payment for his lessons. He would typically show up unannounced on a Saturday morning and would teach some times the entire day. I think the fact that some of the people he trusted most would turn on him because of their ego really hurt his feelings and was an insult to his honor. Indeed, the scariest martial arts master I have ever met, but kind and considerate to those who took him and his art seriously.
I never intended to study aikido because my first impression was that it was a worthless art - until I went to Japan and found a great aikido dojo by pure chance. As I have told you many times, it was the most rigorous and painful training I have ever endured. Issoyama Shihan was very strict on technique as well as ettiquet. If you were a udansha and you didn't have a hakama, you didn't train. Also, if your hakama was in bad shape, you didn't train. As he explained on several occasions, Budo is about perfecting yourself, being aware of the details. He said in public and private that failure to recognize the importance of the minute details of any martial art, including ettiequte would most assuredly result in failure and death. His aikido was very linear and simplistic; no fancy moves, no dancing on the toes, just simple and effective. If you had the honor of being his uke, he would apply joint locks and throws to their fullest extent. Those who would attack or grab him tentatively would never be his uke again. The message here was that he was master of himself and the technique; you have to trust the master if you ever want to learn from him. Issoyama Shihan suffered no fools; I saw him completely trounce a Go Dan after this man treated one of our weaker students poorly. I saw him verbally and/or physicaly destroy anyone, Japanese or foreigner who didn't take the art seriously. The only time people got hurt was was when they were not completely focused on what they were doing. He told once that Budo training is like training with a live blade or a loaded gun. Aikido had and continues to have a profound impact on me. If it is studied intensely and applied correctly, it can be very effective if not devastating to the unsuspecting attacker. Always remember the foundations of aikido come from ancient Samurai arts - jujutsu and Aiki jujutsu. It was and still is (in some dojos) about war and was never meant to be a hobby.
As our training and system continue to develop, I would like each of you to keep in mind the importance of having a Budo mindset. Hopefully the preceding information sheds some light on how I view training. As you know, our namesake, Jissen, means "putting things into daily practice" and "real combat." I do not want to lose some of the important aspects and foundations of our training and have it replaced by the need to "keep things real." If any of you had had the opportunity to meet and train with the two men I just mentioned who placed very high value on ettiequte and basic training, you would never question the validity of their arts.
I would like us to move forward in the same vein, paying closer attention to etiquette and discipline. Hence, I would like all Ni Kyu and above to purchase a hakama in the near future as well as their own bokken and jo to bring to class any time you train. There will be specific nights indicated for wearing hakama, but you should always have one available. If you are a brown belt, hakama is optional. Black hakamas only, please. I would like this to happen by March 20/20. Also, please make sure you always have a mouth piece and that your uniform is always clean and in good repair. Lastly, please remember that Budo is about perfecting yourself, your technique and your life. Be mindful of what you eat, drink and what you say in and out of the dojo.
Thanks for taking the time to read this essay.
How much are you required to know to challenge the shodan test in Jissenkan Dojo? A lot, but not as much as you may think. Yes, you have to be able to switch modes and demonstrate distinct differences between karate, jujutsu and aikido. You may believe this is a bit unrealistic considering some of the "newer" training methods we've added in the past two years.
Fact is, aside from kata, we aren't doing things a whole lot different than we were before. We have always used karate techniques and conditioning as a part of our training; we've always used (non-aikido) joint locks, chokes, throws and take-downs. And the standard for shodan has always been the same; you need to know 4-5 variations for aikido techniques, you need to be able to participate in Kumite, negotiate various weapon attacks, get through the shugyo part of the examination and demonstrate grit and determination during Randori. And, you have to do all this while maintaining a collected mindset.
You may be surprised to learn that we have omitted many complicated, ritualistic techniques that were not applicable to a hand-hand combat situation. Furthermore, while we expect you to demonstrate proficiency with a wide variety of techniques, our curriculum has far fewer demands than other systems. For example:
In short, we want you to have a very thorough knowledge of basic techniques from the arts that comprise our karate system. Once mastered, these simplistic forms can be used in practically any combination or separately as needed.
As always, testing is for the individual, not for the teacher. It is a measure of your progress as well as a chance to inspire others.
Finally, the Shodan test should be rigorous, demanding, painful, exhausting, difficult and above all, exclusive. You have to earn an opportunity to challenge the test. This includes demonstrating commitment, self-training, self-discipline and a thorough knowledge of the basics. If you cannot adequately convey basic concepts when called upon to teach a given technique, you have not trained enough to have it become a part of you...and you will not test. If you have not taken your fitness and/or training seriously, if you are unable to challenge the test due to physical deficits within your control, you do not understand Budo discipline...and you will not test. If you whine, complain or question the wisdom behind the manner in which you are taught in a dojo that is completely free, you most likely don't realize what you have here...and you will not test.
There is absolutely no reason why any student who trains here cannot obtain shodan and beyond. I leave you with this question: There are 24 hours in a day, 10-12 of which we must dedicate to work/school, around seven hours for sleep. That leaves approximately five hours for other stuff. How are you filling those hours?
Dojo Cho, Jissenkan