Courtesy Jim Morganelli
What is your personal martial art biography?
I became interested in martial arts in the early 60’s. I started Judo when I was 11, and got my green belt in December 1964. I continued with Judo and Jujitsu (Kodenkan Style, Prof. Wally Jay, Alameda Jujitsu Club, Del Esposti, Marin School of Self Defense) and got a brown belt when I was 15.
When I was 16, I could finally attend the Karate class that I only could watch until that time. I became a martial art nut. I still have boxes of old Black Belt Magazines, including the December 1966 issue that introduced ninja to America and the February 1967 issue that introduced us to Hatsumi-Sensei: “A little more than an hour train ride from Tokyo in drowsy Noda City along the back waters of Chiba peninsula lives one of the more interesting men of Japan today. He is Yoshiaki Hatsumi, a modern day ninja…”
I think I may have been one of the first people to buy the Andy Adams book in March of 1970. I read it over and over, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would ever meet Hatsumi Sensei face-to-face.
I got my Black Belt in Shotokan Karate from one of Richard Kim’s (SFO YMCA) Black Belt Instructors, Gene Orlando, in September 1971. When I was in college in Santa Barbara, California, I trained with Bill Berk a student of Hidetaka Nishiyama (AAKF) in Shotokan Karate including attending tournaments and camps and going to LA to train with Nishiyama-Sensei.
I took several years off then moved to Stockton, California (1978), and trained for three years in Karate and Jujitsu with a student of Prof. Wally Jay and Coach Willy Cahill, named Art Diocson. I also trained simultaneously with Stockton based Filipino martial art masters: Gilbert Tenio, John Eliab, Leo Giron, Angel Cabales, and Dentoy Revilar.
I bought the first Stephen K. Hayes book in 1980 and became interested in Ninjutsu again. I saw a seminar in Black Belt Magazine that he was giving in October 1981 in Seattle, Washington, and went to check it out. His partner and Uke for the seminar was a wiry, crew cut Marine officer named Jack Hoban.
I started going to seminars in Ohio with Stephen K. Hayes and went with him on the 1983 Ninja Tour of Japan where I met Hatsumi Sensei and the Shihan: Ishizuka, Nagato, Kan, Saito, Kobayashi, Oguri, Nogouchi, Shiraishi, Seno, and others.
Stephen K. Hayes recommended that I train with Jack Hoban who was closer to me than Ohio, in San Diego, and introduced us. I started going down to his monthly seminars, given in a Quonset hut on the Marine base by the San Diego airport.
I invited him to come to Stockton and give a seminar for my little training group in January, 1984 - he did and that was the beginning of the Stockton Bujinkan Dojo. The picture of that first Jack Hoban seminar includes California students who are still active, Richard Van Donk, Mark O’Brien, Bill Atkins, Dale Seago, Dave Furukawa, Miki Fujitsubo, and others.
In 1985, Jack Hoban and I started the Warrior Information Network, at that time a newsletter with training information. It has evolved into the WIN website on the internet: www.winjutsu.com.
I have been active in the Bujinkan Dojo, co-sponsoring 5 Tai Kai’s [note: Mark co-hosted the "Last TaiKai" in 2003 - so that makes 6], Sensei’s two newsletters, Tetsuzan and Sanmyaku, seminars, and camps and I have been to Japan to train 16 times. I passed the Godan test on December 4, 1989 (I was the fifth American). I have also enjoyed the international expansion of the Bujinkan and have attended Tai Kai’s in Sweden, England, and Israel
I now train weekly in Southeast Wisconsin, monthly with a group of independent instructors from around Wisconsin and Illinois, yearly at the Tai Kai, USA. I also co-sponsor the BuYu Camp in June in San Francisco and I go to Japan with a group of students every December for the Daikomyosai training.
What are the biggest differences in training today than when you first began in the Bujinkan?
The biggest change is the sheer volume of information available to the student. There are numerous books, videos, websites, newsletters and magazines that didn’t exist in the early 80’s. The second difference is the number of training opportunities available in dojos, seminars and qualified instructors usually no more than a couple of hours drive for most students. There is also a twenty year history of practice in America to look back on as part of the learning process.
Why do we train the way we do, e.g. yearly themes, yearly weapons?
This question begs the answer: because Hatsumi-Sensei told us to do it this way.
It may seem strange that he teaches “no technique” and then directs us to train within a defined structure, but I don’t think it is, even if it is frustrating to the student*. I think that Sensei is talking about an end - no technique - and a means to that end - the lesson in the waza.
I believe that all the lessons of Ninjutsu are coded in a three dimensional language called taijutsu, but that their meaning - the waza’s essence - is different, or changes, for the student as a he or she progresses in skill level. So we need to revisit the ryu and the waza over the course of our lives, over and over again probably, to apply the lessons to our current training level or awareness.
I also think he is giving us something constructive to do so that we don’t get cocky and start making stuff up - do the technique wrong well.
At the first Tai Kai in Yuma Mura, Japan, in October 1983, at a question and answer session, someone asked Sensei what he - the student - should do to become Soke. The translator said that the student should do his movements in front of a mirror, and when he moved like Soke, he could be the Soke.
What at first seemed to me, in translation, to be a flippant answer to a stupid, insulting question later made more sense to me. He gives us dozens of waza, hundreds of variations, weird concepts like snow falling off trees, dropping devils, and imperial palanquins and says do all this stuff, it will take years, if most of it sticks, you will be OK.
At the BuYu Camp 2000, Julio Toribio told us this story: when training in Japan, Sensei watched his technique and said, “No power!” Julio asked, “Sensei, if I have no power, how can I do the technique?” Sensei replied, “No technique!” Julio then exclaimed, “But, Sensei if I have no technique, how can I do the exercise?” Sensei smiled and said, “Keep Going!” and walked away.
What aspects of training should budoka concentrate on?
Their health, family life, personal economics, then balance training activities. Don’t think about it too much, just do it.
Is there a secret to training?
Well, if there is a secret, it is still a secret to me (laugh)! If you are asking is there a simple top priority, I would say that it is to train with Hatsumi Sensei directly, or if that is not practical, train with people who believe that that is the top priority.
What is the best way I can improve my training?
Given the new climate of the world stage, what are our roles as budoka?
While sometimes warfare is a zero sum adventure, I believe that Ninjutsu in application is not. Any situation should be managed so that there is no bad after affect if possible. I would say the worst after affects are the consequences of death, hatred, and revenge. Sometimes good people have to do bad things, but it must never be their choice to do them, it must always be a last resort and without alternative.
The ironic thing about martial art training is that you practice with some of your best friends to apply to your worst enemies. The chilling reality of a real enemy is not usually part of the student’s life experience.
Sadly, evil is on the move in the world now and the chance that we will have to apply our training against real enemies is much greater after 9-11-01.
However, maybe that (applying our training) is our minor role. Our major role may be to remind those that we protect and defend, and each other, that our enemies are not animals, and while some will have to be killed, it is because they force us, and if we live, we will have to share the world with the rest when the war is over so we have to relate to them as fellow human beings, and get them to do the same. (www.lifevalues.com)
At the Daikomyosai training in 2001, Hatsumi-Sensei told us that we must prepare to deal with real enemies at their level, but without the hatred (my paraphrase of the translator).
“…The ninja’s duty is to be enlightened in the laws of humanity. There should be no fighting that does not follow these rules. Therefore, the enemy who stands against the laws of nature has lost his battle before he begins the fight. The first priority to the ninja was to win without fighting, that remains the way.” (Takamatsu-Sensei in an interview by Hatsumi-Sensei in his book “Essence of Ninjutsu”, page 23.)
If you could contribute one thing to the Bujinkan “Book of Knowledge” what would it be?
One thing? Well, I suppose it would be three admonitions.
The first is that simulating violence and talking about it in training is not the same as experiencing it. (It is easy to say “cut here” it is not easy to cut “here.”)
The second would be that the budoka treat his or her skills like a sacred trust, be careful when you apply them and to whom you teach them.
The third admonition is that the student must realize that when you apply your skills on a real enemy, your life will be changed.
How do you overcome problems with training or other budoka?
I am not sure I understand this question. I suppose the biggest problem students have is the money and time commitment required for training, so I would say that you must balance your economic life, personal life and training life because they are interactive whether you like it or not.
Regarding problems with other budoka, I really haven’t had any that I can recall. I suppose that if I did I would just avoid them, if they damaged me in some way, the legal system both criminal and civil exists to compensate that damage. This is not wild west any more, after all.
What is the future of the Bujinkan?
I wish I could predict the future! Well, from what I have observed, the Bujinkan Dojo is an expanding worldwide phenomena and I suppose that there will be thousands of little training groups all over the world that think and act local, but get together to share technology with each other periodically and remain linked by their common practice. Imagine a world filled with physical/moral, defender/protectors. Imagine communities where it is not safe to be a bad guy (laugh)!
Do you have any special plans for your own training in the future?
Like all students, I struggle with the “big picture” since the body of knowledge (physical skill knowledge) in the Bujinkan Dojo is huge. Some day I would like to be able to say that I understand it all, but I don’t worry about it, in the mean time I will just keep going.