James Williams – Martial Arts from my perspective

Publicado originalmente en e-budo.


Please excuse my delay in replying to the thread that was on this forum. I was heavily tasked in Japan and behind on a number of things when I returned CONUS on Sunday.

It appears that my view of martial arts is from a very different perspective than some on this forum. I study Samurai bujutsu as an art of war. Training in the sword is the foundation of this training and I train with the sword, with the full intention of prevailing in an edged weapon engagement. This is a classical perspective. As kenjutsu is the omote so then is jujutsu the ura. As this is the case all empty hand and small weapon techniques are done exactly the same way as the kenjutsu. Striking, locking, throwing, even strangulation techniques come directly from kenjutsu and this is easily recognized when observing the technique. I do not believe, and have not seen demonstrated by anyone, that it is possible to study Samurai bujutsu from a different perspective and fully understand and make practically functional the Samurai military arts that they evolved over centuries.

The mindset of martial arts in Japan has changed a great deal from those of their Samurai ancestors. This change in mindset and technique is readily visible, with a few notable exceptions, in modern Japanese dojo. This change of mindset and technique is even expressed in the Japanese constitution.

Mars was the God of war. The Martial Arts were originally arts of War. This is not the case in 99% of what is now called “Martial arts”. War is about killing people and breaking things, art is the ability to do this to your opponent without having them do that to you. We use the broad term Martial arts for a number of different practices that have some relationship to what were once arts studied for War. Self Defense, sport based competition, controlled environment sport fighting (UFC etc.), exercise and esoteric practice all make up what we call Martial Arts today. These are obviously very different practices and take a different set of skills and mindset. There is some crossover however none of these are arts of War.

Most marital arts still have some method for gaining actual physical competency. This involves some physical contesting at the very least. To think that you could challenge or disparage someone’s art or ability and then become self-righteous about proving your ability in some form or another is a relatively recent phenomenon and has gained a large following on the internet. For lack of a better term when referring to those who study what we call Japanese Sword Arts we could deem these Cyber Samurai. They are willing to engage in words written in cyber space but not willing to prove any real knowledge and ability. In martial arts ability is knowledge. If you can’t do it you don’t know it. This is not the Debate Team at your local high school.

Mars was the God of war. The Martial Arts were originally arts of War. This is not the case in 99% of what is now called “Martial arts”. War is about killing people and breaking things, art is the ability to do this to your opponent without having them do that to you.

I notice that there is a bit of a following from what we call Brazilian Jujutsu on this forum. I have known the Gracie’s since the 1980’s when no one knew who they were. Rorion Gracie’s method of convincing people that his art worked was to get on the mat and go at it. There was a bit of pain involved and depending upon your self-view perhaps some embarrassment. However if you really want to know what you can do you have to do it. In the early days there where any number of dojo encounters of various degrees of force applied as there is only one way to truly prove your art and ability. I cannot count the number of times over my almost 5 decades in the Marital Arts where I have proved my ability or at times was shown that perhaps there was more for me to learn. These lessons given or learned came with some degree or another of physical pain and sometimes injury. I do not understand the current mindset that when a person would be asked to prove their ability by some method or another when calling someone’s honor into question they respond with indignation and avoid any real demonstration of their ability. Perhaps it is that if you do not have honor, and therefore the potential for shame, that you just don’t understand that you are a Cyber Samurai. Your ability to post, quote, or feel self righteous gives you the feeling that you have a “right” to express your opinion with no consequence. This of course removes the foundations of courtesy and respect. It becomes about how you “feel”.

When the real world hits you the training and mindset that you get in your dojo and the internet will not have prepared you for how fast and ugly things can go sideways. When you are in a dark alley late at night, and you feel the bite and burn of sharp steel on your body you realize that you could die in this place it had better fire your blood as the sharp piece of steel in your hand, and it’s immediate and violent use, may be the only thing that gets you home. This is not your warm fuzzy dojo, or in a protected and controlled environment like UFC. There will be no tapping out here and right and wrong will be very clearly defined.

In the Western world especially there are a majority of people who are protected by our Samurai, those who serve. These warriors still have the need to study arts of War. I am honored to work with a number of our Special Operations units in just this type of endeavor. The responsibility that comes with teaching men of this caliber, ability, and mission is immense. People may live or die with what you teach them. If you have seen men die violently. If you have buried fallen comrades, if you have delivered the message of their death to their loved ones after they have been killed in combat action, and had to tell them how the Secretary of the Army wishes to express his regrets, you know what an enormous responsibility this teaching is. Nothing in your life is so satisfying as having someone that you trained return from battle and tell you that something that you taught them saved their life or the life of one of their comrades in arms. I have sons, I know the look on a parents face when they are told, by me, that their son will not be returning to them. I do not want someone to have to tell the wife, or parents of someone I trained about the Secretary of the Army’s regrets.

What this means for me is that everything I do, know, study, and train for must be the best and most functional strategy, mindset, and technique that it can possibly be. Nothing can be ‘made up”, you have to know it will work and the best thing is to have personal knowledge that it will in fact work and work better than your enemies. To think that the vast storehouse of knowledge that our ancestors gained from warrior societies is no longer viable in modern combat is a big mistake. Samurai warrior culture has an enormous number of hidden treasures that are valuable in the modern warfare environment. I have gotten extremely positive AARs from my guys who have used this strategy and techniques in battle.

I have either a sword or a gun in my hand most days. My primary job is training and teaching Martial Arts. I use the knowledge and techniques that I have learned from classical Samurai bujutsu when teaching Close Quarters Battle. I have been extremely fortunate in having some exceptional teachers including Kuroda Tetsuzan, with whom I currently train, who is a truly phenomenal swordsman. If you want to know what Nami ryu is and what it’s roots are you can go to my Nami ryu website and read about it. It is public knowledge and demonstrated in public forums many times every year. If you attend the Atlanta Blade show, or other demo’s, you will be able to ask questions and see specific techniques or solutions. There is no false or hidden agenda and our dojo is always open. If you wish to visit and observe, you are welcome.

If anyone has specific questions please feel free to ask. I cannot or will not answer everything, specific units trained, or some of the things that I have done however most questions I will happily answer.

Much of this was composed in my mind late at night at the Sensoji after it was closed. I was sitting in the dark reflecting on many things including the contrast between this old temple and the surrounding city. It reflects in many ways the change and contrast in the Japanese mindset and martial arts as well. I have a great respect for the ancient ways and methods of the Samurai. They are however not at all common here even in dojo teaching JSA. There are some magnificent exceptions however in my experience they are not popular or common. My personal opinion is that the interest of gaijin has actually brought attention to some of these arts by the Japanese who are beginning to realize the value of some of their historical treasures.


James Williams

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