Topic: "Issues in the Martial Arts"


Gil Gillespie:


My subject for the "Ethics in Budo" project revolves around the role of a sensei and parallels to "coach" and/or "teacher." Many have voiced the opinion that a sensei is merely a dispenser of technique and nothing more should be expected. I disagree. My understanding of the word "sensei" involves layers of meaning and cultural nuances. The culture here is budo, more than just nationalistic Japanese. The finest American senseis in my experience embody the same traits. My opinion does not include an a priori assumption that a budo sensei must be a philosphical guru or purveyor of metaphysical insights. But it does involve more of a holistic approach to "teaching" the whole person. Just as "rabbi" translates merely as "teacher" while containing a great richness of depth and meaning, so does "sensei" in its wider and, I feel, more important manifestations.  A sensei has an ultimate devotion to his art, and through it, to the lives of his students. They are not merely customers, any more than s/he is a fountain where techiques pour out instead of water, although in an optimum sensei/seito relationship there is very definitely a quenching of thirst. Understood in this depth is the concept of the student's staying on the path (I will avoid the -do and -jutsu dialog). The concept of "mudansha"  (no rank) either fairly or not entails a little of "non-person." The attrition that characterizes budo mudansha precludes the depth of the sensei/seito relationship. We are taught that shodan only means a serious student now ready to learn. So the meaningful sensei/seito relationship is earned through time and is not  bestowed in a frivolous or cavalier way on anyone donninga keiko-gi.

Well to recap all this I started aikido in 1989 with Dennis Hooker & Dr Dave Jones in Orlando FL  (Saotome Shihan's ASU) and have maintained that affiliation throughout. In 1990 I returned from Japan with my iaito as a gift from an old man near the Katori shrine who made me promise to train in iai as well as aikido upon my return. Dennis Hooker commenced sword classes within weeks and they have continued to the present with some interruptions. We enjoyed a years long informal affiliation with Fred Tart from Louvret's Itto Tenshin Ryu iaijutsu until Mr Tart's unfortunate passing. We are currently formally affiliated with MJERI under Shimabukuro Sensei from San Diego and Carl Long from Wilkes-Barre PA. I became aikido shodan in 1995, nidan last year and MJERI shodan this year.

As far as non-budo bio I'm 53 years old, originally from Asbury Park NJ and 1970 graduate of Syracuse University (International Relations). I taught & coached junior high school (1970-74), was a street artist in San Francisco (1974-77), a traveling bear trainer/ circus performer (1977-84), and since then have been "employed" as a freelance stagehand/ scenic artist in the Orlando FL area. My wife (the former Junko Takagi of Shizuoka Japan) and daughter Jade (13) and I reside on 10 very rural acres an hour southwest of Orlando. My sister and her grown daughter also maintain residences here (think Kennedy family compound without the money) with a couple horses, 2 old retired bears and a revolving population of cats and large dogs.

Michael Alexanian

Paper Summary

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the use of The Seven Principles of Bushido as an ethical framework for Dojo conduct.  Although the main focus is on using it in a Dojo which practices an art that the Japanese Government has designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset, thereby demanding a certain moral character to represent it properly, consideration is also give to how it could be used in other Dojo as well in order to supplement existing Dojo regulations.


Michael (Gennan) Alexanian, Branch Manager and Principal Instructor of the United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Michigan Dojo holds a BA from Hope College in Holland, Michigan; and an MA from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.  He is also the Vice-President of Shakunage Consulting, Inc. whose mission is "to promote, nurture and develop awareness of the Japanese Culture and to enhance Japanese / American business and individual friendships through the mutual understanding of each other's cultures."  He currently holds the rank of Rokudan (Sixth Degree) in Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, Nidan (Second Degree) in Toyama Ryu Iaido and Shodan (First Degree) in Kyu Shin Ryu Ju-jutsu.

Don Cunningham

Paper Summary

Don will be presenting on an aspect of his "Frauds and Flakes" topic; this time with an emphasis on what to look for in choosing a martial arts school.


Don Cunningham holds advanced ranks in judo, jujutsu, and kendo, including a second dan license from the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo. A frequent contributor to many martial arts publications, Mr. Cunningham has studied and written about Japanese modern and traditional martial arts for more than thirty years. Mr. Cunningham has practiced judo and competed in many different countries, including Japan. His tournament records include many state and regional awards. In addition, he has studied koryu bujutsu styles with various teachers during his frequent visits to Japan. He holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Texas A&M University.

Deborah Klens-Bigman

Paper summary
Should teachers include ethical teachings (based on the Tenets of Bushido, or some other philosophy) along with their martial arts teaching?  This paper will examine the teacher's responsibility (if there is one) to include ethical issues along with technique.  The dilemma arises when different religious or spiritual beliefs are represented in the dojo.  Does the teacher consider ethics, or does she let people's individual beliefs guide their practice?


Deborah Klens-Bigman holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University.  She is also associate instructor at New York Budokai in New York City.  She has studied Muso Shinden ryu iaido for 16 years under Sensei Otani Yoshiteru.  In addition, she holds nidan in Tenshinsho Jigen ryu from Sensei Kawabata Terutaka (Tokyo).  She has also "sampled" Hekki ryu Bichu Chikuren ha kyudo and naginata (Tendo ryu and atarashii).  She is married to artist Vernon Bigman and lives in New York.

Dakin Burdick

Summary:  In 1995, a friend of mine was sexually assaulted by her instructor.  As a result, I became closely involved in the resulting court proceedings and sat in on the trial.  I did so not only because of my friendship with the victim, but because of my curiousity about the instructor, who didn't seem to realize that he had done anything wrong. In his eyes, he was justified in his actions.  This led me not only to examine the relationships between teachers and students, but also to reappraise the idea that martial arts teach ethical behavior.

Biography:  Dakin Burdick has been studying the martial arts since 1980, and is an instructional consultant at Indiana University at Bloomington.  He has a Ph.D. in American History and American Studies, and his Ph.D. dissertation was on the history of judo and bare-knuckle boxing in the U.S. from 1845 to 1945. Dakin holds a rank in t'aekweondo (4th dan), hapkido (3rd dan), Hoki-ryu iaido (2nd dan), and American Combative Science (instructor).  He recently revised and updated the martial arts entries for Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Don Cunningham multimedia presentation: 6-7pm Friday evening.

Look at any popular martial arts publication or various Internet sites and one easily finds many martial arts grandmasters proclaiming outlandish martial arts ranking credentials and dubious training expertise. Most serious practitioners of traditional Japanese martial arts simply dismiss these individuals as rather harmless aberrations or eccentrics. Their whimsical claims are often viewed as comical or scorned for the poor image they create within the mainstream martial arts community. Yet, these individuals pose serious risks both to themselves and to others.

In my opinion, a self-proclaimed master is one who establishes their own independent criteria to declare their respective status within the martial arts community, usually at some sort of highly ranked level or teaching position. In some cases, they may have created a completely fictional background about themselves or even a fictitious martial art style. Often they claim some difficult if not impossible to authenticate training background. More often, they simply obtain at least some credentials from others through various means.

Because of the lack of internal regulation or standards, self-proclaimed martial arts masters are often difficult to identify. In addition, rivalries among practitioners of different styles often confuse the issue since few if any recognize the legitimacy of each other. This makes it difficult to differentiate between those who have completely fabricated their own background or style from those who simply practice a different style or form.

Actual experience has demonstrated these self-proclaimed martial arts masters do often pose very serious risks, both to themselves and to others. Such dangers include:

1.      Training accidents and potential injuries under the supervision of inexperienced instructors.
2.      Financial loss involving rank credentials or fraudulent organizations.
3.      Legal difficulties due to advice from those unfamiliar with self-defense laws.
4.      Abuse, either physical, mental, or sexual, from mentally disturbed individuals and predators involved in martial arts instruction.

My multimedia presentation examines actual incidents which illustrate such risks. Case histories are also included and provide key characteristics useful for identifying self-proclaimed martial arts experts. In conclusion, practical recommendations on how to avoid such individuals and the dangers they represent are presented.