Topic: "Culture in the Martial Arts"


Gil Gillespie

Abstract: In my paper I'd like to present the idea that Japanese budo is wound tightly in the culture from which it emanates. A pratitioner must choose how much of the latter he seeks to internalize, but he does both himself and his art a great disservice by Americanizing, "hybridizing," or "secularizing" (i.e. divorcing the art from all trappings of Japanese culture). I will admit that from a pure technical fighting standpoint the culture may be immaterial, but of course, there is so much more. This again leads into the personal refinement/spiritual realm wherein the practitioner must again choose and define. Without these considerations we have merely more effective tools to destroy each other. Some will offer that that's fine and all the rest is obfuscation. I will choose to disagree and hopefully meander to the conclusion that the cultural milieu of Japanese budo is crucial to the further cultivation of martial ARTS.

Bio: Born 1948 in Long Branch NJ & raised on Jersey shore. Bachelors degree in International Relations from Syracuse University 1970.  Public school teacher/coach 1970-74. San Francisco street artist 1974-77. Traveling circus animal trainer 1977-1984. Scenic artist/stagehand 1984 to present.  ASU (Aikikai) Aikido 1989 to present, currently nidan under Saotome Shihan and Dennis Hooker Sensei. Iaido 1990 to present, currently MJERI shodan under Shimabukuro Sensei and Carl Long Sensei.

Michael (Gennan) Alexanian

Position Paper Topic: “Culture & Koryu Bujutsu.”

Abstract: This paper will discuss the necessity of learning about various aspects of traditional Japanese Culture when one is involved as a serious student of Koryu Bujutsu.  This paper will propose the following: that in order to fully understand the form of Koryu Bujutsu one studies, a corellative form of Japanese Culture (such as Calligraphy, Tea Ceremony or Flower Arrangement) must be chosen to supplement one’ s pursuit of their Koryu Art.  Examples will be given from both an historical and a practical standpoint to further support the premise of this paper.  The primary example used will be that of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, wherein the student (or Deshi) of Iaijutsu is eventually encouraged to take up the study of Chinese Poetry Recitation (Shigin, or Ginei) and Traditional Sword Dance (Kenbu) as these three arts have formed a comprehensive course of study, dating back many centuries,  in the Tamiya School of Swordsmanship.

Bio: Mr. Michael (Gennan) Alexanian began his studies in Japanese Swordsmanship 17 years ago in the Toyama Ryu style of Iaido (drawing and cutting with the Katana, or Japanese long sword), achieving the rank of Nidan (2nd Degree).  In 1993, he met his current Sensei, Mr. Kazuo Tsumaki of Yokohama, Japan, and was accepted as a Deshi (student) of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu in 1994.  He currently holds the rank of Rokudan (6th Degree) and is the first American in the Tamiya School’s 400-year history to be allowed to enter, train, test, and teach this particular Cultural Art outside of Japan.  He and his wife, Dianne (Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Nidan), are the Branch Managers of the United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Michigan Dojo, having been formally commissioned by the current and 14th Headmaster, Tsumaki Seirin Genshin Soke, to bring this Art to all of North America in 1996.  The Japanese Government has designated Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu as an “Intangible Cultural Asset”, and the Emperor of Japan has granted the title of “Living National Treasure” to the current Headmaster.  Alexanian.Sensei has been a visiting Instructor at the Guelph School of Japanese Sword Arts held each summer in Guelph, Canada, and travels regularly to Michigan area schools and Dojo (training facilities) to do demonstrations of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu and discuss the Philosophy of Martial Arts Training, especially as it relates to Personal Growth, Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation.  He also holds the rank of Shodan (1st Degree) in Shorinji Ryu Ju-Jutsu, an old style of Okinawan Martial Art, entailing armed and unarmed defensive techniques.

Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.

Abstract: Most practitioners of traditional martial arts are likely to tell you that it is important that the art not be divorced from the culture of origin, but why?  Japanese cultural concepts such as ma (aida), jo ha kyu, shu ha ri, in-yo, koshi, are not really translatable; one could argue convincingly that these concepts don't exist in Western culture.  However, they are the backbone of traditional Japanese arts, of which iaido is one.  Western students, like Japanese students, can learn these concepts and thereby give depth and meaning to their study.  This paper will explore some of those concepts in relation to iaido and other traditional arts, and consider why they are important to not only a fuller understanding, but better technique in traditional martial arts practice.

Bio: Deborah Klens-Bigman holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University.  She is the Manager and an Associate Instructor at New York Budokai dojo under headmaster Otani Yoshiteru, and holds dan rankings in Muso Shinden ryu iaido, Tenshinsho Jigen ryu iaido and Tamiya ryu Iaijutsu.  She also studies Soke Fujima Japanese Classical Dance with Fujima Nishiki .  As an independent scholar, she has written extensively about Japanese martial arts and culture in print and on the Web.  She lives with her husband, artist Vernon Bigman, in East Harlem, along with three cats who think they own the place.