Founding an American Ryu to compete with Ninjutsu
IN 1981 I took an administrative position at Hillsdale College in southern Michigan. It was a new experience for me as the college was small, private, and conservative. I was used to teaching at large, public, and liberal colleges. My job was an instructor in social psychology for the Dow Leadership Development Center, which meant working with managers from all over the world every other week to do psychological assessments and teach teamwork, problem-solving, and people skills in a workshop setting. After a year had passed and the responsibilities became routine, I also took over the Speech Department, as the administration cf the college had decided to eliminate the program. This struck me as fatuous for a liberal arts college so I volunteered to teach all the courses required for a communication minor on a rotating basis. It wasn't part of my job description but I'd taught speech at Penn State, Wayne State, and the University of Windsor. Since the administration wasn't willing to pay me for the class but was willing to charge the students, I taught the courses as if they were graduate seminars. I liked the students and it was fun.
The work was sedentary, and my second wife, Linda, was an excellent cook and lover so I began to put on weight. After reaching 260 pounds on a light-boned, six-foot frame I decided to start working out again (twelve years later I'm at 180). I'd quit the study of martial arts for eight years before I signed up for the college's tae kwan do course. The instructor, Brian Anderson, was very competent, but I quickly realized that tae kwan do was more sport than combat and for someone of my age and condition too hard on the joints, particularly the hips. I've also never been particularly fond of kata (forms) except for tai chi, and one-point sparring bores me to tears. One of the red belts noticed that when I couldn't perform a particular tae kwan do maneuver I'd slip in something that worked for me. He asked me what I was doing and I replied "Jujitsu." His response changed my life. "Teach me," he said with a grin.
Campbell "Camper" Walker was extremely skilled in the kicking techniques and also nunchakus (Okinawan karate weapon developed in China). As I taught him throwing and joint locking, he taught me different footwork and "karate sticks." We spent a lot of time figuring out how to defeat each other's favorite techniques. As we were more friends than student and teacher, a lot cf our interaction included talking about books, life in general, and what was important to him at his age. He was a guest at my home and reciprocated. I was having such a good time playing warrior with Camper that I decided to systematize what I had learned over the years into an intelligent, challenging course. At the end of the year I'd broken down the belt system into a self-defense course plus readings which would take approximately six semesters to achieve a black belt if you were smart and normally athletic. When I showed it to Camper he informed me I'd left out the most important part.
"Your mind," he said. "It's not the techniques but how you teach them, the meditation, the strategy, sharing your thoughts and feelings. That's what's important! You always tell me the truth. You never bullshit. Most of the professors here are so full of themselves and their subjects, you can't really learn from them. You treat us like we matter. You've got to get that loving what you are and doing into the course."
I was stunned. He went on. "Everybody wants to meet a real master and study with them. When I tell my friends what I've been doing the last year they're so envious. You've got to put the hidden meanings and all the psychological stuff in the course. We'll use that; most of us will never have to be in a physical fight once we get out of school. We have to learn strategy! It's so much fun!"
After being chased around by a smart, dangerous, twenty-two-year-old for a year, his request had more than ordinary appeal. The trick would be how to get the right stuff into a package acceptable to modern Americans while still making them able to defend themselves physically as well as mentally in ways appropriate to their environment. I may have seemed masterful to Camper, but why not expose young students to the ancient masters, real masters, and professionals, not just a hobbyist like myself. The syllabus in my head got a lot more interesting. Things that I'd seen over the years and wanted to experience myself combined with a basic core of exercises and techniques associated with transformation of consciousness. Modern hoshinjutsu was born out of that discussion.
Replication is the heart of science. Camper had a young Alaskan friend who wanted to study with me. His name was Steve Noonkesser. He was a history major and very analytical, good with computers, and loved playing Dungeons and Dragons. His joining our little circle made the next semester very interesting. Teaching should also be learning, and Steve, having grown up in Alaska with Eskimos, had some very interesting perspectives concerning man's place in nature. We began to integrate some of the techniques he'd learned from his Indian friends into the course. I began to study and practice chi kung and Iyengar yoga, which amplified the Zen practice I'd been doing on and off for years. I learned how to dungeon-master and we added role playing to our strategy sessions as mental exercises.
Camper and I had boiled down hundreds of techniques to what we thought were the most effective requiring the least amount of strength. Steve, because he was physically powerful, became our guinea pig. He also encouraged the introduction cf weapons at a much lower belt level than Camper and I had discussed. We decided that improvised weapons and easily concealed weaponry made more sense for modern times so we lifted hanbo (cane) and chain (kusarifundo) techniques from ninjutsu for our basics. We derived our warm-up exercises from yoga, chi kung, and tai chi. We decided to wear black gi's instead of white to differentiate ourselves from tae kwan do and emphasize our nonsport, self-protection orientation.
We went through one more step. I wanted a student who was smart, small, athletic, and exemplified the conservative, statusseeking, upwardly mobile, middle-class young people typical of Hillsdale College. Someone who had never been in a real fight in his life. Enter Randy Reising, ex-high-school football player and gymnast, and gentleman about town. Randy became the final authority as to what techniques were kept or dropped. As he had no experience and was learning everything through new eyes, he became our best critic and most proficient practitioner. We combed through the martial arts literature, paying particular attention to the techniques recommended for women and the elderly. We'd take something like a hip throw and see how many variations of it we could find in different martial arts. Then we would take it all apart and develop variations on the basic theme based on utility, kinesiology, or escalation of pain, damage, and energy flow, saving the nastiest techniques for the higher levels as opposed to the more athletic. We called these "fifth-picture moves" because in many of Hatsumi's Japanese books on ninpo he'd show four pictures breaking down a technique and the fifth was usually something only a truly creative and nasty person would do to another human being in the midst of a fight.
I submitted the syllabus to the physical education department. The course was accepted, and the next semester we had twenty willing scholars. Little did we know what we had started. Each student was given a packet of readings, copies of the written exam to be completed after reading The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto
Musashi, and a list of techniques they were expected to master for an A in the course. Camper graduated and Steve and Randy became my assistant instructors. The class met for two hours every Friday afternoon as a way to guarantee only interested people would sign up. We were given the use of the dance studio but often took the class outside so people could practice their techniques on varying surfaces.
During our search of the literature we discovered Stephen Hayes. Hayes is one of the first Westerners to be trained in the traditional ninja life-ways as taught by Grandmaster Masaaki Hat-sumi of the Togakure Ryu of Japan. When I discovered he lived a day away in Ohio, I called him and he graciously invited me to attend a special weekend workshop for his black belts and others. I was deeply impressed by the skills taught and even more by how they were taught. Hayes used directed meditations, music when appropriate, emphasized stretching and body movement, and, most interesting for me, connected attitudelintent to technique. It was apparent that the ninjas with their 800-year-old warrior tradition had already accomplished for the professional what we were trying to put together for the hobbyist. That weekend eventually led to the inclusion of many ninja ideas in our course, as the ninja reputation as the "ultimate warriors" is based in the reality of their training. As we began to experience some of the side effects of enlightenment it was comforting to know there were people out there who were even crazier than we were. Taijutsu as taught by the Bujinkan is definitely a path to mushin. One must train the intent before one can release it.
One of the things about the martial arts that always annoyed me in my own studies was the imposed hierarchy of master over student or teacherlleader as omnipotent source of correct knowledge. As an intelligent observer of many things I found that rule hard to ingest. Realizing that the sensei (one who has gone before) served as a model, I wanted our dojo climate to be more relaxed, open, and fun than is usual to more traditional systems. Play is important to learning. The closest to my particular ideal have been the various Togakure Ryu Bujinkan Ninpo dojos in which
I'd trained. Every semester I would give a lecture on how one should act when visiting other training halls--depth of bows, courtesy, belts and sashes, flags, shrines, and all that. I'd been in more than a few over the years. Then I'd point to the light switch on the far wall and say, "If you feel you have to worship someone or something in here, I'd suggest the source of electricity because that's as close to magic as we'll get. To me this is all science."
As most people get started in the martial arts because they fear others, I felt it necessary to do everything possible to reduce fear and instill curiosity. All anger is rooted in fear of loss. I wanted to encourage flexibility of mind, body, and spirit and felt that could best be accomplished in a democratic atmosphere. I wanted my students to be relaxed and calm so we always opened with a meditation and some stretching. I wanted the women to advance in the system, so upper body strength techniques were minimized. Taijutsu, jujitsu techniques for older people, and chi kung held the key to accomplishing that particular riddle. It was felt at that time that the women would have a gentling effect. Both sexes have the opportunity to know each other much better, reducing shyness and fear, and increasing confidence. Sexual tension keeps everyone alert, as there is something arousing in making the beautiful dangerous. The other differences were much greater emphasis on training the mind and particularly the emotions, early use of pick-up weapons, and application of strategy. Women make very sneaky opponents. (The Japanese strategists regard them as [x i v m.'vnu:. treachery. The Chinese would wound/bind their feet from birth so concubines could not develop complete use of chi, nor flee their fate.)
Five kyu belt levels were developed using the Go Dai as a basis, as well as five black belt levels that also required study and achieving rank in other martial systems to test one's survival and intelligence gathering skills. Ninpo, having the least weaknesses, became the favored other system to explore unless we could find a legitimate kung fu master. Each belt had an associated series cf readings, yogic exercises, healing practices, and specific techniques and principles to be mastered before going on to the next belt package. Students always had a good idea of where they were in the system. Higher-level ranks were assigned students to bring along and could not advance until their students had reached the appropriate level, guaranteeing they learned how to teach. Teaching is the only universal marker of a leader.
Trapping and woodsmanship as well as modern weapons familiarization at the local range became part of the curriculum. We included a heavier emphasis on chi kung and meditation as well as a greater emphasis on esoteric self-protection as greater skills began to emerge in what the ancients referred to as siddhi (the eight learned magics) and we called weird science; strategy from numerous sources both East and West; and greater emphasis on play, realizing that when the adrenals took over in a real fight, the spirit would emerge. We put in a fire-walking party at the end cf each semester and held annual trophy raids on the fraternities and sororities during Greek Week, as one of the visiting ninjutsu instructors, John Porter, enjoyed that sort of thing. One of the girls in the system was so good at her stealth techniques that she would write me letters on the college president's personal stationery and had a collection of her target fraternity banners in consecutive years.
Eventually three hundred students achieved at least the first too belts as part of their physical education requirement. We had a pile of data from their experiences — aura reading, telempathy, telekinetics with energy, telepathy, far sensing, survival of falls and electrical accidents, chi development, shared dreams, healing cf endless nicks and bruises, escapes from and capture of thugs, and accusations of witchcraft by the fundamental Christian Inter Varsity student group. Dr. Jon Kayne, a clinical psychologist, would test the black belts on Rhine cards and for precognition. They all scored higher than normal expectations. (It appears to me that the psychic researchers are looking for the light in the wrong places.) We never got levitation but Skippy Lepire developed some altitude and hang times that put him in a class with Air Jordan. In five years we tried out everything we could think of or that some body else described well enough for us to take on. I paid for instructors in ninjutsu, karate, and kung futo come and give guest lectures and demonstrations. We would troop off to take seminars by instructors in other arts who were invariably surprised to get a gaggle cf outsiders attending their demos. Such are the dangers cf offering public training. We did all the things a bunch of bright smart people are going to try if given the opportunity. W had a ball.
Cf the three hundred, only four were malignant enough that I quit teaching them and finally drove them away. We treated all the siddhi (will discuss the siddhi more in the chapter "Magic, Crystals, Talismans and Swords") as benefits rather than goals and worked on our art and energy. Most of my students applied their new understandings to their professions as opposed to their new hobby of scientific mugging. Some were even horrified that they couldn't get out of the class without passing the physical measures at a standardized level of expectation of being able to quickly end a fight by winning.
After I left Hillsdale College to consult with the Engine Division of General Motors, a number of students enrolled specifically to get hoshin, not bad for a one-credit gym course. I'm teaching it again now that I've accomplished my primary goals in ninpo. I needed to make some high-level friends. I didn't seem to find any in business, academia, or church. I felt it was necessary to achieve a master's license in a different art from hoshin as it struck me as hubris and self-promotion to take that title on without proof from a legitimate lineage. I was able to do that by relying on what v\e had researched and developed at Hillsdale College. I consider hoshinjutsu to be a close but honed-down approximation of the ancient ryus as well as a modern introductory course that enables students to enter the world of the true or combatic martial artist without fear, and to have the confidence to follow their hearts far beyond the techniques represented by sport, the color of their obis, or the limitations of their instructors. Hoshin provides a vehicle for attaining the advantages of flow or enlightened movement without the risk of surviving endless battles with others.
It forces the issue to conquering one's own fears while entering unknown territory in the company of friends. Creation of this system for American martial artists was recognized by the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame and was the reason for my election to that august body. I am, and will be forever, grateful to my students for teaching me the way.
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