On the foundation of new styles

I’ve written several posts in the past about the fractionalization of a martial arts style when students leave their masters and go form their own style. My thinking on the subject was sparked again by a discussion I had with some friends a few weeks ago. We were talking about black belt inflation, which is where some styles have gone to actually award ranks higher than 10th dan!

There are a few examples of this, but the most well-known is Bujinkan, founded by Hatsumi Masaaki. For those who haven’t heard of him or his style, his martial arts lineage is generally considered to be the only legitimate instruction of ninjutsu in the entire world. He is generally a very well-respected person and martial artist, and has many schools scattered across the globe. Some interesting notes: 1) He actually is a doctor with a degree in medicine from Meiji University, so it is not pretentious of him to refer to himself as ‘Doctor’. 2) In April 2001 he received the Apostolic blessing from Pope John Paul II, which makes him the first ‘Holy Ninja’! (Does that mean he can use holy water bombs in addition to smoke grenades? I think I see a plot for a new ninja/zombie flick!)

Anyway, if you look at the list of his senior students, you will quickly notice that many are above 10th dan, with the highest being 15th dan! That’s a 50% inflation rate on dan ranks, which is the highest I know of.

But back to my original subject, which was splintering of martial arts organizations. One of Hatsumi-sensei’s more well-known students is Stephen Hayes, who has his dojo in Ohio. According to this discussion in the forum on Bujinkan’s website, Stephen Hayes has been formally removed from affiliation with Bujinkan. I don’t know any details except for what’s mentioned in the forum discussion, so you can read it for yourself if you care to.

Why does this sort of thing happen? I speculated before with Oyata-sensei’s students that it may be because he is known to be short-tempered and a little hard to get along with. Still though, Ueshiba Morihei (aka O-sensei), the founder of Aikido, had several students leave to found their own styles even during his lifetime, and he didn’t particularly have a reputation of being hard to get along with. My speculation is that prominent martial artists often leave their former organization and found their own for economic/business reasons. These people have dedicated the better part of their lives to their art, and as such their dojo becomes their primary source of income. Therefore after you have founded your own dojo (or several dojo’s), why would you want to send a large percentage of your student’s dues to the main dojo? You’re the one teaching your students, and furthermore you depend upon the money from your students to support yourself and your family. If I were in a similar situation, I don’t know that I would do any different.

In some comments on my earlier post, Allen Amor and Sharon Hayakawa, both long-time students and friends of both Oyata-sensei and Shintaku-sensei, better explained why Shintaku-sensei left Oyata-sensei’s Ryute and founded his own style. I think an economic interpretation is valid there too.

This kind of fractionalization of martial arts is unfortunate in my opinion, but it also seems to be inevitable. When the practice and teaching of any art or skill, martial arts included, becomes the livelihood and primary income of an individual, the business and economics cannot be ignored or factored out of the equation. I think that’s a major point that I was missing before when I talked about Albert Giraldi-sensei and Shiro Shintaku-sensei.

As for myself, I enjoy martial arts very much, but it will never be more than a hobby for me. I have neither the time, discipline, nor disposition to dedicate my life to its study, and certainly not to make it my primary source of income. I’m more than happy just to work as an engineer.

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3 Responses to On the foundation of new styles

  1. Sean says:

    Really, the dan ranks in the bujinkan are a reflection of the gogyo: 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15th dan reflect chi, sui, ka, fu, and ku respectively, and are meant to reflect a division of man/god into base elemental parts, culminating in nothingness/void/formlessness as the highest state of being. I believe it also is a more logical division for the purpose of dividing the dan ranks into concepts of Heaven, Earth, and Man, especially considering that one is capable of being considered an instructor after 5th dan.

    As for Stephen Hayes being removed from affiliation with the Bujinkan, this is not completely accurate. The plaque that was hanging in the honbu dojo signifying that Stephen Hayes was a shihan in the Bujinkan was removed quietly. For years, through the SKH Quest centers, Mr. Hayes has been running his own brand of taijutsu called To Shin Do, and had not been keeping current with his duties as a Bujinkan shihan. While this is not necessarily cause for blackballing him (there have been others doing their own things that have not been formally cast out), the specifics boil down to a private issue amongst Soke, the other Shihan, and Mr. Hayes.

    As for why Mr. Hayes left, in an article written in Black Belt Magazine some months ago, his idea of the development of a student was one of leaving behind the master to seek ones own path in life. However, due to the relative success of his SKH Quest centers, his “fame,” and the relative difficulty of making a living off of purely running a Bujinkan Dojo, it seems highly likely that Mr. Hayes opted for the path of highest gain.

  2. Very interesting site. I run a small dojo, and even then there are lots of interference from the Main Dojo… you can’t do this… you have to do that… Though I understand for the need to uniform the training in brach dojos, but some leeway must be give for the instructors to grow and develop on his/her own. If things get too restrictive, then the sad result would be for him to leave the association altogether.

  3. Bose says:

    I made Ikkyu in one Okinawan style that held me back from shodan for 2 years due to poltical reasons (my sensei wouldnt belong to an organization that was so self serving, and they would not permit him to advance or promote.) While staying with him, I studied other systems, one chinese, one Karate (different style, back to white belt gain after making ikkyu before. Patience was my biggest lesson there. Then 10 years of chinese kenpo and kyshu jutsu and jujutsu lessons, sporadic as they had to be. Now coming back to my original town, I am not welcome in
    my local association, as I don’t teach one style or another, pragmatically. And too much chinese influence.

    So I teach a style I have no faith in for self defense, or I teach the result of what I learned and end up labeled a rebel. So—-they FORCED me to name my “system”, NAME a “Grandmaster” (not me), and now I can seem like I fit it with the yahoos who saw 3 movies, trained 3 years, and wanna be a sokkey dokey.

    THEY MADE ME. All I wanted was to call it Karate do and teach. Politics made me seem otherwise.

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