rogue wrote: I was interested in the remark you put on your website about Daito ryu, referring to it as “a reality based system second to none”. Do you still feel the same about this art? If so, could you offer some insights and explanations?
And do you think it can benefit from the Morris Method. If so, where and how? And how does it relate/differ to traditional jujutsu systems we see here on the british isles?

Steve wrote:

I was talking about Daito Ryu in its historical context; I’m not familiar with its current exponents and practices or how they compare to other ju jutsu systems.

What I meant by Daito Ryu being a reality based system second to none was that the various Ryu that made up the complete fighting system of the Minamoto and Aizu clans had been tested on the battlefield and in personal combat for over a thousand years. And it was Takeda Sokaku, the bodyguard of Saigo Tonomo (the grandmaster of Daito Ryu), who accepted the leadership of Daito Ryu following the reluctance to do so of Saigo Shiro, Tonomo’s adopted son. Although Saigo Shiro was a legendary figure within the martial arts and had been groomed to be his father’s successor, Takeda Sokaku had no equal during his lifetime, if accounts of his fighting ability are true. Takeda had a reputation as a fighter; he wasn’t called the ‘Little Demon of Aizu’ for nothing. What better inspirational figure could you find to lead Daito Ryu into the 20th century? (Not to mention promoting Japanese nationalism—but that’s another story.)

However, whatever the claims made about the effectiveness of Daito Ryu or any Ryu, those claims need to be validated at a personal level. This validation cannot occur by referencing a ryu’s successful combative history or the combative exploits of Takeda Sokaku, for example, but only through testing in some form of dissimilar/aggressor training. In other words, by taking on a training partner who isn’t out to support the effectiveness of some combative bequeathment from the past, but rather who is out to attack you with the intent to destroy you as an enemy might.

In training you can’t assume anything. You have to learn to anticipate everything, and the only way you can do that is by continuously testing what you know or think you know. And if you ain’t doing that, then your practices ain’t worth shit even if your tradition is thousands of years old.

There are going to be those who will argue that the fighting skills that they practice have not only been battle-tested in the past, but are too dangerous to test in some form of dissimilar/aggressor training. Well, I would argue if the armed forces, who use dissimilar/aggressor squadrons and units to test their personnel under replicated battle conditions have found relatively safe ways to do so, then the martial arts should seek to do the same. Where there is a will, there is a way.

The trouble is, the majority of martial artists haven’t the character let alone the will to challenge what they believe to be true. Most will continue to believe that what they practice until it is picture-perfect, actually works, when in truth ‘picture perfect’ is the last thing you need in a fight.

As an additional point, I’ve always felt intuitively that Sokaku Takeda’s effectiveness as a fighter had more to do with his aggressive, violent personality type than his mastery of numerous weapons, skills and tactics, etc. Sure, his technical and tactical familiarity with his razor-sharp bizen sword undoubtedly would have influenced the outcome when he took on and killed and injured a number of construction workers at the begining of the 20th century. However, I believe that similar personality types armed with an effective weapon could have done the same without the set of skills that Sokaku possessed. Take, for example, Corporal John Shaw of the Life Guards who killed nine or ten of Napolean’s best in hand to hand at the Battle of Waterloo. Shaw, like Sokaku, bravely fought on despite his wounds; but unlike Sokaku, he died of them.

For me the practice of martial arts is more about the training of the man than the acquisition of skills. A superior weapon and the skills to go with it are worthless if the man hasn’t got the violent intent to decisively use them, whilst a decisive man with such an violent intent could do the job with a relatively inferior weapon and relatively inferior skills.

Therefore the primary purpose of training should be to build and test the man in challenging and punishing workouts without killing him, so that within a hostile environment and given very little information, he is able to respond without anxiety or panic, whether planning ahead or acting instantly and decisively—and violently if necessary.

However, what happens in the martial arts all too often is that the man is trained to obssess over the details and meaning of some move, to the point of becoming neurotic. I was talking to Rob Manning recently and he was telling me how his law students are so overloaded with details that they are unable to act decisively, because they can’t see the wood for the trees. Those essential details of the dynamics, tactics etc. of fighting come out of the doing and the subsequent analysis of the doing; but the analysis is only worth anything if it’s going to be fed back into the training and re-tested. The martial arts, all too often, are about pontificating on what might work or what should work and why, rather than actually getting stuck in and finding out.

For any tradition to survive as a living system, it has to undergo testing in current conditions and against dissimilar types, and on an individual level. Then it has to be modified and often extended in view of the results of that process. That’s the principle of Shu Ha Ri in action, but the interpretation of Shu Ha Ri which is usually seen is far too limited. It’s safe, because it needs to preserve the tradition it came out of. And the testing is usually inadequate.

From my research, Daito Ryu at the time of Takeda Sokaku was still in all likelihood a viable way of training for personal combat. That was the context of my comment. I don’t know how it’s evolved since then; all I can tell you is what I believe needs to happen in order for any tradition to evolve.