Interview With A Shidoshi: Part 1 (Nov 1995)

by Liz Maryland

(This is a much abbreviated, reworked and updated version of the original interview published in now defunct Ura & Omote newsletter)

U&O: Did you study any other martial arts before Budo Taijutsu (ninjutsu)?
JM: Yes, I studied several other martial arts, but not to any great degree. Just enough to gain some habits that we consider "bad" for your Taijutsu. In one style of karate, I found I had a knack for the training. I also think the instructor felt that I was a very enthusiastic student. At the time, I was involved in the training and I gave it my all. I really wanted what the teacher had to offer. Of course, the instructor rewarded me by having me train and spar with higher ranking partners. . .

U&O: Senior students?
JM: Yes. And a couple of the teachers, too. I often sparred against brown & black belts. I would do things that the teacher would call "odd" and then ask me, "Where did that come from?". I was very creative in defending myself and was encouraged by my teacher's confusion as to the origins of my techniques. I see it know as what we call "freelancing." Now, years later it is very obvious to me as one reason why sparring can be "harmful" to a beginner or intermediate student. You throw away your lessons for what scores points (as if a point symbolized victory!). And at the time, my methods weren't traditional but were scoring points regardless. Eventually, I realized that I didn't enjoy sparring and the karate rigidity wasn't appealing to me. Yet, one of the very important lessons that I came to understand from this training was tenacity. I think it struck a cord deep in me. Tenacity. Eventually, I came to understand it as perseverance. I can't stress this concept enough. Other arts had training in which I was required to do something like a 1,000 crescent-kicks. Right side first and then left side. We would follow that with pushups. And, you know, I didn't enjoy it, but I learned to give it my all. Not just survive it but grow from it.

U&O: How did you end up training in ninjutsu?
JM: In my freshman year at college, I met someone who introduced me to ninjutsu. He was walking around campus with a shoulder patch which read "Shadows Of Iga, Ninja Festival". We met and I asked him if he wanted to train. He flatly told me he couldn't and listed reasons why. The old lesson of tenacity kicked in and I spoke to him repeatedly about possibly training and, in time, we began to share our training.

U&O: Who was your first Ninjutsu teacher?
JM: Well, as far as a "teacher" is concerned, it was Steven Hayes. That was the teacher who ranked my college friend. At that time in America, only 1 or 2 people were able to award rank in the Bujinkan. Pretty much the training came from Hatsumi sensei in Japan or from Hayes in Ohio. In less than a year the training group we had grew a bit and I ended up with the main chore of leading classes. By late 1984, I was leading [instructing] about 3 classes a week on campus. That same year I met Darryl Caldwell and invited him to come to New York for a seminar. Thereafter, Darryl was our sponsor and Steve was our teacher. Darryl would come in and keep us on top of the training and show us how to progress. We trained with Steve to see where the taijutsu was leading. Darryl was a great instructor. Very insightful, very helpful. His reasons for training were simply that he loved it. The man was so easy going! He was the first person to ever tell me that nothing should ever come between you and your training. And he proved it when we had difficulty raising money for a seminar, he said, "Don't worry about the money." Because of his frankness and willingness to share, I found myself becoming his friend. We just seemed to hit it off. Back then, he was my sponsor. And its Darryl who eventually became my teacher and showed me what it meant to be a real friend. And even to this day he's the kind of guy that calls me, we talk, hours fall away and the phone company owns our butts. (laughter) Darryl would come into New York four times a year for about a week each time. We trained at Steve's seminars and festivals about four or five times a year. So, I went to those events and visited Ohio, too. Other instructors came to New York, too... The training was very flow oriented at that time. No kata. We were all chastised (in a good way) not to act rigidly. Much of that training, the way we were able to hit each other hard and not be hurt... well, it all came from the fact that we were learning intensity and relaxed movement. I think many teachers in our art today have lost this quality.

U&O: Why do you think Dr. Hatsumi changed the name from ninjutsu to budo taijutsu?
JM: Before I go into that, I'd like to say something else. There came a time when I couldn't be a teacher anymore. I wanted to learn and grow. I had never WANTED to be a teacher. I wanted to train. So I turned to Darryl and said, "Man, I don't want to be a teacher anymore." And Darryl kicked my arse across a Wisconsin prairie. (laughing) We were out doing some training at a camp and he's just kicking me around, throwing punches at me saying, "Do what you want to do! Train. Give up the group if that's what you want. Let them find their own training." So, basically, I came back to New York with this resolve, that I was going to teach a little while longer until I finished my college education, and then I was going to dedicate myself to training. On the day I graduated, I gave up teaching and left New York behind. I did not teach for five years. Not until I learned what it meant to be a good student and what it was to have good teachers. But even now I think of myself as a student first and a teacher second. This "learning" was very important to me for five years. I repeat that number simply because I think a lot of people haven't been students. They describe themselves as "teacher/students" but they're not. Now, there are people like Mark O'Brien or Andrew Young that live in Japan and they are students and they come here and share their knowledge with us. You know, Mark's done this sharing for over 6 years. I look at these people and I sort of, - - maybe I shouldn't do this - - I throw myself in with them. I really respect what they've done. There are lots of teachers out there that haven't been students and I would ask them to reflect back on that. That's something I would like to share with those people. Being a student first is of utmost importance.

U&O: I've noticed you make light of the new name of this art, "Budo taijutsu". Why do you think Dr. Hatsumi changed the name from ninjutsu?
JM: I don't like or dislike it... years ago, I joined "ninjutsu"... but the name matters little. What I've learned, what I study, what I teach... well it's beyond silly names and labels. But that sign in our window reads "Ninja Taijutsu". (Smiles.) It was a sign made by one of the students here. He's a wonderful guy and he made this great sign and well, it looks good. Should I ask him to make a new one? You know Liz, when I started this art it was called ninjutsu and that was what Hatsumi Sensei was calling it ten years ago. Then it became "ninja taijutsu" in America. At the moment, I still wish to acknowledge the fact that I was attracted to the mystique of Ninjutsu. It was a "little carrot" that dangled out in front of me which I grabbed and tried to nibble, and so I like to look back on that. Those were the roots of my attraction. I believe the reason Hatsumi Sensei has chosen to call it Budo Taijutsu is because the Japanese still have a bad "feeling" for this ninja stuff. They aren't sure if its "myth" or "thieves". It's quite amazing that Ninjutsu is much more prosperous outside of Japan. And so, Budo Taijutsu, I think, is a very good alternate name for it, in the sense the name doesn't need to be defended or explained and rather they can focus on the actual training. After all, it's what is in your heart that matters.

- Click here for Part 2 -