Friday, December 24, 2010

My Daito Ryu AikiJuJutsu Training in Japan (and beyond)

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I trained in Gunma Prefecture at the Numata Budokan from the August 24th 2000 until July of 2003. The art form was the mother art to Aikido, Daito Ryu AikiJuJutsu. I trained under Ota Ikuo Sensei. During my stay there Ota Sensei's teacher (Maeda) died, so he broke off from the Renshinkan Branch of Daito Ryu and formed his own school, the Shofukan (place of windy pines.) During this time period I logged in more hours than any other student. According to my records I logged between 376-400 hours of training time during this time period with Ota Sensei.

Here is a copy from the log at the Shofukan Dojo Daito Ryu AikiJuJutsu club at the Numata City Budokan. This was from 2002 or 2003. it shows the lineage of teachers and major students going back to the time of Takeda Sokaku.

My lineage

Takeda Sokaku - Toshimi Matsuda - Takeshi Maeda - Ikuo Ota - Eric Pearson

Here is a picture with Ikuo Ota Sensei and Eric Pearson (me). This photo is either late 2002 or early 2003. Ota Sensei was very kind to me. He grew up scared of foreigners, as he was child during the invasion of Japan during World War 2. I mostly remember him huddling around the space heater during the winter trainings, smoking cigarettes, and massaging his bad shoulder. He would walk around the dojo with an ash tray in one hand and a cigarette dangling from his lips. When he saw something he wanted to correct he would put the ashtray and cigarette next to you, then twist your body around for a while.

Ikuo Ota and Eric Pearson 2003

Ota Sensei is one of the best joint lock practitioners I have trained with. He never thought much of Aikido. He said Aikidoka use too much strength and pain compliance. His technique was very slow and soft. He moved me around easily despite my obvious size advantage.

In 2001 I had the chance to go down to Tokyo and meet Kondo Katsuyuki, the widely regarded head of what is refereed as mainline Daito Ryu. When I told Ota Sensei about my conversation with the head of Daito Ryu, Ota Sensei looked sour and waved his hand dismissively in front of my face. He made it clear that he cared nothing about the idea of "main line".  That being said I enjoyed my short conversation with Kondo Sensei.  My Japanese was particularly poor and he was patient with my grunting.

Here I am receiving my Daito Ryu certificate in 2002. Originally I was offered my Shodan after just 3 months due to my previous experience of 5 years in aikido. After some thought Ota Sensei told me to wait till the next grading one year later. The next year though, I angered the second senior instructor by throwing him. He did not appreciate it (it was a good throw though) So during the next grading a week later, he shamed me in front of the dojo and pressed sensei not to promote me. So, I learned some of the sticky politics of a dojo in Japan. His grudge cost me getting higher level rankings in the limited time I had there. Untangling the mess was perhaps the most profound lessons I had to deal with in this dojo.

Certificates 2002 - Numata Budokan, Gunma Prefecture

My shodan certificate

When the summer of 2003 came around it was getting time for my contract to end with Mumbusho and it was time to head back to the USA. I had a talk with Ota Sensei about the continuation of Daito Ryu training in the US. He told me that he felt like his study of Aiki was small and focused, and I saw it in a much larger way. He encouraged me to keep studying and to start a group in the United States. He issued me a "jun-kyouju" 準教授 rank or associate professor and granted me the right to have a Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu - Shofukan line dojo in America.  I am truly honored to have been given the opportunity to receive such an title. To my knowledge I am one of two people outside Japan that Ota Sensei honored with this title. The other is Andrew Deluna who currently trains in Katy Texas.

My jun-kyouju 準教授, associate instructor certificate

Training at the Shofukan 2003.  'Saka Tekubi Osaedori'

Training at the Shofukan. 

My Obi. Embrodery reads "Daito Ryu AikiJuJutsu and Shofukan" (Pine Wind Place)

Edit - September 2012

Since my return from Japan I started in 2006 a small club in Austin TX to study Daito Ryu, Tomiki Aikido and Judo principles.  The club has had a small and devoted crew that continues to train.

One of the small Daito workshops I held

In the summer of 2012 I attended the multi-discipline seminar hosted by George Ledyard Sensei in Seattle.  I met Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu teachers by the name of Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna.  I enjoyed their lesson, and was excited about having Daito Ryu people to train with again.

Popkin Sensei dropping me Seattle 9-2011

I decided to attend an intensive 4 day seminar in July 2012.  It was the spark I needed to reawaken a lot of the old training.   I filed an application to join their growing organization called Daito Ryu Ginjukai based on the Kodo Harakawa lineage. While the Daito Ryu lineage is different from the one I came from (Matsuda Toshimi), the feel and mechanics seem to have been preserved in both lineages.

Seminar in Seattle 7-2012

In March 2013 I attended a three day seminar in Oklahoma City at Windsong dojo.   It was a blast and I really hit a new level of understanding the mechanics in this art form.

 Windsong Dojo in OKC 3-2013 .  

Popkin sensei making fun of our comparative head sizes

Winter 2013 I was asked to share Daito Ryu with the Kaze Uta Budo Kai in Oklahoma City.

Budokai at Windsong 6-2014

Howard Popkin, Eric and Peter Boylan

In July of 2014 I returned to Japan to study with Ota sensei.  I learned a tremendous amount.  It was interesting to see how much sensei's technique evolved in the last decade.

Eric and Ota - 7-2014 at the Shofukan

I got to rekindle some old friendships and learn a lot about the Renshinkan, Shofukan history and kata.

Tsutsuni sensei and Eric

In January 2015 Andrew DeLuna ran a workshop on Daito Ryu principles at the Austin Budokan.  It has been his third or fourth visit over the past few years.

June 2015 Seminar at Windsong

Seminar at Windsong 4/29-5/1- 2016
7-2016 I attended one session with Brogna/Popkin in Seattle.

In May 2017 I picked up the phone and it was Roy Goldberg from the Kodokai coming through Texas.  He offered to do a 4 day workshop at my place.  He stayed with me and generously poured as much Daito Ryu information into me as I could handle.

While visiting Seattle I attended Daito Ryu Takumakai training with Kenneth Freeman.  He is a super cool and talented guy.  Sadly I lost my picture I took!

July 28-30 2017 I attended Ginjukai intensive with Howard Popkin.  It was a great seminar with a fun group.

Popkin Seattle 2017

In 2017 the Reshinkan Daito Ryu in Japan began to open up.  They began issuing videos and online courses.   They have been grading people to high ranks without ever meeting them, only online training.  I would like to publicly mention that I am opposed to this method of transmitting Daito Ryu.  I believe it hurts the art.  So after almost 20 years of promoting that line of Daito Ryu, I respectfully withdraw my endorsement of the Renshinkan.  After some spirited online debates they no longer endorse me either.  Chapter closed.  My relationship with Ito sensei is intact, as he too broke from the Renshinkan.

Roy Goldberg came to Austin again in Feb. 2018.  I got the chance to train with him at Rising Sun Aikido.

Goldberg Austin 2-2018

After teaching at the Enso enter I had the chance to train with Popkin/Brogna. 
Popkin/Brogna Seattle 8-2018


  1. Dude! I've been waiting to hear the origins of Sensei Strange. Beri beri cool history indeed.

  2. I have tried Daito Ryu and found it fascinating but am committed to learning hapkido, that said I really like your teaching style and really enjoyed your YouTube videos and would train with you in a heartbeat if you came to the uk. Dave

  3. Looking for a place in Hakata for a bit since I've been here in Fukuoka (Nihon Scope) I've contacted a couple others living in Kyushu, I honestly don't see any places in the area of Hakata or Tenjin. I've been into martial arts since I was a kid and have been looking forward to coming here to train while going to school.