Text by: Matt Benyon
Budo (martial arts) means different things to different people. Originally, they were used simply to improve a person’s ability to defend themselves, and ultimately, to injure another. However, the spiritual benefits quickly became apparent. Studying any activity in great detail and disciplining yourself to practicing it is inevitably a spiritual endeavor, particularly if that activity is a strongly physical one. The martial arts can be a casual hobby, a way of life, a keep-fit routine, a way to overcome stress… They are, in short, whatever you make of them; ultimately they are tools you can use to improve yourself, either physically, spiritually or both.
But what does it all mean for the average person who has never tried? Are the martial arts violent or aggressive? Is it a male-only domain? Does practicing martial arts turn you into a muscle-bound bully?
Well, no, no and no. Martial arts, especially those of Japanese origin such as judo and aikido, place great importance on the behavior of the practitioner. They are a little like a mirror, too; they’ll show you how dedicated a person you are, what you can achieve if you put your mind to it, and what your personality is like – going to training after a long, hard day at work is a true test of character!
You can take a gentle martial art like tai chi once a week and enjoy improved coordination, strength and flexibility over time. You can take something physically challenging like muay thai (a form of kickboxing from Thailand), go four times a week and get tough in a hurry. Or take aikido and explore the spiritual side of budo, and learn about mastering the self, rather than mastering others.
Japan, of course, has a rich martial heritage; say judo, karate or aikido, and people will inevitably think of Japan. Fukuoka is no exception, with a selection of excellent dojo (schools) to train in. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying out a martial arts class for yourself while you’re here. Take advantage of the excellent instruction on offer; even arts that did not originate in Japan have dedicated and highly skilled followers. More often than not, if you have a positive attitude and even a few words of Japanese, they’ll be happy to receive you. Martial arts are a great equalizer – it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what language you speak once you’re “on the mat.”
Street vs. Sport
One way to help you find the right school is to let you know about a subtle division in the martial arts, loosely termed as “Street” vs. “Sport”. Some arts claim to train for the “street” – no rules, no gloves, ultimate efficiency. Other arts train with a “sports” bias: athleticism and competition are often emphasized. But how do these two domains overlap, and what are they trying to achieve?
Ultimately, sports and street training have the same goal – to teach you how to impose your will, physically, over another person. The real division lies in the training methodology. By its very nature, training for the street, for real life, spontaneous confrontations, involves very dangerous techniques: eye-gouging, groin attacking, etc. Combat sport training does away with these kinds of attacks as they lead to injury and are unsportsmanlike. The problem with “street-lethal” techniques is that they are very hard to train regularly and gain proficiency at. Sports techniques are designed to be trained at full speed and full power because they are “safer”. Judo is a perfect example of this: it came from a form of ju jutsu originally, but did away with the really deadly techniques in favor of ones that could be drilled safely. This created much more efficient fighters, who often beat their ju jutsu counterparts. What’s more, the skill and conditioning attained from combat sport training will come in very handy in a street situation. The danger of a school training for “the street” is that its techniques will almost never get tested. Perhaps the first time a student will have to throw their deadly eye-poke attack could be in a real life or death situation. That’s bad news for the student. Turn up at a boxing gym, however, and you’ll be dodging and throwing real punches on your first day. The danger of training purely for sports, on the other hand, is that the student can forget that on the street, there really are “no rules.”
There is no right and wrong way. There are only good or bad teachers. In the end it is up to you to find the right one for you.
We asked Kevin McHugh about the benefits of budo. Kevin is currently training BJJ and has experience in aikido, muay thai and yoga.
The benefits of martial arts are…
- Fitness: Martial arts are a great source of physical exercise. It’s also more rewarding and productive than time in the gym – you’re learning a skill that might save your life one day.
- Self Defense: Learn how to defend yourself should the need arise. Whatever you do, you’ll be better prepared than if you didn’t train.
- Community: You’re bound to meet people who share your interests, and through the arduous training, you’ll make good long-term friends.
- Spirituality: Certain arts, such as aikido, explore a very peaceful side of combat. This juxtaposition can make for some interesting philosophical musings. Many people experience spiritual growth through hard training and dedication.
- Career: Some people have a natural talent at either teaching or fighting, and make a unique career from travelling the world as either a trainer or a warrior. You’ll never know until you try.
- Fun: There’s a reason people give up free time to go training – it’s fun! Exploring your abilities and improving your body and mind are very rewarding activities.
From striking to grappling and even archery, foreigners are well represented in the Fukuoka martial arts scene. Here are six, each from a different school.
Japanese Kakkido Jujutsu – 17 years
“I started in ’89. Karate was the typical, glamourous martial art at the time, but there were no classes I could attend in my free time. In the end, I went to a shin aikido class at Iwataya Community Centre and I was hooked! My teacher, Inoue Sensei, was amazing and easy to understand. He invited me to the main dojo and I’ve never looked back. Inoue Sensei developed his own style, kakkido ju jutsu, based on his extensive martial arts training. Main benefits of our style are improved health, and self-protection if needed. Kakkido ju jutsu is an all-round package of health excercises, joint holds, grappling, and looking after oneself and others.”
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – 3 years
“I came to Fukuoka to practice aikido. But one day, I went to a jiu-jitsu (different to Japanese ju jutsu) circle with a friend and was hooked. I love the practicality of it, and it’s a lot of fun. My confidence has increased, I’ve made friends and trained with some great teachers. The physical conditioning is excellent! It really helps you look great and feel great. BJJ is a tried-and-tested grappling style developed in Brazil. It has its roots in judo and ju jutsu, but has developed differently thanks to real fight experience. It stresses technique over strength, learnt through a lotof sparring. Come and check it out.”
Okinawan Karate – 6 years
“Training in Japan has been really enlightening to me. A lot of the mystic aura of karate in America doesn’t seem so prevalent in Japan. Japanese teachers also seem to be much more willing to answer questions directly – unlike my American teachers, and different to what I expected! It takes a while to get accepted at some places, but still everyone is very hospitable and very friendly. Okinawan karate is self-defense learned through pre-arranged movement sets with lots of body conditioning. Just keep working hard, having fun, and don’t get frustrated when something doesn’t come easily. Your sempai (elder students) are there to help you through these things.”
Kickboxing – 1.5 years
“I’d never done any martial arts before I came here. I saw K-1 on the TV and I got hooked, then found a kickboxing gym and just started training. It’s been a year and a half and now I want to start competing. My gym caters to whatever you want – you can just come and get fit, practice hitting the pads and do the cardio exercises. It’s a really intense workout and a great way to lose weight. Or, they can train you all the way up to professional fighting. They are a friendly bunch – especially when they’re kicking my arse. There’s a few women at the school who mostly come to get fit and lose weight. All are welcome so I’ll see you there!”
Aikido – 15 years
“I started training in an aikido dojo run by a small Japanese lady who could throw anyone around while smiling the whole time. Her Sensei, Suganuma Shihan, the dojo-cho of Aikido Shohei Juku here in Fukuoka, came to Vancouver to do a seminar nine years ago and it was then that I knew I wanted to come to Japan and learn from him. Suganuma Shihan says that aikido promotes self-development and not competition. The main precepts of aikido are: “Ima ko ko”, to live in the here and now, “Masakatsu agatsu”, true victory is victory over yourself, and “Wa shite do zezu”, to harmonize with all people while still respecting everyone’s differences.”
Kyudo – 17 years
“I started with judo in France, to learn a martial art and get stronger. I’ve studied many martial arts since – I have a third dan in karate, a fourth dan in iaido, and I’m a fifth dan renshi (instructor) of kyudo – but now I practice mostly for personal progression and out of a strong interest in Japanese culture. Training in Japan is very arduous – practice here is no nonsense, right to the core. Martial arts have given me a stronger body and a stronger mind to face all aspects of my life. I think I’m the only non-Japanese archery instructor living in Japan, and I’d like to share this pursuit with anyone who’s interested.”
The Not-so-softer Side of Martial Arts
You may or may not be aware of it, but women have long played an important role in martial arts. Fukuoka itself is home to the annual International Women’s Judo Championship, held mid-December. Ironically, the hardest thing for women is to get the men to treat them like one of the boys! Here’s Leah Kennedy, a native of Ireland, with her story.
“I first started martial arts at 15, taking tae kwon do as one of the only women with seven male black belts, and they gave me no special treatment. In at the deep end, you could say. I trained hard for many years, and when I came to Japan, I soon started karate. Being a martial arts fanatic, I was excited at the prospect of training here in Japan, with the reputation for hard work and a never-say-die spirit. I’d encourage you to try a martial art while you’re here. Even if you don’t speak Japanese that well, it’s not that hard to follow what’s going on, and as long as you are polite and work hard, you’ll be okay. Many dojo are interested to have a foreigner training with them, and people usually treat you well. I feel like I’m an asset to my school, and I get a lot of attention at public demonstrations.
If you’re worried about sparring or getting hurt, don’t be. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, and other members will generally take it easy on you until you ask them to hit you a bit harder or you hit them harder and they realize you’re a tough little nugget. If you want to be partnered with another woman, say so. Here in Japan the classes are often segregated, but once you get used to it you might find yourself in need of more of a challenge and a workout with the guys. On the social side, I’ve been welcomed into the training group with open arms, and you probably will too. I’ve made countless friends and had a great time with them. Then there are of course all the other benefits: health and fitness, improved self-confidence, and the ability to defend yourself. It’s just a case of finding the right art for you so get out there and try it!”
Shin Kyokushin Karate – 3 years
Previously Tae Kwon Do (brown belt)
Hopefully, you’ve read the feature and maybe seen your future. Here are some recommended dojo, where our featured martial artists train.
Brazilian jiu jitsu, grappling, Shooto classes taught by a BJJ black belt and former pro-Shooto fighter.
Japanese Kakkido Jujutsu
Jujutsu from beginners to advanced, in English or Japanese. Women welcome.
Torikaihachimangu Shrine in Torikai. Bus stop Jigyo, between Tojinmachi and Nishijin subway stations.
Real Deal Gym
Nishijin, Tenjin, Hakata
Men, women, kids kickboxing training, from just fitness to competition.
Nishijin: 822-9091 Hakata: 474-2020 Tenjin: 725-8720
Full contact karate.
Traditional aikido instruction with many branches. Large, respected organization.
5-2-32, Naka, Hakata-ku
Tai Chi in the Park
Andrew Lynam has been in Fukuoka for almost three years, teaching Tai Chi in Ohori Koen for two of them. Tai Chi is a relaxing form of moving meditation, focusing on breathing, posture, and balance. Give it a try! Sunday mornings from 10:00. ¥5,000 for four lessons, and the first is free. Phone: 090-9603-5292 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Carl Batac