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Interview with James Williams - Part One

by Stanley Pranin

Published Online

James Williams

The following interview of James Williams was conducted by Stanley Pranin at his dojo in Encinitas, California on November 1, 2004.

Stanley Pranin: I’m here with James Williams and several of his students in his dojo in Encinitas, California. James, what’s the name of your dojo here?

James Williams: Dojo of the Four Winds.

Dojo of the Four Winds.

In, Japanese, Shiho Kaze Dojo

And this dojo has an interesting background in that it began as an aikido dojo. Could you just give us a brief synopsis of how it came to be that you’re here today?

Well, in the early 70’s I met a man named B.J. Carlisle. B.J. taught aikido and was a very, very interesting guy in all kinds of ways. From being a marine Pacific campaign veteran who was wounded very badly and survived, to his ability as a healer and a martial artist. I became friends with B.J. in the early 70’s and studied with him for awhile, he is the one who pointed me in the direction of Yanagi-ryu under John Clodig Sensei with whom I trained for a couple of years and then began training with John Clodig Sensei’s teacher Don Angier Sensei who is the Soke who inherited by direct succession Yanagi ryu. So I stayed friends with B.J. for all those years and this had been his dojo for probably nine or ten years. When he died, they ran into a bit of trouble keeping the dojo and it worked out that I could take the dojo over and they could still have their classes and everything here and keep most of the stuff the way it was. Out of respect and recognition for his work, I put B.J. Sensei’s picture up over the Kamidana; that is it up there.

So you’ve got an interesting series of photos up there. In the center position is Yoshida Kotaro who is the father of Don Angier’s teacher whose name was Yoshida Kenji, and then you’ve got Ueshiba Morihei the founder of aikido, B.J. Carlisle who James just mentioned is here and then Don Angier who is the teacher of James on the right. So we’ve got five Shodan photos which is pretty unusual.

The sixth one has been added and that is of Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei with whom I am currently studying. Yoshida Kotaro is at the center of both lines. Yoshida Sensei was sempai to Ueshiba Sensei in Daito ryu and founded Aikido which B.J. Sensei taught in this dojo. The other side line is our line from Yoshida Kotaro Sensei to his son Yoshida Kenji Sensei, and then Angier Sensei to Kuroda Sensei.

Yoshida Kotaro Sensei introduced Morihei to Sokaku.

Yes. The story goes that he was the person who actually introduced Morihei to Sokaku Takeda around 1915 in Hokkaido.

I think if you look you’ll find that Ueshiba Morihei also used the Yoshida mon. Yoshida Kotaro had given him permission. Ueshiba Sensei, from farmer stock, did not have a mon of his own. So it’s interesting the converging and diverging paths.

So this dojo is shared with the aikido group and your group practicing what you call Nami Ryu…

… Nami Ryu Aiki Heiho. Yes, my dojo, they do train here also along with Kyudo and Brazilian Jujitsu.

Now this form that you teach is a synthesis, it’s really a combination of your life experiences and martial arts experiences. Could you just, in brief terms, outline the curriculum that composes this art.

Okay, well. Nami ryu is based on the Yoshida han Yanagi ryu, that is really the basis of it. It also has a strong influence from Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei with whom I have been privileged to train with over the last five years or so. There are also influences that have come from Systema. Odd as it may seem at times, but because we’re not technique driven— we’re principle driven—so Systema has much to offer. To find principles that are the same in an old classical Russian art as they are in ancient Samurai arts was a revelation to me a few years ago. And certainly has impacted me in the sense that Nami ryu is more fluid, more relaxed, more spontaneous, and more operating system driven and not as rigidly technique based as many other Japanese arts are. My personal feelings are that the Samurai arts were much more fluid and spontaneous when they were actually being used for combat. The current rigidity, in my opinion, has much to do with the change in attitude in regards to combat function and also the methods of transmission that are being used.

The term that you used, and you’ve also used it many times in private conversation, that you have an “operating” system and you’ve explained that Nami Ryu is principle based. Could you just outline this for us? There are probably a fairly limited number of principles that everything boils down to, and probably you’ve mentioned these principles over and over again to your students. Could you perhaps just explain the principles very briefly.

Yes. When I say “operating system,” I’m talking about how our physiology and psychology accesses and interfaces with universe reallity, that is, the laws of physics as we discover and understand them.

Some, from the old days, are expressed as nature’s way by the Ancients. They didn’t have, in one sense of the term, a scientific study of physics, and we’re talking Newtonian physics at this point. And as you progress we are also talking quantum physics. Because as you get into higher levels of the art, the only way of really understanding what is going on from a scientific standpoint is to start getting into and understanding quantum mechanics. So we have several things that we break down rather than do this technique or that technique or this series of nikajo or that series of nikajo, You have three things that you manipulate in the physical aspect of combat: distance, timing, and relationship.

So you see, to be successful in an attack, you have to bring all three of those factors together at one point in the fabric of space-time. To be successful in defense you have to forestall only one of those three variables. So, understanding that there are three variables to manipulate makes it much easier to try and perceive what solution is being offered. One of the core principles of Nami Ryu is that every problem comes with its own solution. Problems are not presented that do not have solutions. It’s the way the universe works. Our task becomes to recognize the existing solution instead of trying to solve the problem from a preconceived technical or philosophical framework.

Could you give us an example or two of how in concrete physical terms in a situation that we would normally associate with a martial encounter…

When I used to box and kickbox we were always taught that you are most open and vulnerable when you punch. So any movement is going to have both a strength and a weakness to it, and any way you move is going to have a weak point inherent in the movement or a solution depending upon how your opponent is approaching, or what he’s doing. If you can take a look at his entire energy system and get away from looking at his hands, or his feet, or his eyes, or his sword then you’ll see the shape of the entire energy field and not be distracted by the little things. You’ll see a solution as to whether or not you can cut him down, to throw him, to avoid what is happening, to forestall him before he can actually bring the attack to bear. Whether you’re blending with the attack, accepting the attack, or disappearing from it. Those things all become apparent to you once you understand how the principles work. They’re universal law and everything must adhere to them. As a person does whatever he’s going to do, those relationships become apparent to you. There’s nothing in your mind. You literally have no thought; it’s a state of “mushin,” an empty mind. You just have a mind that accurately reflects what is happening, “mizu no kokoro,” (lit., a spirit of water). Techniques build boxes.

If they’re used like in a Komegawa Kaishin ryu kata as Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei would say, the kata is used to teach the theory. Don Angier Sensei would say, I could change all the techniques I taught you and as long as the principles were being taught you’d still learn the art. Well, that’s not true with almost everything else that’s taught. So if you just use certain physical patterns to teach how human physiology/psychology interacts with physical reality and how they access universe reality in the most efficient manner, then you’re truly learning the art. At that point, there is no technique. Technique never enters your mind. You shape yourself in relation to the force vector and then shape the vector. There is no how, there just is.

Some people would listen to you talking now and regard this sort of thing as very advanced and near the ideal level of a complete martial art. It seems, as you have expressed earlier, a matter of one’s relationship with nature.

Earlier, you described techniques as creating a box. Do you teach the kind of nuts and bolts types movements at some phase? Or do you completely discard the model of physical techniques by the numbers?

We practice in several ways. One, we show how the human body keeps itself vertical, how it aligns with gravity and the relatively unstable platform that we have. What does the human body do to stay vertical? Why does it do what it does?

We study the releasing and gathering of energies: kinetic energy, stored elastic energy, etc. We study how we move with balance, or how we don’t move with balance and why. The method that someone might use to close distance to approach can’t be understood unless you understand how you work. How to destabilize a human being can’t be understood unless you know what makes you stable or unstable. A key ingredient is that you have to get outside yourself. You have to understand that this is not about you. Ego, tension, all of those things cloud your vision. It is no longer mizu no kokoro, the surface of the water is no longer still. You no longer can truly perceive. If there’s a problem and if you can’t perceive that problem clearly, you’re not going to perceive a solution. You’re going to try to implement a solution, which is of course, less than ideal at any point.

Please continue to elaborate.

First, you have to know how to balance your body properly without muscle tension. So to do that you need to align your skeleton properly. For us, we use the balance point of the foot where the tibia would come down and exit through the foot if the tibia could run all the way through. So it exits right in front of the calcanius and the foot sits soft and flat, and the edges of the feet and toes are not used to hold you upright. They’re used to be sensitive as if you put your hand on something. The pressures carry down the length of the bone, but the foot itself is soft. Even in movements that we do where our legs are spread, for example, cutting with a sword, you will see that the toes will float. They can be wiggled and there’s no pressure on them. Balancing on the balls of your feet is not a stable flexible position. So we don’t do that. And you need to line up various parts of your body; your hip joint has to be lined up over your ankle joint. The pressure actually runs through the back of your knee. Your legs are straight, but not locked so that the pressure actually runs through the back and not the middle. Your shoulders need to sit over your hips and you need to rotate your skull along the line of your jaw, like someone is picking you up by the hair, which takes the excessive curve out of your cervical vertebrae and lines your ears up over your shoulders. The shoulders are lined up over yours hips, which are lined up over your ankle bones. At that point, you’re balanced without muscle tension.

Then we’ll do drills where you close your eyes and you just move your hands in front and your body will tip and you allow it to tip, and do the same thing backwards and to the side and feel like you’re absolutely balanced and each change in that physical posture moves you, as it should. Then I’ll take them and I’ll say, “Okay, now when you start to move, prevent yourself from tipping.” And you’ll feel things like you’re anterior tibialis contract and that goes back into your biceps femurous and you realize all of a sudden that if you’re not perfectly balanced you’re always under tension. If you’re always under tension you can’t hear properly. I mean hearing in the sense of being aware of things outside of yourself. It’s like a mind that is not calm. You can no longer hear there is too much “noise”. The muscle feedback starts to blur your ability to perceive. You touch someone like this, (demonstrates laying a hand on a student’s shoulder) and you feel a heart beat. You should feel exactly where their balance is and all the little adjustments they’re making back and forth to keep themselves up. You feel where their tension is being held as they try to keep themselves upright. So you find that if you don’t have proper posture, which is the relationship between your skeletal structure and physical reality, you’re not like a still pond. You’re body is as much a receptor as you mind and you are not a proper receptor. You will not know absolutely what’s happening because there is too much feedback, like wind blowing on the water, there is no longer an accurate reflection. The better the posture, the more relaxed the body, the purer the ability to perceive. So that’s just on the physical level alone. As your physical body starts to lose that posture, all of a sudden you have so much inner feedback that your ability to perceive what is outside of you starts to become dulled and you can’t perceive it properly.

You also become more apparent to your enemy. You can’t hide what is becoming obvious. So it is part of the beginning training, and then you realize that everything has a harmonic resonance. The body is going to have the grossest harmonic resonance and it is the easiest to perceive. The other aspects of your being also have a harmonic resonance. However, they are more difficult to perceive and it takes training, practice, and a change in you as a person for you to be able to perceive those things that cannot be seen. You get a concept in your mind that seems unique and read something and say, “Oh, I want to be that.” Well that’s good because ideas are what inspire us in the beginning. But eventually, if it doesn’t make it into your body at a cellular level, then you can only act under controlled conditions and it will not be who you are. You will not be able to completely empty your body. You won’t be able to disappear with your body, and just let it be wherever it needs to be, wherever pressure needs to be applied. Your opponent is going to tell you where the pressure needs to go. Your job is just to listen.

It sounds like what you’re stating is that you have to develop a tremendous amount of clarity that is characterized by your whole physical and spiritual being and the tie-in in order to be able to perceive all that’s going around in your surroundings in an accurate manner.

It’s easier than that.

Easier than that?

It’s easy because all you have to do is to accept and allow. Just accept what is. So the things that we don’t want to do or the things we need to become aware of should be explained. It should be somewhere else that’s not reality. Judgment is a past act, no longer present. Mental, emotional, psychological, garbage like that which is fear-based, clouds you up. You’re looking through a glass darkly. It clouds up your ability to perceive. You’re no longer just living in the present moment. You’re in the past-future. You’re in realities that don’t exist. That is actually a lot of work. It prevents you from really living in the true sense of the term. So if you accept what is, as it is, at every moment and you allow things to be as they are, that frees you up enormously. It’s not like you have to work at it in one sense; you just have to let go. The more you let go, the less it’s about you at every level of your being. The more you conform with universal reality, which is the manifest will of God, the more you will be in harmony with what is. That conformity with universal reality is essential to us evolving as human beings at every level. Things are the way they are. They’re the way they are for a reason. To say they should or shouldn’t be some way is not recognizing their value. Things can only be exactly as they should be at any point in time because it’s not possible for them to be any different than that. It’s impossible because everything is subject to what we call the laws of physics.

What you’ve described to me now I would associate with a situation where we are present in reality and there is some threat or some potential threat. Let’s flip that around. I know you’re involved in training police and the military and that sort of thing. Let’s say that instead of being in a defensive scenario you are to go in and deal with a hostage situation or some dangerous situation that requires you to be the actor or the initiator. How does this clarity of mind, this acceptance of all that is happening around you change? Or do you use this clairvoyance in that sort of situation when you’re forced to initiate.

The better you can perceive what is, the more apparent the solution becomes. If you go in with an aggressive state of mind in the normal sense of the term you have already put yourself in a mind state that prevents you from seeing all possibilities. Do you have to have a committed state of mind? Yes, in the sense that my job is this and that’s the job I’m going to do. It’s much easier to give life than to take it. So you can’t be making that decision once you’re faced with the problem, say a hostage situation where someone has a firearm to a hostage’s head. It’s not time to make a decision then but a decision has to be made. It’s not whether or not you’re going to have to act it is just how are you going to act. These lessons are all ancient, they’re just been lost for the most part.

One of the major reasons is that people no longer look at martial arts as what they actually were when all of this evolved. The warrior trained not to become a better human being in the sense of being well liked or mellow, he trained so that he could be more effective at killing the enemy. That was his prime directive. Everything he could do to become better at that was his prime directive. So some people went on one path and some on another but every now and then in history a person or a group of people or a path of knowledge emerged that rose above the conflicting part of the warrior’s function and could solve those problems he confronted more efficiently. Whether it’s cutting down the enemy before he can even move or solving the problem in another way, you need to be prepared to train with that one thought in mind. That is the job of the warrior, period. These were warrior arts.

They have become something different, and the difficulty, as we were discussing earlier, in Japanese is these people use terms that might have been used a long time ago have different meanings. “Budo” did not mean “the way of the peace” in the 16th century. It didn’t mean that. It had a completely different meaning. Warriors, like Miyamoto Musashi, didn’t train to be a better person, they trained to be a better warrior. Now the path that he trod, as you become ever more aware of universal relationships and what is, starts changing your perception. You realize that conflict is inefficient. It’s not in perfect conformity with universal law. By efficiency, we mean it takes the least amount of time, space, and energy to solve any problem. So, as you become ever more efficient in your actions, you have to become ever more in conformity with universal law. The more you conform with universal law the less ego and fear there is and the less chance there is of something happening out of fear. You don’t tend to fight anymore. That doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t need to be shot down or cut down, but you’re not fighting about it.

The fighting about it and defending yourself in your position that way creates a completely different physical and psychological dynamic compared to accepting and allowing and just doing what needs to be done. And when we read that someone was cut down by his own sword or his own movement, what happened is that he caused that himself. This is what we’re talking about. People make decisions and act and that’s the solution that they brought with the problem that they presented. In one sense of the term, we’re almost not involved with the action. You just do what needs to be done. If it’s cutting someone down, he is cut down. In modern times, if someone is shot down, he’s shot down. There are people that need to be shot down. People who are not in touch with reality and don’t realize it’s not a would-be, should-be, could-be world think, “Well, if we just talk this way or did that, such a thing with happen.” Not recognizing that people don’t all think the same, people make choices. As they make choices that affect other people, then the concept of “satsujinken” comes into play.

The sword that kills.

The sword that kills… Now the proper use of the sword that kills is to protect the innocent. There are people that are killing innocents today. There’s as much a need for the warrior in the old sense of the term. Not in the modern sense of everybody getting along… There’s just as much a need for the warrior today as there was 400 years ago in ancient Japan. Satsujinken. Katsujinken. The sword that kills is the sword that gives life.

If we are going to protect the innocent, and there are bad people out there, it’s not in our job to try and understand their point of view of things. If they threaten you or your children, they’ve got to go. If you can negotiate, that’s fine, but there have always been huge percentages of that population that won’t negotiate or what’s happening in negotiations is that they are getting stronger. Like in the 1930’s with Nazi Germany. Hitler used the unwillingness of France and England to act to grow stronger. Negotiation was fine with him. History has proven that it is foolish not to act when you can forestall something rather than wait. We’re in serious times in my opinion. I hope that everyone can look me up five years from now at the Aiki Expo and say, “You were wrong,” because I’d like to be wrong about this, but I don’t think so. There are so many factors far too complex to go into here, but the bottom line is that the need for warriors and warrior training is no different today than it was 400 years ago. The need for the warrior to protect the society is no different today than it was 400 years ago. However, you have to train properly or you’re not going to be adequate to task or the attrition rate is going to be high. So the reason I like the classical arts is because of their prime directive.

Perhaps a definition of terms from my perspective, would be in order here. I hear people speak of “traditional Japanese” karate. Karate is a modern phenomenon for the Japanese. Jujutsu covered their empty-hand arts, including kicking and striking, and included some obscure weapons. For me, traditional means modern, and this would include iaido, aikido, kyudo, judo, etc. These arts differ greatly from the classical combative arts of the feudal period of the samurai in Japan. These differences manifest themselves in the philosophy of the arts as well as their techniques and combative intent. I am primarily interested in the classical philosophy, psychology, techniques, and strategy of these arts when the samurai developed them. For me, this is the treasure from that vast storehouse of human experience. This is also what I take into the modern combat equivalent as there are many benefits to our modern warriors from this ancient knowledge.

As you train from the proper perspective you become more in harmony with universal law and you become less involved with yourself. I always tell my students that it’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s not us. You don’t run into idle conflict. You don’t run into conflict where ego or such comes into play. You find that you can remain calm because you can see the possible solutions that can forestall a whole lot of conflicts. Many, many people get into conflict. Most people get into conflicts of one sort or another. Most people fight out of fear. Fear doesn’t make everybody running scared. I was an undefeated kick boxer not because I wasn’t afraid but because I was afraid. My fear was a fear of failure. It drove me. It drove me to train as hard as I possibly could. It drove me to fight as hard as I possibly could. Pain only fueled me. It only made me more determined. So under those circumstances and, with the people that I fought, I was successful. It didn’t make me a better a human being, but it was probably for me a necessary step on the path. I think I had to go through that. I’d actually seen Don Angier’s dojo in 1968 when I was in the military at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California for a period of time. I drove by and I saw “Samurai Arts.” “What is that?, I thought. I didn’t see that dojo again until about 1981.

If I may interject something here… you’ve really defined the martial arts from their application to today’s world and the world that gave birth to it a very interesting light. It’s a description that’s sort of outside of the moral context. In other words, the warrior and his warrior function, whether historically or at the present time, has trained to be an efficient fighter, a solution solver in dealing with violence. He does that in the most effective, rapid way using the least resources and causing the least damage.

What about looking at things from the standpoint of a man, a woman, father, son or daughter, taking into consideration the moral dimension? In other words, consider the situation of a police officer or a soldier who possess fighting skills, but who acts on orders from above. The authority above me will be my immediate superior or someone further up in the chain of command. It might be a civilian if we’re talking about a society where civilians control the military. At what point does the trained warrior divorce himself from the moral aspects of using force? At what point does he kick in as a man, as a human being, as a life giving person and draw the line? You mentioned the example of Hitler. Of course, from our viewpoint, Hitler was the enemy. But from the viewpoint of a Nazi soldier in the 1930’s in Germany, he is the leader. Perhaps this person saw this mass destruction going on, but was brainwashed. Where does morality come into play? Does the well-trained soldier have any right to come up with any kind of a moral stance that may contradict the orders he’s given?

That’s a tough question.

Yeah. Probably not a two word answer either!

To be in conformity with universal law you have to have integrity. It’s essential. That is why truth is so essential. “A man’s foundation as a man, his duty as a man, is in truth.” That is an old samurai saying. So integrity is of the essence as you train, because if you don’t have it you cannot follow this path very far. You have to have it ultimately. Integrity also means that your body and mind cannot be separated. That morality cannot be separated. Samurai bushido had the concept of satsujinken-katsujinken, to define the proper use of the sword. There are times, however, especially for the warrior, when you cannot see the big picture. You can give mercy on small levels, you could refuse an order to kill innocent civilians, as a German soldier did in Belgium and was himself put to death for his moral stand by his own army. That was a tremendous act of moral courage. That’s something that has to be made moment by moment by the warrior. Most of the time the warrior doesn’t know enough. You don’t have enough independent information. It’s difficult. If you’re killing women and children, you’re robbing something from them. Now, American soldiers don’t have that sort of history. There are very few cases like that that have taken place. It is far more the exception than the norm. However, you can look back through history and find that that was a very common practice among many, many armies and still is in many armies today. In spite of the falsehoods in our press, it seems to me this last year I’ve never seen so many lies accepted and given credence to than in all my 56 years. I think that is a very bad sign for the society that this is the case. People want to believe what they want to believe so badly that it doesn’t matter what truth and reality is. That’s a bad sign. To be in conformity with universal law there is a moral component, absolutely. Power and strength have to be used in a particular way. You can get the quote from me, but there’s a quote when Israeli soldiers are sworn in. You know there’s power in the gun. The power of life and death; there’s power in the sword. The power of life and death. With that comes responsibility. I’m not talking about all people who fight and kill as warriors. I’m not even necessarily talking about soldiers, because all soldiers are not warriors, even the ones in combat. My friend Steve Mattoon in his book A Warriors Trail speaks of this with far more authority that I can.

You mentioned that the foot soldier or the soldier at the lower level probably does not have enough information to come up with a moral stance. What about as you go higher and higher up the chain of command, there are people who cannot only see the military perspective…

Politics and integrity are probably not synonymous terms. They’re probably not synonymous terms, and how often they have been in the past I don’t know. Certainly it’s a difficult thing at this point. I think there’s a large percentage of the American people who no longer have traditional values. They are more concerned about it being the way they think it should be than the way it is. So we’re always going to get leaders who pander to them. That’s a very bad thing. I would rather have a man I disagree with who is a man of integrity and consistency than a man who I agree with who is promoting himself and would say anything at any time just to get the position that he wants. Truth has no longer become a defining characteristic of a person’s character and that is unfortunate because that bodes ill for a society at any point. We are going to need those values because, in my opinion, looking across history and having a fair bit of knowledge from various sources of the situation as it’s evolving now, we are in for some very serious times.

It’s an interesting thing with human kind. We all want peace, love and harmony, yet when we get peace, love and harmony, all of our virtues begin to leave us. We become self-centered, we become weak, we stop sharing.

How is it that people in Nigeria have less anxiety than people in America? I mean, maybe a lot of people have not been to these countries where you walk by a dead person on the street and nobody looks twice. It’s a common thing, yet they have less anxiety with a life expectancy in the 50’s and ours is in the high 70’s at this point. They have less anxiety than Americans do who have so much. Is having so much good for a human being? So this is a journey each person has to take. For us the journey is one set down by the warrior’s quest and who we are. Our job is to protect and defend. It’s a prime directive of the male of the species homo sapiens. Those blood lines that did not protect the female and the children are no longer with us because we were made by nature, as males, to be expendable. We are capable of impregnating numerous females that are only capable of being impregnated by one male over say an eleven to twelve month period of time to give birth to a child. So we are the expendable ones in society and our prime directive is to protect and defend. If we do not do that, societies do not survive. You can look back through history time after time after time. A horrific thing to think about is when the Nazis, as Hitler bragged in 1936, gained control of the weapons of the people, the population of Jewish males no longer had the ability to defend the females and the children. When the Nazis came for them they really had no ability to fight. This led to the catastrophe that we call the Holocaust. The Israelis, on the other hand, are not about to let that happen. Their creed is “never again.” You are not going to find that happening with them again, I don’t think. They’ve learned that lesson at a terrible price. They’re a tough, courageous people because they must be. Do we want to live in a state of war? No we don’t want to live in a state of war. Where is the balance for human beings? How do you keep those things? How do you learn to fight and bear up under duress if you’re not under duress? You’ve seen my guys under the stick and the whip. Goodness, doesn’t that hurt? Yeah, it hurts. It marks your body up too, but what are you going to do when you’re actually in a fight under duress? That is not the time to find out what you are made out of, not the time to find out what pain and injury are like. We need to train that way now. I get cut constantly using sharp-edged weapons, etc. Well, you know, you need to know the capability of the weapon. You need to know what it feels like to get cut. If you don’t, you’re playing fantasy and that’s not going to be a valuable thing for your students. Now, I’m not saying this is for everybody because we should really define what we’re talking about here. The term martial arts is so generic. It’s like the English word for love. I love my truck. I love my wife. Well, I do not love my wife and my truck in the same way. Well, no. We make love. People say having sex can be making love. Well you and I have been married a long time. We know that here’s a huge difference between making love with someone with whom you share so much and having sex, but we use that same word in our language. So I think we need to define the term “martial art.” Certainly from a classical, combative standpoint I would translate it as “military or martial science,” not “martial art.” When many people hear the word “martial art,” they get a different picture in their mind. We forget that Mars was the god of war.

So you have self-defense being mostly about being smart and putting yourself in a good position, not getting into bad areas or situations. Literally taking care of yourself, and this means how you treat yourself as well. Then there are arts that have some practicality for self-defense for people. A lot of people can spend time training. However, this will prove of little value if you don’t spend time to learn. You have sports. Sports are outstanding for all kinds of reasons. Boxing is a sport. I enjoyed kickboxing and boxing. I wrestled in high school and college. It was great and it taught me a lot. You have sports and fighting arts, especially things like the modern, mixed martial arts done in things like UFC. There are no weapons. The fighters are of relatively similar size most of the time and there are rules. Then you have combat. Combat has no rules. You stick your wife and my wife on one side of the octagon and give them both Glocks and a 300 pound guy on the other side. They’re probably going to win. It’s going to be pretty hard on the guy, bullets are no respecters of persons; they don’t care who you are or what you know. So you add a few more people in there and you can’t see where they’re coming from and you have combat. Increase the number and type of weapons and now you are getting into combat. Training for war is a radically different concept. Samurai training was training for war. It wasn’t training for sport; it wasn’t training for self-defense; it wasn’t training for fighting; it was training for war. You had multiple opponents who had all types of weaponry available to them from spears to arrows to clubs and swords, everything you could imagine. There were no rules, their job was to deceive you and your job was to deceive and kill them. Well, this training is radically different than training for UFC or kickboxing, or self-defense. Or for that matter personal practice for self-enlightenment. Those are completely different things. My opinion though, if you don’t train and expose yourself to true danger you’re never going to fully understand and get to a place where the ancients got. You can’t get there by thinking about it, reading about it, feeling good about. Warm gooey feelings have no place here in that sense of the term. As I frequently tell my students, that warm gooey feeling is usually blood!


James Williams is the President of Bugei Trading Company, Inc. He has been studying martial arts since 1960 and teaching since 1975. James has trained, competed in, and taught a number of different martial disciplines: Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese, Philippino, as well as the Brazilian system of Jujitsu as taught by Rorion and Royce Gracie. His experience includes western wrestling, which he also coached, as well as boxing and kickboxing. His love of samurai martial traditions came with his study of the Yanagi ryu of the Yoshida-ha under Don Angier Sensei and the martial traditions of the Kuroda-ha as taught by Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei.

James also teaches Close Quarters Combat to police and military both foreign and domestic. The method used, “The System of Tactical Strategy,” is based on those skills developed and cultivated by ancient warriors. He is the designer of the “Hissatsu,” a close quarter battle knife that is produced by Columbia River Knife and Tool. James is certified as an instructor of Systema, a Russian Martial art taught by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev. Williams teaches Nami Ryu Aiki Heiho, (kenjutsu, iaijutsu, and aikijujutsu) and Systema in Encinitas California.