Prerequisites - The Body
A pre-requisite for training in this line of Araki-ryu is skill in body-to-body grappling: judo, free-style or Greco-Roman wrestling, sambo, BJJ, sumo, etc. There are no exceptions to this requirement. The body dynamics of Araki-ryu are identical to that of body-to-body wrestling, and requires the same kind of fluid adaptability to rapidly changing force. 'Arms-length grappling,' such as aikido, Daito-ryu, Hakko-ryu, or many modern styles of European/American jujutsu that do not work body-to-body, does not suffice. (Please understand that these styles are great practices in-and-of themselves. If you are skilled in such arts, some of what you've learned may well contribute to your learning Araki-ryu. However, the Araki-ryu body is one that is develped by body-to-body, connected grappling. Without such skills, the time it will take to learn the methods of this school will be prohibitively long. For example, the hanmi posture of classical aikido, derived from the upright, closed-stance of Itto-ryu kenjutsu, impedes not only the torite-kogusoku techniques of Araki-ryu, but the weapons methods as well, whereas the stance in sumo is nearly ideal).
If you are interested in joining Araki-ryu and do not have these skills, first enroll in a school that teaches free-style, competitive grappling. After a period of at least six months of regular practice (training that you would continue irregardless of whether you enter the ryu or not), then inquire about entry into Araki-ryu. If you are accepted into the ryu, you will be expected to continue your training in free-style grappling. If you do not love grappling for its own sake--and would only enroll in hopes of entering Araki-ryu--you are not suitable for training.
Please note that some of the branch schools of Amdur's Araki-ryu also offer training in body-to-body grappling, this requirement can obviously be satisfied by enrollment in those classes as well, if you have not already done so.
Prerequisites - The Mind
If you find yourself intrigued by Japanese martial traditions, and in particular, Araki-ryu, it is important that you get some idea of what koryu really is. Training is a serious commitment - it would be unfortunate if you went through a rigorous process to enter this ryu and found that it was not at all what you expected. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you read the following books, either authored or including essays by Ellis Amdur before contacting the ryu.
1. Old School: Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions - Expanded Edition
2. Koryu Bujutsu: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume 1
3. Keiko Shokon: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan, volume 3
Other important books are listed in the Essential Reading section.
Filmed in ultra slow motion to show proper body mechanics of Araki-ryu. Video by Nathan Pegram. High speed camera courtesy of Intellectual Ventures Laboratory. Naginata: Aaron Fields, Tachi: Ellis Amdur
The Araki-ryu curriculum includes the following:
Torite: Armed grappling in which the attacker takes a dominant position to subdue the opponent
Kogusoku: This includes grappling techniques where the practitioner:
- counters a superior force or weapon
- sword drawing and attack (bakken)
- armed grappling with short sword against long sword
Toren: Weaponry - there are four subsets
- Hamono - kenjutsu & kodachijutsu
- Emono - bojutsu, naginatajutsu, & nagamakijutsu
- Kusarimono - kusarigamajutsu, chigirikjutsu & ryofundojutsu
- Sasumono - sojutsu
The central method of practice is two-person forms known as kata. However, there are also a number of absolutely necessary solo training methods to build power, technique and proper physical organization.
Araki-ryu attempts to make the kata more powerful through 'live' practice - at higher levels, practitioners 'break' the kata if they perceive an opening in their opponent's technique. Furthermore, movements are isolated out from a form and used as a jumping-off point for various forms of semi-freestyle training - one might respond to a specific attack with any one of a number of techniques, rather than the one 'programmed' in that sequence of the kata. The reverse can also be enacted - one must use a single technique to defend against a variety of attacks.
The goal of these and other training methods is to practice in a way that will hone one's skills to the highest level. The dilemma of simply practicing in pure freestyle - as opposed to different forms of limited sparring - is that most of the practice weapons, made of hardwood, are so heavy that any mistake would be devastating. If the weapons are lightened, one loses one's fear of injury and reacts in an unnatural fashion. Imagine a circle with a center point designating pure life-and-death combat. If one draws lines through that center point, one has a design much like a pie-chart, with each section representing one training method that allows one to concentrate intensely on one or two requirements for combat, in a way that does not require the participants to put themselves at excessive risk of permanent injury.
In so-called freestyle, one is either in combat, or one is sparring - in which safety is merely ensured in a manner other than that in kata training. Furthermore, one can easily lapse into sports point scoring, in which footwork and weapon usage suitable to a light weapon in a training hall supplant the low postures and physical organization necessary to wield a heavy weapon on uneven ground, and other adverse conditions.
That said, such training as grappling, boxing or kick boxing, in which one strives against a fully resisting opponent, albeit within rules, is also an essential experience. One learns something about oneself in a manner that is impossible to achieve otherwise. In addition, the experience of adaptation to the unscripted movements of the opponent, who is simultaneously striving to disrupt or defeat your technique is a skill that is transferrable to weapons training where pure freestyle is impossible outside combat.
Our Araki-ryu strives to study a method of using the body and weaponry in which hand-to-hand/body-to-body and weapon usage are melded into a single practice, where one develops the improvisational adaptability that is inherent in the best grapplers.
An Explanation of Certification in the Curriculum of the Hokusei Dojo
When participants have sufficiently learned a section the ryu, they are given a certificate of recognition of that level of skill. This is principle based, rather than a note that one has learned certain kata. This is not a teaching license.
- Inka (taught to shihan only)
- Zekkoku-menkyo (taught to shihan only)
Teaching certification is separate from the above. There are two levels:
- Shihan-dai - at this level, the person has permission to teach under the authority of Ellis Amdur. This license does not grant any independent authority to teach, and is never a certification of complete transmission of the curriculum or mastery of the ryu. The shihan-dai is considered to be a 'student-instructor' - and part of his/her learning process is the permission to begin teaching under supervision. If a person quits or is expelled from the ryu, their shihan-dai authority is terminated.
- Shihan - at this level, one has received the complete transmission of the ryu, and has independent authority to set up his or her own dojo.
All certificates of attainment and/or teaching licenses from the Hokusei Dojo will have the proper hanko (name seal), and are written entirely in Japanese. Any rank by any other appellation, with an improper seal, or any certificate written in English, has absolutely no validity in terms of this particular lineage.
Any questions about the certification of any individual who is said to be associated with this line of Araki-ryu, either present or by history, can be directed to Ellis Amdur.
Where Can One Practice?
Pacific Northwest - Ellis Amdur maintains a small dojo on his property. Whenever possible, practice is done outside, on natural terrain. At this time, there are no other training groups in the United States. All inquiries regarding training in Araki-ryu torite-kogusoku in the United States, or the development of a study group to that end, should be directed to Ellis Amdur.
There are also two training groups in Europe:
Athens, Greece - practice is under the direction of Ellis Amdur. Inquiries should be directed to Thanassis Bantios.
Thessaloniki, Greece - practice is under the direction of Ellis Amdur. Inquiries should be directed to Stratos Karpouzidis.