An Interview with Jack Hoban
by Paul Richardson - 2005
Q: How did you get involved in martial arts in the first place and what did youstudy?
I studied some karate and escrima and was a Captain in the U.S. Marines. I also boxed a little.
Q: Are you still involved in any of those early arts?
No, just Bujinkan now. Although I am involved in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and Dr. Humphrey’s STRIKE method (modified boxing).
Q: When and where did you start Bujinkan training (who was your first teacher)?
I read about Stephen K. Hayes and went to some of his training, including the first Ninja Festival. It was Stephen who was my first sempai and who introduced me to Hatsumi Sensei. I think it was 1982.
Q. How many still practice Nimpo from the first few that were taught bySKH?
I don’t know how many are still practicing, I remain good friends with Bud Malmstom and we train together at least twice every year.
Q. When did you first go to Japan, who did you gowith?
I think it was 1983. I went with Stephen Hayes and a group of others.
Q: What memories do you have of that firstmeeting?
It was a blur. Overwhelming, really. But fun and interesting. Good training. It was the Daikomyosai in Yuma Mura. I don’t remember much. I have been to every Daikomyosai since, I think, so they are all running together in my mind.
Q. When and where did you take your 5th dan test?
Maybe 1986. It was in Shiraishi San’s old garage when he lived in Noda. There were only about 5 people there. Beside Hatsumi Sensei, I think Ishizuka San and Manaka San were there, Shiraishi San, of course, and I think Mark Hodel.
Q: How does Bujinkan training differ then from now?
It’s not as crude. Sensei moves much more easily now. And he was great back then! But the feeling is the same to me. Just Sensei pressing the envelope of the art that he received from Takamatsu Sensei. And we, students, observing and participating at our own levels.
Q. You have also recently been involved in the production of a new unarmed combat method for the USA Military. Why were you one of the people picked to be involved in this new project?
I was picked because of my Martial Arts experience, of course, but especially because of my association with an important mentor of mine, Robert L. Humphrey. Humphrey was a U.S. Marine rifle-platoon leader on Iwo Jima. Near the war’s end, a gunshot-wound ended his hopes for a professional boxing career. For twelve years he passed through eight colleges and universities looking for answers to that eternal question: “Why?” Why that terrible Depression that devastated his peaceful little hometown? Why that insanity on Iwo Jima that killed most of his Marine friends?
He took a Harvard Law degree and settled into teaching Economics at MIT. Then came the Cold War with the predictions that the Communists would win. He went back overseas to see if his global experiences would guide him in solving America’s self-defeating Ugly Americanism. He taught culture-transcendent, “win the people” values in the most vital overseas areas – those surrounding the Communist block. The approach did overcome the Ugly Americanism. It did win back the foreign peoples. And it kept the lid on sabotage and violence in his assigned areas. It opened up a new social-scientific pathway to human conflict-resolution.
Robert Humphrey passed away during the summer of 1997. He will be sorely missed. In my opinion, we need his insights now more than ever.
The Marines often consulted Humphrey because of his unique perspective and life experiences. As his student, I pass on Dr. Humphrey’s lessons to Marines about how to operate effectively in war and “peacekeeping” missions. We also teach the usual plethora of close quarter combat techniques. My input and the Bujinkan perspective inspire some of them. Most come from other advisors who have practiced other arts—there were a lot of people besides me who were involved in creating the physical curriculum. The thing that I do mainly when I go down there, besides putting in my two cents on how the physical training is going, is teach courses on warrior ethics, including "The Warrior Creed."
THE WARRIOR CREED
By Robert L. Humphrey
Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
Whenever I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.
"It's a better life!"
You may know that Professor Humphrey is an honorary 10th dan in the Bujinkan. His plaque hangs on the board in the HombuDojo.
Q. You are now one of the few 14th Dan in the Bujinkan. The talk of 15th Dan being able to give the 5th dan is everywhere. What are your felling about being able to soon give that test?
I never think about it.
Q. Individual Bujinkan Dojo are generally responsible for organising there own syllabus and grade structure. Do you think that this is a strong or a weakpoint?
I don’t think about this either. In my case, I have just tried to teach Bujinkan Budo the way it was taught to me.
Q. You are one of the people who was involved in the book ‘The grandmasters guide to Ninja training’. How did this book comeabout?
As interest in the Bujinkan grew, more and more people were asking the same basic questions. Sensei asked Doron Navon and me to ask him the questions that we felt were on everyone’s mind at that time. Doron and I did our interviews (asked our questions) together. Charles did his some other time; I wasn’t there.
Q. You were the editor of another book by Hatsumi sensei, why were you picked for this job, and was it an easytask?
It was by default, really. The book was “Essence of Ninjutsu” for Contemporary Books. The book had been written by Hatsumi Sensei and then translated by a Japanese friend of his whose English, frankly, wasn’t very good. Also, the book appeared to be written “stream of consciousness” and needed some organization. The people at Contemporary knew me, so they asked Hatsumi Sensei if I could help them. Sensei said yes, so I did it. It was a difficult, but exciting job. I hope I did it justice.
Q. You are the author of several books on Ninpo. Do you intend on writing any morebooks?
I don’t know, maybe. I wrote the last one in probably 1986 at the direction of Hatsumi Sensei. He said that they (books) were “good advertising.” Remember, there was not so much information available about our art then as now. To my chagrin, some of these books are still floating around. They may be fun as collector’s items or curiosities, but I have changed so much since then that I feel that they are not really representative of my perspective on budo any more. Well, maybe somewhat representative, but not wholly. It is better to train with me now, today. Budo lives in the moment. Right now I don’t have anything important to say. It’s all in the taijutsu. Maybe I’ll change my mind some day. Maybe tomorrow. I don’t know. I am not thinking about it.
Q. Many Bujinkan people worldwide are ranked in other arts or have studied them. Some people are even sampling different martial arts while still in the Bujinkan. Do you think this is a good, or would you recommend that people in the Bujinkan concentrate solely on oneart?
My answer is this: Essentially, training in any martial art requires a commitment. There is no best martial art. Just martial arts worth committing to. Finding a good teacher is vital, as well.
Maybe this is not an exact analogy, but I will use it. It is like a marriage. Maybe there is a more beautiful woman than my wife, or smarter, or richer. But I can’t think about that. I only think about how to deepen the relationship with my wife—the woman I chose. If she is the right one, or maybe even just one of many possible right ones, and I am true to my commitment, and she is to hers, we can have a beautiful life together. In that way, there is no “best” wife. Just a good wife for me, with whom I share a commitment that makes for a good life. Certainly people get divorced, or “cheat” on their spouse, or never make a commitment at all—just float around from partner to partner. This is natural, too, I guess. But my observation is that those people are unhappy—they are NOT having a good life.
People are afraid of commitments, these days. Maybe it is because there are too many choices. I am not sure. But I think that commitments are vital for a happy life. In the analogy above, can you imagine the problem of waking each morning, having to face each day, wondering if you should be married to someone else? Wondering if there is a “best” spouse out there? Where? Somewhere. Totally unmanageable.
Find a martial art worth committing to. Find a good teacher. Commit. Don’t break the bond. Keep going. That’s it. Don’t think too much. Same with a spouse, I think.
Q. USA is a very big country and there are many practitioners who are highly skilled. Many of them seems to have different opinions and teach different things about Bujinkan. There are political subjects around for instance; how to teach, train, what is correct or not, ranking and so on. You are responsible for USA according to Hatsumi. What would you like to change today in USA about the training, politics and how to follow the way in Bujinkan? Any suggestions to people about how to behave and train in Bujinkan and how do you look at the future in training?
People in my little town of Spring Lake, New Jersey, seem to think that I am in charge of our local budo club. But, am I responsible for America? I don’t think so. How could it possibly be? In the Bujinkan our relationship is a personal one with Soke. One-to-one. He says to come and train directly with him. If that is not possible, then we should train with someone who trains directly with him. That is my only responsibility—to follow what Soke has said. And also to adhere to the other rules of the Bujinkan. Occasionally he asks me to represent him in some matter. But I don’t think that that means I am responsible for America.
You ask how to teach and train and rank, etc. I think the answer is: Follow the bufu (martial wind). Do it the way Sensei says to do it. If you are confused about what that is, you should train with him and observe how he trains, how he teaches, how he gives rank. Then try to do it that way.
Q. What would I like to change in the USA?
Well, the answer, of course, is nothing. It is just how it should be. How it must be.
Q. How should we behave and train in the Bujinkan?
Like human beings, like warriors, following the example that has been set for us. That doesn’t mean that we are robots, or members of a cult, or that we must change our personalities, it only means that we should follow the principles as they have been shown to us. What are they? Look at Sensei, he is following them, too. He is following them, as we all must. The principles certainly have the flavor of his personality, but they are the principles passed down from the previous Sokes of the arts that make up the Bujinkan. They are principles that are immutable, although the manifestations may change.
The future? I don’t think about it. The future will come in its time. I will face it using the principles I been taught or discovered on my own through my training. Why think about the future? Why even ask about it? It is like asking, “what is the future of tides?” Well, as long as there is a moon, there will be tides. What is there to think about? On more human terms, consider the concept of motherhood. Is it a technique? An organization? A cult of someone’s personality? No. It is a fundamental of human existence. And so is warriorship. The principles that are represented by the art we call “Bujinkan” are fundamental to the human experience and have a life of their own. They are the laws of the warrior. They will endure as long as there is one true warrior in the world.