Happy New Year Buyῡ
– welcome to the Year of the Rat!
According to Asian astrology, 2020 is the Year of the Metal
Rat. The Rat sign marks the beginning of the zodiac and
it is associated with an aggressive attitude and entrepreneurial
spirit. It is linked to material success, wellness, and
a luxurious life. Rats are intelligent, energetic, and adaptable,
solving problems with ease. Charm, a strenuous work ethic,
discipline and passion give people born under this sign
a "tactical advantage" this year. Honor and lack of resentment
are two things we can learn from the Rat. Action will be
the keyword this year for all Rats – there is no time for
laziness or waiting for miracles to happen.
For all of us "non-Rats," 2020 will be a year when we all
will be able to take advantage of a new beginning, both
in our personal and financial lives. Some of us will focus
on fun, amusement, pleasure and hobbies, while others will
use our creativity, ambition and confidence to initiate
personal improvement and/or more extensive projects.
2020 portends to be a year of new beginnings for all of
us. So, let's go!
But first, let's quickly recap what happened in 2019...plenty!
In terms of international
travel, I attended the German BuyῡKai in July. It was at
Schloss Buchenau again. I have participated in BuyῡKai a
number of times. This is a GREAT event and I encourage all
my martial arts friends to attend. There are buyῡ
from all over the world – with some top-notch coaching on
everything from the basics to pretty advanced stuff. Really,
you MUST go.
Some BuyῡKai moments
Alex, Steffen and me -
Alex - an aerial view. Thanks,
Sheila, for the cool shot!
We also had training seminars in NJ, of course. It's amazing
how many people from around the world find our little training
group in Spring Lake. Seminars are pretty much every month.
You can see the 2020 schedule here.
Wesley Hall – home of our Buyῡ
We also did a couple of women's self-defense classes this
year. Actually, we combined taijutsu and yoga into what
we think is a unique new approach to personal protection.
If you didn't know, I practice yoga daily myself, and highly
recommend you look into it as a part of your junan taiso
training. Finding the right teacher is key – so do your
Kunoichi training in NJ –
Get your hands off of me!
The training was very fun, and I learned a lot. I often say
that it is important to train with women and study their
responses to conflict. Unlike men, women
especially the trained ones
tend to seek a sneaky way to escape
force, rather than try to meet power with power. This is
very "ninja-like." That's why the kunoichi were considered
some of the most effective ninja operatives.
Maybe we'll do a few more in 2020
We had a workshop in Florida. Ed and Claudia Figueroa of
Tampa Bay Buyῡ
Dojo sponsors the training. Ed
also works with the Orlando group.
With Ed, Claudia and buyῡ
I traveled to Grand Rapids (there's still no rapids, by
the way). Had a great time training with some fine folks.
Craig and the Grand Rapids training
Thanks, Craig Gray, for setting that up.
I also got to train once again with my friend, Joe Lopez,
and the dedicated buyῡ
of Hawaii Bujinkan.
Joe and the boys of Hawaii Bujinkan
– Shaka no Kamae
Even got some fishing in.
Thanks, Joe. See you soon!
I also competed in the Waikiki Biathlon. It was a little
rough out there!
An unusually stormy day in Waikiki
I managed to not drown in the swim but hope for nicer weather
Check out the "Dad Bod," ha ha
ha. Working on that!
While in Hawaii, I was again asked to come out to Marine
Corps Base Kaneohe to do some MCMAP sustainment with the
Marines there. We had a great time. More about MCMAP, to
The Marine Ethical Warriors of
Kaneohe – 2019
I am lucky to be spending more and more time in Hawaii,
and it so great to have friends and my Marine brothers and
sisters there to train with. Mahalo! See you in 2020!
We enjoyed another Buyῡ
Camp East in New Jersey. A new place the last couple
of years – much more room inside and outside. Definitely
an upgrade, although we'll miss our old spot, the site of
so many camps with folks like
Mark Hodel, Dick Severence
and Ed Martin. We'll never forget you guys!
Friday Night is all basics
Training in nature with Miki
Alex "ninja-walking" basics
Ed & John – visiting
Fernando and Fernanda
– buyῡ all the way from Brazil!
Josh's fighting in real armor session
Craig and Kevin enjoying themselves
Luis once again leading us through
Camps are a great way to connect with old friends
and get the "continuing education" and inspiration that
will help you "keep going" when you get back to your own,
local training group. Please keep an eye on our
seminar page for news
about Buyῡ Camp 2020.
I was able to visit Japan again in 2019 to train with my
teacher, Soke Masaaki Hatsumi.
The view of Mt. Fuji from Kashiwa
on a clear day
We had plenty of training
and a party. It was Hatsumi Sensei's 88th birthday! He's
still training several days a week and painting for everyone.
David with "nin"
He's slowed down a tiny bit, but his example of perseverance
is an inspiration for all of us.
With Hatsumi Sensei on his 88th
Friends and mentors - Ishizuka
Shihan and Mariko, Nagato Shihan and Noguchi Shihan
Two of our close friends passed the godan (5th degree blackbelt)
test this year.
Rich & Craig - our newest
Congrats to both of them. Keep going!
Some sad news, we lost another
great teacher of the Bujinkan this past year. Hideo Seno
passed away after a long illness in 2019.
gone too soon.
Look at his right hand - teaching
until the very end
Sayonara, Seno Sensei. You were a great man, and you will
live on through your grateful students. Like me.
In Japan this year we shot a lot of footage for a documentary
on Hatsumi Sensei and the Bujinkan. Despite the cold, rain
and snow, we had a fun time tracing Togakure ryu ninjutsu back
to its roots with a pilgrimage to Togakushi mountain
birthplace of the Iga Ninja.
At the entrance to the Togakushi
The lower gate
With Miki Fujitsubo and Jeff Morrison
Our intrepid producer, Kim
The upper shrine – I received
my black belt here in 1983
Ja mata, Japan, I hope we meet again soon!
There are many more pictures of my Bujinkan training
and travels on our Buyῡ Facebook page here.
here for upcoming
seminars in 2020, including Buyῡ Camp East in New Jersey
My book "The Ethical Warrior," is still doing
well. Click the cover if you want to read the book.
And, if you read the book and like it, please consider
leaving an Amazon review. Thanks!
You may know that Bruce Gourlie and I wrote a follow-up
book for protector professionals called "The Ethical
Protector." Check it out!
And don't forget the
re-release of the old videos I did back in the 90's
on Bujinkan basics. All 4 videos are now on one DVD.
I had a laugh looking back at some of the footage
boy I'm getting old!
There is some pretty good stuff on there, especially
for people working on the basics. And you'll see some
of your favorite buyῡ on there lending a hand. You can
also stream it on
This past year I was again privileged to work with the
Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) in Quantico,
Virginia. This important program covers armed and unarmed
martial arts techniques, combat conditioning, mental
training and character development.
As an American (or ally), I think you would be proud
of these young men and women. They are physically and
mentally tough, yet respectful and ethical. Many are
veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan. For those of
you who feel called to warriorship, and are of age,
consider joining them. The Marines are always looking
for a "few good men." And women!
MCMAP Staff Instructors 2019 – Raider Hall, Quantico,
The warriors I am privileged to train with are quite
physical but are also focused on how to maintain their
ethics and a "protector mindset" under the
adversity of war.
– USMC photo courtesy of
Battle Course" – USMC photo courtesy of Combat Camera
Marine leader giving a "Tie-In"
during the Battle Course
Ethical Warriorship" – USMC photo courtesy of Combat
MCMAP Staff Instructors 2019
Director LtCol Joe "Joe Marine" Shusko retired in 2019
Fair winds and smooth sailing my friend!
Ethical Warriors" of MAIT 1-2019 – USMC photo courtesy
MAIT 2-2019 – USMC photo courtesy of Homer Brett
3-2019 – USMC photo courtesy of Combat Camera
There are more photos
here. And check out this video on our Marine
Ethical Warriors if you haven't already.
For several years
now I have been talking about
Resolution Group International.
As you may know, RGI is made up of military and law
enforcement professionals who teach conflict de-escalation
under stress. The RGI curriculum extrapolates on the
work I have done with Robert L. Humphrey and the Marines
in the areas of ethics, conflict communication, physical
protection skills and leadership. We had more RGI Conflict
Resolution Courses in 2019 for Police Officers and Park
Rangers in New Jersey.
The RGI Ethical Protector Course consists of more than
just sitting around looking at PowerPoint presentations.
We work on real protector skills, such as defensive
tactics and physical fitness. As we like to say
"you can't buy memories like these!"
Police officers practicing take downs - the RGI way.
RGI Combat Conditioning for protector professionals
RGI Instructor and MARSOC Marine Alex Carney – The Protector
The traditional RGI Beach
If you haven't already,
check out RGI instructor, Joe "Marine" Shusko's book,
"Tie-Ins For Life." Tie-ins are stories that teach values
and inspire moral behavior. The book contains many of
the values stories we tell at both MCMAP and RGI training.
I worked with two
other NNJ RGI associates, Toms
River NJ Police Chief Mitch Little and Marine Corps
Special Operations (MARSOC) Officer Alex Carney, and
Stockton University to provide de-escalation as part
of the NJSACOP Leadership Program For Middle Management.
We did four more of them in 2019. And we have big plans
to expand the Ethical Protector professional development
program in 2020 –
so stay tuned!
If you are interested in learning how to apply the Ethical
Protector training as a law enforcement or military
professional – or just want to explore the concept with
the top-notch RGI instructors in a hands-on setting
as a civilian warrior – check out RGI Events
Another project that RGI has been involved in for the
last several years is with Lake Highland Preparatory
School in Orlando, FL. This school is the first school
in the country to adopt the RGI Ethical Protector concept
as part of their school culture. They have two Ethical
for the guys, and Dara for the gals. We have built a
mentor corps within the school by training society members
in leadership, ethics, fitness and protection skills.
This is done at our friend, retired Major General Tom
Outdoor Odyssey Academy in Boswell, PA, every June.
Participants include Blackwatch and Dara members, as
well as, a dedicated group of teachers who also undergo
the training. Outdoor Odyssey's motto is "Leadership
Through Adversity." Believe me, its challenging!
A new cadre of Ethical Protectors
at Lake Highland
Ladies, too, of course!
Lake Highland Dara and Blackwatch Societies
after the "Crucible" final event
Marine brothers Joe Shusko
and Mick Davis (Lake
Highland dean of discipline)
It all starts at Outdoor Odyssey, but the secret to
Lake Highland's success is sustainment. Dara and Blackwatch
meet frequently during the school year and members also
mentor the younger students into the Lake Highland Ethical
Protector culture. It's all about the students, and
their results are amazing. Disciplinary problems and
bullying are way down, academics and athletics are off
the charts! All American educational institutions should
take note. If Lake Highland can do it, why not other
I look forward to heading back to Outdoor Odyssey in
June to work with a new batch of Lake Highland Ethical
Rogues on the Run -
Mario, Jack, Phil, Ilya,
Vel and Rob.
We did a bunch of gigs, but
one of the most fun ones was the wedding reception of
Bernard and Celia Purdie. Some pretty big names were
in the house and they sat in
including Liberty DeVito,
who played with Billy Joel, and many others!
With the injured Mrs. Purdie
at their wedding reception - congrats!
We even got another one of my
guitar heroes, George Naha, to sit in with us this year.
With George Naha at UVA's
in Bradley Beach
As you may know, legendary drummer,
Bernard "Pretty" Purdie asked me to produce his
next album. We are pretty much finished. I wrote songs
that cover a wide variety of the different kinds of
music Bernard has recorded over the years. Some top-notch
(and pretty famous) musicians contributed.
In the studio with Bernard Purdie!
has a new manager and we are negotiating with record
companies. Cross your fingers that the record will be
out in 2020! (I know, I keep saying that. Hahaha. Show
And don't forget to pick up Bernard's biography. It's
a wonderful read!
One of my other crazy hobbies, as readers of
this yearly message may know, is bodysurfing. For
decades, now in New Jersey, I have swum with a cadre
of "watermen" who meet early every summer morning to
work out, swim and body surf. And guess what? I'm
the youngest! The picture below features legend
Cecil Lear (89), Ken
Cassie (83) and Raoul Cordeaux (70). Craig and Jennifer
joined us for a Holiday breakfast.
With (l-r) Cecil, Ken, Craig,
Jen and Raoul
As mentioned above, I've also taken up long-distance
ocean swims. Here is Alex and me at the Sea Girt 1-mile
swim (guess who beat who
With Alex, Sea Girt 1 mile
Whew!! Another year come and gone. So, what does 2020
look like for us?
When I was in Japan, Sensei painted for me a couple
of kanji of his choice. He painted me this:
I'm sure everyone recognizes the nin of
ninpo. It is similar in style to the one that
he did for David, above.
But, check out the one he did for me in 2008!
Profoundly different! And, to me, it mirrors an evolution
in the elegance and economy of Sensei's taijutsu over the
last 15 years. I am inspired to follow that subtle lesson
for my next 15 years of training
Next, he painted rei.
of our buyu recognize the word rei.
The kanji rei (礼) means to show respect and is
one of the seven virtues of the samurai. We say it as
we bow to each other before, during and after training.
But rei, using a different kanji, is the rei of the current Japanese era Reiwa (令和),
which began on May 1, 2019. Coincidence?
And look at the tail Sensei put at the end of
礼. Doesn't it now look a little like
a rat? Hahaha. As usual, Sensei fuses so many possible
meanings into his kanji.
So on to 2020!
As you may recall from last year's essay, my martial
arts name "yama tora," or "mountain tiger" (山虎),
which I had for many years, changed to "kai ryu"
(海龍) or "sea dragon." I was curious to see if this name
change would subtly change my approach to my martial
arts practice and life.
the way, at about my same age, Soke changed his name
to 白龍翁 (byakuryu-oh or venerable white
Well, I certainly felt different this past year in a
hard-to-explain way. I don't know whether it was the
name change. Perhaps...
But, I really think the changes stem from my close observation
of Sensei's movements and attitudes and my study of
the concept of
Again, in last
year's essay, I spoke as clearly as I could about what
mutō dori might mean. Read it again, if you
don't remember. Here's the
Reading it again, myself, I really don't have anything
in words. But the feeling and sensibility of
the concept has certainly evolved for me. And how do
you describe a feeling? Inadequately, at best. But,
let's train together in 2020 and I'll try to share my
feeling with you if you like. All are welcome, no one
One of my challenges is that I am often
called upon to train Marines for combat
and police officers for service in some of the most
dangerous cities in America. I have a very short amount
of time to give these warriors and protectors a sense
of things it took me literally years to figure out.
I try to create mental metaphors and easy physical drills
that might give them a shortcut to grasping a sense
of important concepts I have spent a lifetime learning.
I'd try anything if it might make them personally safer and better
protectors of others.
Maybe, I am a little successful. Sometimes. I can
never be sure.
of the things I have been talking about recently is how to train
one's mind for dangerous situations. I don't mean
just learn new information, but how to actually make
the brain more efficient
and resilient under stress. I'm no brainiac, but I've
run my theories by some people who are, including brain
specialists, and they agree with some of my theories.
So, let me share my thoughts and see what you think.
Let's start off with the familiar martial art theory
of the "human trinity." It is said that we are made
up of three parts: mind, body spirit. The spirit
part consists, I think, of all the things that
make us alive, or in the case of warriors and
protectors, keeps ourselves and others alive. It is
the will to live, the calling to know ourselves as
the protector of others. It is the fighting spirit
and the will to survive. All of these things and
many others that are hard to articulate, but are
The physical is easier to put into words. It's our bodies
and what we do with them, also our environment. For warriors
and protectors, it is our training and, ultimately, our
But the mental...hmmm. You can say it
pertains to what goes on
in our brain, what we think, or what we study and learn.
But, I have been thinking that it may be way more than
that. Especially, as it pertains to our protector calling,
and dealing with stress, uncertainty and violence.
I think it goes without saying that we now know more
about the functioning of the human brain,
particularly under stress, than our warrior
forefathers did. Consider the illustration below.
The brain is certainly much more complicated than this,
but for our purpose of trying to understand the "mind"
piece of the human trinity, we see that the brain is
made up of three basic parts or functions. We have the
stem or "reptilian" part of the brain. It is the "oldest"
part of the brain and it controls our autonomic functions
(breathing, heartbeat, etc.), as well as, our "instinct-like"
behaviors – fight or flight, for example. It can be
very important for our survival but can't always be
relied on to make optimal choices under confusing conditions.
Then we have the limbic part of our brain. It's where
our feelings and emotions come from. It is a very important
part, obviously, but it is not always rational.
we have the neocortex, or as the name suggests, the
"newest" part of the brain. This is where we can solve
complex problems and make rational decisions. Its power
is what separates us from the reptiles and even the
other bigger-brained mammals.
So, which one serves us best as martial artists? Well,
we need all three parts, certainly. We need the autonomic
and survival skills of the brain stem. We need the feelings
and emotions of the limbic brain, as they may be our
connection to the "spirit" part of the mind-body-spirit
But it is the neocortex, and the ability to access it
under stress, that is ultimately the most vital functioning
area of the brain for warriors. Let me explain my thinking...
I'll use an example. Getting caught in an ambush. Tactically
and (this is important)
counter-intuitively, when ambushed
you must attack toward and through the ambusher, collapsing
the space. What does your reptilian brain
want to do? That's right, it wants to flee: you are
being attacked, run! How about the limbic brain? It's
not helping, its screaming, "we're all gonna die!"
And if you listen to either of
those brains, the limbic is right. You're gonna die.
So, you need to somehow override them. I call it
toggling. You need to toggle "forward" to your
neocortex, because the secret to your survival in
this deadly situation is to do the counter-intuitive
thing. You must press forward. Not run. Nor freeze
and go all emotional. Attack! And the warrior, when
he has trained properly, has this ability to toggle
into the cool, detached, problem-solving part of the brain. And for
the vast majority, it isn't even a little bit easy.
Not under stress. It takes practice, practice, practice.
Mind-numbing repetition. But even that is just a metaphor,
because only two-thirds of the brain goes numb. The
other third, the neocortex, sharpens. Things
slow down, things become clearer. That is the combat mindset.
The protector mindset. If you are not aware of this
process, if you don't, then, practice consistently and
repetitively, you cannot expect to be able to toggle
swiftly and effectively (and survive) in the event of
a violent attack. This is what I have come to believe.
In the Marines we did the most simple things over and
over: draw, aim and dry fire weapons, change magazines, experience
hardship, adversity and loud noises. Over and over and
over. That's why most Marines, when the real thing happens,
can toggle into that place in the brain where their training
is stored. And act!
OK, what if you have never had Marine training or something
similar? Let's talk about just your average everyday
training. Here's maybe a more accessible example. Leverage.
You are doing an arm bar. It's not working. You panic.
Maybe you wish you could just disappear (brain stem),
or get frustrated, angry and/or embarrassed (limbic).
You freeze your feet and try to muscle it until it works.
But it doesn't. Your partner is too big or too strong
(or a jerk). Fail.
Why? Because your brain stem and limbic brain don't
do levers. Levers are counter-intuitive. Push down
to lift something up. Pull up to force something
down. Left is right. Right is left. A powerful,
powerful tool. Levers are something only a human
being, with a neocortex, can imagine, much less use.
"Give me a place to stand,
and a lever long enough, and I will move the world."
I can't say that this is the most scientific explanation
of how the mind works under stress and why slow, repetitive,
accurate practice is vitally important for the martial
artist. But I believe this idea to be fundamentally
sound, and it is important to grasping what is meant by "mind," in the martial artists'
This ability to toggle, I believe, may also be a key
to understanding –
– the epidemic tribalism that seems to be infecting
people in our country and around the world.
We seem to be inordinately protective of our
feelings and relative values, often irrationally
fearing or detesting people who are different from
us. We see this phenomenon between people of different colors,
races, religions, political views, etc. We sometimes
see great hate and even violence between followers
of different sports teams. It's not new, but why is
It's because when we see people who are "not of our tribe," we have hundreds of thousands of years of experiences embedded in our DNA, brain stem and limbic brain that whisper to us: "Danger, danger. Must fear, hate, despise, de-humanize. It's the only safe way." And for thousands of years that may have been true. But not necessarily so. And we can now figure out if this "other" person is really a danger or not – if we choose. But not without our neocortex. It requires a counter-intuitive "toggle." "Wait, I see that he is another color, or speaks differently, or prays differently, or is wearing the jersey of my team's archrival. But think, now. Analyze the tactical situation. Observe his behavior. Is he really a danger? Must I disrespect, demonize or dehumanize him?"
Maybe not. But it takes practice. Here's some
homework. The next time you see a person that is
obviously "not of your tribe," and who you
ordinarily (admit it!) might instinctively dislike
or distrust, see if you can take a second and toggle to that
problem-solving part of your brain and re-evaluate.
Stay tactical, but see how long it takes you to
toggle. You may be able to see that person in a
different way. Of course, they could possibly be
dangerous, but maybe not. Let your neocortex decide. Now practice.
And check this out! Guess which part of the brain is
most effected by stress? The limbic part. When you experience a disturbing event, a signal
is sent that causes a fear response in the limbic
brain, especially. People with PTSD tend to have an overactive response
to stressful events. When the limbic brain is overactive, it’s hard to think rationally.
It is your neocortex that helps regulate emotional responses triggered by the
limbic brain. An unregulated limbic brain combined
with an underactive prefrontal cortex creates a
perfect storm for PTSD. Without the ability to toggle out of
the limbic brain into the neocortex, you
not only set yourself up for tactical failure, you
risk post-traumatic stress! So, we need to practice toggling. In our
training and in our lives.
Training the brain, along with the concept of rei, will be our theme for 2020: honor
and respect the practice.
Yo Yo Ma, the great cellist once said: “What all string
players have in common is that if we don't play for
awhile, we actually start from ground zero.” I
believe that to be true for us martial artists, as
FYI, here are “The 12 Rules of Practicing” from the
PBS series, “Marsalis on Music” where Wynton Marsalis
talks with Yo-Yo Ma about hating to practice, doing
it anyway and how you can do it correctly:
Seek out instruction: It could take years
to figure out what a good teacher could show you
Write out a schedule: Include fundamentals always.
Set goals: Chart your development. Challenge yourself.
Concentrate: Develop the ability to FOCUS. Do not
“just go through the motions.” If you can't concentrate,
stop and come back later.
Relax: Practice Slowly. Play at a slow tempo,
then increase the tempo each day.
Practice Hard Parts Longer: Confront your deficiencies.
Play with Expression: Give yourself over to what
you are doing. Do everything with the proper attitude.
Do not be a cynic. The expression you play with
is your style.
Learn from Your Mistakes: Do not be too hard on
yourself. If you make a mistake, it's not the end
of the world.
Don’t Show Off: Expression, not tricks or gimmicks.
Showing off misses the point of group playing. Always
play music. Those who play for applause, that's
all they get.
Think for Yourself: Respect your teacher, but think
things through for yourself. Methods are just a
way to do things. You may think of better ways.
Be Optimistic: How you feel about living in the
world is who you are. There's nothing worse than
pessimism coming through your instrument. Things
will get better.
Look for Connections: The more you discover similarities
in things that seem to be different, the greater
the world you can participate in. No matter what
you're doing, everything is connected.
I happen to be a musician, but you don't have to be
one to see that music and martial arts have a lot in
common. They are both arts after all! As is painting.
Masaaki Hatsumi - The Artist
So, in 2020 let's honor our practice, bow to our art
(rei!), keep toggling and keep going