Membership in a Ryu

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

“Above all else a warrior must be loyal, trustworthy, and honorable. To their Ryu they must be, above all else, dedicated. It is dedication to training, the art, and the house of their inspiration that leads a warrior to greatness.”

Maxim of the Goshi (Rural Samurai)


One of the biggest problems that we have these days is that too many people go to martial arts schools as simply another activity like dancing, aerobics, or even sports, like baseball or tennis. But the martial arts are not casual activities nor should they be games.

          The true martial arts are about life and death. They are the skills to survive in deadly situations. Because they are of such importance, when practiced for the right reasons, they should not be relegated to casual behavior.


Reasons for Training

          A person should train in the martial arts for four primary reasons. The first reason, the reason the martial arts exist, is self defense, or in the case of military personnel, combat. In essence the person joining the martial arts should do so with the idea of having self defense skills, which are effective and capable.

          I’ve had students who have actually had to defend themselves and were skillful enough to do so. I’ve had students who were in the military and saw action in various situations. One particular student was a member of a Special Forces team and taught Kiyojute Ryu Kempo to his team members. Other of my students have taught Kiyojute Ryu to members of their branch of the military. The skills work and are effective when trained with the right mind.

          The other three reasons are more important from a daily perspective and are what empowers the self defense/combat training. The first one of those is health and physical fitness. There are three aspects of fitness; the first is flexibility, the second is strength, and the third is endurance.

          When the martial arts are practiced properly all three aspects of fitness are gifted to the practitioner. As a person improves their fitness and engages in moderate daily training, which is the right way to train in the martial arts, their overall health will improve.

          The next reason for training is mental development, which in the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts is called Shimpo. A person training in the martial arts should improve their focus, concentration, and acuity. This is done naturally through the practice of the martial arts moves themselves. It is unnecessary to add anything to martial arts training to help mental development if the arts are taught correctly.

          A person needs to be fully mentally involved in the training of the martial arts, focusing their mind through intent and absorption in the movements. Properly done the martial arts should be moving meditation, which helps the person achieve the highest mental levels, and segues into the next reason for training.


Spiritual Discipline

          In spite of the fact that a person was trying to master the martial arts in order to survive in a combat environment in the ancient days of the Samurai, many warriors considered the most important reason for practicing the martial arts to be spiritual discipline.

          A fundamental belief of many religions and faiths, including Christianity at its highest level, is the development of oneness with God. When the martial arts are practiced with an awareness of their life and death nature and as a form of moving meditation, it takes the practitioner’s mind to a concentrated focus on the Creator of life. By sensing one’s Ki in the execution of the martial arts techniques one develops the ability to sense the Ki of the Creator and merge fully with that Ki so that we achieve what is written in the Bible, ‘they are in God and God is in them’.

          This is an important part of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei training. Our goal is to grow spiritually, which is most important of all. Like all true martial artists we seek to achieve all four of the reasons for training, but we recognize that the most important reason is the one that lasts for eternity, thus we emphasize and seek to make our Kempo a true Shugyo, form of religious discipline.



          A student of a martial arts Ryu is normally known as a Deshi, which can mean simply ‘student’ but more appropriately means ‘disciple’ and this is how a person who trains in a traditional Ryu should feel. Many people sign up for Karate lessons like their signing up for a seasonal activity. While they might want to get good at the activity, it’s just recreation and entertainment, but those who actually enroll in a true martial arts Ryu should have the feeling of starting a lifelong endeavor, which will benefit and improve their whole lives.

          A person joining a true martial arts Ryu, and not the modern trendy martial arts schools that simply want people to engage in their game for a while before moving on to the next trend, should think of themselves as joining a family.

          In a family you have many responsibilities. In a traditional Ryu, the headmaster is the father or mother of the system. Senior black belts are older brothers and sisters, with each rank as we go down the list being younger children. Seniors are suppose to help the younger children learn their lessons and progress. Junior students are suppose to obey their ‘parent’ and listen to their seniors, seeking to learn and help in whatever way they can.

          Now if people joined a Ryu and gave their loyalty to it like they should, then there would only be one level of membership in regard to activity in a Ryu, but some people join Ryu and leave them like they are changing their clothes.

          A genuine Ryu has requirements for status, which are important, and some things that must be noted for a person to be an active member of the system. In that regard and because so many people just engage in martial arts training as a form of entertainment, temporary students need to be noted and separated from true disciples of a Ryu.


Membership and Authority

          When a person is a member of a Ryu they have certain rights, privileges and responsibilities. The first right is to use the name of the Ryu which may give them prestige and recognition in certain situations. A Ryu, which has any formal recognition, carries with it a reputation, which gives credibility to its members.

          Among the rights of a Ryu member is the right to use the patch, symbols of the Ryu, and all trademarks. A Ryu member has the right to have stationary with the logo on it and to claim membership in the Ryu on applications for jobs and institutes of higher education.

          The privileges of a Ryu include the right to train in all Dojo associated with the system, as well as, the right to train with the Soke at the Hombu Dojo. There is also the right to open a school with permission and to teach others the arts of the Ryu. In the past, students had to sign blood oaths not to teach without permission; today students usually sign a paper saying they will not teach without actual permission from the Ryu Soke.

          Responsibilities of a member of a Ryu include training and keeping themselves in condition if they are going to say they belong to the Ryu, assisting at a Dojo and helping those of lower ranks to progress, and finally to help the Ryu survive economically and academically. Each person contributes in their own way. Not all people can be instructors of their own Dojo, but they can assist in their teacher’s Dojo. Not everyone can financially support their Dojo, but they can work around the Dojo and help keep it up.  Each person should help their Dojo or Ryu in whatever way they can.

          The reputation of a Ryu is very important. If a student does not keep training so that they can represent the arts of the Ryu correctly, then they are not fulfilling their responsibilities to the Ryu. It is this that creates the three types of students of a Ryu.

          The three types are; Active Members, Inactive Members (which means Retired Members and Drop Outs), and Expelled Members.


Active Members

          Active members of a Ryu are those who are actively training in a Dojo associated with a specific Ryu. There are a few situations where a student might go somewhere that a Dojo doesn’t yet exist. That person, if they keep training in the arts in the way of the Ryu and they keep in touch with their instructor can maintain their active status with the Ryu.

          In Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei we have a six-month activity period. If a person has moved to a location where there is no Kiyojute Ryu Kempo, if they keep in touch with their personal instructor and maintain their own instruction, then they will still be considered active.

          In example, I had a student move to Australia for a time. While there they continued to train and kept in touch with me through letters, though today it could just as easily be email, and thus maintained their active status. When they returned to the United States, they were better Kempoka than they were before they left for Australia. They worked really hard and not only maintained their skills but continued to progress.

          Now keeping in touch means that the student should mention how they are training, what they are doing, and their feeling of progress. They should ask questions of their Soke, or instructor, and work on their mental and spiritual development, as well as, all physical skills, including practicing the Taiso and Waza, and most of all their Kata.

          Therefore if a person wants to be an active member of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo, they can train at the Hombu Dojo with the Soke, or at any approved Dojo with a certified Dojocho, school president, or with a person who is an approved member of the Ryu who might teach them privately. If a person has moved away from their Dojo, they may keep in touch with the Soke directly or with their personal instructor and still stay active members as long as they continue to train and report in.

          Active members can use the name of the Ryu, call for verification of their ranks, if they are trying to get a job that will benefit from the recognition of their rank and certification, and wear the patches and trademarks of the Ryu. The Soke will verify the rank and position of any active student with employers, community centers, and other locations in which they might want to teach. They can also request tests when they have achieved their time in grade and are physically ready to pass such examination. These are the right and privileges of a member of a Ryu.


Inactive Members

          There are two types of inactive members.  The first one retains the right to use the name and wear the patch and use the trademarks of the Ryu, though they no longer have the right to teach or issue ranks, if they held that right through written permission from the Soke in the past. These inactive members are retired students who due to age, illness, or disability, can no longer be active in teaching or practicing the martial arts.

          A retired student, especially of senior rank, may attend Dojo functions and sit on promotion boards. They may use the name of the Ryu and state their affiliation with the association. They are inactive but with good graces.

          The second type of inactive student is not training in a Dojo and disavowed due to their inactivity. If a student has not attended a Dojo of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei, not continued their training, and not reported in to their personal instructor or the Soke, then they become an inactive member after six months. The reason for this is that neither the Soke nor their instructor can verify the skill of a student who is not training in their school and who has not maintained contact with the Ryu indicating that they are continuing their study.

          Some students engage in other forms of training, which might be the antithesis of the principles of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei, and while they might be training in some form of martial art, it does not mean that they are maintaining the standards and skills of Kiyojute Ryu.

          Many styles teach techniques that might have some form of competitive validity, but are not valid from a combat or self defense point of view. Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei is centered and focused completely on true fighting skills. If a student has associated with another system, the Ryu can no longer verify the person’s skill.

          Thus it must be understood that a person who drops out of a Dojo, and after six months of inactivity, will be considered inactive. Their ranks are no longer verified and they lose all rights and privileges in Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei Dojo.

          A person who is an inactive member may become active again by joining the Hombu Dojo or another Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei Dojo. If they, for some reason have not kept up their skills, then they will be given a period of review and will still wear their last official rank, until they have regained their former capability, at which time they may once again work towards their next rank.


Expelled Members

          The final type of student is the expelled member. This is a person who has done something which makes them no longer acceptable as members of the Kiyojute Ryu. This can be behavior, which is criminal in nature and unrepented. If a person is causing trouble within the Ryu, or individual Dojo, especially in regard to causing trouble on a philosophical level by sowing a lack of faith, harmony, and peace, then the individual Dojocho may request the Soke review the matter and expel the offending member.

          A person is not only given the chance to rectify any offense, but is encouraged to make restitution to the Ryu or individual Dojo. However if a person cannot, or will not, repent of an offense, then they will be expelled and lose all rights and privileges, which means they’re ranks are stripped and their rights to use the symbols, writings, and trademarks of the Ryu are revoked.

          As of this writing, July 2009, no one has been expelled from the Kiyojute Ryu, though I have been in contact with some systems from Okinawa, which have verified that people have been expelled from their Ryu due to these types of infractions. It is my hope that no one will ever be expelled from Kiyojute Ryu, but that people who join will want to remain a part of our ‘spiritually positive, gentle person system’ of Kempo Bugei.



          Talking to many Ryuso, Dojocho, and other teachers of legitimate martial arts, all instructors come to love their students and want all members of their Ryu and/or Dojo to be true disciples of the martial arts. There are many reasons why this does not happen.

          In America, but from what I have ascertained from contact with Japanese and Okinawan teachers, in the Orient as well, it is hard to get students to understand that daily training for a lifetime is the way of life of the true martial artist and allows each individual to reap the full benefits of their training.

          Second, many students are not really interested in the altruistic philosophy of the true martial arts. Many join martial arts schools wanting opportunities to ‘fight’ other people, either in competition or in reality. Those schools that teach loving martial arts, without egotistical matches, do not meet the needs of people wanting to increase their sense of self through brutalizing other people.

          Finally there can be personal reasons for leaving a Ryu, which can range from personality conflicts with the instructor or someone else within the school, to a rejection of the philosophy. While this is sad, these events must ever be considered.

          A Ryu should be like a family of likeminded individuals united not by blood but by the philosophy upon which the Ryu is based. Kiyojute Ryu is a family of people seeking to be, Kiyojute ‘spiritually positive, gentle people’. If this isn’t the goal of a member, then they would be better off going someplace that more fits their philosophy.

          The fundamental foundation of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei is a Christian philosophy with an acceptance of all people who seek a closer walk with God. People will be treated in a Christian manner, in that Jesus Christ is viewed as the archetype of the ‘spiritually positive, gentle person’.

          Each student of Kiyojute Ryu is expected to believe in God in their own way and seek to develop a more personal relationship with God through becoming a ‘spiritually positive, gentle person’. All members of the Ryu should treat each other in a loving manner, even where there are personality conflicts.

          No specific religion or denomination is forced upon a Ryu member, but they are expected to listen to lectures which involve Jesus and God, so that they can hear points which can help their in their own spiritual journey. Currently Kiyojute Ryu membership has people of many different faiths and denominations within it’s family and all get along in harmony and peace, seeing each other as children of God, working for the same goal in various ways.

          A person wanting to be a part of a genuine Ryu, learning real martial arts of self defense, are welcome in Kiyojute Ryu and to engage in the practice of Kempo Bugei.

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