The Loving Spirit of Kempo

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

Back in the 90s I had a student who was stationed in Hawaii. He was in the Navy and a very dedicated student of Kempo. He brought me over to Hawaii to teach some classes in Kempo and do a public demonstration at the mall in Honolulu. This was to build interest in his club and help him get more students.

          I fell in love with Hawaii, I thought it was a beautiful, a magical place. I loved the people, the lifestyle, and the weather. It was, to me, a paradise.

          When I got back I loved the memories of the training, the demonstration, and the camaraderie of the martial artists with which I trained. I longed for a return trip, but unfortunately my student was transferred to another Naval base. I thought, well that that’s I’ll never get another chance to go to Hawaii again.


Ramon Lono Ancho

          In 1999 I had the honor of meeting Ramon Lono Ancho, a full-blooded Hawaiian who was also my instructor’s, Richard Stone, first instructor. He was a wonderful man, very religious, and one of the best martial artists I have ever met, and I’ve met some great ones.

          We talked about the various martial arts that were part of the tradition that he passed on to Richard Stone, which included Kodenkan Jujutsu, Kodokan Judo, and Kosho Ryu Kempo. By the time we met I was already recognized as Soke of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei and he validated and recognized that position.

          Working with the great Hawaiian master made me feel even more nostalgic for Hawaii. I had already considered it the birthplace of the Kempo I loved so much and learning more from Ancho of Mitose’s time on Hawaii made me love it even more.

          It had felt great to walk the island where Mitose taught and I hoped that I would have another opportunity to do it again, this time with Ancho in my thoughts.


Students’ Love

          Then as the new millennium began and some of my very dedicated students, as well as my lovely wife, decided that I needed a vacation, so planned a combination birthday gift and Christmas gift, they made a collection and arranged to send me to Hawaii. It was a truly wonderful gift and I couldn’t wait to walk Hawaii again.

          My wife and I had a wonderful time. We walked the beaches, enjoyed the local sights, went to a Luau, and had a great time. I worked out everyday in my beloved Kempo. I performed Kata on the beach and enjoyed the ‘feel’ of the masters’ spirits as I worked out.

          It was nice to relax and work on my own development, training in the forms of Kempo, which related to the arts of Karate, Jujutsu, Kobujutsu, Ninjutsu, and Aikijujutsu. The atmosphere of Hawaii was conducive to development and growth in the spiritual side of Kempo. I felt like my Ki was being energized with each Kata I performed and each workout that I engaged in.

          When I got home, I felt great, ready to teach new lessons of Kempo to my students. Hawaii was just what I needed. I absolutely loved the trip and what it did for me mentally and spiritually.


Real Masters

          Just the other day one of the well-known Hawaiian martial artist, who is considered by many a master, passed away and one of my students asked why I didn’t try to visit him on any of my trips to Hawaii.

          Now this was a good question, one that needs a complete answer and one that I hope will help others realize the truth of the martial arts. What I mean by the truth is that most people don’t really understand the martial arts since they are being so bastardized today, so that the real truth of the martial arts is hidden to the point of almost being lost.

          My first response to my student was a quote from the master in question, which was something like, “The trainings not over until there is blood on the mat.” Such a senseless attitude. After giving that quote I made the point, I am only interested in meeting and working out with real masters.

          The first definition of a real martial arts master, to me, is that the person is spiritual. I don’t care what art they represent, what country they’re from, or what their personal religion is, as long as they are seeking to grow spiritually.

          While I am a devout Christian who found my bond with God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I believe that, as the Biblical writer John said, ‘God is love’. With that idea I believe that anyone who has found love has found God. Now this is genuine love, not a false love that is narcissistic or petty.

          This is not the love of ice cream and party girls, but a divine love that originates in The Source of All and blankets the entire universe. This Source is called God by Christians, Allah by Muslims, Yahweh by Jews, the Great Spirit by Native Americans, and in the Orient by various names such as the One, the Void, the Ultimate Truth, the Grand Ultimate, and there are more names according to where in the world you look.

          There are many reasons why someone might not know the Christian version of faith, but I believe that God has provided for all to know Him in some way. Jesus said that there were other sheep that his followers didn’t know and that he would call all to him someday. From my point of view, he who has found love has found God for God is love.


Known by Your Love

          Yet we must ‘not love with words…but with actions’. A person who is really of love is known by their love. This is where the true master of the martial arts lives.

          My first instructor was a real master of the martial arts. Richard Stone had been training for eleven years when I began training with him. He has learned Kodenkan Jujutsu, Kodokan Judo, Kosho Ryu Kempo, and Aikikai Aikido from three main instructors; Ramon Lono Ancho, Hiroshi Wada, and Takayuki Ebisuya.

          As he taught us the martial arts, he also taught us about God. Now while he went to the same church as I did for a while, eventually moving on to another church, it was a denomination he taught it was a deep faith in God and how our belief in God could and would strengthen our Ki.

          I recognized Stone as a master because not only was he technically proficient but he was spiritually advanced as well. This was the key to recognizing a true martial arts master.


Studying the Old Masters

          As I learned the martial arts I began reading about the old masters of the past generation. I read about Jigoro Kano, Morihei Ueshiba, Gichin Funakoshi, and more. Eventually I read writing connected to the martial arts and found an admonition to develop spiritually in the writings of Munenori Yagyu, Miyamoto Musashi, the great Zen master Takuan, and others.

          I found the writings of the Kempo masters most instructive. Michiomi Nakano, the So Doshin of Nippon Shorinji Kempo, was most instructive about the relationship of the individual to others. Nakano taught that love was the key to all relationships and that for God’s will to be done on the earth, then man must love man and help one another.

          But I found a lot of truth in the writings of James Masayoshi Mitose. He in particular wrote about the love of our fellowman and the relationship we must have with God. In spite of the tragic end to his life, Mitose never lost his faith in God. I’ve seen the letters and writings he did just before he died and in spite of the horrid conditions at the end of his life, he always had faith in God and expressed his love for the Divine.

          The one common element in all of the old masters, who were truly worthy of the title master, was an emphasis on God (in whatever way they perceived the Divine Source) and a love for their fellowman.

          Now these masters were always practical, though some of their followers were less so, in that they understood the nature of combat and taught skills that were valid and workable in actual life and death situations. But, even with the lethal nature of what they taught, they always emphasized nonviolence (fighting on when necessary), love of their fellowman (including those they might have to battle), and a respect of the Divine Being.


Realistic yet Gentle Training

          While some of the old masters started off training unnecessarily harsh, as they achieved their enlightenment, they realized that while the training they engaged in needed to be realistic, there was no reason for it to be extreme or severe.

          In researching the roots of the Shaolin martial arts I found that history records that it was gentler like Tai Chi Chuan when it was first established. The brutal training that most people associate with Shaolin temple boxing was a development that occurred when the art was adapted for short-term training of Ming rebels who wanted the ability to fight Ching soldiers.

          Because the martial arts were originally founded by spiritual monks and priests, the fundamental method of training was realistic but gentle. When we think of the greatness of the Shaolin monks, who were known to be able to battle ten times their numbers and succeed, or of the Japanese master Bushi, like Munenori Yagyu, who battled thirty men to protect the Shogun, killing many and holding the rest off until help arrived, or the Okinawan Karateka, like Seikichi Toguchi, who fought against twelve armed Yakuza to defend his wife, we see a level of skill that is far beyond the brutal MMA/UFC fighters who have a hard time fighting one person, losing as much as they win, then we see the difference between real martial arts masters and wannabes.


Brutal verses Gentle

          The Hawaiian martial artist mentioned at the beginning of the article was considered a master by some, but his brutal methods, his lack of love for his students and their opponents showed that he had not yet really become a master.

          There are three qualities a true martial arts master has which you will not find in the pseudo masters of the past or of today. First of all let’s look at the pseudo masters.

          Number one, these bogus masters always have their students engage in brutal training. Sometimes these fighters engage in the training too, with the idea of having an opportunity to beat on other people. Others are voyeurs, who like to watch their charges beat on each other, reveling in the blood that is spilled.

          Two, these pseudo masters are usually of a mixed up kind of training, never having really trained fully in a true martial art. What they lack in genuine knowledge, they try to make up for with brutality. Many times in this modern era these martial artists use drugs to try and increase their ability since they don’t have the real skills of true martial arts masters.

          Finally, there is no authentic spiritual training engaged in by these masters and they are known by their lack of sincere love for their students. Now I said authentic spiritual training, because some of them act spiritual, but they are known as ersatz martial artists because of the lack of love they show.


Real Martial Arts Masters

          Real masters teach their students gently. The ancient masters knew there were three aspects to training, essential for effective martial arts that can actually be used in combat.

          First of all a person needed to learn the moves of the martial arts, which presupposed some form of Kihon training and Kata training. Only through these methods could the techniques be applied, as they would be in combat. Using vivid visualization the moves were practiced, as they would be in real fighting. Fingertips were aimed at eyes; strikes would be directed to throats, groins, and other actual vital points and the joints of the body.

          Second a person needed to really hit something. Sandbags, wooden dummies, other types of pads, and on Okinawa, Makiwara, were used to allow the martial arts student to get the feel of actually hitting something. This was less to condition the hands, knuckles, and feet, than to strengthen the striking limbs and weapons to be able to deal powerful blows. Going back to the Shaolin temple and spreading throughout the Orient, the idea was a real person was never hit except in combat, thus striking tools (pads, Makiwara, etc.) were necessary.

          Finally, a person needed to practice the moves with a real person so that targeting, movement, and reactionary movement could be studied and analyzed. These cooperative two man training forms were known by various names throughout the history of the martial arts on China, Japan, and Okinawa. To name a few; Yen Wu, Kata, Embu, and Kumite.

          On Japan there was a tendency to use the term Kata for both solo training and partner training using the terms Tandoku Kata and Sotai Kata respectively. Nippon Shorinji Kempo tends to use the term Embu for both solo training and partner training using the terms Tandoku Embu and Sotai Embu respectively.

          In Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei we use the term Kata for solo training and the term Embu for partner training. Some martial artists have used this concept in the past and we find it less confusing to use two different terms for the two ways of training, solo and partner.

          Second, while most masters usually have training that is vast, probably having experienced many different systems, they usually have their one art of total mastery. What I mean by that, as mentioned above the mixed up martial artist usually knows a little about a lot of systems and have never really mastered any, thinking that Judo is only about throwing, Jujutsu about rolling around on the ground, and Karate about striking.

          But the higher levels of the real arts are comprehensive. When I studied Judo, I practiced the strikes and kicks of Judo. When I studied Karate I studied the Torite (Toide, Tuite) of the Okinawan arts learning their way of performing throws, joint manipulation, and other grappling skills.

          While it is always good to have martial arts friends of various styles with whom to work out, if they are genuine friends and not ego oriented people who just want to fight, a true martial artist seeks to know all that is contained in their Ryu, Kan, or Kai.

          It is in mastering all of the skills of a Ryu that a person matures as a martial artist. A complete, comprehensive martial arts system in the context of the ancient Bugei or Sogo Bujutsu, will have striking, grappling, and weapons training that ties together in a unified way so that the martial artist truly masters the skills of combat in a viable way.

          I’ve met a lot of people who were first degree black belts in three or more Ryu and their skills were still very basic, for they never learned the advanced skills of any system.

          But the most important thing about the real martial arts master is their genuine spiritual understanding. Having a real comprehension of the spirit and love of God (the Ultimate Source of all that is and ever will be) they do nothing to endanger their students’ lives. While some of these masters may have been rough in their youth, they grew spiritually so that they learned the right way to teach and promote the martial arts without violent and brutality.



          I’ve known a lot of martial artists, some who were competitive and others who were not. One common theme I’ve seen is that those who were competitive, if they keep training in the martial arts as they grow older usually see the futility of competitive training and give it up for traditional methods.

          This is usually because they grow spiritually and realize that competition is the antithesis of the harmony that comes from true spiritual development, which leads a person to be non-competitive.

          There are many martial artists today that some people think of as famous (or infamous) that I have no interest in meeting because they are pseudo masters, not real masters. Too often they are brutal, mixed up, and secular. Most the time they are so competitive that they will hurt people just to be able to claim a victory is a senseless match, or they will use drugs to cheat in order to win.

          In my life I have met some really great masters. These are men whom I greatly respect because of their martial arts skill, their gentle yet realistic training methods, but most of all because of their spiritual nature.

          The reason the martial arts have become so central to my life is that they provide a dynamic spiritual form of training that has helped me deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ and my Father, God.

          I hope the martial arts can provide such a focus for the readers of this article. Remember to seek out real martial arts masters, who can be recognized by their gentleness, complete mastery of a system of martial arts, and spirituality.

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