by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

           I was just awarded (June 2010) my Shichidan, seventh degree black belt, in Judo under the auspices of Rod Sacharnoski and the Kokusai Koryu Judo Kai.

           This is one of my proudest accomplishments for many reasons.  My first lesson in self defense was from my father, William Durbin Senior.  He was a veteran of World War II and like many of the young men who were drafted during that time, trained in what was then called Combat Judo.

           When I first started training under Richard Stone, he called everything we did Judo, since that was the term he favored, dating from his first experiences in the martial arts.  Stone had trained in Judo under Ramon Lono Ancho, Hiroshi Wada, and Takayuki Ebisuya.

           Ancho had also known Kodenkan Jujutsu (which used Judo as a reference for it’s highest philosophical teachings) and Kosho Ryu Kempo.  Wada also knew Aikido and shared those teachings with Stone as well.

           But still in the early days of my martial arts, I thought of myself as a Judo man.  Even as I learned and mastered skills of other arts, I felt like I was specifically following the Way of gentleness.



           One of the negative facets I discovered in regard to the martial arts and Judo in particular, was that politics came in and sometimes ruined the purity of the training.

           I began training in the martial arts for one reason, self defense.  That story has been covered in other articles so I’ll just say that I wanted nothing more than to learn how to defend myself.

           In college I realized I had a skill I could share with others so that they too would be capable of defending themselves.  I wasn’t interested in rank.  Being a yellow belt for years and a green belt for over a year, but I realized it was hindering my ability to be taken seriously as a proficient teacher of self defense.

           My first instructor Richard Stone had already run into politics, having been awarded a black belt from Ebisuya, but it was considered a ‘Dojo’ rank and was not accepted by the sport organization.  His recognized rank was an Ikkyu, though at the time he started teaching me at the Bardstown Judo Club he’d been training for eleven years.

           Thus his advice to me was find a Judo instructor who could test me, since I had been training by this time for five years.  Now understand, these were five active years, constantly keeping in touch with Stone while learning from anyone who had Judo or other martial arts knowledge.



           Like most Judoka, I practiced Randori with a competitive edge.  I can’t say I liked ‘fighting’ other people, though like most young men I enjoyed winning.  I became proficient in Randori, having lost only to my instructors.

           I finally found a Kentucky Judo instructor who was a high rank, one of the highest in the state according to what I was told.  He was very politically connected to the main Judo organization and at the international level.

           I trained with him for a period of time, while teaching my students at Campbellsville College.  Finally, it came time to take my test and I was promoted to Nikkyu from my Yonkyu status.

           I continued to visit the instructor’s Dojo though I began to see some things I didn’t appreciate or agree with.  I took one of my students to the class and during the lesson the instructor showed how to ‘cheat’ without appearing to cheat, which I told my student to ignore.  I told him either we ‘won’ cleanly or we lost with honor.

           At the end of that class the instructor had me Randori one of his top students.  The man was an Ikkyu, who the instructor said was actually a black belt, but he was withholding the promotion so that he could compete successfully against others at a lower rank.  The man was the champion of Ohio and Kentucky.

           The Randori was suppose to be a three round match and in the first round I threw the man with an Uki-otoshi.  The man was surprised and a little angry.  As we grappled for the second round, I went for a throw and failed, he then tried his own throw and when it was evident that he couldn’t throw me, he instead went for a throw that made both of us fall, with him landing on top of me.

           The landing crushed the air out of me and I couldn’t breathe.  My opponent jumped to his feet and started saying it was my fault not his and the instructor who was refereeing the match walked away with me laying on the mat.

           Dick Stone had always taught me to meditate when in distress.  I stood up and still couldn’t breathe.  I moved to the side of the mat and dropped to Seiza and then into Zarei position in order to meditate.  My breath came back and I stood up.

           Now I must admit, I was angry.  My feeling was that this guy wanted to fight and win the Randori anyway he could and at that moment I was ready to fight.  At that point the instructor came back saw the look in my eye and the attitude exhibited by his student and called the mat off.

           Still he realized that I had throw his champion.



           Later as I was preparing for my next test I asked the instructor when I could take it.  He said, ‘you have to compete for my school.’  I explained that I wasn’t interested in competition.  At that time I was a minister of youth and music at a church, working as a security guard, teaching Judo for the college, and running my own self defense club.

           He said that in order for me to be a non competitor and earn my black belt in Judo I would have to perform Nage no Kata on my test.  I said that’s fine, I knew Nage no Kata.  The instructor paused and said, ‘you have to compete for my school.’

           I repeated that I wasn’t interested in competition and was just too busy, but he was adamant.  When he saw that I too was adamant, he then said, alright you have to perform Nage no Kata and Katame no Kata.  I was thrilled because I knew both of the Kata, as well as, Kime no Kata.  I told him that I would be pleased to perform the Kata on a test.

           I realized that what he wanted was actually enough to get a person graded to Godan when they were a non competitor and I was ready to take a test, perform my throws, joint locks, chokes, as well as, the two Kata.  I was even proficient in the solo version of the Tai Iku, capable of demonstrating the blocks, punches, and kicks of Judo.

           He was exasperated when he realized that I was prepared to perform the required Kata in order not to compete.  Finally he repeated that I had to compete for his school.  When I emphatically said that I would not compete, he said, ‘I’ll see to it that you’ll never earn a black belt.’

           I was stunned and didn’t even know what to say.  That ended the conversation and I realized I could not continue training with a  person who would try to blackmail a person into competition.  But I didn’t know what I was going to do.



           I went back to my first instructor and asked, ‘What do I do now.’  Dick said I needed to see if I could find an honest Judo instructor outside the state of Kentucky who would test me and promote me on my knowledge, skill, and merit.

           I began looking around and I heard of a truly great Judo master by the name of Takahiko Ishikawa.  I found the address of the master and wrote him.  Dick’s advice had been sound and it made me a wonderful contact in the martial arts world.

           Ishikawa wrote back and told me that he taught sport Judo, but that he had a former student who had an organization that was completely devoted to self defense.  His recommendation was that I contact this master whose name was Rod Sacharnoski.

           Ishikawa kept in touch for many years, sending me material on Judo and Jujutsu.  Pictures of Jigoro Kano performing advanced moves along with other Kodokan masters.  Some of the material I received from him showed friends of Sacharnoski practicing Jujutsu as self defense.  Ishikawa was a good martial friend whose sharing was greatly appreciated when I was in my youth.



           The man Ishikawa recommended was  the Soke (headmaster) of Juko Ryu and this was one of the most fortuitous events of my life.  Rod Sacharnoski initially tested me in Judo and I earned my Shodan.  Sacharnoski always said that in the martial arts one should be tested on their merit, not on politics, or time in grade, or competition.

           Sacharnoski also suggested I test in the other arts I had been learning, under Stone and in college.  I earned grading in Kempo, Karate, and Jujutsu.  Then I began training in the systems represented in Juko Kai.

           The grades I earned were because of actual knowledge, skill, and ability.  There were no points for competition and no political ranks.  This is what I came to believe all martial arts gradings should be.  A person should be awarded rank based on their skill and hard work.

           Politics and competition should never come into play when regarding a person’s rank.  I have met people who knew little more than three to five techniques but were successful in competition who held high ranks.  They didn’t really know their martial art, the principles they were based on, or the fundamental of self defense.  Over the years I have come to understand that there are three considerations when awarding rank.

           First of all, the person should know the skills expected of their art.  Second, the person needs to be actively training.  Finally, the person should be serving their Ryu by either teaching in their own school, or assisting instruction in their teacher’s Dojo.

           All ranks are awarded for real knowledge.  White belt to black belt, all the way up to fifth degree, are representative of the techniques and skills a person knows.  You can look at the technique rank chart and know exactly what a person is suppose to know for whatever art they are studying.

           Sixth to tenth degree are representative of a person’s personality, including their mental and spiritual development.  This includes a person’s teaching skill, historical knowledge, and philosophical understanding.



           Yet is there a time when ranks should be rendered null and void.  The answer is yes.  Each martial arts organization has a code of conduct or expressed viewpoint regarding training, rank requirements, and philosophy.

           If a student has earned a rank and then stops training, no longer can perform the techniques of the rank requirements, or espouses a philosophy contrary to that of the organization, then their ranks should be rendered null and void from an organizational point of view.

           This does not mean that they didn’t once earn the rank, but that they no longer live up to it.  It means that they are inactive and no longer a true member of the Ryu.

           The only time a person who can no longer perform their skills retains their rank is when they are retired.  A person retired can serve as a technical advisor to the Ryu, sit on boards for tests, and are acknowledged at their ranks.

           Each organization needs to protect itself from disruptive and troublemaking students.  If a martial arts organization seeks to promote law-abiding citizens and a students engages in criminal activity it has the right to protect its reputation by rendering ranks it has issued null and void.

           But these decisions should never be based on the politics of like and dislikes or extortion to engage in competition for those who have no interest.  Ranks should be awarded and recognized for real work and achievement.  As long as a person is active, the ranks should be validated and recognized.

           A person who no longer wants to do the work and keep up their skills should not expect to receive recognition for a rank they can no longer demonstrate.



           As a Shichidan of Judo I can perform seventy throws, the full range of pins, joint locks, and strikes.  The Kokusai Koryu Judo Kai also requires that the techniques be demonstrated not just in theory but also in self defense applications.

           I am happy to have earned this rank and realized a lifetime objective.  As a Soke I do not really need to continue working on other arts, but I want to be an inspiration to my students so I continue to work on arts under my Soke in order to inspire my students to seek to develop themselves as martial artists, always training and developing.

           All active students of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei are progressive and serious.  Their ranks are validated by the association, Kiyojute Ryu Kai, for their hard work and development.  There are a few retired students who still keep in touch during their retirement adding their advice and experience as technical advisors to the Ryu.

           Like all martial arts organizations we have our share of inactive students, but every student who is willing to work hard, learn the required techniques, keep training, and live up to the peaceful philosophy of the Ryu have the opportunity to achieve the highest level of grading in both rank and title.

           No politics, just recognition for hard work.

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