This is one of the problems serious martial art researchers, who actually know the difference between actual combative systems and purported combative systems, come across on their research. And the practitioners of those purported arts tend to get overly defensive when you try to tell them why what they are engaged in is not truly a combative system.

It comes down to these people’s belief systems. In a system that, for example, strictly trains in a solo manner, there is no training for distance, no training for timing, no training for targeting—how can it be combative? Of course, we constantly get arguments on this point from taiji people and iaido people. That’s the nature of it: there is absolutely no way to train for combat with other people without training for distancing and timing and targeting. And those systems don’t do that. The same holds for weapons. If you are only training with an implement that not even superficially simulates the real weapon, chances are that system is going to be so distorted that it is no longer nearly as functional as a truly combative system. Unfortunately, people take that as a qualitative statement, and it shouldn’t be. Boxing, I think, is a great sport. But to say that boxing is the best means of engaging in combat on the street is silly. That doesn’t mean it can’t be used on the street, as a good boxer can certainly handle himself in a one-on-one fight. But if you think you are going to win all street fights because you can box, you are going to run into a problem. Even more so if the boxer goes into a more combative or battlefield combat realm, he’s going to be in real trouble.

I agree. As you said, it comes down to belief systems and also, I believe, exposure to many different fighting arts to come to this realization. Let’s talk about your background in the arts a little.

I started with Ed Parker kenpo karate in Pasadena, California in about 1962. At that time 1 didn’t stick with it for more than a few months. I started again in about 1965, then I tore some cartilage in my knee, and due to attitudinal problems at that particular dojo at the time, I decided that I’d like to try a Japanese style. I ran into a dojo that opened up in Alhambra, California by a man named Ben Otake, a Japanese-American of great character who, at that time, was under the newly arrived Kubota Takayuki, or Tak Kubota, of kubotan fame. I guess it was about 1966 that I started training under the International Karate Association, and trained with Ben Otake and Tony Tulleners and those guys.

I heard that Tony Tulleners used to beat Chuck Norris quite often on the tournament circuit.

I’ve seen a number of names get their clocks cleaned in the Hollywood dojo of Kubota a few times. I saw a number of people famous from the tournament world come in there and never show up again.

But at that time, at that dojo, it was all Los Angeles-area cops. They were all mean and nasty, and ninety-five percent of all the scar tissue I have now is from that period of time that I trained there. It was incredibly rough. I remember at the age of sixteen riding my motorcycle on Sunday afternoons to the advanced training class, with such a total feeling of fear in my gut. And to this day I have no idea why I continued doing it. I never came away from training without damage of some kind. I remember coming home one time and knocking on the door because my hands were bashed so badly I couldn’t open the door. At one point my eyelid was hanging over my eye. It was very tough, hard-core training. The good side was that after that, I never ran into a dojo that I was afraid to enter, including in Japan.

When I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Hawaii, where I trained with the Japan Karate Association for a while. After a year or so, I started training for a while with Chuzo Kotaka of the International Karate Federation.

Why was I under the impression that you were a Goju-ryu man?

Well, I went to Hawaii in 1968 and in 1970 I went to Japan for six months of training. I was introduced to several instructors there by Kotaka. I ran into some interesting styles there, but Japan was pretty much sport-oriented by that time. I did run into one old Okinawan system called Mihara Ryu, which was interesting. It was just slowly being introduced to the sport stuff, and was kind of in a state of transition. Because I was a sport karate guy from Hawaii, they had me teach them sport sparring. And I was actually teaching them some of the Shito Ryu kata that I had learned under Kotaka. Until that time, all the kata they did was two-man kata.

Like most of the Chinese and Southeast Asian empty-hand systems.

Right, and again, referring back to what I was saying about solo practice, all their training was two-man. Almost all of the older guys in this dojo didn’t have any front teeth.

I went back to Hawaii in 1971 pretty disenchanted with what was going on in Japan and what was going on in Hawaii because of the sport aspect, and essentially trained a little bit more with Kotaka. I then went pretty much on my own for the next couple of years.

Not happy with self-training, in 1973, I started training in Hawaii with a man named Nozaki, who originally was a friend of Kotaka. Nozaki Sensei’s style was a cross between Goju and Shotokan, although he was the head of the JKA in Honolulu at that time. From 1974 to about 1976, I became more and more determined to get back to Japan and train with the JKA.

Do you believe that the modern martial arts systems are, as Draeger once wrote in reference to Japanese karate-do, “an ass in a tiger’s skin”?

Again, this gets back to what we discussed before regarding belief systems. karate that has evolved in Japan since it was taken out of Okinawa, never evolved for combat nor was designed for combat nor had anything to do with combat. Modern Japanese karate evolved toward a totally different end. Now, there are plenty of good, functional karate guys who can go out and do fine in a fight, but it’s probably more to do with their own personal abilities than the type of karate they train in.

The problem is that we lump all karate together, where you should have the old classical Okinawan karate-jutsu as versus the modern Japanese karate-do. Again, the modern karate-do is not designed for real fighting, it’s not evolved for fighting, and it isn’t very good for fighting. Again, that doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t use it in a fight.

What is your opinion on these ultimate no-holds-barred competitions?

Those guys are tough. There is no system there. We are seeing some great grapplers beat the crud out of some not-so-great punchers/strikers. I’ve seen some really top-quality grapplers get in there, but I haven’t seen many top quality boxers, for example. So, what are we saying with the UFC? That grappling is the best fighting art? For what context? For the UFC context it is the best. However, it is a sport, and if you put that type of fighting out on the combat field, it won’t do you nearly as much good. If you take a guy to the ground on the battlefield, he may have a weapon on him, or his buddies will shoot you.

The real key is looking at the functional end of a system, its application. Almost any system that has been going for decades is going to be reasonably efficient for its application. The problem occurs in the difference between what the people are doing and what they say they are doing, what they claim their system is for and what the system has actually evolved for. For the most part, what they claim the application is and what it really is are generally two very different things. Let’s go back to kendo again. If I have been training with the bamboo shinai, and then I tell you that this is training in swordsmanship, are you going to believe me? I hope not! You’ve got to look at the realities behind the systems.

Again, though, for karate’s functional application it is great. I am speaking of modern karate-do in a modern karate-do dojo context. But what is that functional application? It’s not for going out onto the battlefield or entering the UFC. It’s for dojo, shiai (con test), sparring.

When did you meet Draeger? I assume it was at the University of Hawaii.

I met Draeger in about 1975 or 1976, when he was on one of his research programs with the East West Center. I started working with him, helping him on a Hawaiian project. I worked at night and so was available to drive him around during the day. That’s when I first ran into a classical Japanese system, Shindo Muso Ryu. Draeger had a small group training in Honolulu—Pat Lineberger was one of them, and is still training there—and I came out and watched several times and eventually asked if I could join. I was very politely told no.

Why wouldn’t Draeger allow you to join his class? I mean, after all, you were helping him out quite a bit.

He told me that in classical training, in training for real fighting, a teacher could only handle no more than four or five students at a time. I thought that was kind of interesting. In karate we were training fifteen or twenty guys in the dojo with no problem.

However, because I was working with him so much, he encouraged me a lot. In late 1976 I had arranged for my visa back to Japan through karate. Once there, Draeger had arranged for me to go see a number of classical systems scattered around Japan. These were ryu I had seen in films that he had shown. He then wrote letters of introduction for each of those I indicated I would like to visit. My wife—at that time my lady friend—and I went to Japan and spent two or three months traveling around and visiting these classical traditions.

Did you abandon your karate training at this time, with the hopes of being accepted into a classical system?

No, I was still heavily biased toward karate. One of the things Draeger had told me was that if I was still interested in karate, as far as he was concerned, the best karate man he had ever met was Higaonna Morio, an Okinawan Goju Ryu man teaching in Tokyo. So after visiting these different classical dojo in Japan, I really couldn’t settle down on one, so we came back to Tokyo and decided that since Draeger does Shindo Muso Ryu, I might as well join that. So I started training at the Shindo Muso Ryu dojo in Tokyo.

How is it that, especially as a foreigner, you were able to gain acceptance into a classical ryu in Japan, but in Hawaii you were not?

Draeger was teaching his students in the classical, old-style method. However, the Renbukan Dojo, the main one in Tokyo for the art, was basically open to anybody. It was also a system that was in transition from the old classical method of instruction to a more modern method, and since then has gone almost completely in that direction.

At the same time, I decided that as far as karate goes I should go to the JKA. So I went to the Hombu Dojo of the JKA, and was again immediately disenchanted with the ultramodern approach to karate instruction. It was good karate, mind you, some terrific instructors were there, like Kanazawa and Asai, but it was not classical fighting.

Why didn’t you seek out Higaonna, as Draeger advised?

Well, I originally had kind of a bad impression about Goju because of all the Yamaguchi Goju Kai stuff published by Black Belt magazine.

You mean like photos of Yamaguchi practicing karate under a waterfall?

Yes, all the silly stuff that was put out. That was my impression of Goju, so I was a little surprised when Draeger told me that Higaonna was the best karate man he’d ever seen. At that time, I was still a little more oriented toward systems rather than people. So, in my mind, the style of Goju was more important that the man teaching it.

When I became totally disenchanted with the JKA, I did go over to the Yoyogi dojo where Higaonna Sensei was teaching, and introduced myself. He was a very fine and cordial gentleman. And the rest is history, as they say, because I switched over to Goju very quickly. As it turned out, Higaonna Sensei and I had many things in common as far as our beliefs about fighting arts. And Higaonna Sensei is one of the finest gentlemen—probably the finest karate man—I have ever run into. He had and has an interesting ability to maintain the dichotomy between classical Okinawan fighting karate-jutsu and modern karate-do. Most arts that are going through that transition from the old into the new are not able to maintain many aspects of the old system in the new. Higaonna Sensei was able to maintain the traditional combative aspects. His real interest was in the old style, but at the same time he truly believes that modern karate as done in Okinawan Goju Ryu is a boon to mankind. And so he is quite capable of teaching modern Okinawan karate-do, while at the same time, for himself and a few others, he still teaches and trains the classical karate-jutsu.

So that was my karate background. At the same time, I started Shindo Muso Ryu, and that was around 1977.

You are also an exponent of a classical spear system. How did you get involved with that art?

Draeger was determined that all the members of the Japan core group of the IHRC would be trained in Japanese battlefield weapons systems. Of course, we were all determined to be in Katori Shinto Ryu, just like the master, but he was determined to keep us out of that ryu.

Why? One would think that Draeger would want to increase the membership of the classical ryu to which he belonged, in an effort to promote and perpetuate it.

It was his belief that the classical traditions were going to fall by the wayside as modern culture set in. And he was determined that his people were going to help preserve the classical traditions. He didn’t want a bunch of foreigners in Katori Shinto Ryu because he felt we could be better used in other traditions to help preserve them. And also because he knew too many foreigners would corrupt the system. I am sorry to say that this appears to be happening.

So Draeger introduced me to the tradition of Tatsumi Ryu. I trained at the Tatsumi Ryu dojo in Chiba prefecture from 1979 until I left Japan in 1981. I did go back for a couple of summer trainings.

Then in 1985, my wife was hired by Brother Industries to help set up a chain of fitness centers in Japan. So we were based in Nagoya for that year. I asked some friends if they knew of any classical systems to go visit while in Nagoya. I was only going to be there for a year, so I didn’t really think it would be responsible of me to try and go train in a new classical tradition for only a year. One friend, Larry Bieri, suggested I go check out Owari Kan Ryu so-jutsu, a classical spear tradition headed by a man named Kato Isao Sensei.

I did go to that dojo, and it turned out they did both Shin Kage Ryu heiho and Owari Kan Ryu. I watched and was impressed to the point that I actually asked to join on the spot. I told Kato Sensei that I was very impressed and realized that it was rather rude of me to suggest that I would like to train since I was only going to be there for one year, but if I could train with them I would be very honored. He agreed that a year was too short, but was still kind enough to invite me in. I am still with that classical system today.

That is probably the most important training I have ever done and am doing now. It is a complete battlefield tradition, as they’ve maintained all of the weapons, tactical instruction, the whole thing. It has been quite an eye opener for me.

At the end of that year, I moved back to the States for about a year-and-a-half. My wife was then asked to take over the operations of the Brother fitness center chain—another book in itself. So, we moved back to Japan in 1988, and stayed in Kyoto through 1990. I went back to training in Nagoya and was actually taking the train out from Kyoto to Nagoya two-to-three times a week. That was an expensive little commute.

Wasn’t it also around this time that you established the International Hoplological Research Center in Hawaii?

Yes, that’s right. We moved back to Hawaii in 1990, where we stayed for four years and got the ball rolling a little more seriously in the IHRC. Then in 1994, we moved out to Sedona, Arizona, where we live today.

What are the types of things that the International Hoplology Society is doing today. How are you applying the knowledge of human combative systems and behaviors to the modern world?

In a nutshell, we’ve done quite a bit of work in the behavioral area. Combative behavior and biomechanics are the two legs of combative performance. Essentially, in hoplology we have been descriptive over the past thirty-some-odd years, in our studies in Asia as well as in Europe and South America, Africa, and so on. Now we have been able to get enough information to look at that descriptive material and say, here are the commonalties in mechanics and here are the commonalties in behavior. And the behavioral aspect is the real key point. So, just since we relocated to Arizona, we are for the first time becoming prescriptive.

I am not sure what you mean by prescriptive. Can you give an example of what you mean by prescriptive?

Sure. We have been taking this information on classical fighting systems from all parts of the world, but more importantly, those that are still using what you might call natural weapons—swords, spears, sticks, clubs, etc. By looking at all the systems that are still being used for real fighting, as opposed to sport, we can look, for example, at a modern law enforcement defensive tactics instruction course or at a shooting instruction course or at a military bayonet program, and we can see that while some of what they are doing is viable, much of it is not. Based on what classical systems are doing—that is, systems developed in real fighting for real fighting—some things are very wrong with what these courses are doing.

Of all the areas that could be better developed in these courses, what is one that stands out the most?

Probably combat handgun use is the best example. In the predominant shooting school of thought, you are taught to focus on the front sight of the handgun, not on the person you are shooting. This is, basically, unquestioned by most. The only real controversy in shooting is what size cartridge, or whether to use a revolver or a semi-auto. But these are secondary things, as, according to the classical combative systems, the primary factor is training the individual.

As another example, a lot of defensive tactics are based on modern aiki. However, modern aiki was neither evolved for nor designed for law enforcement uses or real combat.

What the modern systems tend to lack is an understanding of behavior. The stress of somebody actually coming back at you in real life is very different than the stress of even a competition type of martial sport where someone is trying to smack you. Shooting again offers probably the most glaring illustration of this, as the great majority of modern police or military handgun training is based on shooting at static, non return-firing targets. One can become quite accurate and very effective with virtually any shooting system you want to make up using that method. But, when the bullets start coming back at you, and if you have not trained any behavior behind it, your shooting system will fall apart pretty quickly.

So this is what we mean when we say as hoplologists we are becoming prescriptive. We are not teaching shooting or defensive tactics per se, but we are teaching an integrated combative behavioral system. We now have a training organization within the IHS, that deals specifically with developing training programs for the military, law enforcement, and similar fields of professional combative application. The ICS (Integrated Combative Systems) has already done work with the Marine Corps on bayonet training as well as law enforcement groups in combative behavioral training. A huge benefit for us from this work is that we find that we are getting tremendous information back from the professionals we’ve been working with. But there is also a lot of resistance from the current instructors of these courses. Again, it comes down to belief systems and the fact that no one likes change.

The idea that the principles found in classical martial arts can be effectively applied in our modern world, even with guns, is very interesting. Do you have any final statements regarding the research, theoretical, or practical application of hoplology you would care to share?

Yes. I have been involved in hoplology now for twenty-five years, and I think what we are really doing here is looking at human combative behavior as being a normal human trait. It should be viewed as neither good nor bad, as it has been an adaptive trait that has helped us adapt to and survive all sorts of contexts and environments on this planet and in all kinds of conflicts. The problem is that technology has perhaps surpassed our abilities to deal with combat through our natural combative behaviors. In this day of guns and bombs, our own behavioral responses are too slow to deal with the speed of the bullet. However, the solution is not to get rid of the guns, or to change the behavior, but to better understand our combative behavior and be able to apply it to these days and situations.

IHS | Articles | ICS | Weapons & Systems | Reading & Reviews | Links | Archives | Home

Hunter B. Armstrong, Director ~ The International Hoplology Society
315 Foothills Dr. ~ Sedona, AZ 86336
fax 928-204-2394 ~ E-mail hoplos@esedona.net
Copyright © 1998-2007, The International Hoplology Society, Inc.