Contrary to what has been taught through movies and media, budo is not about violence and death but life; each moment of training is about preserving, understanding, adding value and appreciating the life that one has been given; this is budo.
Why I opened this dojo
I opened my dojo in order to pass on the knowledge that I have obtained as well as dedicate myself to preserving the traditional ideas of budo. Keeping a true martial spirit alive in today’s ultra modern world is not an easy task. However, I fully believe that a true martial art is a way of life and not something one should view as a hobby or a sport. Many like myself when I was young, will begin their training with little idea of what they are truly getting into. Many only hold true what they see in movies or TV to be what the martial arts are. Thoughts of getting in shape or learning self defense moves are what most set out to achieve. But with time and proper guidance one will eventually realize that with the right approach toward training one can gain more than he or she would ever imagine from the study of budo. One of the many philosophies that I teach my students is that through the old ways one can better understand the new. What this means is that by studying what some would call "classical" techniques we can see how these techniques are not outdated and are still viable in today’s world. One just needs to understand how they would be applied mentally or physically in a modern world. With this deeper knowledge of budo each student will take more than just technical, physical movement from each lesson. He or she will become more enlightened as to who they are and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. When I began my training my intentions was never to eventually teach and open a school, it just happened. I feel this life chose me. Donjitsu Do is who I am and what I believe and I want to share its benefits with others. This is why I opened this dojo.
My martial arts journey began in 1980. I am now 49 years old and I have been studying budo for most of my life and still consider myself as just beginning my training. Looking back to the beginning of my training, I remember very clearly how the role of having the coveted “black belt” played in my mind. I started the martial arts because of an older friend that I admired and respected. I went in not knowing anything about the martial arts other than what I had seen in the movies. Like most people in the 80’s, Bruce Lee and the mystic Ninja played its part in my fascination with the martial arts. This notion of what I thought was a kind of magic drew me in. However, now I understand what the magic is and how it works. Although, at that time, I thought being a black belt was the thing to be, and it was something that I just had to become. Then I began to see what other people saw when they looked at a black belt - anyone with a black belt must be feared, and were untouchable. When you worked with them you might as well forget trying, you haven't a chance. This fear was based on the color of the belt or how many stripes were on it. I also noticed the attitude of some of the higher-ranking students, which at that time scared me. But I believe in the long run, it made me a stronger and better person because I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. The attitudes of many of the black belts were, “I'm better than you are", “Get out of my way!” This was the very thing that turned me against the belt. By this time I was a yellow belt and in my mind had decided that I would never test again. I did not want any man to fear me because of the color of my belt. I wanted them to respect me only for my abilities. I did just that for quite some time. Actually I don't remember how long I held the rank of yellow belt. I do remember that I was pushed and encouraged by my instructor to test from belt to belt. Don't get me wrong, I earned every belt, and wanted to be the best green, blue, or red belt that I could be. I was considered a bit rough or wild and at times when the instructor would "say get a partner" I would have a trouble getting someone to work with me. This is actually how I met my closest friend, even today other than my wife. He was one of the senior black belts but not like the others, no ego. When we first met, he was actually sent in to give me a beat down or humbling to calm me down or I guess put me in my place. However after working with him he realized that I was just very intense and was there to learn. I was always the one who wanted to test my skills against someone better. This was in no way arrogance but what drove me to become better than I was. I wanted to work with the higher ranks. I believed that this would quickly let me know if I was on the right path. I guess it was my way of beating the right way of doing things into my head, literally. Oh, and I took my beating and many more after that but it was because that is the way I wanted it and felt that was how I was going to learn it properly. I remember getting up off of the mat so many times saying to myself “well that didn’t work” but I would hobble back into position and try it again.
Martial arts had become my whole life, it was what I lived for. I began training with the guy who is now my best friend and the one sent to beat me down, along with another friend who would eventually help me open my school. It was a small Monday night class, which on a good night might have five people. There was a 2nd Dan teaching this class, and another that would teach from time to time who liked to train hard. I had always trained as hard as I could, but this was different. They would soon help me push myself to limits that I didn't think were possible.I couldn't get enough of this kind of training; it was exactly how I wanted to train. It was either do it right, or get the crap kicked out of you.
The school that I attended was very tournament oriented. Most of the teachings were based on sport Tae Kwon Do, and W.T.F. (World Tae Kwon Do Federation) rules. When there was a tournament, my instructor and the school would always go. My instructor would always suggest that I go and compete, and I did for some time. I admit at the time I really enjoyed the competition, but there was something more that I wanted. So, I started going less and less and eventually stopped competing all together around the rank of red belt. I stayed behind to keep training. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the rest of what Tae Kwon Do had to offer.
Soon, I began to help with teaching, as a sort of apprentice. I would help the lower ranks with their new techniques, nothing too major. Often, people would ask when I would be in class again, or would I stay after and help with this or that problem. I was always more than willing to help. This also meant that I had more time in the Dojang (training hall). More and more people started asking for me and as it turned out the 2nd Dan that was teaching the Monday night class, couldn't do it anymore resulting in our instructor offering me the chance to teach. I was honored to have this opportunity, as it was my chance to give something back. I began to realize the more I taught, the better I became in my own technique. This opportunity was a gift in more ways than one and truly meant the world to me. Eventually, Monday night grew from one to three classes. And two classes on Wednesday night. I also taught during the week, when our instructor was away, or at one of the tournaments. Several of the new classes that I had started were kids' classes that parents had been asking for me to teach for some time. Again, I was very honored that they wanted me to teach their children. However, I had not realized the importance of teaching until the parents of a young lady that had just began coming to my class asked me to be the role model for their child. This scared me to death because up until then I had just been teaching what I had been taught, the physical techniques and this was not something my instructor had prepared me for. We were never encouraged to ask questions but to do as we were told. How to mentor or why we did what we did was never discussed, we were only taught mechanics. This massive jolt of reality shook me to my core and terrified me because I knew that in that moment, when I humbly agreed shaking inside, what they were asking of me and what the responsibility of an instructor truly was. I will never forget it and that moment changed everything for me and I was determined not to let them down or anyone else - I had a new mission. Eventually, I became one of only three head instructors in our school. By this time I had attained the rank of first Dan black belt and later I was given the chance to open a branch of the school for my instructor in a nearby town. It was a small school, with about twenty students. I was sharing a building with a dance school with no exposure to the road. We had a small sign in an alley window with little to no equipment and what we had was already worn out. We trained on a tile floor that became extremely slick when the room heated up. We would actually have to stop and wipe the floor down with big towels. I loved this place; it was a start and a challenge for me. This school, and the other classes that I taught at the home school, had my full attention; it had become a way of life for me. It also took up my social life and any other time that I could put into thinking of ways to make this school succeed. People began telling me "you need to do this for yourself, open your own school". The idea was very tempting, but at the same time frightening. I wasn't sure, and I knew I couldn't afford to start a business. I had always kept to my instructor’s way of teaching, but I also had my own ideas, and I was sure there were other ways of looking at the martial arts. The idea was brought up many times by friends, family, and students. A close friend at the time came to me and said, “I'll put up the money, if you put up the time”. The next thing you know, we had found a building in Taylors, on the main thoroughfare, Wade Hampton Boulevard. On Tuesday, May 25th, 1993, Taylors Tae Kwon Do Academy opened for business. At this point, I'm instructing at three schools, and was stretched to the limit with work, training, and teaching. I loved every minute of it. Eventually, we pulled away and focused on our school. About a year later, I bought out my partner. I realized that we had completely different views about the martial arts. This was also when the martial arts took on a completely new meaning to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about and analyzing the art that I had spent so much time devoting my life to. I wanted to know how I could to make it more effective for my students and myself. I had always felt that there was something missing. So I began to “what if” everything I had been doing. Tae Kwon Do has always been known as a standup kicking art, with few hand techniques and no ground work. So, what if I can’t kick or what if I am taken to the ground? What if someone grabbed me from behind or what if, there are six of them? How about, if I’m sitting in a chair; what if they’ve got a weapon; what if I’m on my back; “what if”.
I spent a lot of time reading about other martial arts and philosophies, especially the Japanese arts. I also went to seminars, and met instructors and masters of various martial arts that I thought would blend well with what I was teaching. So many doors began to open up for me. I spent some time working on what I had learned from Nihon Goshin Aikido, Kyusho Jitsu, Daito-ryu Aikijujitsu, Ninjutsu, Small circle jujitsu and Kung Fu to name a few. I also spent a great deal of the time reading ideologies and philosophies. Most intriguing to me were the Samurai and the Ninja and how what they believed in terms of life and combat. I continued going to the seminars, meeting the masters, and gathering as much information as possible. After going to a seminar, or reading about a given technique, I would take them apart and redesign them to work with what I was teaching. Putting all of the different applications together in different combinations was some of the best training I could have done. I have found in my experience that good martial techniques are like Lego’s, in which all of them are mostly interchangeable, and you can make anything you want with a good imagination. After spending several years doing this, my own style of combat was beginning to emerge the way I had hoped. A combat system called Donjitsu Do was beginning to take form. One filled with new ideologies and philosophies based on a combination of how the Samurai and Ninja looked at life and warfare. Though my system was born from a Korean art it was reborn as Donjitsu Do, a system that takes its ways from the Japanese. The name was at first what people called the way I fought at my old school. It was just a joke among friends. This was in the 80’s during the “ninja craze” when the ninja movies and TV shows were very popular. I was often asked, “Where have you trained before?” I had always replied, “This is the only place that I have ever trained”. So as a joke they called what I was doing “Don“-“jitsu“ because it looked different from what we were being trained.The only thing I was really doing differently was that I used my hands a lot more along with the fact that I kept moving. At one point I was actually told to not influence the others by the way I fought. Once, before a test, a black belt came to me and said, “Sabum Yim (the master) doesn’t want you to use all of that hand stuff on your test”. I was told it would distract the others. He didn’t want me influencing the other students by picking up my habits. Keep in mind, my instructor taught a kicking art.
Throughout the years, the name stayed in the back of my mind as a fond memory for the most part. As time went on it actually started to make more sense and fit what I was doing. At one point I asked myself I wonder what Don-jitsu means if anything? Innocently I began to research the meaning of Don-jitsu on the Internet and by sending an e-mail to Japanese masters to see if there was anything to it. I eventually found a Japanese lady who does translations and Japanese calligraphy. After about two weeks of corresponding, we had an accurate translation. “Don” is of course my name being the founder, which is often used in Japan by anyone who broke off to teach their own way as a part of the actual name of a system. “Jitsu” or jutsu being the Japanese term for martial art is frequently used as a suffix for many different open handed and weapon styles of combat, which literally means “technique or art”. The spelling of jutsu is a much older spelling of the word usually found on older historical systems. So I chose the jitsu spelling for mine putting Don and jitsu together creating one word then added the term “do” to complete the name of my system. This is a term found in systems that are considered thinking arts, arts with philosophies behind what they do, a way of life, which is practical, not only for its physical benefits, but in order to achieve a spiritual or inner development literally meaning “the way”. All of these terms represent a single principle, a way of using the human body or anything around it as a weapon in armed or unarmed combat. This made perfect sense to me. This is everything Donjitsu Do is. The martial system of Donjitsu Do is nothing new; it is actually a return to old ideas and ways of looking at budo. The martial art inside me still grows daily, and I still find it as magical today as I did in the beginning. Like any student of budo, I too, still have much to learn and experience. As for what happens next, only God knows. However, my hope is that when I’m gone I have made a difference and was able to give something back, carrying on the martial tradition of passing knowledge from one warrior to the next. If the system of Donjitsu Do continues to live in the hearts of those that have trained with me, I have completed my mission and can die a good death, as a warrior.
This is my beautiful wife Jennifer. She is my best friend, a wonderful wife, a committed student of budo, and one who inspires and supports my every endeavor. With her love and support I would not be where I am today. Known as "Ms. Jenn" in the dojo, she has diligently studied budo with me since we met in 2000. She has trained very hard and has earned great respect in the dojo for what she has accomplished. She is now preparing for testing and will be the first person ever to earn the right to test for the rank of black belt in the system of Donjitsu Do. I have been teaching for over 25 years and she is the first that I feel truly understands what Donjitsu Do is about. No one has trained as hard, studied as long, and given as much as she has in these past 15 years. I am honored to call her my wife.