Sharing Daito Ryu's Secrets

  Roy Goldberg teaching Daito Ryu's kaiten nage

Roy Goldberg teaching Daito Ryu's kaiten nage

As many have noticed, I have been increasingly sharing video of Daito Ryu seminars. In some cases this has sparked discussions about how much is appropriate to share in public for an art that is traditionally only passed on in private. Kodokai, the branch of Daito Ryu in which I train, has a reputation for being especially restrictive in what it shares publicly. This is precisely one of the issues that ultimately led me to respectfully part ways with the Japanese organization.

The first thing to understand about Daito Ryu is the impossibility of learning aiki techniques from video. In Daito Ryu it is essential that techniques are transmitted from teacher to student through touch. It is not a martial art of external form but rather of internal connection, you must feel the application in order to learn how to generate it yourself. Without the guidance of a qualified instructor it is impossible to learn aiki jujutsu from video. Any attempt to imitate the form will at best be bad jujutsu and at worst be an empty technique.

So if video can't teach, why show it? My singular motivation for sharing this beautiful art is to spread and preserve it as it was taught to me. A secret can be so well kept that it is forgotten. And I can not allow that to happen. In my heart I believe this is part of what motivated Sokaku Takeda to break with tradition and begin sharing Daito Ryu in public seminars all over Japan in the early 20th century. He trained martial artists from a wide range of styles and backgrounds. His requirements were that students be of good character and demonstrate a shugyo spirit.

In the modern era, Shihan such as Okamoto of Roppokai and Iida of Muden Juku (both formerly of Kodokai) released DVDs to the public which have been widely shared on the internet. Similarly Katsuyuki Kondo of Mainline Daito Ryu has sold DVDs through Aikido Journal. I do not believe I have "given away" any more than those teachers. The only real difference is that the internet reaches more and more every day.  And the presence of more video of high technical quality does not diminish the art, in fact it is the only way to combat the flood of video with bad technique from unqualified instructors.

I can not control how these videos are used. Surely some will watch them and try unsuccessfully to just "collect" the technique and add it to their bag of martial tricks. Or without the context of training, dismiss it as unrealistic or too difficult to learn. But some will watch and be curious and seek out training from a qualified instructor. My seminars are open to students of any style or rank, of good character, and willing to train hard with an open heart.

My second goal is to show that when I work with a student I actually teach them and that eventually they too are able to do the technique. Part of what makes this art so challenging is that from the outside the form may look different depending on the combination of uke and tori. The principles are the same but the external details may appear to change. I carefully research how to make each person better, to find the best tools to teach this beautiful art. Ultimately my goal is to make my students become more skilled than I am.

Are there secrets in Daito Ryu? Of course. The transmission scrolls are all named some version of "secret" or "inner mysteries."  There are many aspects about training that are inappropriate for beginners or outsiders. But this is largely because the student needs to be able to receive the information. The secrets of Aikijujutsu are not easily stolen or given. Confucius famously said "Every truth has four corners. As a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three." The student must develop the technique from the inside out. There are no shortcuts, only training.

Some have also asked publicly why I left Kodokai so close to becoming one of the first non-Japanese Shihan. Last year, my teacher Kiyama Shihan, recognized me as a Shihan, personally gave me the traditional black jacket and in an open seminar said, "you will receive in the next few months your official certification from Japan, the paper work is already in." I was deeply honored for the recognition, but for me to have received certification from Japan would have been hypocritical. I see Shihan as more of a position within an organization than a rank, and I couldn't represent Kodokai because I knew we had these significant disagreements. I felt it was more respectful to leave before officially receiving the certificate from Japan. Ultimately, Kiyama Shihan's opinion is the only one that matters to me.

I recognize that my approach is a significant break with tradition. Kiyama Shihan and I have very different philosophies on this matter. We come from very different times and cultures. Despite these differences, out of all his students, I am the only student he promoted to 7th Dan and I am the only one to receive the third scroll from him. He has publicly identified me many times as his most senior student, "This one, and no one else." He told me that it was my decision as to what was best moving forward. Even though we think differently on this matter, we are united in the belief that shugyo is the core of this art. He has been a second father to me and our relationship remains unchanged. He will always be my sensei, no matter what organization I belong to.

Some may continue to feel uncomfortable with what I share. I understand.  Change is always hard. I would respectfully suggest those critics invest more time training than worrying about preserving the mystique of secrecy. Other teachers and other styles of Daito Ryu will continue to teach the way they believe is best. I will continue to welcome sincere students, to encourage them and nourish their training, to discover each one's personal expression of this beautiful art.

—Roy Goldberg

Working on Aiki Age with students: