Shoshin Ryu’s Beginning

September 14, 2021

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The original founders of Shoshin Ryu never intended to start or “create” a system nor leave the previous system of Kokondo from which all were practicing members. Shoshin founders were simply interested in training and in being sincere. The actions of politically feuding leaders of the art of Kokondo, however, altered that course in 1992. That year marked a divisive split in Kokondo when the founder of the art who lived on the East Coast and the #2 practitioner who lived out west and headed up the West Coast organization reached a point in their relationship where they could no longer co-exist. As such, the Sensei on the West Coast decided to leave Kokondo and start his own art/organization, asking students to join him. Kokondo fragmented as several students and dojo out west left Kokondo to study in the new system.

Initially, some of the future founders of Shoshin went one way, some the other, some joined both organizations; but all wished to keep ties to both teachers and to maintain friendships between the collective dojo. In time, the two feuding sensei let it be known that maintaining ties, training with or even talking to students from the “other camp/system” was forbidden. This was foolishness and wreaked of ego and control, forcing the eventual founders of Shoshin to rethink their positions.

As such in January of 1993, eight sincere individuals came together as a group with representatives from both camps to consider options. There was discussion by the founders to consider joining a completely different system, but ultimately there was no one school or affiliation found that checked all the boxes, that met all the requirements sought in a martial art.

So in the end, those individuals came together to form what is now Shoshin Ryu Martial Arts. The group sought a better path forward; one based on creating an art where the needs and training of the student would be first and foremost. Openness, humility, sincerity, and heart would be the watchwords of the art. The founders also realized that the good of the student (learning) is rarely consistent with the goal of a for-profit organization (to make money). As such, Shoshin applied for and was eventually granted non-profit status; emphasizing the point that monetary concerns would always take a back seat or be of secondary concern to the needs of developing the student.

Shoshin was fortunate early in its beginning to have input and guidance from the 20th Soke of a 400+ year old classical Japanese Koryu which allowed the founders to be able to consult with and to have input from a classical source. This affiliation further helped lay the

The foundation for our Truthful Heart Tradition, a martial arts school and organization that would focus and strive to fulfill the mission statement - “Unencumbered study of the martial arts.” Concepts and ideas that were formulated early on through the collective efforts of all these individuals:

(1) The ideas and growth of a dedicated group of sincere people would be much stronger and more effective than any one single individual; a common theme in classical Japanese arts. So, although there would be a Senior Most Student – the position was as a figurehead and spokesperson rather than a headmaster (Soke). There would be a group of other senior practitioners who would help guide the skill and development of the SMS as well as the school. This would serve to keep any SMS ego under control. The name Senior Most Student was chosen to serve as a reminder to practitioners that everyone is a student, always learning, always training with an empty cup - including the designated Senior Most Student.

“Teachers are leaders. What destroys most is the continually growing belief in their infallibility; the belief that only s/he can see the light which is hidden from all others. There are also leaders who change the rules continually and since only they know the rules, only they can win. Thus, open-mindedness is the only solution. Ideas must be allowed to float free.” (adapted from the book “If it Ain’t Broke, Break It” by Kriegal)

(2) All Executive Board decisions would be made not just on the behalf of the current group, but more importantly, for what was in the best interest for the next several generations of Shoshin members. Martial arts skills and personal development would remain at the forefront of Shoshin values; not ego, self-aggrandizement or the pursuit of money.

(3) The SMS would be responsible for the training and development of up to five potential replacements. The thinking that out of those five collective candidates, at least one would be qualified and willing to serve. The transfer of the title to another would occur while the current SMS was still relatively healthy and strong, so as to facilitate a smooth transition and to increase the likelihood that the new SMS would maintain his path, his purpose within Shoshin Ryu.

(4) The name of Shoshin Ryu, translated as Truthful Heart Tradition/School, was chosen to emphasize the virtue of sincerity amongst the membership, the Executive Board and the SMS. Further, seeking and obtaining non-profit status would ensure that the leadership of the group would stay focused on teaching and developing the art and thus, pass this along to the membership. The effort would be one born of sincerity to pass along good martial information for the good of the group.

(5) The following philosophy or statement was adopted and is the last thing written on ALL Mudansha certificates and speaks to the complete martial artist that Shoshin is training/ developing:

"Shoshin Ryu is learning how not to hurt others; how not to be hurt by others; and how to be responsible for one’s own happiness and harmony."

The Early Art of Shoshin The former school Kokondo was a Japanese based karate-jutsu system primarily adapted from Kyokushinkai Karate. Kokondo also taught a throwing art adapted from modern Judo that became a secondary branch known as Jukido. Over time, Kokondo became a “closed system” - meaning no one was allowed to train with or seek out information from other martial arts styles or teachers and if that policy were violated, a reprimand was given, potentially followed by removal from the system for a further offense. Such actions were not out of the ordinary. This is how closed systems control students and the flow of martial information to those students; controlling both what they know and also what they do not know. The head of the system considered himself ‘The Well of All Martial Arts Knowledge.' “If it is a good technique – we have it” was frequently said.

Shoshin, however, wanted to create a system that was open to learning from outside influences as well as through the efforts from its own senior practitioners. No single individual, no singular art has it all. The Shoshin founders realized this and were very much interested in establishing relationships with high level teachers/practitioners from other arts, especially as the weaknesses or short comings of the previous art came to light (learn more about these influences on page 88).

The art that was passed on to the founders at the beginning from the collective years spent in Kokondo consisted primarily of kihon (basics), kata (forms), nage (throwing) and a smattering of goshinjutsu (self-defense). There was no ground work, no ne waza. Weapons were fairly rudimentary and limited in scope to bo, sai and tonfa. The jutsu consisted of a moderate number of locking and pinning waza. There was no curriculum that trained students to flow in/ out of material; rather, the emphasis was on the execution of more singular basics highlighting the heart of the waza.

Black Belt curriculum was limited/sparse at best and Black Belt rank was awarded primarily at the discretion of the two top Sensei with NO testing protocol in place. Sensei put students up when he felt that an individual was ready in his eyes and often, promotions were based simply on the number of years with the art or based on political ideology; as opposed to being representative of the command and skill of the martial material being taught.

The keys to Shoshin’s growth from the early days to where it is today was born out of a desire for a collective effort by the senior group to further develop and advance the art, by adopting a beginner’s mindset, and by reaching out to accomplished martial artists from other styles, thus forging relationships and lifelong friendships with some of these individuals. A synergistic method to add martial information to the curriculum that went beyond just waza (technique) was created at the very onset of Shoshin’s early, formative days as an art. Shoshin essentially created five fingers of the art consisting of kihon, kata, ne waza, nage, and weaponry; then synergistically combining those fingers into one integrated Fist - the Goshinjutsu (selfdefense).

So over the years of growth and development, both from within as well as with the help from these outside martial connections/individuals, Shoshin has maintained its original traditional foundations all the while becoming more fluid, more practical, more integrated, and ultimately more skilled; all the while seeking better, more efficient, more dynamic ways to move. Further, weapons of choice now feature extensive, ongoing training in iai, bo, jo, cane, tonfa, knife and stick.  Originally, Shoshin put in place or into the curriculum, two tracks to achieving Black Belt - atemi and nage. This methodology in part was a bit of a holdover from the previous Kokondo style. The atemi practitioners were required to know more kata and fewer throws in addition to the goshinjutsu. Conversely, nage practitioners were required to know fewer kata, but more throws in addition to the goshinjutsu. In recent times Shoshin eliminated those two categories in favor of one pathway that would take students up the ranking ladder consisting of a more integrated mesh of both kata and nage. Shoshin is driven to find the best path forward for students especially when it comes to curriculum and is open to changing long held practices or curriculum if it sees a better path forward.

It was important to the founders of Shoshin that the collective sensei of the art receive additional educational training with respect to all things teaching students and all things running a dojo. This would be in addition to developing the art. In order to fully develop a student, the Shoshin Executive Board believed the organization must fully develop its teachers. As a result of that ambition, teachers or sensei now have ongoing training via a teacher's program which involves the studying of SR’s newly revised Instructors’ Guidebook, along with a series of books to study, various annual workshops and finally, the passing of a written exam. And for higher ranks some objective measures such as how many yudansha has a sensei produced.

Shoshin has also developed its “Kokoro Series” which are essentially heart to heart or classical teachings of old or from the ancients. These teachings require students to examine inner virtues, values, attributes and mental qualities desired in a Shoshin Martial Artist via classical teachings within traditional martial arts. Then they work or train to apply and integrate those attributes and lessons. Shoshin further developed its Goshinjutsu Series which highlights various real life skills and information pertaining directly to actual, real life self-defense; giving the practitioner a better understanding on how to prepare and deal with a confrontation or an assault should one ever happen.

The yudansha curriculum has been greatly expanded and enhanced over the years. Testing for Black Belt and subsequent yudansha ranks has been put in place to ensure that quality, skill and command are rewarded as opposed to simply rewarding one’s number of years in the art. Further wishing to create a sense of fairness and authenticity to a yudansha test, the sensei of a candidate is not allowed to have a direct say/vote with the testing process and subsequent determination to promote or not promote the candidate; thus some of the potential favoritism or bias is removed. The SMS and/or testing Board will make that determination to pass or fail the candidate. Everyone will earn their rank and be tested consistently across the membership.

in January of 1993, eight sincere individuals came together as a group with representatives from both camps to consider options. There was discussion by the founders to consider joining a completely different system, but ultimately there was no one school or affiliation found that checked all the boxes, that met all the requirements sought in a martial art.