I’m very happy to present this interview with Jody Paul Hanshi. Counted among some of the earliest westerners to experience karate on the island of Okinawa, Paul Sensei has a rare combination of influences. He is a senior practitioner of Seidokan and Motobu Udundi, as well as having extensive experience in Okinawa Kenpo Karate/Kobudo and Shorinji Kempo.
Paul Sensei has distinguished himself through years of military service and deligent training. Some of his accomplishments include being a part of the inaugural Seal Team Two, as well as being one of the first western students accepted by Uehara Seikichi into the previously closed Motobu Udundi system.
Paul Sensei has continued to pass on the lessons taught to him by his instructors, and brings a special energy to each of his classes.
I recently had a chance to sit down with him and ask a few questions about his training and theories surrounding the martial arts.
JP: I was listening to a couple of guys talking about it. Actually it was judo. Later I watched them throwing each other around and I thought that was kinda neat. I got into karate because of watching the judo guys.
MA: How old were you when you made the leap into karate?
JP: I was about 19 or 20 at that time.
MA: When did you enlist in the military?
JP: It was about 1960. Around 1962 we had the cuban missile crisis. I was involved there, and it was one thing or another for the next several years. Soon after I retired it got a little better, haha.
MA: As I recall you were involved with the Navy throughout your career, including the Seals. What can you tell me about the early days of the Navy Seals?
JP: back in 1960, around March or April, Lt. Commander Roy Boehm was the Officer in Charge of Team Two. That was right in time for the cuban crisis. Team Two was comprised of the new navy seals and the UDT teams.
MA: Were you handpicked to be part of that team?
JP: Yes, most of the guys selected were divers and UDTs.
MA: When you were stationed in Japan, because of your experience in karate, did you immediately try to get involved with martial arts?
JP: Yes I did.
MA: Who did you end up connecting with?
JP: I trained with Watanabe Sensei, who was one of master Doshin So‘s students. Then from there, I continued with So Sensei in Shorinji Kempo.
MA: Was the training regimented?
JP: In Japan it’s a lot more regimented than Okinawa. everything is very stand in line, and so forth.
MA: How did they take to you as a westerner? Was there any friction?
JP: A little bit of…skepticism. of course. but overall fair treatment. I think in some instances I got more preferential treatment because they wanted to make sure I got it right, haha.
MA: What ultimately led you to transfer to Okinawa?
JP: Okinawa was the departing point to Vietnam in the early days. We staged a lot of people out of Okinawa. I didn’t have a choice in that matter. My teacher (Doshin So) had trained years and years before with some people on Okinawa, and I had a letter of recommendation from him to show to Okinawan sensei.
MA: Did you spend any time in Vietnam itself?
JP: Yes, I spent a bit more than three tours there. I got to come back to Okinawa between and after.
MA: When you had your letter of recommmendation, which Sensei did you choose to go to?
JP: I went to Toma Shian Sensei and Uehara Seikichi Sensei.
MA: Was there something in particular that stood out about Toma Sensei?
JP: Ohh yes, he was very strong. His techniques were similar to what I learned in Japan and I felt comfortable doing his style. In kumite, weapons, and everything he does you could sense the power.
MA: Could you describe a bit about the Okinawan training culture?
JP: In the dojo it wasn’t quite as regimented as it was in Japan. It was loose, people were warming up and training on different areas of the floor. There wasn’t as much ‘yes sir no sir’. There was respect of course. Another thing I noticed was the kids that would run through the dojo. You might be working out and doing kata and a little one would run under your feet. It was more of a family environment. It was like one big family. Everyone would take care of each other.
MA: Did you find that there was a lot of opportunities for cross training, or perhaps teachers visiting each other?
JP: Yes, a lot of times. For Toma Sensei, he had one kata for each weapon. if you wanted anything more advanced, he would send us over to Odo Seikichi Sensei. he would say “you need to do more weapons, you go see Odo.” Odo Sensei was happy with that too. They were both of the same mindset.
MA: Speaking of Odo Sensei, could you describe your time with him? You were one of the earliest westerners to train with him.
JP: He was an integral part of my kobudo and karate training. I did a lot of the tuide for his forms and his weapons forms. It was quite similar to what Toma Sensei did. Back then a lot of it was similar to each other, there were only different nuances depending on how the person was built and how they liked to act. There were a lot of common threads. Odo sensei could show you 20 minutes of connections to a 2 minute question. And that was great because I was always asking why, how, how comes…, he was always happy to share. Odo also had a very good way of showing you new forms, he explained it to you very well.
MA: Could you talk a bit about what day-to-day training was like? Was there a certain amount of time you trained, and was it the same time every day?
JP: The training wasn’t a strict regiment of a certain number of kicks, punches etc. We would go to the dojo or beach and do some basics. We would train some punches and kicks and throws in the ocean with water up to our neck. Then get out on the beach and do some running (Uehara Sensei was always good for this kind of training). It was very very hot there, so you couldn’t train for as long. We would work out for an hour and then have a beer break. It was tough for me to go back to training after one of those.
In the dojo at night, you could bring a gallon milk jug of water and a six pack of beer. You would drink the water during the class and then the beer after. We would hear a lot of interesting stories and ideas then.
MA: Uehara sensei is an interesting story because he comes from the Motobu Udundi line, which has a unique history and flavor to it. could you talk about how you met him and came to train with him?
JP: Uehara sensei is one of the people I was introduced to by So Sensei. when I got to Okinawa and started training with Toma Sensei I saw that Toma was friends with Uehara (With the rengokai coming together, Toma Sensei got a chance to learn more of the toide from Uehara Sensei). Everything fell into place then, I went to visit with Toma and began training after that. Uehara Sensei was a very interesting person. He was very close with his students, which I enjoyed a lot because he took a lot of time with his students individually.
MA: Toma sensei had a lot of power and impact with his method, while Uehara Sensei’s style features a lot of flow and dynamics. Was it difficult trying to learn Uehara Sensei’s methods at first?
JP: Ohh yes, every time I would punch and kick Uehara would say “ohh…you do like shorinji ryu” (back from my Japan days). He spotted me right away. It took several years for me to get used to the ideas of hard and soft. The older I got the softer I got I guess, haha.
MA: What was Uehara Sensei like as an instructor? Did he demonstrate a lot and was there a lot of conversation?
JP: Doing the toide techniques, he would demonstrate a lot. Then everyone would break up and try to do it. Uehara Sensei would then come around to each person and correct things and fix us. He didn’t teach everyone the same way. I asked him this question one time – “why does so-and-so do it this way, a little bit different than me”, and the answer was that my body was different than the body he had. If you were powerful like Toma Sensei, he would have you punching real strong, but the long tall skinny guys couldn’t do it the same way so he adjusted what would work for them.
MA: When you came back to the US, were you given instructions to begin a school or organization?
JP: Toma Sensei had requested that I start a school and association. I came back in 1970, but in 1984 we brought Toma Sensei to Pennsylvania. at that time we started our first association. We had a big seminar and formed the first USA Seidokan association where Toma Sensei appointed the different officers.
MA: Did you spend a lot of time at tournaments in the earlier days?
JP: Not that much. I went to a few of the original tournaments. To me it didn’t show what the arts were all about anyway. Also I wasn’t used to pulling punches and kicks which was a problem. Master Odo and Master Toma tended to fight with bogu gear and hard contact. so if you got in the “ring” you hit the other person. Here if you did that they would throw you out. That’s what happened to me at least. I never denied my students the experience though. If they wanted to give it a try I would support them and go with them.
MA: With your experience across Okinawa Kenpo, Seidokan, and Motobu Udundi, how important do you feel natural movement is to success at higher levels?
JP: Kihon, basics, and everything is set in iron because you have to learn the core of the movements. Without that you can’t get into doing natural stancework and techniques later on. So it’s important, but not without the earlier stuff.
MA: Modern karate tends to be a mix of business and training, the balance of which can be difficult. What do you see as necessary for keeping the Okinawan spirit of karate alive?
JP: Toma Sensei always wanted us to open schools, and if you do that you have to have some business with it too. Here in the states that’s just the way it is. Uehara Sensei didn’t believe as much in having a formal school where you charge money for classes and so forth, so he never did that. I think if we stay true to the art and the way that we learned, the original way that we learned from our teachers and carry on what they were trying to give us, martial arts can still go a long way.
MA: Thanks a lot for your time and insight Paul Sensei!
To learn more about Jody Paul Sensei visit “Tales From the Western Generation”. The book contains extended interview content as well as extensive Q&A with other karate seniors.
I’m very pleased to present this interview with Loren Christensen. Loren has developed a strong reputation in the realms of martial arts authorship and modern self defense/combat.
When it comes to putting martial theories to the test, Loren is a model example for how to do intelligently and effectively.
For anyone who likes to augment their training with practical books or videos, Loren is likely already in your library. He has worked on projects such as “On Combat“, “Warrior Mindset“, and “Solo Training” (among many others). He is a frequently utilized resource for police training programs and has become a respected voice in the realm of conflict resolution.
Having started in traditional arts and expanding his experience across multiple systems, Loren provides a mature and proven voice for people of all backgrounds to learn from. Please enjoy the following Q&A session as I ask Loren about his background, his theories on combat, and his most recent writing projects.
MA: Thanks for agreeing to participate Loren. Your bio states that you started your martial training in 1965. Could you tell us what inspired you to get involved at that time, and what your first art was?
LC: I was 19 when I began training. When I was 18, I broke my back in a weight lifting accident and had to wear a brace. The doctor told me to stop lifting but I had to do something with my teenage energy. So my buddy and I went to check out this new thing called karate and I was hooked from the first day. I couldn’t kick for a while because of my damaged spine, but I kept working at it until I could lift one leg, then the other, then kick shin high, and then knee high. In a few months, I was kicking as well as the other new students.
My first fighting art was called kong-su, a Korean system that was heavily influenced by the Japanese fighting arts. I stayed with this style until I went into the Army in 1967.
MA: Could you provide us with a brief timeline of when you enlisted in the military, when you began your career as a police officer, and when you attained your Bachelor of Science degree?
LC: I entered the Army in 1967, serving with the Military Police. I spent a year in the Florida Everglades as an MP dog handler, and then went to Washington DC to take a crash course in the Vietnamese language, and finally to Vietnam where I was an MP in Saigon.
I got out of the service in 1970 and joined the Portland, Oregon Police Bureau in 1972. I worked many jobs on the PD, to include patrol, gang enforcement, dignitary bodyguard, defensive tactics instructor, and Intelligence. I retired in 1997.
I took night courses early on and graduated from Portland State University in 1980. Earlier, I graduated from Clark College in Washington with a major in theater.
MA: Your experience includes 11 black belts in three different fighting arts. Could you talk a bit about these three arts and who you trained under?
LC: My emphasis of study has been primarily in the kick/punch arts, secondly the grappling arts, and thirdly the stick/knife arts. My goal is to develop skill in all four ranges: arnis stick range, kicking range, hand range, and close-quarter range, which includes grappling. Many fighting styles don’t cover all these ranges. For example, some jujitsu fighters have poor to nonexistent kicking and punching skills, and some kicking arts contain very little if any grappling. That’s a weakness. In my view, martial arts study is about striving to eliminate or at least minimize weaknesses.
In the kick/punch arts, I’ve studied karate, taekwondo, Muay Thai, boxing, and kung fu. In the grappling arts, I’ve studied aiki jujitsu, chin-na, police defensive tactics, and a little aikido. In the stick/knife arts, I’ve studied arnis. My objective over the last many years of training has been to incorporate, based on my 29 years of street experience in law enforcement, only what I know is useful for street self-defense.
I’ve been awarded belts from Master Bruce Terrill, Professor Duke Moore, Soke Tim Delgman, and Professor Remy Presas.
In 2011, I was inducted into the martial arts Masters Hall of Fame in Anaheim California and given the Golden Life Achievement award.
MA: How has your martial training intermingled with your military and police career? Were you forced to train after hours (off-duty), or did most of your combat training come from those establishments?
LC: I had already been training in the martial arts before I went into the military. I trained a lot in the Army, mostly on my own or with a few guys I taught, though I did take a little Shotokan when I was stationed in Florida. In Vietnam, I didn’t train at all, but as an MP I got into countless brawls, sometimes several a shift. That was probably one of the most intense learning experiences in all my years in the martial arts.
After I got out of the service, I picked up my martial arts training where I left off. In 1972, I joined the police bureau and trained and taught before or after I went to work. A year into the job, I was assigned to teach cops defensive tactics and went on to develop a program that they still use in part today.
Except for police defensive tactics, my martial arts training was always separate from police work, though I used it on the job a few hundred times.
MA: What inspired you to begin your lifelong search for practicality in training? Was it a specific moment, or more a general need due to your hazardous occupations?
LC: I was not satisfied with my fighting ability as an MP in Saigon. The city during the war years was one of the most dangerous in the world and the MPs were smack in the middle of it. For several months, I worked a walking beat with seven others, four Vietnamese police and three American MPs. At 6-feet tall and 195 pounds, I was the smallest, chosen by the brass because of my martial arts skills.
Walking into bars, massage parlors, alleys, night clubs, and along sidewalks crowded with drunken military guys and Vietnamese criminals exposed us to a lot of fighting. I found that my robot-like karate movements—deep stances, punching from the hip, inside and outside blocks, and so on—that I had been taught in my Korean/Japanese traditional style did not work well for me. Now others might have done fine with it, but I had trouble adapting it to ugly street reality. So I promised myself that if I survived Vietnam, I would spend the rest of my martial arts career studying reality-based fighting techniques. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
My early karate style emphasized competition sparring with all the associated drills. I discovered in Vietnam and confirmed later in police work that few fights go down like a sparring match. Most of the scuffles, fights, and all-out brawls that I was involved in exploded in an instant, so quickly that there was no time to assume an on-guard stance, let alone move about and stalk one another.
I did develop from all those countless reps in my early karate training, tremendous power, especially in my reverse punch. On one occasion in Saigon, a Marine jumped me during a raid on a brothel and in the course of our struggle I punched him in the chest with a hard reverse punch. He fell instantly but then went into cardiac arrest. It was a long night waiting to see if he would live. He did.
The incident bothered me for a long while after and was one of my motivations to later develop safer control techniques for law enforcement, safer for cops and safer for the bad guys. When I was in the MPs, we didn’t have such a thing.
MA: Who were your biggest influences as you attempted to improve your abilities and grow into a more complete warrior?
LC: Early on, my influences were tournament champions, guys like Louis Delgado, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, and many others. I got to see these guys fight several times and I always went away hyped. In 1968 or 1969, I saw Bruce Lee at a tournament on the East Coast. He was a guest star attraction and was coaching Louis Delgado. I watched Lee train him for a while and was floored at Lee’s incredible speed. He told a bunch of us that he had just made a movie called Marlowe and was on his way to Hong Kong to make a few more. I remember thinking, he ought to do well. He did, didn’t he?
In street-reality martial arts, the slant I’ve taken for the last 40 years, I admire the writings of Marc MacYoung, Kelly McCann, and Melissa Soalt.
MA: When did writing become a part of your life? Was there a particular impetus that got you started, or have you always been a journal writer of sorts?
LC: I started writing when I was about 12. I loved hearing my stuff read in front of the class and the positive reinforcement I got at home. In the Army I wrote a filler for Reader’s Digest, took the $75 payment, and bought a typewriter upon which I wrote my first book.
In the 1980s, I began writing regularly for the martial arts magazines. I wrote another book in 1987 and have been working with five different book publishers since. After 45 nonfictions on a variety of subjects, I recently signed a deal to write a police/martial arts fiction series. The first one came out last month, Dukkha: The Suffering.
MA: You’ve authored many influential books, and “On Killing”, “On Combat”, and “Warrior Mindset” are an exceptional trio. I understand they weren’t originally created as a trilogy, but they certainly do build on one another. What was it like working with other top professionals like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Michael J Asken?
LC: While I didn’t write “On Killing” I did coauthor “On Combat“and “Warrior Mindset“. I had just seen Lt. Col. Dave Grossman on CNN or one of those news programs when his assistant called me and said that the Col was on hold to talk to me. It was like surreal. I’m looking at the TV and looking at the phone and looking back at the TV again. Anyway, the Col told me he liked my book “Deadly Force Encounter” that I cowrote with a police psychologist and that he had an idea for one called “On Combat”. He wanted me to write the first draft based on his talks, a monstrous box of notes, transcripts, and anything I wanted to include. Then he would add his touch and I would edit it. I agreed and 31 months later we had a completed book, which has been a best seller since 2003.
About three years ago, police psychologist Dr Mike Askens met with Col. Grossman to talk about doing a book that would be called “Warrior Mindset”, its target audience cops, military, and martial artists. The Col didn’t have time so he hooked up Dr Askens with me. We humped it for a year and it was published a while after.
Both of these fine men possess great minds, far greater than mine. What I brought to the jobs was experience in a war, police work, the martial arts, and an ability to write and make the manuscript readable to the target audience.
MA: Sometimes traditional artists realize they need to refocus on practicality and not get too lost in the “trappings” of traditionalism. For individuals such as that, what could you recommend to get them on the right track?
LC: First they would have to know that they are lost in the trappings. Others might be perfectly happy functioning this way because they enjoy learning the culture and the art. And that’s fine. For others who want to go beyond this and examine, say, reality-based training, they either have to leave the traditional school, if it’s not satisfying that need, and seek out a street-oriented system. If that isn’t an option then they need to seek learning on their own.
For the latter, I would suggest going to youtube and watching the kuhzillion videos there that show real fights. Then ask, how does this relate to what I’m learning? Will my stuff work in the barbaric chaos that I’m seeing over and over in these videos? What do I know that would work well in these situations? What do I know that wouldn’t?
Tough to do? Oh yes. No one wants to admit that all the time they’ve spent training just might not save their bacon when the caca hits the fan.
Another approach for the person who feels lost in traditional trappings is to take a new look at what they do know. Consider a block and reverse punch. It works great when the opponent steps in and throws a stylized karate punch. But how will that block and punch work in the following places (all of which I’ve fought people):
• on stairs
• in a car
• on your back
• in a corner
• in a closet
• on your knees
• on a cluttered floor
• on the side of an embankment
• in a toilet stall
• between a bed and a wall
• in a crowd
If your material right now doesn’t work in these places, you better seek out something that does or work real hard to make what you do know, work.
MA: Could you discuss how the warrior mindset is similar/dissimilar for soldiers, police, and civilians?
LC: This is the subject of about 700 combined pages in “On Combat” and “Warrior Mindset”. So let me just give you my definition of a warrior mindset.
Mine is broader than limiting warrior or warrior mindset to cops, soldiers and martial artists. For example, I think a single mother who holds down three jobs to feed her kids and fights to keep neighborhood drug pushers and drug members away from her children is in possession of a powerful warrior mindset. I think a soft-bellied computer geek who steps in front of a bully to protect a weaker person is a warrior.
In short, anyone who goes toward the sound of gunfire (“gunfire” can be a bully, a drug pusher, a corporation, and the government when it’s wrong) while everyone else flees is, in my opinion, a warrior. Another definition that is similar is: One who does what needs to be done.
MA: One of the biggest obstacles in real conflict is getting passed the “amygdala hijack” and handling flight/fight/freeze. What do you recommend to students in order to better manage that aspect of the body’s natural response?
LC: First, you must do stress training, such as bulletman and model mugging. Don’t just beat the padded people but create realistic scenarios. Of course, there is always that thought that this isn’t real, but it’s still possible to get an adrenaline surge and jack the heart rate up so that can see how you function under such conditions. I know of cops who practice simunition training—sort of like paintball but the “bullet” impact hurts more—who have recorded heart rates close to 300 beats a minute. Remember, you start losing your fine-motor skills around 140 beats a minute. By the way, this is accelerated heart rate caused by stress and red-hot adrenaline; it’s not the same accelerated heart rate as when you run around the block.
Second, practice mental imagery where you imagine in your mind and in your body a high-stress situation. Mental imagery is different than visualization because the former uses all your senses to see, hear, smell, feel and touch all the elements of an assault, car jack, whatever. This is a powerful tool that is being used by everyone from Olympic athletes, to SWAT guys, to troops in Afghanistan. Not to plug a book, but we talk about this at length in Warrior Mindset.
MA: With the increase of communication through the internet, television, books, etc., “trolling” has become a huge part of modern martial arts culture. Trolling entails all of the typical my-art-vs-your-art, you-don’t-know-squat, angry forum thread behavior. Have you encountered this kind of behavior since you’ve begun publishing, and how have you handled it?
LC: Not much. I do what I call an ego check ever so often to see what people are saying. I haven’t encountered anything too terrible. Anytime you put yourself out there you have to be ready for negative comments and all-out ugliness from unpleasant people. It’s simply the way some people are and it will never change. So you have to develop a tough skin and don’t make them important to you.
MA: Speaking of publishing, you recently expanded your resume to include martial arts fiction writing. Could you tell us a bit about your newest (first) novel, Dukkha: The Suffering?
LC: Here is the teaser.
Police Detective Sam Reeves, a 34-year-old martial arts instructor, has a solid fifteen-year record as a good police officer with the Portland Police Department. For the first time, Sam is forced to take a life in the line of duty and despite the findings of “good shoot” he struggles to recuperate psychologically from the killing.
Facing up to his fears Sam returns to work and then within days is forced to fire his weapon again— killing two more people. With his spirit almost broken, Sam meets a stranger… a man who claims to be his father, who Sam has always believed to have died in a North Vietnamese prison camp a long time ago. This odd man, named Samuel, is as convincing as he is quirky and is revealed to be a phenomenal martial artist, the likes of which Detective Sam Reeves has never encountered. This ‘Samuel’ comes out of nowhere, equipped with a family in Vietnam and a daughter named Mai who is about to graduate from Portland State University.
With a series of interlocked events of violence: a revenge-seeking uncle, the destruction of his martial arts school, his new father’s connection to some lethal Vietnamese outlaws, Sam’s life spirals into a dreadful new direction.
MA: Was it difficult to let go of the hard research of non-fiction and embrace the open landscape of fiction?
LC: I actually did as much if not more research for Dukkha than I have for other books. For example, for the first two fiction books, I’ve been helped by a medical physician, two Vietnamese, an Apache, several soldiers, three psychologists, two experts on weaponry, a SWAT officer, a teenager, and two patrol officers. Oh, and Google. The stories would not be as real and accurate as reviewers are saying without these good friends.
MA: Should we be expecting more books in this series?
LC: Yes. The second one is completed and being edited and I’m a few pages into the third.
MA: Thanks again for your time! Where can people reach you if they have any questions or want access to some of your work?
LC: Thank you. I can be contacted through my website at www.lwcbooks.com
I hope you enjoyed this session with Loren Christensen. He has a great way of providing reality checks for anybody’s training, and does so in a manner that promotes learning over ego.
If you’d like to hear even more from Loren, friend of the site Patrick Parker also has an interview with Loren at Mokurendojo.com. Patrick asks a different set of intriguing questions and focuses on some of Loren’s other written works.
I’m pleased to present this interview with John Donohue, a karateka and kendoka who possesses a strong reputation as a martial arts author.
With over 30 years of training experience, Mr. Donohue has combined his martial arts with his academic life. As a result, he has created multiple high quality written works in both the fiction and non-fiction formats. He is most well known for the Connor Burke series, starting with the popular novel Sensei, and branching out into Deshi, Tengu, and most recently Kage.
Mr. Donohue is also an associate editor for the prestigious Journal of Asian Martial Arts. The following is a Q&A regarding his training experiences and literary success.
MA: How did you first get started in the martial arts some 30 years ago? What was your earliest experience?
JD: I was an adolescent in the 70’s at the time that the martial arts were really getting some popular exposure—Bruce Lee, the Kung-fu TV series. I was someone who had always been interested in other cultures (an interest that stuck with me—years later, I got a doctorate in anthropology). I was also fascinated by the Asian approach to traditional martial arts that integrated philosophical concepts along with physical technique.
My first exposure to actual training started with getting my hands on some popular “how-to” manuals for kung-fu, the Bruce Tegner stuff, and trying it out. I quickly realized that there was more to this than met the eye.
MA: Could you provide a brief outline of the styles you’ve studied over the course of your training, and under whom you studied?
JD: In college, I started taking karate classes that were offered either as intramurals or for PE credit. At Stony Brook University, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Shotokan Karatedo by Mori Masataka. He was a tremendously skilled sensei and I studied with him for a number of years. After graduating from college, I studied judo with Shiina Kiyoshi. As a graduate student, I conducted research on the martial tradition had an opportunity to be exposed to kendo with Kataoka Noboru and aikido with Hagihara Edi. Later on I continued studying karatedo with Liu Hong-guang, who also exposed me to some taiji. Finally, I studied kendo with Kimura Hiroaki.
I’ve been very privileged to study with some fine sensei.
MA: Who do you consider your biggest influences in the arts (your primary instructors)?
JD: Mori Sensei, since he opened my eyes to the power and beauty of traditional budo and Kimura Sensei, who set me on the path of kendo.
MA: Could you tell us a bit about their background and whom they studied with?
JD: Mori Mastaka studied at Takushoku University, joined the karate club there and eventually became team captain. He joined the JKA in 1955. He became Chief Instructor of the Karate Association of Hawaii (KAH) in 1963. In 1968 he relocated to New York and became the North Atlantic regional chief instructor of the JKA. His dojo is located in New York City.
Kimura Sensei showed interest in martial arts at a very young age (his father was the kendo coach at the local high school). He studied kendo and then began studying Shorinji Kempo in college. He moved to the United States when he was 22 and continued to study and train, but also recognized that there was strong interest in the martial arts in the United States. He has been teaching kempo for more than thirty years and was instrumental in introducing kendo training to Western New York.
MA: You’re an associate editor with the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. When did that happen in context with your personal writing career? Was it before or after you became a published author?
JD: I was fortunate to meet Mike DeMarco, the publisher of JAMA at the very early stages of the Journal’s development, sometime in the early 90’s. At that point I had published a version of my doctoral dissertation (The Forge of the Spiri—1991) as well as a few scholarly articles on the subject of the martial arts. Mike, along with a handful of other interested scholars, encouraged me to pursue more research and writing on the topic. It wasn’t until about ten years later that I started to write martial arts fiction—my first novel, Sensei, was published in 2003.
MA: The Journal of Asian Martial Arts is considered one of only a few highly reputable publications for traditional martial arts. Could you talk about the mission of the magazine and how you contribute?
JD: JAMA is devoted to providing high-quality scholarly and technical articles on the martial arts. Its mission is to take writing about the martial arts as seriously as we do training in them. It tries to bridge theoretical, academic, and technical perspectives on the martial arts and provide readers with well-written, accurate, and engaging material.
MA: Over the years you’ve developed a successful academic career as well as writing career. Has it sometimes been difficult to find time for training?
JD: It has. I think that the demands of family and career mean that there are times when training needs to be put on the back burner. It never goes away completely (and the desire and interest is always there) but the reality of it is that I am not a professional martial artist. I am a committed martial artist and I value the lessons that training has given me. When I can’t train regularly I miss it. But I’m also clear-headed enough to know that first things need to come first.
MA: Since Sensei you have written Deshi, Tengu, and now Kage. Has the story unfolded more and more naturally in your mind, or has it been difficult to improve upon yourself?
JD: Since I’ve invested considerable time and energy into making Burke’s world a fictional reality, I don’t have much difficulty generating possible story lines. I have about seven burkebooks outlined in my head. But one of the real challenges of writing a series about a set group of characters is that you have to make them change. This sometimes can be upsetting to readers, since they like things the way they are. Familiar characters that always act the same are in some ways comforting and are also probably related to the fact that we’ve been programmed to expect this from watching too much TV.
That said, I’ve tried to make the story of Burke and Yamashita and the others unfold with a little realism—Burke needs to grow, Yamashita is ageing. Yet at the same time I try to hold on to the essence of the characters and their settings.
The real challenge for me is in the technical sense of writing. I try to get better at it. The craft of writing is really important to me—I try to write clearly and to engage the reader and not fall into some of the more hideous mistakes that are often too abundant in popular fiction.
MA: Tell us a bit about the new book Kage. What elements of adventure and martial arts can readers look forward to?
JD: The new book finds the protagonist unwittingly getting involved with the shadowy world of cross-border smugglers in Arizona. The action takes place in the American Southwest as well as in the New York area and involves competing smuggling gangs, shadowy operatives from the Border Patrol and Federal government, as well as sinister hit men of various types. Connor Burke has to use all the skill developed in years studying under the master warrior Yamashita to come out whole.
MA: What are your plans for future books, and do you have an idea for how long the Connor Burke saga will last?
JD: As I mentioned, I’ve got at least seven burkebooks in mind, although I’ll probably keep writing them for as long as readers are interested. I’m also developing some new series, one involving an ex-Army Ranger named Oso Moreno—a hit man with a conscience who studies Daito-ryu aikijutsu—and another series that focuses on paranormal aspects of Asian culture with a heroine named Sharon Kao whose love interest is a top-notch judoka. Lots of action, lots of martial arts. I hope people like them.
MA: Thanks a lot for your participation and we look forward to more of your work!