Bujinkan Shinmyoken Dojo Instructor: Fred Feddeck
I wish I could offer a more inspiration start to my martial arts journey, something worthy of a movie or action drama, but my entry to the ‘arts was rather by chance.
My best friend wanted to study the martial arts, and thought it would be cool to have a friend to train with. His father knew of a local karate school and we decided to check it out.
Our first visit was not very fruitful as the dojo was closed and at that time there was no email or website to contact, at best a phone number. All we could do is come back on another night and see if it was open.
On our next visit the school was open, but as different martial arts styles and systems rented the space at different times, the night we walked in on was being used by a group we later found out was called the Bujinkan dojo.
We went in expecting Karate, but this was something different, something unexpected.
Invited to watch the class, followed by answering any questions that we might have after class.
What was I watching?
There was a level of martial arts intensity, martial arts techniques of punching, kicking, locks, and throws- it kind of looked like jujutsu, but it was hard to *really* see the techniques of what was going on. It kind of looked like people were just moving around naturally and martial arts stuff was happening to them, as opposed to trying to force martial arts stuff on people.
Something else seemed different about what was being shown, different in that while the class was serious, there was a level of informality yet hierarchy, learning together as friends, with laughing and not taking things as serious as they appeared to be.
What I was watching *was* the martial arts, but it didn’t look like that martial arts.
All of this was also in the instructor of the dojo, impressed by his display of the martial arts, his genuine enthusiasm for the arts, and what appeared to be a genuine caring for his students- helping them to get better in class, as in holding nothing back.
I had never heard of the Bujinkan dojo before, of taijutsu, or even Soke, but if this teacher reflected that martial arts, I wanted in.
The only question I had was if the teacher would accept me as his student, and when was the next class so I could start.
A few questions in, back and forth, and it looked good till my age came up.
Seventeen was a problem, as I wasn’t a legal adult yet. Being tall for my age, and being polite, I probably passed as twenty or so.
I saw my chances of doing this Bujinkan thing with an amazing teacher fading and I had to make my case quickly, which went something like this.
I’ll be eighteen in six months.
I can come back in six months and join up, wasting six months of not training, or you can make an exception in my case and let me in now.
He did accept me in, and looking back, if I was in that same situation, I’m pretty sure I would have said come back in six months. For reaching out like that, and taking that risk alone on my I owe my teacher everything.
Following that, convincing my new teacher was easy compared to convincing my mother to sign off on the death and dismemberment waiver.
That second week in January of 1993 I began my training in taijutsu at the Bujinkan New York Dojo under Joe Maurantonio, dai-shihan. He has been and continues to be my teacher, mentor, and friend in the Bujinkan martial arts, exhibiting a combination of martial arts skill and mushashin- warrior’s heart in perfect combination. The opportunities he has given me, the synchronicities created by them, are beyond numerous to mention.
I first met Masaaki Hatsumi (Soke) in 1997 and like so much in the Bujinkan then and now, it was not what I expected as a martial artist, it was something much more and beyond that. His openness, friendliness and what could only be perhaps captures as naturalness was something hard to capture and describe in words.
Equally as mysterious and impossible to explain, something that can only be experienced, and perhaps pursued, amazed that men like him do actually exist in the world.
I got the feeling from that meeting that one can genuinely live a happy life, and maybe I could live a happy life through his martial art.
As a kyu student at the time, I figured if I could even and at least make it to 1st dan to just be a part of what he is sharing, I’d be happy- and was happy when that happened.
In 2003 I was recommended by my teacher to sit for the godan shinsa (5th degree test), which now for the fourth time in the martial arts had shifted my perspective of what the martial arts are, beyond what I thought they are or should be.
What was the third time?
The genius of the Bujinkan is that it literally is a Hall of Warrior Gods, with Soke, and his teachers, one is never alone in the journey. Along the way, then and now, there have been other Shidoshi who have shown me immense kindness, and through the teaching and sharing of the art have made a tremendous impact on my own Bujinkan journey, how I move and how I see the art even now.
Sharing what they directly received and allowing me to be a part of that.
To not mention them in a martial biography would be incomplete.
For a number of years my teacher would bring/host Mark O’Brien at the dojo, offering workshops and training at the dojo. I was not only fortunate by being able to attend these events as a dojo member, but also the interactions after the training events.
The chance to listen to stories, gain insights, and learn/be introduced to movements that would be important years later.
During those times I regularly got to be uke for Mark as I was young and could *take* it, but also because everybody else wanted to see what he was doing so I got *volunteered*. I can’t say what he did, but I do know and remember what it felt like, ethereal, ghost-like, a form of movement I have yet to still experience again.
Another impression and impact that has followed me through the years, always chasing that tiger, trying to catch its tail again.
Greg Kowalski would often invite my teacher and some of his senior students to various Bujinkan training events hosted and organized by him, hosting Mark O’Brien, Muramatsu sensei, etc.
I was far from a senior student my teacher’s dojo, but for whatever reason I was invited to some of these training events and the events after the training.
At that point in my Bujinkan training I had never seen a fighting-spirit as demonstrated by Greg, both through his taijutsu and how he carried himself. While I enjoyed the seminars and training opportunities that he created for us, I learned equally as much in watching his movement and its impression on me, especially given that at any time as kyu/low level dan student he could have not allowed me to attend.
Now some time later, and needing to wrap-up a martial biography what does the future hold?
Same as the past, keep training in the Bujinkan Dojo martial arts, keep following what Soke has outlined and given us as his students, continue to listen to me senior in the art when I need to be corrected, but don’t want to be corrected, and use the teachings of Soke and the Bujinkan to just be happy every day.