Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Where's Mr. Miyagi?

Originally posted on, but was removed due to space

Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi
As westerners we come into martial arts with certain stereotypes in our mind, most of which have been put there by martial arts movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  One of most common of those stereotypes is that of the martial arts instructor.  The sensei of the movies is almost always a traditionally minded, stoically quite, Asian male who disseminates the secrets of life in cryptic pieces of wisdom that are not fully understood until “the right time.”- in short, Mr. Miyagi. 

In my few years of martial arts training, I’ve met dozens of martial arts instructors in many different styles, and none have fit the Mr. Miyagi model.  They may have had a characteristic or two in common with the archetype, but they’ve all been very different people.  I’ve met grouchy aikido sensei (in the Japanese language they don’t have plurals for words, i.e.the plural of sensei is sensei), smiley kung fu sifu, and timid jujutsu sensei.  I know it sounds like I’m naming all random members  of the seven dwarves, but this is to show how stereotypes are just stereotypes, especially those made from fictional sources.  I’ve even met sensei who were…female.  (Mrs. Miyagi?)  Each of these sensei have taught me valuable things, sometimes the things they taught me were martial arts, sometime they were not.  Occasionally I’ve even learned, through example, what I didn’t want my martial arts to be.  If you’ll pardon my indulging, I’m going to go through a couple of sensei I’ve had, and what I’ve learned from them.

            The first martial arts instructor I had was Jason Backlund sochi of Yamagata ryu Hyoho.  I discovered this instructor while attending the University of Florida Gainesville.  In hindsight, I never new what a unique opportunity I had.  Over the course of a couple of years, he taught me the beginnings of martial arts.  I spent many hours going up and down the dojo doing kicks and punches before moving on to anything resembling a jujutsu.  At the time I didn’t know any better, but this became a great foundation for my martial arts.  It still surprises people when I, a mere aikidoka, pull a kick out of my repertoire.  Backlund sochi also taught me something else.  One of his ideas was that drawing something, made you look at it closer.  Draw the knot of the sageo of a katana.  In order to draw the knot, you have to understand how the knot is constructed.  Draw the motion of ikkyo.  See if you can illustrate the motion that is required.  I still do this today, and my understanding of something usually increases when I do.

Sweep the leg, Johnny
My second instructor was a good example, but for bad reasons.  Once I moved to South Florida, I wanted to continue with my training, so I looked up a traditional Japanese jujutsu that was being taught South Florida. The sensei was short, not particularly muscular, and looked more like an accountant than a martial artist.  He was good at what he did, but he was a gruff sort of individual.  In fact, that’s why I left that system.  I left after witnessing an incident where sensei was yelling, in anger, at a student.  That student happened to be his son, so I don’t know if that influenced his behavior, but I wasn’t willing to find out.  I finished that class, and never went back.

"Doc" Philip Chenique of Atemi ryu Jujutsu
Now I study aikido, kenjutsu and jujutsu through Atemi Ryu under the tutelage of Doctor Philip Chenique.  “Doc” is humble, but he puts on a large persona when teaching.  He actually hates the spotlight, but is good at being in it.  He often uses humor to teach, but usually at his own expense.  He treats everyone as if they were family members.  He cares more about your character than your martial skills.  He is a large man who still surprises me with his quickness.  He has a huge presence, but is still able to sneak out of the door when no one is looking.  In some ways, he’s more Mr. Miyagi than not.

All of these people have their own method of teaching: learn from them.  It is the individual that puts the art into martial arts.  They will all have their own philosophies and experiences on what martial arts are.  Just because you don’t agree with them, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them, or even that you won’t change your own mind in the future.


  1. Very good description of our teacher. I have so much respect for him. Not only the Teacher but the Man and his Character. I have a lot to learn and funny enough I'm sure he says the same thing of himself. That's the type of man I would follow into battle. Nice Article Sensei