SAN SAI DO: The Way of Three Elements

The Way of Three Elements: Backround and Philosophy

  For centries Oriental philosophers believed there were five elements composing the universe. They were Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal.The San Sai Ryu uses two of these elements to help transmit and illustrate the physical and strategic methods contained within the style.They are: fire or Hi,  water​ or Mizu, and K​ara, emptiness or void.The void was adapted as the third element to explain the more intuitive and psychological aspects of our combat strategy or "heiho."When a person attacks it is with the attitude of Fire, all ​or nothing. Defence is consisered a weakness, so you may have to flow like water adapting to the attackers constant changing aggression and line of attack,using their momentum against them while constantly moving to a more advantageous position. Upon creating or seeing a "void or opening" in your attackers posture(kamae) you execute a vicious countrer attack instantly.(fire) This system is more a way of doing something rather then just a specific set of techniques, although we have them.         

San Sai Ryu is a traditional martial arts style. To be considered a traditional ryu you must have at least 2 generations. Websters defines traditional as " passing down of beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example without written instruction."

​This method of transmission was popular with many ancient ryu and is still practiced by some gendei(post 1600) or modern systems.

​Students receive a licence or menkyo to teach after a certain amount of time and training has passed. The menkyo or scroll is presented to the receiver to verify his or her expertise. This is very different from the dan or colored belt system in most martial arts today. Ther are three pre-black belt or kyu in the menkyo or sometimes written as menjo system. They are: sho kyu or first level, chu kyu or middle level and jo kyu : upper level. Pre black belt students are referred to as mudansha.In the San Sai Ryu the dan system is used for karate and the menkyo for Kenjutsu(swordsmanship) and Aikijutsu,a form of unarmed combat based on sword techniques(waza)

   The first actual menkyo recognition as a serious student is referred to as Kyosei. This is approximately a second degree black belt in our system. The kihon or fundamental transmissions of the ryu are now taught to the receiver. No traditional style actually teaches the strategy of the style until the black belt or yudansha level.Before then as mudansha you are only doing warm ups or kihon(fundamentals).

  Next is Renshi level or Forging Person. This is approximately a 4th degree Black Belt. Application​ and constant practice of kihon are the order of the day with thousands of repetitions. The Renshi leads the class and forges the students by hard work and discipline. I tend to believe that this is where the heart and spirit of the dojo are actually formed. 

    Next is Kyoshi or instructor. This person has at  least 20 years of experience and ​hard work. He instructs the class.(women are referred to as sir,no gender bias)This would be approximately a 7th -8th degree Black Belt. This level is where the secrets of the ryu are transmitted to the most trusted members. In the era of the Samurai, the hiden would only taught to the highest ranking military commanders.

    ​All teaching comes from the Hanshi. This 9th -10th degree black belt level must be the age of at least 50.The hanshi can be a headmaster or founder of a ryu. Being a founder does not automaticlly make him a 10th degree black belt. They are out side the rank system.The Soke is the inheritor of of a ryu, usually Japanese and in the Hanshi's family. If there is no one available to continue the teaching, a son or daughter may be adoprted to carry on the ryu.The tearm Soke is widely misused by many contemporary instructors

  A person may also be a very high rank and not be "Hanshi"​ It is a separate title awarded to the recipient.

       One philosophical aspect of the San Sai Syu as taught to me by my teachers Arvind Rajguru and Fredrick Lovret was martial arts today do not have to be about just winning. Surely in the Sengaku Period or Era of the Warring States(mid1300)winning would be the axiom. Today, should we subscribe only to winning we would be a competitive sport type club or an anachronism.The reasons people train today vary from self-protection to healthy exerise, maintaining martial traditions and sporting competition. Of course, military and law enforcement professionals in any era would train with an emphasis on practical methods of immobilizing and disarming criminals, aside from just killing them.

    One unique tradition going back hundreds of years, still praticed by the San Sai Ryu, Tenshin Ryu and a few others is the Deshi-Sensei relationship. This practice is rarely seen in martial arts today. ​The title sensei is often used to denote an instructor in any "way" like flower arranging (ikebana) or calligraphy (shodo) not just martial arts; however, the deshi-sensei relationship is close and special. In effect you say "here I am, I dont understand whats going on and won't for several years  so do with me what you will. This type of commitment is known as nyunanshin. The sensei now helps guide you through life.

   ​One last thought on winning....Buried deep in the primal human psyche is something driving us all. It is also found in the animal kingdom through the blood thirsty triumph of the slaughter. It's a rejoicing and exaltation of pride after defeating an enemy....Glory.

The Dojo and Ryu

   The Delaware Budokan or "House of the Warriors" is Honbu Dojo or ​ primary dojo of the San Sai Ryu. A dojo refers to the meditation room in a monastery where you go "beyond" your self. A ryu is sometimes refered to as a school. However, as written in kanji it implies "teaching through time." Many ryu disappeared in antiquity due to the Sensei not finding a suitable student to transmit his knowledge to or all members were killed in duels or military service and no living dependents were available.  One important factor: If your principles and tecniques did not work, your school would disappear.

​Reishiki or Etiquette

 In a Traditional dojo there are many formalities. According to Lovret sensei in his book "The Students Handbook"​ he states: There are three basic reeasons for reishiki in a dojo: safety, learning enhancement and power." These are and were combat arts and in any version there is a certain amount of danger.

  The floor space is broken up into​ areas according to rank. This helps ensure safety for the students and the "pecking order" from senior to junior. The front area where the sensei sits or stands is called the kamiza. The rear is called the shimoza.To the right is the "high side" or joseki. This is where senior ranks work out. To the left is the shimoseki or area where lower ranks train. There are all type of dojo from fancy to a mere rope tied around 4 trees in the forest like in ancient times.This they believed represents where "Man and Gods Walk Together ."

Dr Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century introduced Judo, a derivative of combat jujutsu to the masses and had it put into the school systems to promote discipline, pride in country and good physical health. Dr. Kano also invented the color belt system and is considered the most influential martial artist of the 20th century.

  Dr Ginshin Funakoshi introduced karate or "Empty Hand Fighting" to Japan in the early 20th century.​ He first taught upper class citizenry karate and then put it in to the school systems. His motive was to implement Dr Kano's similar philosophy.These legendry pioneers helped improve the image of all martial arts. For the first time karate was not the proprietary of a few unarmed peasants fighting Samurai oppressors, outlaw gang enforcers and weekend brawlers at the local sake bar.

What we call San Sai Karate is composed of the three elements, Karate,Tae Kwon Do and Indomitable Spirit.

     The Korean Martial Art of Tae Kwon Do or "Way of Smashing with the Hands and Feet" is a compilation of several indigenous martial arts circa 1950s.​ ​Our karate uses many kicking and punching techniques and Kata or Hyung from both countries. Tae Kwon Do is considered a modern sport by many. The proponents point to several appearances in the Olympics and extreme modification of its combat techniques. However, Tae Kwon Do has an illustrious military history as exemplified by the famous Blue Dragon and White Tiger Divisions during the Korean War.

   Tae Kwon Do originally used three Confucian​ edicts and two Buddhist edicts in its moral code or Tenants.They were set down by the countries Buddhist monk and scholar Won Kang approx 1300 years ago.These were the original tenants I was taught.

   1. Be loyal to your king 2​. Be obedient to your parents 3. Be honorable to your friends 4. Never retreat in battle and 5. Make a just kill. Today they are now taught 1. Courtesy 2. Integrity 3. Perseverance 4. Self control and Indomitable Spirit.

         ​Our Dan system goes White Belt,Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Brown Belt, Red Belt, Blue Belt and Black Belt. Each color represents a natural progression:ex. White belt: snow/innocence/beginner, yellow belt: sun: green belt grass,trees  brown belt: earth, red belt fire, blue belt:water and black belt:Sho Dan:First Teachings/Steps.

This is our Mon or logo. On one level it means body, mind and spirit as one. My instructor Rajguru Sensei told me that kenjutsu was Yoga and swordsmanship. Yoga meaning "union." In this case: action, method and thought. On another level it means Hi, Mizu, Kara. 

 In our dojo"Spirit" can be translated to mean anything from determination, confidence, to what one might refer to as good vibes.

Going into battle in 14th centuary Japan or anywhere in fact, was a fearsome event. You had a two out of three chance of dying before you steped out in the field. One, you win/live Two, you die, Three, you both die. Even should you survive you could be wounded and die of blood loss, infection or shock. These were a few reasons philosophies such as Zen Buddhism, where you "kill the Ego" on a psycological level,was adopted by the Samurai in 1191. With training, meditation and disicipline they learned to be strong in the face of death.

 Many martial art schools today participate in fund raising events like car washes, kickathons and other civic activities. Some studios transport students, have computeres, tutors and homework stations. As noble as this may sound, in Koryu or ancient arts and most traditional dojo these activities are considered to weaken the spirit of the dojo.​