Audio Interview of Gary Moro

The folks at the “Psychjourney Audio Book Club” have put up a podcast interview with Yachigusa Ryu’s Gary Moro for their “Warrior Traditions” series (alternate).

The interview is a two hour(!) conversation mostly centered around what it means to be a warrior in the modern world, as is the theme of the series. The topic also wanders around aspects of Gary’s own training, how he now trains students at our school, and his experiences as a police officer among other things.

The interview can be found here or here. An mp3 file can be directly downloaded here.

Part two will be forthcoming later.


In The Company of “Thieves”

“Talent borrows, Genius Steals”


Several months ago I was publicly accused of “stealing” martial art techniques/concepts from Don Angier. Per the “Martial Arts Police, Koryu Division,” my case is still pending, though they did as much as they could to convict me in the court of public appeal.

Clearly, old news is old news. But ever since these public accusations were made, I been considering things in the light of the old Biblical proverb which states, “Let he who’s without sin cast the first stone.”

What I mean by that is that almost every martial artist before me, most of my contemporaries, and yes even those that made accusations against me are all guilty of such a crime to some extent or another. We all are the sum of many parts. We all take bits and pieces away from the various teachers we have had the ability to train with. Whether that training was long term, or just a few seminars doesn’t matter.

Now, I’m a firm believer that no one individual, no matter how gifted, knows everything. Because I believe this so strongly, I have taken every opportunity to expose myself to numerous martial art systems and teachers. I have especially tried find teachers who have the ability to make me understand the art that I do better, and make me an overall better teacher and practitioner.

But back to my point.

A Chain of Yoshidas

Since I’ve been accused of “stealing principles” from Don Angier, I’d like to use the same absurd logic to see whom else I’ve stolen from. While we are at it, let’s go another step and see whom they “stole” their knowledge from.

Let’s start with Don Angier.

Now, I have already stated numerous times how big an influence Mr. Angier has had on me, and what I do as a martial artist. I’ve clearly admitted to adopting a lot of his terminology, and adjusting/correcting some of my techniques based on his corrections. Maybe too much in some people’s opinions. However, that is not a crime that is called “good judgment.” His skills and knowledge is clearly superior to mine.

But where did Mr. Angier get his information.

While I don’t have specific details about his life and training, according to his very own autobiography he writes:

“Bill (William Hepler) worked graveyard shift at the main Los Angeles Post Office. For almost nine years he came into the dojo three hours before class. Together we worked on categorizing the basics of the art and how to make them as precise as possible. We worked out pragmatic counters to all of the forms and counters to the counters. It was only with his help that I was able to systematize the art and start listing its scientific principles.”

Mr. Angier further states:

“Slowly, he (Ark-Yuey Wong) began showing me some of his skills. It would be very easy to underestimate this mild-looking, elderly man. He was indeed a wonderful man and artist, and I must admit that some of the things he showed me helped me understand my own art more fully.”

Now it’s my understanding, and forgive me if I am wrong, that Mr. Angier also studied martial arts with other instructors in Japan and Los Angeles. If this is true, and his own statements about his life are factual (which I’m sure they are), then Mr. Angier’s art is a sum of various sources. He did not get all of the art he now teaches, or at least all the insights into that art, from one source. In fact he clearly states, “We worked out pragmatic counters to all of the forms and counters to the counters. It was only with his help that I was able to systematize the art and start listing its scientific principles,” which shows a progression and departure from what he was originally taught.

Like many of us, Mr. Angier sought out others who could help him better understand the core information he had. As I have, he used the information he gathered to make himself better.

However, I don’t hear anyone accusing him of thievery. I don’t see anyone questioning where he obtained the sum of his knowledge. But maybe he is just an exception, or perhaps he is just above reproach.

Of course, Mr. Angier’s approach to improving himself via other sources isn’t unique, even within the particular martial art style he teaches. Yoshida Kotaro (1883-1966), the father of Mr. Angier’s teacher, Yoshida Kenji (1903-1954), was skilled in more than one style of martial arts. Not only did he teach Daito Ryu to the public, he was also known to have denso (transmission scrolls) in several different arts. He possessed technical skills in Kito Ryu Jujutsu and Onno-ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu, which I’ve read were evident in his public teachings.

I have no idea if any one can say with any certainty what influences one martial arts style had upon any other for Yoshida Koatro, but his history shows a certain level of cross training and exploration. Clearly, he saw the value of training with various other instructors, who must have had something worthy to offer him.

Since Yoshida Kotaro took the time and effort to train with others, I think it would be very hard to believe that he didn’t embrace and incorporate new methodologies or concepts he felt were more effective and efficient than what he previously possessed.

Nor would it be beyond the realm of possibility that over the years he incorporated other methodologies into his core base as his abilities and comprehension of scientific principles improved.

However, I’m sure there is no one out there that would accuse Yoshida Kotaro of theft. Nor in my opinion should they.

Small Circles

So how about all the insights I gained from training with Wally Jay.

Prof. Jay was never my instructor, but I did attend numerous seminars he gave. I also have his books, and a video, which I’ve read and watched countless times.

I’m no Small-Circle Jujutsu expert, but I believe I understand the concepts Prof. Jay taught. I know for certain I employ some of them when doing certain techniques.

In many cases, the information Prof. Jay taught at these seminars helped to clarify things I already knew. Sometimes I was shown a subtlety that just made old techniques even more effective. In other cases I disagreed with his assertions, and although I will admit he is more of an expert than me, I never did techniques again after learning them at a seminar.

Basically, I thank Prof. Jay for enhancing what I already knew. I also thank him for exposing me to techniques and concepts that with practice and some trail and error eventually added new dimensions to old forms.

Most of all, I thank Prof. Jay for adding to my martial arts lexicon, and giving me the tools to break down and explain various techniques to my students in a much more concise manner.

The funny thing is that while Wally Jay is credited with developing “Small Circle Jujutsu,” his creation was nothing new or revolutionary. It was based on the martial arts he had learned from others, as well as his own research/trail and error. He may be the person responsible for propagating “small circle” methodology in modern times, but he didn’t create it all on his own.

This is not my just opinion, either. In the article “The Founder of Small Circle Ju Jitsu,” Michael Belzer states:

“In 1962 Jay attracted the attention of a 22-year old martial artist from Seattle named Bruce Lee. Lee was amazed how someone with little formal training in judo could go on to produce champions. However. from the many long hours that Lee spent at Jay’s dojo (training hall) with friend Jimmy Lee, the legendary martial artist saw the value of Jay’s broad background in the fighting arts. Jay had adopted various techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, kung fu, weightlifting and jujitsu, and brought them together in what he called his Small Circle Theory Jujitsu. Like Jay and his innovative instructors before him, Bruce Lee knew that talent, technique, and style knew no traditional boundaries and that excellence carried no single banner or flag. The three martial artists spent many long hours exchanging theories, fighting principles, and techniques, and over the following years, a strong bond of trust and friendship developed. As their reputations grew, they remained friends, and while Bruce Lee went on to take Hollywood, Hong Kong, and the martial arts world by storm, Wally Jay established the ten principles that would set his mark in the world of jujitsu.”

The Founder of Small Circle Ju Jitsu” by Michael Belzer

Now, following the arguments the “Martial Arts Police” made in their allegations, it must be true that Prof. Jay was also a thief. After all, it’s clear that many concepts he taught and incorporated into his “small circle system” came from other sources.

In fact, I would argue that he is a better thief than I am, since he profited from what he “stole” more than I ever have, or will.

But maybe Prof. Jay is too famous to be publicly accused of “stealing.” Maybe, what he taught has been so widely accepted as being something he “created,” he is above incrimination.

So let’s move on.

Janet Gee

Another instructor I’ve gained valuable insights from is Sifu Janet Gee, Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan/Choy Li Fut. Once again, she has never been my instructor, but I’ve attended several seminars she has taught, and had the opportunity to talk with her several times about martial arts in general.

There is no question that her approach to martial arts is very different from mine. Yet as different as things may appear on the surface, the science that makes the techniques she teaches work is the same.

What I like most about Sifu Gee’s teaching method is her no nonsense approach when explaining the way things work. She also has a great talent for breaking down techniques and demonstrating the different nuances that can cause different results.

While I may lack the physical skills (speed and definitely the flexibility) to be able to do her martial art in the manner she can, I still always gain valuable insights on how things need to be done in order to be effective.

More importantly, she has definitely taught me to approach and examine things in a different manner, and to think outside of the box.

I’ve never been privy to Sifu Gee’s training history, but according to her bio, she started training in the martial arts in 1971. Her principle styles have been Choy Li Fut Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan, but over the years she has also studied Aikido, Tae Kwan Do, Jujitsu, Kempo Karate, Indonesian martial arts, and Judo.

Is there anyone out there who doubts the fact that Sifu Gee incorporates concepts, principles, and techniques from numerous sources when she teaches? Of course she does. She studied other arts to improve her skills, and now passes on her combined knowledge to those fortunate enough to train with her.

Furthermore, Sifu Gee states that she has incorporated elements of the “Alexander Technique,” (a method that develops sophisticated conscious coordination designed to improve ease and freedom of movement as well as teach practitioners how to use appropriate amounts of energy for a particular activity), into her martial arts teaching. Now I’ll admit, I don’t know a lot about the “Alexander Technique,” but last time I checked, it’s not even a martial art.

But wait, wouldn’t all this cross training and incorporating new ideas make her a thief too? After all, she is combining and propagating information derived from other individuals. I mean, is she doing anything more or less than I’ve been accused of?

Vital Point

Another instructor who has had a direct impact on the way I teach is Prof. Rick Clark, Ao Denkou Kai. Like the other instructors I’ve listed already, Prof. Clark has never been my instructor, but I’ve attended several of his seminars and have hosted him to teach in the Bay Area several times.

While his knowledge of vital point striking is superior to mine, we often exchange concepts and principles. I would like to think I’ve offered him several ideas to contemplate and explore. At least, that is what he has told me several times.

Prof. Clark’s main contribution to my art was exposing me to the upper level of vital point usage, without wasting my time teaching me all the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo many instructors like to perpetuate.

More importantly, Prof. Clark clarified many of the things my teacher Hiroshi Yachigusa taught me, by explaining them to me in simple to understand English. Since there was nothing lost in translation, I have a better understanding of the material now. Nuances which I may have missed because of language barriers, or the poor comprehension skills of youth, were finally pointed out to me. As a result I’m more effective and efficient when performing techniques.

Prof. Clark also helped me a lot with terminology. Because of this, I am able to discuss vital point striking more professionally, and to a general audience.

Of course, even with all the help Prof. Clark has given me over the years, I now have to say he to is a thief. I mean, he originally trained in Korean systems and judo/jujutsu, and then Arnis. He even admits that what he teaches now is an accumulation of the knowledge he has gained over many years, from many sources.

Yes, it’s true that Prof. Clark has done an awful lot of research on his own, but not everything he teaches was self-taught. Not every principle, or scientific method he employs and teaches is his original work. It is an ACCUMULATION of many things, from many sources.

Once a Thief

Lets face it, I could keep going on and on, naming and discussing numerous teachers I’ve had the great fortune to train with in the last 35 years. There are many instructors who have had a long lasting impression on me, and on the methodologies I now employ. No matter who I would name, no matter what style they taught, they can all be accused of “stealing” information and/or techniques from someone else.

They can all be accused of “stealing,” because they are all individuals who cross-trained, searched out, or researched the martial arts in order to improve what they already knew. They all incorporated knew information they discovered to improve their skills, fill gaps in their primary training, or make themselves more efficient.

Basically they’ve all done what I’ve done.

Yes, I admit I was taught a lot of things by a lot of people, but I didn’t “steal” anything. If anything I took what I was shown, examined it, studied it, tried to figure out how it did or did not relate to what I already knew, and after trail and error either incorporated this information or discarded it.

Furthermore, I didn’t “steal” anything because the information I was given was shared with countless others in public forums. People present were under no restrictions, secret blood oaths, or threats not to disseminate what they were told.

The fact that I elected to share such information in a public forum, on this weblog, while others either do not share or do so more privately, isn’t my concern. Nor is it something I should be condemned for.

To accuse me of “stealing,” is ludicrous. If I am guilty, than so is everyone else past and present because since very ancient times no one has come with an original thought or method in regards to fighting methodologies (except perhaps firearms).

Sure things are explained and presented differently, depending on the style, but we martial artists all do the same things. THERE ARE NO SECRETS, AND SCIENCE IS SCIENCE.

Hiroshi Yachigusa taught me a lot, but he didn’t know everything, nor did he claim to. Looking back, I feel Hiroshi Yachigusa tried his best to teach me what he knew, but because of my age and maturity at the time, and the language barrier between us, that information wasn’t as thorough as it could have been.

I realized this long ago. As result, I have made it my business to seek out and train with others no matter what their rank, affiliation, or martial style. As a result I’m not a parrot who repeats the mantra of one sole individual, no matter how much respect I may have for them.

Nor am I the type of person who isn’t willing to change/alter techniques within the martial system I was taught. If I discover a better, more effective method I will adopt it. Fortunately, this is something Yachigusa Sensei would have approved of, he always felt that the essence of his art that was more important than any of the techniques themselves.

So if the above behavior constitutes “stealing” like I’ve been accused of, I’m guilty. Guilty as Hell!! But though I’m admitting my “guilt,” I’m not doing anything that centuries and centuries of martial artists of the past didn’t do.

Clearly, martial artists such as Musashi, Mitose, Ueshiba, Kano, Funakoshi, Chow, Parker, and even Bruce Lee also sought out better ways to improve their abilities, from any source available to them. They too incorporated and embraced new knowledge. And eventually, they taught their accumulated knowledge to others. Often they did this without giving credit to their various sources.

Their direct students continued these progressions, as did future generations of students after them. To make the claim that your style of martial arts has gone unchanged for centuries is ridiculous. Every instructor, no matter how traditional, makes changes or omissions, based on their ability and comprehension. That’s the human factor.

To make the claim that your system, style, or teacher has exclusive rights to some technical information is insanity. Is anyone so delusional to really believe their way is the best, absolute method, and that their aren’t others doing the same things elsewhere? How conceited, arrogant, and self-righteous can someone be?

To those individuals who accused me of theft, and those that thought there was merit to their accusations, I say you should examine what you do, and really explore how “pure and untainted” your martial art style is. I’m sure you’ll discover that your teacher… Ahem… “Stole” things too.

Maybe worse yet, you’ll discover that you are also the sum of many parts. Perhaps you will find that consciously or unconsciously, you’re as big, or even a bigger thief than I. At least I publicly admit what I do.


Just in case you didn’t get it–if one of the instructors I’ve named above happens to be your teacher, and you now find yourself fuming that I had the audacity to accuse them of being a thief, you missed the point. None of the above, including myself, “STOLE” anything. That’s the absurdity of the whole accusation, since we are all the sum of many parts.

The fact is I have nothing but the utmost respect for the instructors I’ve listed above.

No angry E-mails please.

Who Says Women Can’t Fight

When I started teaching fifteen years ago, my school was mainly comprised of teenage girls. In fact, six of my very first seven students were female, (see blog essay “A Brief School History Part 1 – The First Seven,” June 2006).

Since one of my main training partners when I was a student myself was a woman (my teacher’s daughter), I had no reservations about teaching these young ladies. I certainly did not have any concerns about whether women belonged in the martial arts or not. The fact is, I welcomed the opportunity to teach them, especially because I feel women have more of a need to learn life-protection skills than most men do.

Over the years, I’ve read numerous articles debating whether women belong in the martial arts, whether they can compete with men, and the pros and cons of men training with women. I assume that those that believe women have no place training in the martial arts don’t realize that there have been many notable women warriors throughout history. Even the creation of the art of Wing Chun is credited to a woman named Yim Wing Chun (Beautiful Springtime).

I, for one, have never understood these debates. So when I teach women, I teach them exactly like I teach the men. I give them no preferential treatment, and I expect them to perform techniques just like the men do. No “Dojo Bunnies” are allowed.

While the argument that men are physically stronger on average is true, my experience has shown me that women compensate by becoming more technically oriented. This doesn’t mean that any woman could go toe to toe with any man in a fight, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance either. All factors being equal, I don’t see why a woman can’t beat a man.

In fact, I know a few women martial artists I wouldn’t want to fight with, and that I would be extremely happy to see coming to my aid in a real a street fight. To be perfectly honest, I was once saved from being thrown off the top of a water tower by my female police partner: she grabbed the suspect’s testicles and pinned him to the ground without ever losing her grip. Now that is technique over brawn. I bet the bad guy is still singing soprano to this day.

Well, for anyone who thinks women can’t fight, or shouldn’t be martial artists, I’m posting this video clip featuring Mixed Martial Arts fighter Satoko Shinashi.

This is one tuff looking little powerhouse. That’s not a sexist statement either. Satoko Shinashi is 4-11 and about 105 pounds. That’s pretty tiny. However, though small in stature this Sambo/Jujutsu stylist has amassed quite a fighting record.

Bronze Medal – 2000 World Sambo Championships (-48kg)

Silver Medal – 2001 Asia Sambo Championship

Gold Medal – All Japan Brazilian Jujutsu Championships

MMA record – 13-1-1

Semi-professional MMA record – 11-0-0

What’s really impressive in this video happens during the last few second, when she makes a much larger male opponent tap out by using an arm bar. It’s clearly a David versus Goliath match, and while I haven’t been able to find out why the fight took place or what specific rules they fought under, it shows a woman can, at times, beat a man.

Now, I’m not saying that Satoko Shinashi is the best woman fighter out there. I’m certain there are plenty of others. What I liked about the video is her technical ability, and the power she demonstrates executing her techniques. Clearly, she is a martial artist.

Certainly, this video shows that women can fight, and I’m sure as female MMA matches gain more acceptance, it wont be long until we witness a number of cross-gender fights.

The Secret: "WILL and SUFFERING"

A couple of years ago, I had a student who had waited almost 50 years to start taking martial arts classes. While he knew his age would be a factor, he stated he was prepared to endure whatever it took to learn to be a good martial artist.

During my initial phone conversation with this gentleman, I also knew his age was a factor. But anyone willing to drive over an hour to train with me (that’s an hour in each direction) deserves a chance, and clearly shows a willingness, if not an eagerness, to learn.

Initially, things went well; I started him off with a program to increase his level of fitness, while instilling some strong fundamentals. I purposely limited what I would exposed him to; after all, the older you are the longer it takes to heal if you get hurt. Even minor bumps and bruises feel more severe as one gets older. I know that first hand, and I’m only 45.

Of course, every now and then I would push him. I would do techniques I knew he wasn’t ready for and didn’t have the technical capability to execute properly. I didn’t do this to make him feel bad or inadequate. I did it simply to expose him to different techniques, and to show him how important mastering the fundamentals were before moving on. I wanted to show him how the fundamentals form the core, the foundation, of all techniques that follow.

As time moved on, I could see he was getting more and more impatient, and bored, of doing the basics. While I fully understood his position, all I could do was try to keep up his morale, while reminding him over and over again about the importance of mastering basic body movement.

Unfortunately, this issue grew and grew; I could see his frustration building. Things finally reached a point where all he could keep asking me was “how could I do things so much better than him?” “Why could the senior students do things so much better than him?” “What was he doing wrong?”

Well, the simple answer would have been that I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. However, the answer I gave him was more honest, “practice.” Practice, practice, and more practice. It requires many hours, weeks, and years spent doing repetition after boring, sometimes painstaking, repetition. My ability to do what I do took a lot of will, a desire not to settle for mediocrity, and a whole lot of suffering–not to mention sacrifice.

Of course, this is not the answer he wanted to hear. He wanted to know the “SECRET.”

Secret, what secret? There is no secret. There are no shortcuts. I tried to tell him that he had waited 50 years to start practicing, so he shouldn’t be in a rush now.

As you may have guessed, this answer didn’t appease him. Eventually the long drive, and lack of perceived progress, discouraged him from continuing training with me. In a way, it was too bad, because he was making a lot more progress than he realized; and if he had focused more on the material than his desire to learn “the secrets,” he would have progressed even faster.

* * *

Now, this story is nothing remarkable, and I’m sure every teacher has encountered such a student from time to time. We’ve all met people who have the desire to achieve something, but do not have the internal fortitude, “the heart,” to do what is necessary to accomplish such a goal. This is especially true when it is a goal that requires a great deal of dedication and hard work, coupled with physical hardship.

The importance of this story is that it can be used to teach future students. It’s a good story to tell new students when they are facing the same circumstances. Such was the case recently, which of course leads to the main point of this essay.

In this case however, the student wasn’t asking for secrets, or looking for shortcuts. He simply wanted to know how to motivate himself to persevere thorough the arduous, often tedious, training regiment he was facing.

It’s a good question, and though I tried my best to answer, I don’t think I really connected with him. Fortunately, I have some excellent students who often have the ability to express things in a manner that I lack. Many times we may be saying the same exact things, but somebody needs to hear it in a different way. Such was the case this particular day.

Basically, the conversation centered on two aspects of training which are often overlooked: the Will and Suffering.

* * *

Now, I could go on and write a long, wordy essay about this, but fortunately, I was given a link to an article that explains this better than I ever could. Though it was written in regards to mountain climbing, it is applicable to almost any endeavor, and the parallels to martial arts should be clear enough.

The article is titled, “Will and Suffering,” and was written by Mark Twight. It can be accessed by going to:

Anyone who is a regular reader on this blog knows I’m not in the habit of linking to someone else’s web page, but in this instance it’s warranted. I fully agree with what Mr. Twight writes.

One must have the will, the desire to accomplish something. They must have the will to put in the required hours, seek out the proper instruction, and endure the obstacles that may slow down their progress.

They must be willing to suffer. Not just physically, but also socially. If one’s goal is to be a professional fighter and they have a choice to train or go to a party, the training has to come first. It’s a no-brainier, but it is a sacrifice few are willing to make.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of people have will, especially in the initial phase of starting a new endeavor. Unfortunately, few have the will to suffer in order to achieve their goals.

Let’s face it; few people have the patience and/or internal fortitude to complete anything they start. Furthermore, in a day where we are exposed to so many opportunities it’s very hard for people to hold an interest in any one thing for very long.

Unfortunately, those that give up when the going gets tough, or when they become frustrated, never learn a very valuable lesson. The real “secret” of success.

* * *

During last night’s practice, I asked a new student who has had trouble learning to execute a forward roll she had been practicing. She smiled and answered yes, and proudly stated that she had finally figured out how to do a forward roll.

Sure enough, she executed a forward roll, and then another one. They weren’t picture perfect, but her improvement was a major accomplishment for her. At least this time she did not hit her head, slam her shoulder, or make that awful thudding sound.

However, she was still unsatisfied with her progress, and complained about her lack of ability.

“Baby steps,” I told her, “you learn by taking baby steps.” There was no response, but she nodded in acceptance, as if there was no other way.

Did she have the Will? Clearly, her effort, her determination to learn to roll shows she did. Did she suffer? You bet, and she has the bruises to prove it.

The real question is, did she gain some insight, some introspection, about what she is capable of? I believe so, and that is the most valuable lesson one can gain from any endeavor–when they don’t quit, or take shortcuts to achieve their goals.

By having the will–the drive to succeed especially during adversity–and the willingness to suffer in order to achieve said goals, one develops a sense of self, a sense of self-worth, and the knowledge they can in fact accomplish their goals. That is the most valuable lesson one can ever learn, and something money can’t buy.

[see also: Patience and Repitition and The Secret ]


Mark F. Twight is the founder of Gym Jones, a private invitation only facility. He rose to prominence in the world Alpine mountaineering community in the late 80’s, and recently was credited with training the cast of the movie “300.”

A Uniform for the Low Ranking Spearman

As readers stumble upon this blog or the school website, we get all sorts of feedback: some we receive directly and some we find as chatter on message boards, some is thoughtful, some is nasty.

On several occasions now, people have asked and speculated about a photo of myself on our website where I am wearing a green kimono and a tare.

Normally I hate pictures of myself. Maybe one out of five hundred pictures taken of me won’t get torn up, or–in this day of digital–erased. With such a small selection of photos of me to choose from, I picked this one. One day I’m sure it will be replaced when I find one I like better.

This photo happened to be taken on a day when I was teaching my students how to use the yari (spear). This outfit of a kimono, no hakama (pleated trousers), and a tare–basically a padded apron–from a set of kendo armor, might seem unusual to most practitioners of the Japanese martial arts.

Yet, this was the normal “uniform” that I wore when I trained in Sojutsu (spear arts) with my teacher (minus the t-shirt seen underneath, which my teacher would never have allowed, but I now wear to protect the kimono from my sweat–it’s very hard to find a kimono that fits me).

It might surprise some of you young guys, but finding a hakama in the 70’s and 80’s wasn’t that easy. However, kimonos were easy to find, and a vintage kimono was a lot cheaper than a hakama. As a result, we wore kimonos most of the time, especially at the beach where we didn’t want to get our hakamas (those that we could find) dirty or damaged due to the sand and water.

As for the tare, well that’s simple: it protects the hips, upper thighs, and groin. Since sojutsu training includes a great deal of thrusting practice from the hip, it is not unusual to get hit in these spots when doing two man drills/forms, especially if one’s timing is just a little off, or a deflection doesn’t go were it is suppose to

While the tare doesn’t offer great protection, it’s better than nothing at all. It’s also easier to find and far more affordable that buying a do-maru, which would be the most appropriate equipment to practice in. A do-maru is a type of Japanese medieval armor that first appeared in Japan during the 11th century; it was commonly worn by lower ranking foot soldiers.

I think a lot of the confusion related to my picture would have been eliminated if I had also been wearing the do (chest guard) that normally goes with the tare. However, when I was training with my teacher, finding Kendo armor was even harder than finding a hakama. When one could come across them, they were very expensive–especially for a teenager with limited funds. Lets face it, they’re even expensive today.

Since lack of funds was always an issue, my teacher and I rarely could afford to buy martial arts equipment. We had to improvise. This meant we rarely, if ever, owned a do to wear, and we never had a men (helmet). We didn’t even have kote (gloves)–which, by the way, are terrible for spear practice (at least the ones designed for Kendo are.)

Do Men Kote

The fact of the matter is, that when I was training with my teacher, we normally made our own tare. We made them out of stiff cardboard and foam that was covered in assorted scrap fabrics. They didn’t look pretty, but they were functional, and if they ripped we didn’t care. In addition, the “plates” were a lot longer then most tare, and covered both the front and back of the person wearing it.

In many instances, our tare were more comparable to kusazuri, though some versions were clearly related to haidate.

Now please forgive my ignorance when it comes to Japanese armor, but I believe the difference between a kusazuri and haidate are that the kusazuri version is a skirt of plates attached to a leather belt which is laced to the bottom of the do, while the haidate version are a series of plates intended to specifically protect the thighs.

Another difference is that haidate do not protect the rear side of the person wearing them, and from what I’ve read were often not worn by samurai because they were uncomfortable, had limited mobility, and slowed them down.

Kusazuri with do


As for the do, we did try to make them, but cardboard doesn’t work well, and really gives a false sense of security. After much trial and error, my teacher came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. He felt that it was more important to really learn to deflect or evade attacks to the body, than rely on such protection. And yes, it hurts a lot when a thrust strike hits your body.

Of course, we tried other things. One substitute we tried was using chest guards designed for baseball catchers. But they presented other problems. For example, when they got wet they became very heavy and uncomfortable. They would also smell and rot due to the moisture. Basically, they were just not a good solution.

We also made our own sune-ate (shin guards), which were either worn over are bare legs, or covered the bottom of our hakamas when we elected to wear them. The beaches in San Francisco where we trained can get extremely cold and a hakama helps keep you warm or at least reduce the wind-chill factor–at least a little.

As I said already, I’m no armor expert; but from all the pictures and illustrations I’ve seen of Ashigaru (conscripted foot soldiers) they are normally depicted wearing little more than a do with kusazuri, and some type of simple helmet such as a jingasa (war hat).

My teacher considered himself as a spearman, and had ancestors who were once low ranking samurai, possibly ashigaru (a fact he never fully confirmed or denied). I believe that he wished to equip himself in that fashion while practicing spear techniques, but elected to wear only the tare since he didn’t own a do or a do-maru.

Whether this was a family tradition, or was simply because my teacher couldn’t afford the proper equipment I can’t say. Though if I had to guess, it was probably due to his financial situation.

In either case, following the example set by my teacher, we now wear the tare when practicing Sojutsu, which explains the photo. One day, if I can find affordable, sturdy, American-sized do-maru, that tradition will most likely change.

I’m not stating that wearing the tare alone is traditional when it comes to Sojutsu styles, or that any other school dress in such a manner. It just works for us.

Picture from “Ashigaru 1467-1649” by Stephen Turnbull and Howard Gerrard