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Dojo Info

A great time in Japan - training at Oguri's dojo in 2007

The term Sente is used often in the game of Go, which is where I was introduced to it. If you are unfamiliar, Go is an ancient board game that is considered and treated as a true martial art, including traditional belt rankings. Go is the only martial art, other than the Bujinkan, that I have delved into. I won’t say ‘studied’ because I haven’t committed myself to real study under a formal teacher. I enjoy playing, have read several books, and make some effort to keep up on the current players and goings on in the Go world.

In Go you lay stones to surround territory and capture the opponent’s stones. The game is scored after both players pass their turn consecutively. Score is tallied by counting controlled territory after subtracting dead/captured stones on either side.

Sente is a term that refers to placing a stone that your opponent must choose to answer, or accept some level of sacrifice by not answering. Keeping your opponent off balance in this way not only controls your opponent, but also controls the flow of the game and the direction of play.

A traditional dictionary definition is:
1. Beginning before.
2. To place yourself in an advantageous position.

Sente is also explained as asking questions that your opponent must answer. Someone is considered to be ‘in Sente’ if they have the advantage and are a step ahead of an opponent. Having Sente means that you are in balance, in control of yourself, and are able to make your own decisions. Being out of Sente, a term called Gote, means being off balance, out of step, and controlled by an outside force.

Finding the right training:
Identifying the right martial art for you and finding the right teacher and training group is invaluable.  You may want to attend various martial art classes until you find an art and a teacher you mesh with.  It’s important that you find a comfortable setting to learn in – taking into consideration the teacher, the students, and the training location.  The students attending class can be a good indication of the teacher. How well do the students move and what feeling do they give off.

Finding a legitimate/recognized Bujinkan teacher:
Within the Bujinkan all teachers are 5th degree black belt or above and are required to have a Shidoshi-Kai membership card. These cards are renewed through the Grandmaster/Hombu Dojo in Japan every year and should be dated with the current year. The cards prove a legitimate connection with the Bujinkan, the Grandmaster, and Japan. They also prove that the holder is a qualified teacher and can give out Bujinkan rank.

Some good questions to ask or look for in a prospective teacher:
How long have they been training?
How long have they been teaching?
How many times have they been to Japan?
When were they in Japan last?
Do they have a current teacher?

Overall experience, a current connection to Japan and the Grandmaster, a desire to be up to date on current training in Japan, and teaching experience are all indicators of a teacher’s ability.  Having a current teacher for guidance, regardless of rank, shows a genuine desire to learn and improve.

Don Roley has written an excellent blog entry ‘What to look for when looking for a Bujinkan Dojo‘.  It’s well worth the read if you are a prospective student trying to make sense of where you should train.

In reference to the above thoughts, I would like to use this space to lay out some of my personal philosophy on training and how I run my dojo.  I hope it provides help and insight to any new students who may be considering my training as an option.

Class Basics:
Our dojo consists of brand new people and seasoned people of rank. Everyone trains together – beginners are not segregated or made to attend a separate class. I feel that knowing the people you train with enhances learning, so prior to class we spend a short time talking about both training and our daily lives. We maintain an inclusive family atmosphere.

Our Training:
We train two times a week, one indoor class and one outdoor class.  The outdoor class is held in Central Park all year round. Outdoor training provides a nice connection with nature and a good perspective on how natural conditions can change the way you approach the martial art.  Movements that are restricted by the elements are important to the experience of training.  Check our ‘Class Times & Location‘ page for specific class info.

I choose not to rely on any dojo funds for personal finances. All money collected through dues is put back into the training with a priority given to paying for our indoor space. I feel that all teachers should study in Japan on a regular basis. For that reason, part of the money collected goes toward helping to pay for the people who teach in the dojo to go to Japan. Excess money is spent on training materials, such as weapons and training videos/media to be used by the class. I maintain a transparent financial system that all students have access to upon request.

My Experience:
To answer the questions listed above – I have been training since August 1987. I’ve been teaching this art since 2001. I have been a Shidoshi-Kai member since November 1999. I’ve been making yearly trips to Japan since 1999.  Larry Turner is my direct teacher.  I communicate with him about my training and the training of my students on a regular basis.  I also make it a point to train with him as much as I can.

We host, attend, and encourage our students to attend seminars conducted by other qualified Bujinkan teachers.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
Thanks for your interest in our dojo and the Bujinkan,
-Rob Flanagan