First of all, I want to thank everyone here, talk a little about the origins of Sobukan for our newer members, reminisce about some of the times we have had, and importantly I want to share my vision for the next five years of our dojo and listen to your thoughts.
Of course I appreciate you attending tonight’s celebration, but I really want to thank you for all of the support that everyone here has given me, and Sobukan Martial Arts, over the past five years. Some people are current students, some are family members, some are past members. All of you have played an important role in the development of this dojo, and its achievements, of which I am very proud.
Before I say anything more, please allow me to remind you that our mission statement is to help people like to you be healthier, happier and safer. Therefore, please enjoy yourself tonight, but please have a plan in place to ensure that you do not drink and drive. I am happy for people to camp out on the mats if need be, or I will call you a taxi if you require one, but if there is no excuse for people who invest time and money in self-protection to drink and drive.
Origins of Sobukan
Tonight we celebrate the 5th anniversary of Sobukan, but its origins go back much further.
I started karate in primary school, and earned my first black belt at 18. I was technically very good at punching and kicking; I was fast and strong and was told that my kata was excellent. However, I knew very little about throwing, grappling and trapping and I didn’t really understand the dozens of kata I had learned. I had only recently taken up kickboxing, and previous to that had not sparred full-contact. The reality was that I didn’t feel like a black belt.
I started searching for a dojo that could help me to become the martial artist I wanted to be: a dojo that taught strikes, throws, grappling & locking and could teach me the meaning of my kata. I wanted a fun, safe dojo that taught effective martial arts in an effective, yet traditional and friendly manner. Plus, I had a soft spot for Japanese culture.
I found many good dojo that ticked some of these boxes, but I couldn’t find one single dojo that satisfied all of my criteria. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I realised that other people would also be searching for the same thing, and decided to devote myself to researching and training in the best martial arts in each range and establishing my ‘ideal’ dojo.
The product of more than 30 years of training, and 20 years of research, is Sobukan!
For me the ‘best’ martial arts in each range I have found include:
Standing: Muay Thai, Kudo, Koryu Uchinadi/Karate
Clinch: Judo, Kudo, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Jujutsu
Ground: BJJ, shooto/catch-wrestling
With the exception of wrestling, I have spent many years studying each of these arts, as well as Filipino Martial Arts and Krav Maga for weaponry and self defence.
I now feel worthy of my black belt, but I haven’t finished my research yet. I am keen to earn black belts in Kudo and BJJ, which will equal eight martial arts that I hold black belts in.
The next challenge was how to combine and teach these arts. Sobukan black belts must know that they are worthy of the rank. They should be proficient in all fight ranges; standing, in the clinch, and on the ground. They should be able to hold their own with a karate black belt standing, judo black belt in the clinch and a BJJ blue belt on the ground.
Our syllabus aims to ensure that a Sobukan black belt knows the techniques and drills required for both a Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu black belt (which is essentially a high level karate black belt) and a judo black belt.
Of course it is not just about the end result, but also the journey, and it is equally important that members are achieving milestone goals along the way.
So how can we simultaneously achieve high level skills effectively in three martial arts – or more? This is a constant dilemma, especially as we have limited time together. I will speak more soon about recent changes that have been designed to align our syllabus with our self-defence/fighting ability goals.
One trick is in the Pareto principle, which states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. Personal experience with numerous martial arts over three decades leads me to conclude that once an individual has progressed past the initial skill acquisition stage, partner drills are most efficient and effective for the practice and application stages of mastery.
Also important is principle-based, rather than technique-based learning. This allows us to focus on the overlapping principles common to our martial arts, effectively facilitating simultaneous progress in multiple martial arts.
People coming and going
As you will know, I speak about Sobukan members as the Sobuclan. This is not by chance. I understand that when some students enter a dojo they may see it as no more than purchasing a service, but for me it means much more. Sobukan is my extended family, and you are my brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.
Martial arts have high turnover rates. Would you expect less from an activity that is designed encourage you to challenge your limits? Life has a habit of throwing curveballs and it is unavoidable that some people cannot continue to be part of Sobukan. People move, change jobs, priorities change, family situations change, health issues play a role. Of course, sometimes people simply want something different.
Every time a Sobuclan member leaves it feels like I have lost a family member. I am going to mention two tonight.
Raghu started with Sobukan just a few months after we opened in 2011. Along with Sei, Nick, Geoff, Pacey, Umehara san, Dylan, Max, Jaden, Joel, Kynan, and Chris Brewster, Raghu was one of our original ‘Mitcham’ members. Unlike many of our other members who were already experienced martial artists, Raghu was a complete beginner who started martial arts due to the danger in pursuing politics in his home region. Raghu’s enthusiasm is impossible to deny. Since joining Sobukan, Raghu has participated in every demonstration, and his comedy skits have brought the house down. He has competed in every competition. He was the first member from Sobukan to compete in a full-contact fight – which he did against a black belt far bigger than him. He was the first person from SA to compete in Kudo and also the first person from SA to grade in Kudo. In his last competition he fought a ‘perfect’ fight for an amazing win against a far bigger fighter from Melbourne at the Kudo Nationals. Unfortunately a changing economy left the research scientist delivering pizzas, and Sobukan was one of the only reasons Raghu remained in Australia. He went back to Chennai to purchase some agricultural land and found himself at the centre of many opportunities he could only dream of in Australia. He had no choice but to stay in his homeland, but promises to visit someday. I know many of you miss Raghu as much as I do. A toast to our Indian friend!
The next member I would like to mention is John Edgar. The length of time he was able to train with us may have been limited by his health, but his passion and enthusiasm for our dojo was not. I know he would want us to tip a glass of red wine or whisky in his honour. Rest in Peace John.
I mentioned the original Mitcham crew before, and want to extend my appreciation to these people one more time. Sei, Nick, Geoff, Pacey, Umehara san, Dylan, Max, Jaden, Joel, Kynan, and Chris have been training at Sobukan now for five years, or close enough that it doesn’t matter. Recently Sei has really stood out as both a practitioner and a teacher, not only teaching beginners, but also showing an ability to teach high grades. Sei has been training at home since birth, was Sobukan’s very first student at 3 years of age and working keenly toward his black belt.
I see some real leaders in the original group, and you will all recognise that Geoff and Pacey have been pillars of our dojo for a long time now. In fact, I am pretty sure that I get more out of these guys than they get from me! Not all of those members were blessed with the sort of natural talent that shines straight away, but diamonds take time to shine. I look at the discipline and work ethic of people like Dylan and Joel, who remind me so much of myself. My only talent is persistence and dedication. Given enough time, these qualities can beat all.
There have been so many highlights over the past five years, I could not possibly go over them all. Some include:
- Numerous Japanese and Asian festivals
- Kudo championships and associated road trips
- BJJ competitions
- AMAA competitions
- Parties, lunches and chocolate fondue
- Outdoor training, such as pushing the car around Goodwood Oval, kata at Himeji Gardens and wrestling at the beach
- Fitness Expos and being on The Project with Sei
- Featuring in a bunch of Blitz magazine articles
- Seminars and Training days
- Watching everyone grow up
- And all the hours spent rolling, sparring and training on the mats with you all.
I can only imagine the fun we will have over the next five years!
Vision for future
We have come so far, but we have so for to go. Ironically the injuries and illnesses I have had this year have provided a perfect opportunity to slow down, review, reflect, revaluate and redesign a plan for the next five years.
The first and most obvious result is a new syllabus, which is still evolving, to ensure that our members are achieving their objectives. For most people, this means improving their striking, clinching, trapping and grappling skills in order to improve their self defensive ability while having fun and improving their health and fitness. Quite simply, we will spend less time learning long drills and more time practicing skills – which has been a key to success in the Sobukids classes.
I appreciate the frustrations that members feel learning a syllabus of such breadth in limited time. In order to assist I have started creating a few tools to help members learn in their own time, including:
- A detailed step by step syllabus document complete with hyperlinks to online resources
- Recording the entire syllabus on video
- Periodic advanced classes outside regular lesson times
Speaking of advanced classes, vital for the growth and development of the dojo is the upper tier. A steady flow of new students is necessary for the survival of any dojo, but critically important to the culture, skill development, infrastructure and continuity of a dojo is the leadership group.
One core plan that I have is to introduce a leadership development programme, and identify and invite individuals that meet some or all of the leadership criteria to participate. Participants would then be given guidance in a number of topics relevant to dojo management; such as:
- Martial arts
Which brings me onto the next part of the plan. Adelaide has a distinct lack of quality competition and cross-training opportunities, particularly for children. Not immediately, but some time over the next five years, I would like to establish additional dojo around Adelaide, particularly in the North and South, where we have a lot of students travelling from.
Multiple dojo would enable us to have:
- Interclub Kudo, kata, grappling, KU demo and self defence demo competitions
- Regular interclub social events and training days
- Advanced classes for leadership groups from various dojo
It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation, because we need numbers to grow to expand, and I hope additional dojo will enable us to continue to grow organically, but growth will give us further exciting opportunities that otherwise would not be available.
In particular, I am keen to start planning our first Sobukan training trip to Japan, which I hope will become an annual event with more members joining us each year. This will inject our dojo with further skills, cultural understanding – and it will be a lot of fun!!
I also want to host martial art masters from around the world for seminars, gradings and competitions in SA. Usually when big names come to Australia, SA is left off the itinerary. With a strong Sobukan network here in SA we will be able to influence who visits SA and generally be able to host some of the best martial artists.
One of the first visitors I hope to invite to Adelaide is a Kudo master from Japan, Watanabe shibucho. He is an excellent instructor who I learned a great deal from during my recent trip.
I also hope to establish a sister dojo relationship with a dojo in Japan for student and instructor exchange programmes. I have a couple of potential dojo in mind for this.
Of course, all these flights and accommodation cost money, so fundraising will be required. When I set the prices for Sobukan, I made them as cheap as I thought was possibly sustainable, as I wanted training to be accessible for everyone. I am proud to say that despite rising costs, I have not raised dojo fees once. My desire is still to help anyone who seeks it, and therefore I have no plans to increase fees to raise funds.
I am open to all ideas, but selling snags at Woollies or Bunnings might be a good way to hand out flyers as well as make a few dollars – kill two birds with one stone and get some training in during quiet periods! Please cooperate when you can.
As mentioned previously, we need to expand our student base to establish additional dojo and to make trips Japan, competitions, seminars, sister dojo etc a reality. Your cooperation in getting the word out and introducing people is the best form of advertising. We haven’t really done much in terms of advertising/marketing in the past, and we haven’t really needed to, but as we have a few people who will be reaching black belt level over the next five years, we now have the foundation in place to start thinking bigger and better.
I have some new flyers in the works and have given some thought to a revamped logo. I have moved away from the yin yang design as I feel that it is more of a Chinese Tao design that illustrates a very black or white reflection on life. I do not feel this accurately reflects the complex reality of the world we live in.
Therefore, I have moved towards a mitsudomoe design, a triple teardrop shaped circle swirl that better relects the Japanese and Okinawan heritages of Sobukan martial arts. It pays homage to KU; the Okinawan royalty (who were patrons of Okinawan martial arts); and Hachiman, the patron God of warriors;. It illustrates swirling water – be water, my friend!
Three sides give better balance than two. Always look for a third option. Always look past black and white, look at the grey. Self defence is not about win or lose, but survive. The third section offers an alternative – a win/win solution.
You will see the concept of ‘3s’ appear more and more in our studies. Three options represent a good balance. Three techniques are easy to remember, four start to get confusing. Two can be insufficient or predictable.
The three sections of mitsudomoe symbolise 天地人, or Heaven, Earth, Man. In our case, they also represent 打投極, or strike, throw, and submit. Or立組寝(stand, clinch, ground). Our three primary arts of Kudo, Karate/KU, Jujutsu. 心技体, or spirit, technique, body. And of course 総武館SoBuKan.
So, in a nutshell, my vision includes:
- An evolving syllabus that develops strong all-round self defence skills, but allows individual flexibility and creativity
- Outside of class learning support
- Leadership development programme
- Dojo in North and South
- Interclub comps and training events
- Training trips to Japan
- Masters from Japan etc visiting for seminars and gradings
- Sister school in Japan
- Updated image.
Please allow me to finish by reiterating my deep appreciation for making this past five years some of the most rewarding of my life. I am very proud that I have several students who are well on their way to achieving the coveted black belt and many more who have achieved so much since they first walked through these doors.