Why are we called Seal Martial Arts?
Over the years the dojo has gone by several names. We started back in 2016 as the Bujinkan Rugby Dojo and our first lessons were hosted at Overslade Community Centre in Rugby. When we first started the dojo it was hard! I had two students both who were members of my family and although I’d been training in Ninjutsu for years i had no idea how to run a successful dojo!
We had no mats, barely any equipment aside from my personal stuff and were completely unknown in the local community.
When i moved to Rugby from Portsmouth I noticed that there weren’t any Ninjutsu Dojos here and having practiced Ninjutsu and other martial arts for years i had a dream to change that and be the first one in Rugby. Six years later and we are still the only legitimate Ninjutsu Dojo in Rugby!
At some point (I think it was 2017) we changed the name of the dojo to the Bujinkan Shinigami Dojo as it’s quite common to individualise your Bujinkan Dojo with a specific Japanese name which is often given to the instructor by Soke Hatsumi.
Around this time we got the backing of the Princes Trust as i wanted to grow the dojo into something more than it was but needed financial backing to make it happen. It wasn’t easy I had to compile an extremely comprehensive business plan for the dojo and map out exactly how i would scale the dojo up and make it successful. I then had to pitch this to a panel of investors to secure the funding we needed. Fortunately I was successful with my application and received about £4500 to kit out the dojo which made a massive difference!
My initial plan was to open a full time dojo in the centre of town in a commercial unit that used to be a cheque cashing shop. I grossly underestimated how much this would cost as the owners of the property refused to bring it up to a reasonable standard and we found out there was asbestos and all sorts in the walls.
This left me with one option which was to run the dojo out of a separate venue owned by someone else. We started hosting lessons in a WI hall in Dunchurch which was ok but the venue was out of the way and was quite difficult to find if you didn’t specifically know where it was.
I used the funding we received to buy everything we needed like 100 mats and all of the training weapons we needed. I also used the money to market the dojo and get our name out in the local community.
The dojo slowly grew and we gained more students but the location of the dojo made it fairly inaccessible to anyone who didn’t have a car so we needed to look at a change of venue.
We moved to Warwickshire College for a while as the location was better being just on the outskirts of the town but they didn’t really have the availability we needed for the dojo. We trained there for a while up until COVID 19 started but we still needed somewhere else to run lessons.
I think it was late 2018 I was referred to Impact Dance Studios by a local school and we promptly relocated half of the lessons for the dojo into studio 2.
At this time i changed the name of the dojo to Rugby Ninjutsu. This was for a number of reasons but the primary one was that nobody knows what the Bujinkan is outside of Ninjutsu circles. To Bob on the street its far better to be straight and to the point so I thought Rugby Ninjutsu conveyed what we do nicely, Ninjutsu in Rugby.
The dojo was steadily growing and we had quite a big group of students and then the COVID19 pandemic hit the UK. This was a real challenge for us as a martial arts school as it’s social activity that really needs to be done in person.
However we only had one option so we moved all of the lessons online and hosted them on Zoom. This was difficult but when many other schools were failing we flourished purely down to the support of our students and to this day i can’t thank them enough. We didn’t get any grants, no furlough, just kept teaching throughout the pandemic so that the dojo would still be here when the pandemics was over.
During this time i think it was the start of 2020 we changed the name of the dojo to Seal Martial Arts. This way for a number of reasons.
1. From an advertising perspective people know what martial arts are so it makes sense to have that in the name of the dojo. It’s all well and good being called something like Honmon Eishin Ryu Battoho but nobody outside of Japan will have a clue what your on about. You need to make your dojo accessible and normal people need to know what your offering so being called Seal Martial Arts serves an important purpose.
2. Using my family name is important to me personally. My grandfather was a well known boxer in London and had 133 fights in his time going semi professional. He ran a boxing gym in London for a while before having to move down south to Clanfield (Portsmouth) due to a change in employment. For me running the Seal Martial Arts Dojo is following the history of my family in a new way and it makes me proud to see the dojo running successfully now. When i was getting the backing of the Princes Trust my grandfather passed away so he never got to see how the Seal Martial Arts Dojo turned out but I’m sure he’d be proud.
3. For political reasons in the Bujinkan. I love Ninjutsu it’s an art that i have invested years of my life into and still battle to promote its benefits to this day. In 2018 Soke Hatsumi started to take a step back from teaching and cancelled the memberships with the Hombu dojo in preparation for the newly promoted Daishihan to issue their own memberships. This caused a great deal of confusion in the Bujinkan with people battling for power and new ranks. Slowly as Soke Hatsumi stepped back and promoted the new Soke for each Ryuha i noticed that the organisation was falling into disarray and nobody really knew who to follow anymore. The Ku Ryuha (9 Schools) and the techniques that comprise them form an extremely comprehensive martial art that covers just about everything but the organisation is currently a bit of a mess so we took a step back and moved towards being an independent dojo so dropped the Bujinkan/Ninjutsu part of our name.
There is an argument to be made that the Bujinkan as it was doesn’t currently exist anymore since Soke Hatsumi stepped down. Now its all individual branches for the schools such as the Ishizukaden, Nagatoden, Noguchiden, etc. The Bujinkan was created by Soke Hatsumi to transmit the Ku Ryuha and the Tenchijin Ryaku No Maki was written to transmit the basics of the schools so with Soke Hatsumi stepping down the shell that was the Bujinkan is done. It’s hard to explain comprehensively in a short blog post but this doesn’t mean the Bujinkan organisation is finished just that it is evolving into something different and under new leadership.
4. To provide us with the freedom to explore other arts. When we were called the Bujinkan Rugby Dojo or Rugby Ninjutsu we could only really teach Budo Taijutsu in the dojo and couldn’t really deviate from the syllabus. I love Ninjutsu but in many ways a lot of the techniques are stuck in the past when your opponent was wearing Yoroi (Armour). After studying Ninjutsu extensively and teaching it 7 days a week for years I became acutely aware of the fact that the arts needs to evolve and adapt. Martial artists often get stuck in their ways which prevents them from seeing the wood for the trees. There are aspects of all martial arts that are useful in some way so you need to stay open minded but the Bujinkan often wants you to stay in your lane and not cross train in other arts. The mentality is the nail that sticks out gets hammered which is often why Bujinkan instructors are fairly clueless about haw to run a dojo as you get 0% training in that area. I think the ultimate goal of Ninjutsu is to learn all arts which is why the dojo tagline is “Master all arts, Be limited by none!”. For an art that teaches 9 schools they don’t seem to like things that don’t fit into their framework so overall it’s easier for us to be called Seal Martial Arts.
After the lockdowns for COVID19 our art had evolved into something else. I’d always had an interest in Filipino Martial Arts and had picked up a fair bit over the years but i formally started studying under Guro Tom Edison Peña so FMA started to feature in our syllabus. The kids had also become accustomed to doing dynamic kicks and combos during the Zoom lessons so that started featuring in the kids syllabus. The students also love sparring in the dojo so they points spar (like Karate) and they also ground spar (Basically BJJ/MMA). My focus shifted towards the practical techniques that will always work, There are a lot of senseless kata included for the purpose of maintaining tradition. It’s all well and good knowing how to deal with a drunken assailant but your focus should be on how to defeat a trained fighter. Our art had started to become an accumulation of knowledge and mixture of various styles so although we are a Ninjutsu Dojo we also teach FMA and do things very differently to most Bujinkan Dojos.
At this point in 2022 I feel it might be time for us to establish our own style and break away from the Bujinkan entirely. I love the Bujinkan and have invested over two decades of my life into training in martial arts but I can't help feeling that many arts are somewhat stuck in the past with the way they train. The excuse that Ninjutsu is too dangerous to be used when sparring is just a cop out I have 11+ year old that regularly submission spar using Ninjutsu techniques and nobody has ever been seriously injured! All martial arts need pressure testing it's part of the process of becoming a better martial artist so if someone is making excuses for why they don't spar it's probably because they aren't confident in their ability and know what they are doing doesn’t work in reality.
Currently I have no idea what I would call our new style which as I said is a mixture of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu (Ninjutsu), FMA, Karate and MMA. We aren't strictly a Bujinkan Dojo anymore and while I understand that it's important to maintain the lineage of our art I also feel its a matter of necessity that the art is updated and some of the less practical kata and techniques are removed.
I can tell you now I won’t be calling it Sealjutsu 😂 Maybe Azarashi Ryu Kobudo (海豹流古武道) which means the Seal Style of Old Martial Arts in Japanese.
In conclusion the name of the dojo has changed numerous times since we first started hosting lessons in Rugby. If your just starting out on your journey into teaching you need to understand that it’s hard work and you have to play the long game. If your just going to open for 6 months and close then you will get nowhere it takes time to establish your name in the community. NOBODY cares if your a 15th Dan Shihan in the Bujinkan outside of the Bujinkan, you have to be open to other arts and socialise with instructors from all styles. Personally as i stated I don’t like the current mentality in the Bujinkan, Some of the highest ranking instructors have next to no idea how to properly run a dojo and this is down to the organisation wanting everyone to fall in line, They quite literally don’t want you to be successful as long as your paying money up the chain. This is why there is this rhetoric about not making money from teaching Budo while at the same time the Daishihan are doing exactly that! It’s farcical and i can tell you first hand if your good at what you do you can definitely make a living from teaching martial arts!
As an instructor your understanding will constantly evolve and you have to learn about the business behind running a martial arts school. You can be a black belt in martial arts and a yellow belt in running a dojo! You have to be flexible and to adapt, if your set in your ways your doomed to fail you have to push the boundaries of what your doing and showcase what your offering to potential students. You have to allow yourself to be successful and not think “oh well it’s been done this way for years and shouldn’t change” as it doesn’t work like that.
We are in an age of BJJ and MMA so people aren’t clueless about fighting and they will see through bullshit when it’s presented to them however you paint it. Stress testing is essential in modern martial arts and the Bujinkan doesn’t help its reputation with some of the ridiculous videos online that would blatantly get you killed against an armed opponent. The excuses that the arts too dangerous to be tested just doesn’t cut it anymore it just shows people a lack of confidence in ability.
We needed to streamline how we do things in the dojo and get rid of the vast amounts of kata and unpractical techniques that don’t really serve anyone in self defence. I know my students will get on the mats with anyone willing to spar and give it 110% but I can’t say I know of many Bujinkan dojos willing to do the same. You need a good offensive game when fighting and the reality is I’ve ever seen someone do Keto or Renyo in a real fight. There’s no room for martial mess anymore in the dojo end of story.