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Example Article 'Shihan Reg Ellis: Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu' by Kate Liley

This article was published in 'BuJutsu International' in the March/April 2003 Issue.
This publication is acknowledged as Australasia's Premier Martial Arts Magazine.
* * *
A note about context: This article was written for a martial arts publication with a view to raising the profile of Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu. For this reason, information about Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu is included at the end of the article, as well as the disclosure of my interest and involvement in the martial arts. The feature article's use here is solely for the purposes of  presenting a feature article written according to the format discussed in the lecture and the tutorials for 1004FMC: Media Communications Research.
The names of interviewees' quoted within the article are not used in accordance with martial arts tradition.

It’s a Friday night and Shihan Reg Ellis is about to put the adult class of Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu through its paces. Having already ‘bowed in’, rows of Ju Jitsuans of various belt levels lay on their backs, waiting for Shihan Reg Ellis’ first instruction.

‘Heads up, knees up - Hit that mat!’ roars Shihan as the class beats the mat with their arms in rhythmic unison. This is the start of breakfall practice where students warm up, preparing themselves for the striking, throwing, joint locking and grappling techniques they will practice later in the session.

‘Harder! Faster!’ Shihan barks, and the class responds enthusiastically.

Shihan Reg Ellis (6th Dan - Japan), addressed as simply ‘Shihan’ by students, parents and friends alike, formed Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu in 1993 at the Cleveland Showgrounds in Brisbane with just 9 junior students and 4 senior students. Since then the Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu membership has grown to over 250 current registered members.

‘It’s incredible seeing people helping each other with so much passion and energy’ said Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu’s newest senior member.

‘The respect just beams off the mat’ he said.

Ju Jitsu or ‘flexible martial art’ is the ‘empty hand’ form of fighting used by Japanese Samurai. If a Samurai lost his weapons in the heat of battle, he could resort to the striking, grappling and throwing techniques of Ju Jitsu to defend himself, and defeat his enemy. Originating over 2,500 years ago in Japan, Ju Jitsu is the one of the oldest forms of Japanese martial art and forms the basis of the modern forms of Judo (throwing techniques) and Aikido (pressure points and the use of attacker momentum).

The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano and the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba had both studied Aiki Ju Jitsu early in their careers, just as Mikonosuke Kawashi had done before bringing his style of Ju Jitsu to the West.

Although Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu did not have its inception until 1993, its origins can be traced back to the Japanese Masters Mikonosuke Kawashi and Kshero Abbe through Moshe Feldenkreis, Herbert Klinger-Klingersdorff, Geoff Guertz, and Brisbane Sports Schoolteachers, Peter McAnalan and William Cadoo.

‘Geoff Guertz had died in April 1967 but I didn’t find this out until I’d started at the Brisbane Sports School in 1968 that what I was learning had come from Geoff Guertz, a Dutchman who’d arrived out here in 1958’ said Shihan.

‘They had separate classes for Judo and Ju Jitsu then and I was attending both classes.My first lesson was given by William Cadoo. He was the highest graded under Geoff Guertz, and I trained with him up until 1972. Mrs Guertz wanted him to continue running classes there because he was thought so much of.’

‘I was about Green Belt when Peter McAnalan took over the school. I was never in a hurry to grade, I just wanted to train and train’ said Shihan.

Despite showing great sporting prowess on the Soccer field, as well as in the Dojo, Shihan was interested in knowing more about the history of Ju Jitsu.

‘I’d never heard of "Cherry Blossom style". I’d seen a little bit in books from Holland about this "Cherry Blossom", and that it meant Judo and Ju Jitsu’.

‘Geoff Guertz was listed as being a qualified instructor of Cherry Blossom style Ju Jitsu, but no body seemed to know what "Cherry Blossom" meant. Sensei Wayne Allen used to like using Japanese and he would call our style "Sakura Ryu". I’d never heard this before from any of the instructors. They didn’t seem to know any of the history. It was just that the Cherry Blossom colour that indicated your grade level and that’s about all they ever knew about it. They were only interested in churning out students. You’d have up to 8 people starting on any one night and you ended up with half that number going out because they were getting flogged. I realised that there was more to the "Cherry Blossom" than these guys had appreciated.’

Today, Shihan includes the meaning of the five petals of the cherry blossom in his classes where he promotes the qualities of honour, respect, loyalty, integrity and humility among junior and senior students. Beginning students are introduced to Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu at a pace appropriate to their age and fitness level, getting personal instruction on a side mat from an accredited Sensei (Black belt teacher) or Sempai (Brown Belt teacher) until they are ready to join the main class.

‘It’s an act of respect and humility to teach a new student the basic moves so they can join the main class’ said one Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu Sempai.

‘It’s giving back to your martial art and it’s saying you’re not too high-and-mighty to go back to first principles. Like Shihan says, White belts are the most important people on the mat - we’ve all got to start somewhere.’

Unlike other styles and schools of Ju Jitsu, Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu does not use the Japanese language for the titles of its techniques or conduct its classes in Japanese.

This practice dates back to the methods of Mikonosuke Kawashi who took Aiki Ju Jitsu from the Dai Nippon Bodokai in Japan to the US in 1925 and to Britain in 1928. The Kawaishi method of Ju Jitsu as it was to become known, avoided using Japanese because Kawaishi thought it difficult enough to teach Ju Jitsu to Westerners without the added complication of teaching a language as well.

Shihan Reg Ellis echoes this idea.

‘Its hard enough to learn the martial art without learning the Japanese as well.

I would never have accomplished the level of Ju Jitsu that I have if I’d have learned the Japanese as well.’

‘I love to hear people talk in Japanese, it sounds so good but I’m afraid I could not learn and then pass on the information that I’ve got, and teach in Japanese as well’

Shihan’s own training continued at the Brisbane Sports School, grading to 1st Dan Black Belt (Shodan) in 1976. However, this association was not to last, as the School neglected to further Shihan’s training and development as a martial artist.

‘Having spent years as a Shodan, I though that this went on a bit long and when I asked my Sensei about it, he said that if he knew I wanted to grade, he would have nominated me. You don’t ask for Gradings, but when you’re there teaching two nights a week and involved in the school in every activity going, like the Martial Arts Spectaculars, it didn’t matter what was promised, because of the circumstances, it was better to walk away.’

This is perhaps why Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu has established set training periods between Gradings, with 4, 6, 8 and 10 training months between Yellow, Orange, Green and Blue cherry blossom levels respectively, training at least twice each week. The higher Kyu grades of Brown first and second levels, and Shodan (1st Dan Black Belt) all take 12 months of training between each level. This includes three ‘mat’ sessions each week, and one session of what the Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsuans’ call ‘Ultimate Sunday training’.

This training takes place on Sundays at the Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu Honbu Dojo, which is a purpose built training complex in Gumdale. The Dojo section of the complex was completed in January 2003, and now houses Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu memorabilia as well as the School’s shields and trophies. Ultimate training sessions held at the Honbu Dojo allows Shihan to coach his students to higher levels of strength and fitness, using traditional weights and gym equipment, and the slightly unorthodox, but very effective ‘chain’.

‘Doing-the-chain’ consists of dragging a 60kg ship’s chain attached to a belt for up to four circuits of the Honbu Dojo’s grounds, from walking pace to a brisk jog.

‘I can remember when I could barely get halfway across this paddock with this chain ’ said one Brown belt. ‘Now I can do the four [laps]. It’s hard, but I can do it’.

While there’s an obvious emphasis on fitness in Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu, Shihan is very clear about the strengths of the Sakura Ryu style of Ju Jitsu.

‘There’s more to being graded in Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu than just having the ability to kick and punch and fight. You can put boards up and break them and all that sort of stuff, but I’m looking for a demonstrated level of character within the person’ said Shihan.

‘Within that character, I’m looking at mental toughness as well as the loyalty, respect, honour, integrity and humility that are in the five petals of our cherry blossom. Until those qualities are demonstrated, it’ll take some longer than others will to grade, some shorter than others do. I don’t always get it right though. At the end of the day, it’s important to know that any of our guys can go out there and hold their own with any body else.’

‘I know that these guys (Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsuans) will be better than your average green belt or blue belt in any other martial art’ he said.

The martial arts prowess of Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsuans is often shown to the general public through community events, Schools demonstrations and the short-course self-defence programs offered by Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu throughout the year. One such expert demonstration was performed at the Spartan V ‘No Rules’ Competition, hosted by Sensei Kerry Dunne on the Gold Coast in September 2002. Sensei Dale Hurlock (Nidan) and Sensei Luke Seigmier (Shodan) gave a 10 minute demonstration of Ju Jitsu striking, grappling and throwing techniques between professional bouts to a packed house.

One audience member commented that it was ‘one of the best performances of traditional Ju Jitsu’ he had ever seen, a statement supported by the standing ovation given to both Sensei’s at the end of their demonstration.

While a high level of martial arts skill is expected of a Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu Sensei, the quality of training offered by Shihan and his team of instructors’ shines through in the junior Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsuans. In 1997, a group of 8 juniors were selected for the National Titles and all took either 1st, 2nd or 3rd places. The year before, 7 senior members were put forward for the National titles and the Australian Selection Trials. Four senior students were selected to represent Australia in the World Titles and one senior became Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu’s first female National Titleholder.

The level of skill in both junior and senior groups was never more evident than in the five back-to-back demonstrations given at Kimberley Park State School’s Japanese Cultural Day by the volunteers of the Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu Demonstration Team.

Under the direction of Shihan, the 5 senior and 7 junior team members demonstrated a range of techniques from basic break falling practice to more complex joint locking, grappling and throwing techniques, none of which is ever choreographed for demonstrations of this type.

‘Shihan just calls out "mix it up - on turn" once we get to the main bit of the demo, and you just go for it. You never know what attack your partner is going to do, and you just respond with your Ju Jitsu - It’s half the fun of going out and doing a demo’ said one team member.

While making the study of a martial art enjoyable is perhaps one of the keys to Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu’s high membership level, the importance of the self-defence principles of Ju Jitsu in the modern world is not lost on Shihan. Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu continues to work with local schools in partnership with the Police, Citizens and Youth Clubs, offering term courses in teen self-defence to high school students during their Physical Education classes. Designed to improve the students’ physical fitness and personal safety awareness, the course stresses a common-sense approach to dealing with potentially dangerous situations.

‘The key to good self-defence is to avoid putting yourself in harms way in the first place’ said the course coordinator.

‘Often it’s the simple things you do like telling someone what you’re doing, knowing how you’ll get home ahead of time and trusting your instincts about situations and people that makes all the difference to your level of safety.’

‘In the unlikely event that their common sense fails them, students can use the simple Ju Jitsu techniques that we teach to get away from an attacker’ she said.

Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu intends to offer a women’s self-defence short-course later this year based on this system of avoidance and defence.

With an emphasis on using Ju Jitsu outside the Dojo only as a last resort, the success of Shihan’s teaching philosophies is clear.

‘Traditional Ju Jitsu is more than just kick and punch, belt and bash. It’s a way of life’ said Shihan.

‘Being a martial art, its quelling conflicts, it’s helping people who are struggling up the hill, struggling in life. You can stop and turn, give them a hand along. Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu is all of those things that you would see in a family’ he said.

The idea of family is very strong in Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu with generations of the same families taking part in Ju Jitsu training.

‘We’ve got senior Mums and Dads who bring their kids to the juniors, we’ve got brothers, sisters and we’ve even got cousins who come to training together. Even if you turn up to training on your own, you go home feeling like you’ve just caught up with a hundred long lost cousins’ said one Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu member.

With over 80 junior and senior students grading to their next belts on one occasion in 2002, there’s little doubt about the richness of the family atmosphere at Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu. This is especially true of the seminars, Skills Competitions and the annual weekend training camps hosted by Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu.

These camps are renowned among the Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsuans’ as a weekend when too much Ju Jitsu is not enough. Talking about last year’s training camp, one parent commented that there was a furious pace of ‘training, eating, more training, more eating, more training and even more training.’

‘From the beach run and exercises, through the days of training sessions, to the late night martial arts videos for the mini warriors, nobody complained about being bored or hungry although the early start on the beach front sorted out the early birds from the night owls’ he said.

‘It’s worth six months of regular training under Shihan’ said another camp participant.

As well as being an accredited Ju Jitsu Instructor and Referee, Shihan Reg Ellis was President of the Queensland United Black Belt Association for 6 years. Shihan has run 14 consecutive training camps as well as one national camp for Ju Jitsu Martial Art, with almost 1,500 in attendance. He has successfully coached over 18 students to black belt, including coaching two current 3rd Dan black belts and two 2nd Dan black belts. Shihan underwent his own 6th Dan Black belt grading under Kiyoshi Patrick McCarthy in May 2002. The title of ‘Shihan’ is traditionally used by Black belt martial artists who are Chief Instructors of their own schools, although the title is adopted by martial artists who have attained the minimum level of their 5th Dan Black belt, regardless of whether they actively teach their martial art or not. When asked how he sees his martial arts career, Shihan points out with typical humility, that he has made some mistakes.

‘In the first decade of your martial arts, its all about learning, in the second decade its about trying to implement some of your own ideas, and your still trying to get better but you waste that next decade. Then your third decade is about coming back and doing it the way you were shown in the first place, with all the original principles in mind.’

Shihan Reg Ellis sees some of his own Black belts’ making similar mistakes.

‘All you can do is hope that these people maintain the ethical standards and philosophies I’ve tried to pass on to them.’

In partnership with the Queensland Police, Youth and Citizens Clubs, Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu has an excellent reputation for its community activities, standard of training and level of safety. Part of Shihan’s expectations for the future of Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu and the maintenance of its professional standards is his insistence on each instructor gaining a minimum of Level 1 National Coaching Accreditation from the Australian Ju Jitsu Federation, through the Australian Sports Commission. This training requires that instructors hold current Senior First Aid certificates, have a level of practical teaching experience and an in depth understanding of sports coaching and management strategies.

‘I’ve spent a long time grooming different people for various positions in Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu. These people are going to lead Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu into the future.’

Of himself, Shihan says ‘Everybody gets older and it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was in my twenties. All of a sudden you’re at the other end of the century!’

However, Shihan has no thoughts of retiring from teaching Ju Jitsu, stressing that he sees his role in the martial arts as maintaining the ideals, philosophies and traditions that Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu has now and continuing these qualities into the future.

‘To continue the martial art inspires me’ he said.

Part of Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu’s future includes expanding Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu Dojo’s to other areas in Brisbane.

‘Certainly you’ve got to expand - It’s like the wheel where you’ve got one school that’s the ‘hub’, then your other schools form the spokes which makes the wheel that you can turn and send in any direction you like’ said Shihan.

Shihan points out that he’s seen a lot of politics in the martial arts in Australia and that he doesn’t want Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu to suffer the fate of other martial arts schools.

‘This is why I’ve formed a trust, a group of trustees who I believe are true and honest and follow our code of loyalty, honour, integrity, respect and humility. I entrust them as well as our graded black belts to look after Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu for the future’ he said.

With an attitude like this, it’s little wonder that by the end of the Friday night training session, the enthusiasm for the Ju Jitsu and respect shown by students towards Shihan at the beginning of the class has not diminished under their sweat-soaked gis. As the students bow out and go off the mat, each stops before leaving for home, thanking Shihan for their training and shaking his hand as they file out. In turn, Shihan has an encouraging word for each of them.

‘Go harder, go faster’ he says.

Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu offers classes in Queensland at Cleveland, Wynnum, Beenleigh, Northgate and Capalaba.Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu also has a School in Narrabeen, New South Wales under the expert instruction of Sensei Tony Van Den Hurk.

Kate Liley is a Brown belt 1st Level with Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu.

Call (07) 3245 4920 for more information about Sakura Ryu Ju Jitsu.