Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kufferath 2011 International Martial Arts Symposium

More than a year ago, Sig Kufferath’s daughter Leslee had the vision to honor her father’s memory by celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday. She wanted to bring a group of his students, friends and others together for an event of training and sharing. This is indeed what happened at the Santa Clara (CA) Marriott on the weekend of March 25-27, 2011.

Professor Sig Kufferath (1911-1999) had been a senior student of Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu founder from 1937 until Okazaki’s passing in 1951. During that time, he and his partner Bing-Fai Lau ran Jujutsu classes at both the Kaheka Lane and the Kodenkan Dojo’s in Honolulu. After the founder’s passing, the American Jujitsu Institute elected Sig to be the next Professor of the system in 1952. He continued to teach in Honolulu until 1957 when he moved his family to the San Francisco Bay area. On the mainland, Sig established his school and trained many students in both Jujutsu and massage until his death in 1999.

Leslee Kufferath, along with assistance of Hans Ingebretsen and others organized the 3-day event of martial art seminars and a Saturday evening Hawaiian luau buffet. There were more than 50 instructors including formers students of Sig, prominent U.S. martial artists, and a contingent of international teachers from England, Spain, Portugal, Kuwait and elsewhere. There were eight mats for adult and children’s classes, as well as a special room for therapeutic massage.

Most of the seminars went off without a hitch with students gaining valuable knowledge. Two unfortunate incidents, however, did occur. In one seminar, an exceedingly careless instructor was responsible for a student being thrown on his shoulder, breaking his collarbone and causing him to be taken to the hospital. In another distasteful display, an instructor publicly berated and challenged one of the seminar students without cause. Unfortunately, this unsuspecting student happened to be the son of one of Sig’s oldest students. In both of these cases, the instructors had studied with Sig and no doubt, he would not have been pleased. 

Despite these, the symposium was generally enjoyed by the attendees. In addition to the hundreds of students, several special guests attended, including: Sig’s son Bruce Kufferath, Sig’s grandson Scott, Professor Liebert O’Sullivan, Great Grandmaster Al Novak, Senior Professor John Congistre and Professor Rory Rebmann.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Report from the Field

I recently attended the 2011 AJJF National Convention and wanted to share a few observations.

The venue was the San Ramon Marriott (San Ramon, CA) which was also the site of some previous conventions including the bellwether 1998 Ohana. As in the past, the convention was expertly hosted by Professor Rory Rebmann and his very capable team from Amador Judo and Jujitsu Studio. In addition, many other aspects were seamlessly handled by the well-organized committees of the AJJF. Before I address some other topics, it is important to note that the banquet meal was very good. The chicken was very fresh, the vegetables were tasty and the dessert was outstanding. It is sometimes said that people forget much of what is said during a banquet, but they remember the food!

This convention had an interesting variance from the norm. For the first time in recent memory, classes were taught only by AJJF Professors and in a few cases by AJJF non-Professor Rokudans. The decision to do this was apparently one made by the Board of Professors (BoP) during a meeting last year. Ostensibly, their reason to do this was to showcase the talents of the BoP alone. I asked some of the Professors whether this decision was related to some issues that arose prior to the previous year's convention. These issues stemmed from an AJJF member on the teaching roster, who was not an AJJF Professor, making some complaints about how some other convention instructors would be addressed. From the responses of several Professors, it is not clear whether this played any part in the this year's teaching roster. Regardless, the classes held this year were excellent and very well received.

One issue that had been on many people's mind was the structure of the organization in its leadership. Over the previous couple of years, some changes to the fundamental understanding of and corrections to the Danzan-Ryu kata and their translations had been brought about by some leading members of the BoP. While some were open to this change, there was and continues to be a segment of the organization that is very vocal in their opposition to this. It is noteworthy that, shortly after this reformation effort, some unrelated charges were brought against the leadership questioning their ethics. At this year's convention, some wondered who would attend and who wouldn't. The accused member was in attendance and participated in the events. While a final decision by the BoP on this matter is pending, the organization has gone forward with some reorganization of their board. The new Senior Professor was announced to be Professor John Congistre, Judan and student of Professor Ray Law. In addition, Professor Dennis Estes was announced as President of the organization. This is a position that is required for the AJJF status as a non-profit organization. Also, it was announced that individual members of the BoP would be responsible for a variety of specific tasks.

One part of the convention that is eagerly anticipated every year are the black belt promotions. I was particularly interested in the new Shodans because of my work with the Danzan-Ryu Lineage Tree. This year, more than 70 names were announced for all of the rank promotions from first through fifth rank. Congratulations to all. I was curious, however, that no ranks above Godan were announced since this has normally occurred in past years. While I was not given any definitive reason for this, some speculation was that the recent reorganization may have necessitated maintaining the status quo.

As a final observation, I would like to address the fundamental foundation of any Jujutsu class...the mats! In previous conventions, the mats used for classes have ranged from vinyl wrestling mats, hard plastic jigsaw puzzle mats, two-inch foam mats, 2 millimeter nothing mats and even authentic tatami. The mats used this year were, by far, the best ones I have seen at any convention. They were the Swain Flexi-Roll© System with a Tatami surface. In my opinion, they had just the right amount of balance of firmness and give. They also were much easily transportable than other mat systems I has seen. Good job on choosing this type of mat for the convention.