Martial Art Talks: Sensei Darrin Johnson

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, we speak with Koryu Uchinadi Shidoin, Sensei Darrin Johnson. Sensei Darrin has 35 years of martial arts experience, a 6th dan in KU, is an avid researcher, and has pursued other martial arts such as, Muay Thai, Aikido, Kobudo and holds rank in various styles of karate.

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In our chat he shares his controversial opinions about martial arts today and how he integrates KU and Muay Thai into his weekly practice. Feel free to watch our interview or read below!

 

JT: How did you get introduced to Koryu Uchinadi and Hanshi Patrick McCarthy?

Sensei Darrin and Sensei McCarthy

DJ: When I was growing up in Spokane. Sensei McCarthy would come to tournaments and I would see him in the divisions and he would always win! And, as I was growing up through the martial arts my instructors would always have a Patrick McCarthy story, so I knew him before I even knew him!

JT: What about KU made you want to stick with it?

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DJ: Well, for me, it was the answer! I had spent my entire martial arts career looking for a style, a technique or a kata that would give me the answer. I couldn’t tell you how much I spent on videos of kata that I thought would give me that.

Then, I get with Sensei McCarthy and started looking at these things called tegumi and two person drills; they were so realistic. For me, KU had everything I needed and there was no reason for me to look any further.

That being said, there are things that aren’t really in KU right now that I like in Silat, Kali or Bagua, but I can bring it in because KU isn’t a style, it’s a methodology. I can bring anything I want into that methodology that works for me. I like impact, so I bring in Muay Thai, which is already similar to what we have with our Heishu Waza. For me, there’s just nowhere else to go. If I want to grapple, I grapple. I don’t need to go out and become a BJJ Master. I can just work that within my Koryu Uchinadi practice.

JT: Based on your experience as a martial arts business owner, what is the most important thing you have learned? 

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DJ: Don’t go into business. If you want to run a daycare, then yes, own a business. For me, I enjoyed myself much more when I was a club or a community centre or practicing at home. The market right now is just little kids. That’s why I started teaching Muay Thai, because that’s what people wanted. People would come in and ask “You don’t wear gis, do you?” and I’d say “No.” Then, they’d say “Good! Because, we wouldn’t want to come here if you did.” They don’t want the gi. They don’t want the belt. They don’t want the ranking system. They just want to train, like cross fit or tennis, just train.

If you want to do it as a business, you’ve got to have your ducks in a row, and you’ve got to make sure the kid market is there. If you don’t want to teach kids, you’ve got to have something else that’s going to bring in adults on a regular basis.

JT: You mentioned that you don’t use the gi, could you elaborate on that?

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DJ: I wouldn’t wear a kilt or a suit of armor to workout in; it’s irrelevant. That type of uniform and training methodology was meant for the 1890’s and early 1900’s Japanese because that’s what they wore. People today wear hoodies and t-shirts. If you go down to Florida, they wear flip flops and tank tops. Your training methodology should match the culture you’re in.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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DJ: My teaching style is stern, but fun. I’m not going to spend a lot of time fixing everything, every second. I’ll mention it and move on. I’ll come back, fix it again, and move on. I might skip it for a few weeks and then come back to it.  If you just focus on correcting the entire time, than the student won’t get the overall lesson plan.

JT: Take me through the step-by-step process you go through teaching or assessing your students.

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DJ: There’s no step-by-step process; it’s a feeling. Every student is different. There’s no cookie cutter method for me. Sensei McCarthy uses the term mitari geiko “to watch and learn,” but sometimes I’ll have them do a technique and if I see a pause, I’ll just pull it out and work it until it doesn’t pause anymore, so it becomes functional spontaneity.

JT: What do you think is the most frustrating part for you as an instructor? 

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DJ: It’s time, meaning that I wish I had more time to teach. I wish the student’s had more time to learn. People don’t practice at home like I used to, but most people don’t have that type of time or dedication to it. There’s always so much to teach. I wish I could do more grappling, more throws, more chokes and strangulations; I just don’t have the time.

JT: What is the most rewarding aspect for you as an instructor?

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DJ: It’s not money. It usually costs me more than I make on it, that’s for sure! It’s rewarding when you have somebody come in that’s timid, shy and not very athletic, then six months to two year later, they start to look good and they feel the difference and that’s the most important thing.

Having someone train with me, it inspires me. They want so much knowledge and I have so much stuff to give. It’s fun to give that knowledge and watch people accept it and enjoy it, it makes you feel worth something.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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DJ: I am an impact guys. I love to smash! I make jokes about being “hulk smash” or “smash mouth”. We’re going to work on impact drills. If somebody grabs me by the throat, I’m not going to try a joint lock, because that’s hard, they don’t stand still for you. Smacking them in the face is quick and easy, that’s what I’m going to teach.

JT: How do you plan on going about teaching it?

 

 

 

DJ: Usually, you start with the HAPV or a mutual confrontation situation where you square off. In this case, I like to use focus mitts, Muay Thai pads and boxing gloves, because it allows the person to really extend their power through and get the idea of what it’s like to hit something. As well, the person holding the pads gets to feel what it’s like to get hit, without getting hit. It’s safe, yet they’re learning what it feels like to get smashed with fists, kicks and knees.

JT: What do you think is the best part about the Gasshuku experience?

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DJ: The gathering is always nice and to get like-minded people together, to see old friends again and meet new friends.

JT: If you have one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

 

 

DJ: Whether you’re a beginner or if you’ve been around for seventeen years, the idea is you don’t know it all, never think you know it all.

JT: Thank you so much Sensei Darrin Johnson for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to working with  you at the Gasshuku!

Want to learn more? Check out the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku Facebook Page!

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Kama Connections with Sensei Darrin Johnson

“A lethal weapon of self-defense, Ryukyuan kobudo evolved through the application of combative principles to a myriad of domestic objects that were readily available for use as weapons.” – Hanshi Patrick McCarthy, Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts 

Kama Seminar: April 31st – May 1st

At Sensei Darrin Johnson’s seminar, hosted by Renshi Mike Coombes at Hatsuun Jindo Martial Arts, students from around the Greater Toronto Area were introduced to one of the Sensei Darrinclassical Okinawan weapons, kama.

Sensei Darrin is a long time practitioner of Yamane Ryu and Koryu Uchinadi. In his seminar, he guided us through the kama kata Koryu No Nicho Gama.

Kama Kata: Koryu No Nicho Gama

Movements:

Koryu No Nicho Gama has a unique embusen, like that of an asterisk. Because of this, it also has intricate foot work, literally keeping you on your toes. It utilizes all possible sides of the weapon, which demands one be very familiar with all the ways to handle this tool. Also, this particular kata is far more physical than one might expect from a Kobudo form, including jumps and quick movements from kneeling to standing.

Applications:

No Koryu Uchinadi-based seminar would be complete without applications. Sensei Darrin left his audience in awe with his innovative applications using the kama, which included joint locks, chokes, tegumi and even throws.

Concepts:

1. Hooking

The kama shouldn’t just be looked at as a weapon meant for cutting, but rather like a sharp extension of the hand, that can be used to assist in any type of hooking motion, such as an arm drag.

Kama Applications

2. Striking

The blunt edge of the kama and the butt of the handle can both be used for striking vital areas.

Josh working through Koryu No Nichi Gama

 

3. Tools

Modern Western tools can be used in the same fashion as the kama, like a hammer or small axe.

Sensei Darrin is a big proponent of the idea of “Human Ryu,” the universal style. Because all human beings have two arms, two legs, a head and torso, we’ll all move in similar ways and produce power in the same way whether we are empty-handed or armed.

Throughout the seminar, this was the number one theme. Sensei Darrin emphasized this point by comparing karate and weaponry to other sports. He explained that the body mechanics a shot-putter would use to build centrifugal force is the same as when rotating to strike in the kata.

Sensei Darrin above all else is an excellent communicator and draws on historical context to assist in the teaching process. Studying weaponry, such as the kama, helps us to build a better understanding of where our art comes from and the context in which it was developed, while also helping to have a greater understanding of body mechanics.

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