From 1989 to 2005, I practiced a modern form of self-defense (goshin-jutsu) that was synthesized from Shorinji Kempo, early post-war Aikido (including Tomiki Aikido and the approach of Tohei Koichi), and techniques drawn from Daito-ryu (mostly Daito-ryu Kodokai as taught by Yonezawa Katsumi), all grafted onto a pattern of movement called taisabaki (developed by the Sosuishi-ryu teacher Dennis Fink in NYC in the 1960's), which influenced many a NYC area jujutsu school. The group advertised itself to be a traditional style of aiki-jujutsu, but I learned much later, was not.
In the 1990's, I explored arts such as Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and Daito-ryu Takumakai during seminars in New York, and was very impressed by them, but so focused on my goshin-jutsu practice that it was not until 2004 that I began training in traditional martial arts.
After moving from New York to the DC region, I attended a demonstration (enbu) of classical Japanese martial arts at the St. Louis Botanical Garden. The weapons practices I saw there (Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto-ryu, Shinto Muso-ryu jo, Araki-ryu torite kogusoku, Tenshin Buko-ryu naginata) all seemed more robust and refined than the sword and stick work I had learned at the dojo in NYC.
I had just received the highest/final ranking offered in my aiki-jujutsu group (called kaiden), and we had been told by our teacher that upper-level practitioners of our art did their own research of other martial arts. Given what I had seen in St. Louis, I began to think it might be worth my time to explore other martial schools, to further advance my understanding of budo. I had correspondences ongoing with Ellis Amdur and Meik Skoss (I had visited the Skosses' koryu practice in NJ, and demonstrated at a kagami biraki held at one of his student's dojo in Pennsylvania). Over lunch, Ellis Amdur asked me a prophetic question, which altered the course of my martial arts career:
I had early friends who had practiced Chinese martial arts, including Wing Chun, Choy Li Fut, Shaolin Longfist, and a mysterious art called Bagua Zhang. I had fond memories of sparring my Wing Chun and Choy Li Fut friends at Bronx Science and then at the NYU Athletic Center. I also had very fond memories of defeating a not so friendly teacher of Baji Quan ("Eight Extremes Boxing") who decided to test my skills when I visited his school. Despite the arrogance of youth, I kept an open mind about internal martial arts, and it is good that I did, as later I would meet many people in the internal martial community with far greater skill than that NYC teacher. At the time, I had told myself that once my training in my current style was complete, I would want to learn a version of Bagua Zhang. I was intrigued by its circle walking, fluid movements, and Taoist roots, and how the art might relate to the concept of "aiki inyo ho" I had heard mentioned but never clearly explained in my rough and tumble goshin-jutsu circles.
Hearing about my interest in Bagua Zhang, Ellis subsequently introduced me to Robert (Bob) Galeone (godan in Aikido and Uechi-ryu Karate), who also lived in Maryland and practiced Bagua Zhang in the lineage of Hung Yimien. This was a sister art to the style of Xingyi Quan Ellis had learned in Japan from Su Dong Chen, the student of Hung Yixian and founder of "Essence of Evolution". Bob had found that Bagua had transformed his Aikido practice, and I was similarly interested in how that approach might affect my understanding of higher-level skill in martial arts.
This conversation, and introduction, changed the course of my martial arts career. While I had at the time been led to believe the aiki-jujutsu I had learned was a traditional martial art with a direct connection to Japan, it turns out it was instead (as I describe above, in calling it a modern form of goshin-jutsu, and listing its antecedents) a synthesis of several different Japanese martial arts and likely created in New York in the 1970's. This was during a time (the so-called "kung fu craze") when a lot of new martial arts were being developed by people of varying skill and experience, with varying results. In 2005, with this understanding, I left my NYC dojo in order to focus on classical and traditional martial arts.
I learned Gao Lineage Bagua Zhang from Bob and attended training sessions in Su Dong Chen's Xing Yi in Minneapolis. Bob then introduced me to his older kung fu brother, Paul Cote, who had become a disciple of Zhang Yun. That was when I became introduced to Yin Style Bagua Zhang and Northern Wu Style Taijiquan. I began traveling to Pittsburgh to learn Xing Yi Quan from Paul's teacher Zhang Yun. During those weekends I was very fortunate to became exposed to the extensive weapons practice he inherited from his teacher, Wang Peisheng. I made it a point to incorporate the classical Chinese weapons practices as an important part of my training regimen.
I continued to work with a few students, refining our goshin-jutsu with approaches drawn from Gao Lineage Bagua. But eventually their skill grew to the point where I felt that portion of training was complete, and I encouraged them to move on in their martial careers. I had also become more comfortable in my YCGF practices to the point where I felt I should focus on them more exclusively. For me, Gao Lineage Bagua was a point of departure on my path of learning internal martial arts, but not my ultimate destination.
By 2015 I felt I had trained long enough in Yin Cheng Gong Fa under Zhang Yun that it was appropriate to became his formal student, which I was honored to do at a bai shr ceremony in Princeton, NJ. A strange twist of fate is that the college roomate of my high school friend who first introduced me to Bagua Zhang was a martial artist named Clayton Shiu, who later become one of Zhang Yun's early disciples, and was one of my two sponsors, along with Paul Cote.
Sometime we take very long paths, indirect to our goals, with many winding portions that can obscure the mountains from view, but they remain, even if hidden at times by the mist.
I would have done better to stop training in modern aiki-jujutsu once I had moved from Queens to Manhattan in my early twenties, and switched my focus to Takumakai and Yagyu Shinkage-ryu, both of which I had the opportunity to take up, but did not. I have several friends who wound up training in Takumakai, and I have had friendly interactions with teachers of the art. I view it as a much more authentic and complete version of late Daito-ryu and early Aikido than many other groups practice. I later wound up learning significant portions of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu from my sponsor into the Hobyokan, a fellow student of Dave Hall named Michael Heiler, and it would have been good to start that journey earlier in life. In addition to too long working to discover higher-level skills and traditional weapons practices in a modern self-defense art that did not ultimately have them, I also spent ten years training in a splinter branch of Katori Shinto-ryu Bob Galeone had introduced me to at Capital Aikikai, as I got my feet underneath my in the koryu community. While Katori Shinto-ryu is a rich and profound system, and I continue to work on elements of it even to this day, the culture and priorities of the group I first encountered it were something I ultimately decided was not for me. That was a difficult decision, and twice now I have left martial arts groups, but I am fortunate to have been introduced to Shinkage-ryu along the way.
Sometimes, with enough perseverance (我慢), we still wind up exactly where we need to be.
I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2016. Since then, I have kept a personal practice of internal martial arts, traveling back to Pittsburgh for additional training as opportunities presented themselves, and began sharing my knowledge of Jiki Shinkage-ryu with a small number of individuals.