Joining Our Dojo

The Gassankan is a martial arts training activity focused on classical and traditional martial arts that are difficult to learn and take a long time to develop skill at. We teach in a traditional manner, modeled after classical Confucian approaches to education, which is very different from joining an athletic club or modern martial arts gym or dojo. Our swordsmanship practice is largely based on teachings drawn from Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu heiho, which is very unique, and different to other classical Japanese martial arts (koryu).

Our group benefits from its cooperation with a Historical European martial arts cooperative called Lonin, which is located in the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle, and has a number of classes in a variety of arts, that are open to prospective students without much ritual. The Lonin policy is to require all members be fully vaccinated against SARS-Cov-2 ("coronavirus"), without exception, and that is also a condition of training in Jiki Shinkage-ryu as part of the Gassankan, whether we are meeting indoors or outdoors. We hold our kenjutsu practice on Sunday evenings, from 5-7PM. Sometimes, weather permitting, we train outdoors in one of a few parks in the Seattle metropolitan region.

Our class is attended by invitation only, and our process is first to discuss a prospective student's background and goals, and then recommend some reading on classical martial arts if they are not already familiar with classical martial traditions.

Interview Process

Prospective students are first interviewed in order to ensure their expectations and goals align with our group. In the classical model of education it is very much the case that the individual conforms to the group, versus the group existing for the individual's benefit, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, or edification. However, we try to maintain as best we are able a positive and welcoming environment that a diverse cadre of students can benefit from. A prospective student should be prepared, at a minimum, to:

  1. Describe their overall fitness level.
  2. Share their martial arts background.
  3. Describe what they are seeking to get out of their training.

Students should also take the time to become educated about classical Japanese martial arts. There are a number of English-language references available that we recommend. At a minimum, all prospective students should take the time to begin reading the following:

  1. Amdur, E., 2015. Old School: Essays on Japanese Martial Traditions--Expanded Edition (Vol. 2). Freelance Academy Press.
  2. Amdur, E., 2018. Hidden in Plain Sight: Esoteric Power Training within Japanese Martial Traditions. Freelance Academy Press.
  3. Draeger, D., 1990. Classical Bujutsu, Classical Budo, Modern Budo and Bujutsu. Weatherhill.

These references will provide a good sense of classical Japanese martial arts. They are worth reading regardless of what style a person winds up doing. Additional references can be found at the page linked above.

Once there is an initial interview, and a person is familiar with traditional Japanese martial arts culture, they can schedule a time to watch a few of our training sessions. This allows the prospective student to see what we do, and also ask any questions they may have at the end of class. We are a small independent group, so once a person does that, and is determined to be a good fit for the art and the group, they can be invited to begin training.

At that point, the student will be provided instructions on training implements they will need to purchase. This includes a style specific bokuto (wooden sword), which is used for the introductory practices and first kata set.

There is no separate fee for the Jiki Shinkage-ryu sessions held at Lonin beyond the monthly obligation required of all members of the Lonin cooperative. We do not teach for renumeration. But, attendance is with instructor permission only, because of the small size of the class and the difficulties associated with learning the art.

Jiki Shinkage-ryu is not for everyone

At one point the art was one of the most popular sword schools in Edo (Tokyo), due to its robust practice of free sparring, but today it is not for most people. If during the interview and evaluation period, it is determined that the student is not a good fit for the art, we are happy to recommend alternative activities. There are several Japanese traditions (or variants thereof) now being taught at Lonin, and there a good number of established koryu dojo in the Seattle area, whose teachers have more experience than I do, and I can recommend.

New students at the Gassankan are on a probationary period. Within the first year of training they will be evaluated as to whether they will be accepted into the school on permament basis. Those accepted will be required to make a traditional pledge called a kisshomon, which is part of the formal process of being recognized as a student of our dojo. The pledge is required to train past a certain point, but is not a license or rank. It is instead part of the traditional process of joining a school. Those not able or willing to abide by the pledge will be informed they will need to seek continued training opportunities elsewhere.