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“I want to learn to defend myself!”

“I want to get in shape!”

“I want to improve my mental focus!”

Japanese Martial Arts

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Finding a Martial Arts Role Model

Find a Role Model


We’ve been thinking a lot about how to get better, both in martial arts and in life. Here are some thoughts about finding and following a role model:


One shorter path to success is to follow someone who has already walked it. Find someone who has achieved what you hope to achieve. For many of you, this will be your Sensei (your “Master” in Tae Kwon Do, your “Sifu” in many Chinese martial arts). In traditional Asian martial arts, there is a centuries-old tradition of direct teacher-student relationships. The reason this tradition has continued to exist so long is that it works very, very well.


The quality of your instructor is critical. You may have heard the old axiom that goes something like this:


“If you spend ten years looking for the perfect teacher, your time will not have been wasted.”

Who Has Achieved What You Want to Achieve?


That’s true, you should find an amazing instructor. But that may not be enough. Once you determine exactly what you want to become, you must look long and hard to find somebody who has already achieved what you want – or something similar enough that the lessons can be transferred effectively. If you have a great teacher who hasn’t achieved what you want to achieve, you may have to find another role model at some point.


Once you decide who your role model is, make this person’s life the object of careful study. Learn everything you can about him or her... I mean everything! Study his training habits, diet, sleep patterns, the people he associates with, his superstitions, heroes, favorite books, and anything else you can think of or find out about. Short of becoming a stalker, you can be obsessive about it.


The thing is, you don’t know at the beginning which characteristics are the ones that give your role model his or her greatness. If you did, you’d already be doing those things, and YOU would be the role model!


Get it?


This is a mistake many students make with their own teachers. They limit their attention to the things they think are important. By choosing what to focus on and what to ignore before they really understand the whole picture, most students miss critical success skills of their sensei. In the beginning, don’t filter.


Unconditional Commitment = Massive Learning


Many who follow my story know that I did very well in iaido competitions in Japan. For four years running, I won the annual All Tokyo Iaido Tournament at my rank, competing against hundreds of Japanese martial artists. I’ve been told that I got really good at swordsmanship really fast. Here’s why, for those who haven’t heard the story before:


I absolutely idolized my instructor, the late Yamaguchi Katsuo Sensei. I listened with a completely open mind to everything he told me to do. When I showed up for my lessons, I was in what Tony Robbins calls a “peak state” – I was energized, alert, and completely and utterly in the moment. I wanted to move the way my Sensei moved, talk like him, and to duplicate his wonderful intensity and precision in practice. This might strike you as hero worship, and perhaps it was, but the point is that when your mind is as open as mine was, you learn instantly and profoundly. When you want something so badly and do absolutely everything in your power to get it, then you tend to get it.


By the way, please don’t do anything unreasonably dangerous or illegal. If your role model engages in behaviors that are unacceptably risky or unhealthy, you should find a new role model.



Let Your Role Models Know Their Importance


Enlist the help of your instructor. If your instructor is your role model, tell him exactly what you are doing. He’ll be flattered (and maybe a little worried), but he may be able to point out some habits that you need not copy because they do not advance your mission.


If your instructor is not your role model, he may be threatened by your burning desire to emulate some other great martial artist. Find out why he doesn’t want you to follow that person’s example. If the reasons are good, you may want to find a new role model. If the reasons are just his insecurity or uncertainty, start looking for a new instructor! Life is short. You don’t have time to learn from anybody but the best instructor you can find.


Summary: find a person who has already achieved what you want to achieve. Make that person your role model. Learn everything you can about that person. Soak it up. Enlist the most capable coach or mentor you can find to help you emulate your role model.


But whatever you do, starting training and never, ever, ever quit!

Serving Southeast Michigan:

JMAC students come to practice from throughout Southeast Michigan, from such areas as:

  • Ann Arbor
  • Birmingham
  • Bloomfield
  • Brighton
  • Canton
  • Chelsea
  • Clinton Township
  • Detroit
  • Dexter
  • Dundee
  • Fenton
  • Fowlerville
  • Grass Lake
  • Howell
  • Inkster
  • Jackson
  • Lansing
  • Livonia
  • Manchester
  • Milan
  • Milford
  • Monroe
  • Novi
  • Okemos
  • Pinckney
  • Plymouth
  • Rochester
  • Romulus
  • Saline
  • Southfield
  • Tecumseh
  • Troy
  • Whitmore Lake
  • Wixom
  • Ypsilanti
  • University of Michigan
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Michigan State University
  • Washtenaw Community College
  • Oakland Community College
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Ann Arbor - Martial Arts Mecca

For the prospective martial arts student, Ann Arbor is a mecca in the Midwest. More than any other location in Michigan, Ann Arbor has a wide variety of martial arts styles taught by many well respected sensei (teachers). You can find training opportunities at community centers, college and university gyms, health clubs, fitness centers and dojos (training halls). Among the styles available are: aikido, iaido, judo, jiu-jitsu (also called jujutsu), karate, kendo, kung fu, MMA (mixed martial arts, sometimes called BJJ) tae kwon do, tai chi, and many westernized martial arts systems. At JMAC, we offer world class instruction in judo, jiu-jitsu, iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), and karate for kids.


Aikido is a martial arts descended from jiu-jitsu. It includes joint locks, throws, takedowns, and pins. The philosophy of aikido is a peaceful one - to use the attacker’s energy to neutralize his or her attack without causing injury. Aikido is taught in several forms, such as Aikikai, Ki Society, and Yoshinkan. Aikido was founded by Ueshiba Morihei, who studied with Takeda Sokaku, the most famous practitioner of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Its principles can be found in almost every Japanese martial art, especially jiu-jitsu and judo. Read more about the physical and philosophical principles of Nihon Jujutsu.

Iaido in Ann Arbor

Iaido is Japanese sword drawing. It was created by the Samurai to defend against surprise attacks by an armed opponent. Most iaido involves the practice of pre-arranged forms, which are excellent tools for training the body, improving concentration, and entering into a meditative state. Finding a talented instructor in iaido with legitimate credentials is rare … in the Midwest it’s practically unheard of. For those with a desire to compete in swordsmanship for sport, kendo is the activity of choice. Those who are willing to endure an occasional whack on the head may pursue bokken kumite (sparring with wooden swords) with our director’s authorization once they reach black belt at JMAC. Read more about iaido at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Judo

Judo was founded by Professor Jigoro Kano. It is both a martial art and an Olympic sport. It includes throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes. It is among the most vigorous of martial arts and is very popular with children as well as adults. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers classes in judo for children as young as 6 years old, and for adults (starting at age 16). One fact not widely known is that sport judo is a narrow cross section of the complete art of judo. Proponents of the entire art, such as Satoh Tadayuki Sensei of Waseda University in Tokyo, recognize that the founder’s vision encompassed not only “judo” throws, but joint locks, takedowns, redirection, strikes, vital points, dynamic ukemi, kata, and weapons. Judo training at JMAC includes many of these opportunities. Read more about Judo at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Jiu-Jitsu (Jujitsu / Jujutsu)

Jujutsu - which is also written "jujitsu" and "jiu jitsu" - is the ancestor martial art of aikido and judo. Although it includes many of the techniques found in aikido, as well as many more combative techniques that did not find their way into aikido, the philosophy of jujutsu is more practical. Techniques are applied more directly, with a greater emphasis on pain compliance. Those who study jiu-jitsu over the long term improve their fitness, concentration, and ability to defend themselves. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers serious jiu-jitsu classes for adults starting at age 16. You can learn more about the differences between Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiujitsu.

Karate – Kids Karate in Ann Arbor

Karate involves mainly strikes, kicks, and blocks. It was originally developed in the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa), and was later exported to Japan before finding its way around the world. Karate is an excellent martial art for those who prefer striking, and helps develop physical strength, stamina, and confidence. There are many forms of karate taught around the world today, including Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, Chito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and Kyokushinkai. If you’re looking for a way to help your child learn enthusiasm, fitness, discipline, and manners while having a lot of fun, consider the kids karate program at JMAC. We have an incredible core of talented instructors who have made it their business to inspire kids to be their best. Read more about our karate program for kids.


Kendo is a sport descended from Japanese swordsmanship. In Kendo, participants wear padded armor and attempt to score points by striking vital points with bamboo swords called "shinai." Practice is fast paced, involves much spirited shouting, and is a lot of fun. The Japanese Martial Arts Center does not offer kendo, but can refer you to a reputable kendo instructor in the area.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that actually includes many sub-styles. Like karate, kung fu involves strikes, kicks, and blocks, but also includes many esoteric motions that can be applied to take down or otherwise defeat an opponent. Kung fu often appeals to imaginative people because of the many references to animal forms, but it is also a very challenging and practical martial art.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

MMA (mixed martial arts) to a modern competition-based collection of techniques. Most MMA schools teach striking as well as grappling. Although not a traditional martial art - and thus lacking many of the character development and spiritual aspects of ancient Asian arts - MMA is nevertheless a fantastic form of exercise and a lot of fun. Because many MMA fighters have employed judo and jujutsu successfully, the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers private instruction to top-level competitors as well as occasional workshops for our members.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is the Korean counterpart to Japanese karate. As a striking art, it includes punches, kicks, and blocks, but typically Tae Kwon Do emphasizes more kicking than does karate. Competition (usually for points rather than full contact) is very common among Tae Kwon Do practitioners. It is an excellent form of exercise, but seems more susceptible to commercialization than more traditional arts such as aikido and iaido.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another form of Chinese martial art. It is usually taught with slow, controlled movements and deep stances. There are many health benefits associated with Tai Chi, including strong bones, cardiovascular health, and calmness.

Getting Started in Martial Arts in Ann Arbor

If you are considering taking up martial arts, you will find many superb opportunities in and around Ann Arbor, including outlying cities such as Brighton, Canton, Howell, Northville, and Plymouth. Students from the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Cleary College, and even Michigan State University have supplemented their education with martial arts and found that the physical activity helps them concentrate on their studies. We think the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers the best programs in Michigan, but we’re interested in people who are willing to work hard and do what it takes to become truly accomplished. We encourage you to look around to find the martial arts club or school that best meets your needs.