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Martial Arts and the Magic of Persistance

The magic of persistance found at JMAC

Sometimes just sticking with a thing is enough to separate yourself from the crowd.

If you've been in the traditional martial arts for any length of time, you've heard your teacher mention how many of the best aspects of training come only after years or decade of persistence.

Sometimes it's about sticking with what you're doing even for a few years, and then taking time to reflect on how far you've come.

I opened JMAC in 2006 because I couldn't find a dojo in the Midwest that offered world class judo and jujutsu. Two years later we were one of the notable dojos in Ann Arbor. We weren't intentionally competing with other martial arts schools, but by the end of 2009, two nearby schools had gone out of business, several had moved, and the array of clubs and informal martial arts groups had changed considerably. All we did was keep offering exceptional training and welcoming new students into our classes. Now, ten years later, we're an established program in our region with an extraordinary facility. We host 2-3 of the best system leaders from Japan each year and continue to grow and deepen our knowledge. The scene in our town has changed drastically and, in one sense, all we did was stick with what we love to do.

Training's Not So Different

Half of success is showing up. Half is working hard. And the third half is finding a way to track your progress to make sure you're moving toward your goals in meaningful ways. I put it that way for a reason...

If you just stick with your martial art long enough, you'll outstrip everybody who quits, everybody who dabbles, many of those who also stick with it, and a few of those who show up AND who work hard. But the truth is, very, very few people who train in martial arts - even those who do stay with it for two or three decades or more - truly set goals and take meaningful steps to track their progress. Those few who do (and who use the information to keep improving both their skills and their training methods) become the exceptional martial artists: the role models, the tournament champions, the teachers ... the bright lights that show us what's possible if we would only bring all of ourselves to what we do.

Get in the Room with People Like That

As you may know, I seek out great teachers, inspirers, high performers, charismatic people and motivators. Besides studying with some of the greatest martial artists of the 20th Century, I've read and listened to people like Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard, Deepak Chopra, Warren Buffett, and many, many more. These people have an incredible amount to offer, but there's something about the martial artists who have devoted their entire lives to learning, perfecting, and passing on profound secrets of the Japanese arts that resonates with me and many people I hang around with.

I think one reason the true masters of the martial arts convey a unique power is their integrity. To stay with a path that is composed of hard work, pain, humility and very little financial gain takes a special character. Even if that character isn't present at the start, it often emerges over the decades required to understand and internalize the principles of legitimate heritage martial arts. You have to be in it for its own sake. If you get a little money or fame doing it that's nice, but at its core the thing you love is the thing itself, and that shines through when it's true.

The 3 living masters - Satoh Tadayuki, Nobetsu Tadanori, and Yahagi Kunikazu

Three Masters

I've been very, very lucky to have trained with or met some extraordinary martial artists. I've been in the room with Shioda Gozo of Yoshinkan Aikido, Yasuhiro Yamashita of Olympic judo fame, Kawabata Terutaka of Jigen-Ryu, Otsuka Hironori, son of the founder of Wado-Ryu Karate, and my own iaido teacher, Yamaguchi Katsuo, Meijin 10th Dan, just to name a few. Holy crap, it feels crazy to write those names when you think of tens of thousands of martial artists whose lives they've affected for the better.

So when I say that there are only three living Japanese masters I care to train with anymore, I hope the context for that statement is clear. I've searched the world over for new mentors and, among those living, training and teaching in Japan, only three make the cut for me.

One is Nobetsu Tadanori, an exemplar of a life lived in Goju-Ryu Karate. He's extraordinarily talented, kind, and humble, and has thousands of students in Japan and around the world keeping his legacy alive. Another is Satoh Tadayuki, one of the world's leading aikido experts. He was taught by Tomiki Kenji Sensei and is currently Shihan of aikido at Waseda University Aikido club.

The third is perhaps lesser known except among the cognoscenti of koryu ... Yahagi Kunikazu, soke of Ryushin Shouchi Ryu. His art is an evolution of Kawabata-Sensei's Jigen-Ryu ... dynamic, powerful methods for employing the Japanese sword ... an art that includes not just great cutting techniques but also breathing methods, presence, and that wonderful ineffable power and humility that only legitimate heritage martial arts from Japan seem to create.

In my opinion (be it ever so humble), every serious martial artist should have a little training with these three men on their resume´ ... if you want to be a jedi, you have to know what it feels like to be in the room with a jedi, and if you want to be a martial arts master in the true sense of the word, you have to train in the room with a real Japanese master to try to soak up the essence of what that means.

I've already started training to make sure I'm in the right condition in both body and mind to absorb all I can from Yahagi-Sensei's teachings. For me, that's just part of striving for the extraordinary every day ... envisioning greatness, planning, preparation, training, evaluating, and improving.

Remember, the kind of day you're having may depend on the world, but how you deal with it totally depends on you. If you have an exceptional mindset, you'll lead an exceptional life. I'd love to hear what this means to you!

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.