As a student of the Danzan Ryu, each of us will, at some point, ask ourselves “what’s the point?” Whether the question comes in the beginning, the middle, or towards the end, it serves to give us periods of self-doubt and begs to be resolved.

Perhaps, in the beginning, we will tell ourselves that DZR training is necessary to keep ourselves and our family safe. Maybe we find that practicing makes us feel powerful, like shooting a gun, and therefore becomes addicting. Or, perhaps it becomes what, for many of us, is an equally powerful reason for training– a sense of belonging to an extended family. Fact is, we do it for a lot of reasons whether we are aware of them or not. To that end, I’d like to offer another…

The martial and healing arts inherent to the Danzan Ryu are capable of transforming and transporting each of us to a higher state of being. By “being,” I mean the human “being,” or better, the experience of being human. This transformation occurs in our effort to fully express the principles of the arts we practice. For it’s in our attempt to do so that we uncover that aspect of ourselves that serves to hold us back. With patience and perseverance, the arts gently transform our personal limitations and shift the color of our perception. It’s by shifting our negative perceptions that we are able to shift our reality to something more positive.

Here, the martial and healing arts become one-and-the-same. Whether on the mat or on the table, both arenas will cultivate and reveal aspects of our true-nature or “Shin.” This process begins in technical form, evolves into functional application and culminates into personal freedom.

The aspect of the system most capable of being transmitted effectively is form. The forms of Danzan Ryu are often judged for both their historical and applicable correctness. That is to say, is it the way Professor Okazaki did it? Or, is it the way it’s going to work in modern self-defense scenarios? But perhaps the more imperative of questions regarding form is whether or not it is effective at transmitting the core principles that will open the door to the central themes of the Ryu (style).

The objective of a form is to provide physical repetitions of an exacting nature so that the practitioner may naturalize a movement. By doing so, he/she is no longer reliant upon semantic memory to perform the action (unless he must recall the name). Once these exacting movements have been naturalized (muscle memory), the student is then able to focus attention on the principles or central themes inherent to the system. It is in those central themes that the signature of the system is expressed.

Through the successful integration of principles like non-resistance (Ju), self-abandonment (Sutemi), and service above self (Kokua), the Danzan practitioner is transformed, both on and off the practice mat. It’s also through the principles of interconnection (ma’ai) and of non-judgment (Aloha) that we are shown the wisdom of self-control and the fearless power of compassion.

Danzan’s central themes serve as powerful beacons, guiding us away from self-destructive attributes and toward the profound experiences described, simply, by the founder, as the “mysteries of our house.” To be fully functional in the Danzan Arts is to be a highly skilled and fearless martial artist as well as a compassionate and empowered healer. This, as the function of the form, provides us with the means to free ourselves from deep, limiting issues and to return to a more blissful state if being and relating.

Each of us is born free. That is to say, at birth we have yet to be given the rules, yet to be programmed, and yet to be domesticated. We enter this world an authentic self, set on the path of experience. It’s only through our life’s experiences that we collect our fears: The fear of not being loved, of not having enough, and, most profoundly, the fear of death, itself. Among other things, Danzan training serves to uncover, challenge, and disperse these fears via the process of form and function.

Whether in a roll, a flip, a massage, or a spirit shout, it’s the experience of working through our fear that sets us free. The freedom from fear, freedom from hate, and freedom from resentments are all inherent in the deeper principles of DZR. The Hawaiian word for this experience is Kala, a cleansing of sorts that empowers us to act when needed for the greater good. It is a return to the freedom of childhood, when we exuded our life-force through peace, love and a true wonderment of the universe.

Form, function, and freedom… each with its place and each with its mission in the transformation of the Danzan practitioner. Indeed, the study of the “Hawaii island style” can be as deep or as shallow as the individual student requires. But ultimately it’s up to each of us to decide just how far we’re willing to swim out.

Something to keep in mind the next time you ask yourself “What’s the point?”

Photos by Minh Truong