Recently after Kobudo class I was having dinner with my sensei and a student of mine when my sensei told us some stories of his training. I always enjoy hearing and reading about other martial artists training experiences because it helps me look at things in a different perspective. I hadn’t heard of the term “dojo hopping”, although I had heard of “dojo wars” and “checking my technique” but dojo hopping wasn’t something I was familiar with.
Basically “dojo hopping”, or asking “for a lesson”, or even “to check my technique” is a method of training where a person asks for permission to attend a class and train. Where today you might redeem a coupon for two free lessons to try out a school, in the past this was not so. If you were an experienced martial artist and you went without a letter of introduction and asked to join the class, or for special instruction then it was generally considered a challenge. As my sensei related you would be expected to fight the lower ranked students and work your way up to the advanced students and if you got past them then you might actually get to fight the sensei depending upon their skill and confidence level. As he said sometimes I won and sometimes I got beat, but this was a method of testing yourself against others.
This practice had its roots in Japan and to be honest probably in every society in one form or another there where (are still) people want to test their skill levels. In the later Tokugawa period and then during the Meiji reform period wondering swordsmen (samurai/ronin) would approach a school and ask for a lesson thereby challenging the school to a series of duels which often led to people getting seriously hurt, maimed or death. Since dueling with live steel was abolished, they might not fight with live steal but they would fight with boken (hard wooden swords used in training) which would not cleave a person in two but could smash, pulverize and break bone thereby crippling or killing a person.
Not only was this practice in Japan but also in the Philippines as well. One time as GM Remy Presas, Arlie (my training partner) and I were eating dinner after a seminar, I asked him about his training in the Philippines. He told me that after he left the Balintawak school he’d travel to other areas and seek out various instructors (by asking around who the local escrima players were) and approach the instructors and ask them to “check his stick”. Now he had a sneaky way of doing this, in that he would approach them on the side and (having first found out their enemies) possibly tell them he wanted to challenge this other person and would the master please check his stick to see if he could win? Then by fighting them in private if he won, he saved them from embarrassment and he “owned them”, which he meant he owned their technique or the essence of their style. Because he did this in private they didn’t lose stature, students, or income, so they were in a sense indebted to him, he then would train with them (if he could learn from them) before he moved on to find another instructor. This was one of the ways he collected styles and techniques to formulate Modern Arnis.
Dojo Wars or Dojo Storming, was a term(s) I actually heard from several sources in different parts of the U.S. This was where (especially back in the 1960s-70s) students from one school/dojo would show up at another school to train. I met one gentleman at a Home Depot of all places, who told me about his training with a local instructor in the DFW area and how they use to do this when other schools opened in the area to challenge the other students and the instructor to fight to prove them worthy of staying open.
Nowadays the whole challenging the instructor is pretty much over. If you want to go dojo storming with your dojo buddies you are probably going to face legal trouble if you are trying to shut someone down, or are deliberately trying to hurt other students. However you can still have some great training experiences by going to different schools to train and I’ll share my experiences in the next blog.