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History of Shingitai Jujitsu

By Steve Scott

To understand Shingitai Jujitsu and its role in the world of self-defense or "martial arts", one must look at some historical developments which led to its development.

John Saylor, in the 1980's, was the Head Judo Coach at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He arrived at this prestigious position in 1983 by virtue of his success as an athlete in competitive judo. Saylor had won the U.S. Heavyweight Championship three times and was a Pan American silver medalist. He had recently retired from the sport of judo after a serious shoulder injury sustained in the 1982 U.S. Judo National Championships.

During his tenure as coach of the Olympic Training Center, John Saylor was exposed to some of the best judo technicians in the world. The leading judo teams from Asia, Europe and the Americas visited the Olympic Training Center regularly and John Saylor wasted no effort in observing their training methods and discussing judo technique with the world's top judo athletes and coaches. Not only did he work with the top judo people, Saylor worked closely with some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the world who coached and did research at the Olympic Research Center or were visiting form other nations.

John Saylor built on his already considerable strong base of grappling knowledge by this experience at the Olympic Training Center. He served as the coach from 1983 until 1991. However, before he left his position at the Olympic Training Center, Saylor began a more thorough and extensive study of "martial arts".

By 1987, Saylor had already opened his own private training center where he evolved the core philosophies and techniques of what he later came to call "Shingitai".

One of John Saylor's early Judo instructors, Yoshisada Yonezuka, emphasized the philosophy of shin (mind), gi (technique) and tai (body) . Actually, the Japanese philosophy of "shingitai" was profounded initially by Yasuhiro Konishi in 1934, who was the founder of the Shindo Shizen Ryu. Konishi's Shindo Ryu was a system of karate-jutsu as Konishi had studied under Gichen Funakoshi and Choki Motobu, pioneers in the development of karate, eventually forming his own approach to teaching karate. In no way is Saylor's Shingitai is a direct descendent of Konishi's form of training, however, the philosophical roots of Shingitai Jujitsu have historical precedent in Shindo Shizen Ryu and through the teaching of Yoshisada Yozenuka, who was well-schooled in the traditional teachings of bujutsu and budo, to John Saylor early in his career as a judo athlete.

Saylor was taught by Yozenuka that through dedication to training, carried out over an extended period of time, shin, gi and tai develop in proper proportion in the individual.

Saylor's philosophy teaches that shin comprises the mental facet of the art. This also encompasses the "fighting heart" of the Shingitai exponent. The tactics, strategies, and cognitive appreciation of jujitsu also comprise this facet of the art. The word gi means technique. The Shingitai exponent must make a thorough and realistic technical study. Developing useful, effective and realistic skill is fundamentally important. The word tai refers to the body and to the importance of physical fitness in Shingitai Jujitsu. One must be physically able to perform the techniques of jujitsu. Jujitsu is a fighting art and requires a body that can react when necessary and can physically adapt to the situation at hand. This also refers to austerity in living. Bad habits can lead to a weak body and a weak mind.

Saylor learned early on that an individual's elevated degree of fitness often dictated his ability to fully accrue technical development and mental readiness for fighting. Thus, John Saylor built his personal philosophy on the three elements of shin, gi and tai .

By 1989, Saylor had organized the basis for his Shingitai organization and had studied various systems of fighting including karate, taekwondo, muay-thai, sambo and Olympic-Style wrestling, earning black belt gradings in karate and taekwondo. He also studied other systems of jujitsu.

Initially, John Saylor called his approach to teaching Shingitai Goshin-jitsu, which means "mind-technique-body self-defense-art". He called it goshin-jitsu because what he was profounding was, according to him, a "well rounded approach to self-defense training".

Saylor often compared Shingitai to the decathlon in track and field, where one must develop his skills in a variety of areas to be successful. A decathlete must have the skills and fitness level to compete in all ten events. He can't afford to specialize in any one event at the expense of neglecting the other events. The same can be said in effective self defense. An individual must have the skills and fitness level to adapt to the many situations which may arise in real fighting.

The specialization which took place in the martial arts by the 1980's made for a confusing and often ineffective mix of fighting arts being offered to the public.

In a situation that is analogous to what confronted Jigoro Kano almost one hundred years earlier when he originated Kodokan Judo, John Saylor realized that the martial arts was becoming a caricature of its original intent.

With an open mind to a multiplicity of influences, Saylor wanted to offer a realistic, combat-effective approach both in strategy and technical application. He freely borrowed from the traditional teachings of many bujutsu and budo sources as well as from the more modern approaches to physical education, strength and conditioning training and psychological training.

According to Saylor in 1993, "The Shingitai Goshin-Jitsu Association is dedicated to the mental, technical and physical development of its members through the teaching and practice of the most up to date and combat effective martial arts skills available today".

Being historically accurate was important to Saylor in the development of his Shingitai. Realizing that contemporary instructors in various "martial arts" were "inventing" and "improving" on the more traditional styles (as well as the non-traditional systems) with an all-too-common regularity, often aggrandizing themselves and making outrageous claims.

John Saylor was a humble, albeit an erudite, man with a personality formed to a great degree by austere training and many situations which tested his mettle. He wasn't about to "invent" a "new" style of fighting in the same mode as others in the United States were doing.

Saylor approached the development of Shingitai with circumspection. He was subjected to some criticism, especially in the U.S. judo community, for leaving his position as one of the leading judo coaches and embarking on a questionable course teaching self-defense. It must be remembered that John Saylor was a leading judo instructor and was accustomed to coaching elite athletes. To turn his back on all this was met with skepticism by some people in the U.S. judo establishment.

John Saylor, in the founding of the Shingitai, was following in the footsteps of other twentieth century technicians who were evolving what has come to be known as "martial arts". (The author places quotes around this phrase because it is so misused and misunderstood.

Classical bujutsu (martial art) evolved into classical budo (martial way or philosophy) in Japan prior to the Meiji period (starting in 1868), which led (after 1868) to the modern cognate forms of judo, karate, kendo and others.

The modern cognate forms such as Kodokan Judo, Shotokan Karate-Do, Aikido, and others were founded by Japanese technicians and masters with direct philosophies foundations in Zen and Shintoism. The founders of these disciplines borrowed liberally from the theory and the practice of classical bujutsu and budo. Classical bujutsu, simply stated, was the Japanese study of warfare. Bujutsu was a generic term for the many arts of war that the bushi (warriors) were required to learn. When warfare changed with the opening up of Japan by westerners, bujutsu (and the professional warriors who adhered to it) become unnecessary. This led to the development of budo (martial way) in Japan after approximately 1603 (the Tokugawa period, 1603-1868).

Bujutsu are the combative systems designed by and for warriors to promote self-protection and group tactics. Budo are spiritual systems, not necessarily developed by professional warriors or for warriors, for self-perfection of the individual with the combat skills being secondary. By studying budo, the individual may achieve self-realization as end result of arduous training.

This all ties into the development of Shingitai Jujitsu because what took place after the modern cognate disciplines of judo, karate, kendo, aikido and others were studied by westerners not acquainted (partially or completely) with Japanese secular philosophies (such as Zen) is that these "martial arts" were altered to more western tastes and (as, for instance, judo and karate) became far more oriented toward sport and recreation. An example is Okinawan te, which became Japanese karate in 1924. Upon its arrival in the United States, in eventually evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into kick boxing and other sport-oriented forms. In many cases, these forms vaguely resembled the original karate.

A similar situation took place with the development of sambo in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Government commissioned Anatoly Harliempf and others to develop a method of hand-to-hand combat for the Soviet military in the early 1920's. Harliempf and his contemporaries traveled to Japan and studied Kodokan Judo. Harliempf received a 2nd degree Black Belt in Kodokan Judo, and after making a study of grappling and fighting systems throughout the Soviet Empire, eventually developed sambo in the early 1930's. "Sambo" is an acronym for the Russian words meaning "self-defense without weapons". Basically, what the Soviets did was take the technical facets of judo, remove the philosophical underpinnings, make some adaptations technically and create their own hand-to-hand combat systems.

This very thing is what has taken place by westerners since the late 1960's, especially in the United States. In many cases, however, those who have altered judo, karate, aikido and the other disciplines have retained many "trappings" of the original "martial art".

Such trappings usually always include a belt rank structure with the "founder" of the new "martial art" naturally being the highest rank or with the most colorful belt. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo, was the man responsible for the formation of the belt grading system as most people know it today. The other Japanese disciplines eventually adopted Kano's belt rank structure.

While the vast majority of westerners claiming advanced belt rank take for granted the system of belt ranks used in the "martial arts" as something that has always been there, they have retained this part of Japanese culture in their modern "American" fighting systems.

John Saylor realized all of this when he started to teach Shingitai .It was not his intention to establish another organization from which he could promote himself or others in belt rank or inflate his own ego.

Saylor, realizing that as a non-Japanese, his discipline of Shingitai might not be accepted as a serious attempt to teach a more rational approach to personal combat and a serious discipline in jujitsu. He didn't want to place himself in the company of those "masters" who had plenty of credentials displayed on the wall but couldn't back up their claims with serious or effective training methods.

In fact, John Saylor never claimed any belt rank in Shingitai until a group of senior Shingitai instructors, in 1996, placed him on a "schedule" of belt gradings which would eventually place him at 10th Degree Black Belt when he was well into his sixties.

Another interesting fact about belt rank in Shingitai is that John Saylor originally wanted Godan (5th Degree) to be the highest belt grade, and kept this edict until he widened his technical syllabus in Shingitai in 1996. He expanded the belt gradings to ten dan grades primarily because most other American Jujitsu and "martial art" systems were using the ten dan grades. However, unlike most other systems, Saylor was adamant that the higher dan grades wear the black belt only and not the red and white, red, red and black, gold, or other colors which had become so popular. This was an obvious message to his dan grade holders and instructors the humility and simplicity were very much part of the Shingitai philosophy. Knowing that the belt rank system was a necessary part of the "American" approach to "martial arts", John Saylor wanted to keep the whole belt rank issue within reason.

Saylor made the decision to teach Shingitai with its philosophical base being the combat-effective cornerstones of the classical bujutsu. Realizing that classical bujutsu was designed for warfare from a technical point of view, Saylor wanted to retain the philosophy of stressing realistic skill in combat situations and eschewing the aesthetic and exaggerated techniques seen in other "martial arts". Saylor emphasized that function dictated form.

John Saylor changed the name Shingitai Goshin-jitsu to Shingitai Jujitsu in 1995. The American public was familiar with the name jujitsu so the term goshin-jitsu (while more correct in describing his self defense art) was replaced.

As Shingitai evolves technically, the primary philosophy of realism and combat effectiveness that John Saylor made the foundation of his fighting art will not change.

Shingitai Jujitsu is very much one of the late twentieth century cognate disciplines with its roots in self defense as opposed to the classical martial training of ancient Japan. However, the major difference is that the philosophy of Shingitai is rooted in the classical martial training of emphasizing effectiveness over aesthics.

Function does indeed dictate the form in Shingitai Jujitsu and its primary objective is to offer realistic, effective self defense training.

(About the author, Steve Scott is a close friend of John Saylor and an early member of the Shingitai organization. He is the Head Instructor of the Welcome Mat Judo and Jujitsu Club in Kansas City, Missouri where he teaches judo, jujitsu and sambo. He has a bachelor's degree from Missouri-Kansas City. He was a member of the U.S. National Coaching Staff for judo from 1980-1992 and has had the opportunity to train in Japan, Europe, North America and South America.)