An Interview with Joe Maurantonio, Shidoshi

by John Rizzo, Janet Rossi & Don Houle (Sept 2004)

Question: When did you become involved in the Bujinkan ninjutsu?
Answer: My first authentic ninjutsu lesson came in October 1983.

Question: What do you mean by "authentic ninjutsu lessons"?
Answer: The 1980's were very popular years for ninjutsu. During those popular years many charlatans appeared, opened schools, taught seminars, and enticed people into their training. Yet, the harsh reality of this is those charlatans were teaching karate and kung fu, with some weapons skills and contrived methods of stealth movement, and packaging it under a "ninja training" banner. Many, many ninjutsu practitioners - myself included - had dealings with these individuals before finding the real training that is offered by Hatsumi Sensei, his Shihan and Shidoshi.

Question: What attracted you to ninjutsu?
Answer: It was the relaxed, flowing taijutsu movements coupled with its practicality that really captured my eye. In addition, I enjoyed the fact that while certain fundamental forms were required, practicing variation and adaptability was expected -- which is NOT what I was used to in other arts/styles.

Question: When did you first open your dojo?
Answer: The Bronxville location was opened in December of 1992. We had several previous locations but they were not as viable as the Martial Arts Center in Bronxville.

Question: Have you studied other martial arts besides ninjutsu?
Answer: Yes. Before I became involved in ninjutsu, I studied several other martial arts. From an early age, I was always interested in training and found myself pursuing my interest with several styles... Though I didn't attain any advanced ranking in those arts, I did learn some habits that were difficult to shake when I moved to taijutsu. Once I became involved in budo taijutsu I swiftly shed all interests in any other martial arts.

Question: Since 1983, the only martial art you have studied is ninjutsu. Don't you feel limited?
Answer: Though I have been involved in Bujinkan ninjutsu for over twenty years, in the last ten years I have spent a small portion of time experiencing other martial arts. These arts were all recommended to me by my Bujinkan seniors, and were for the purpose of offering me a contrasting, educational view of my taijutsu training. For instance, I have spent time learning a Koryu (old tradition) sword style and renaissance swordplay for the purpose of better understanding the sword. Yet, it is important for me to note the staple of my training has been in the Bujinkan martial arts and these other lessons were supplementary; if I had to miss classes one week, there is no question that I would NOT be missing taijutsu.

Question: Do you recommend "cross-training" for your students?
Answer: While I think that cross-training can be very beneficial, I do not recommend it to students in their initial few years of training. It is our hope that during these early years a student will whole-heartedly devote themselves to Bujinkan training. Thereafter, when their ingrained method of movement is relaxed and flowing they are better able to view other arts, and adapt lessons while leaving behind tension and unnecessary movement. Sometimes the recommended training can also be in areas like Chado (tea ceremony), Japanese language, military history, etc.

Question: When did you receive the title shidoshi and what does it mean?
Answer: I was awarded the shidoshi title in 1991 after having passed the godan shinsa test. The actual translation of the characters implies "teacher of the warrior ways". Now what that means is really up to Hatsumi Sensei as he is the person that awards the title of Shidoshi. For me, the title implies that not only is the instructor a teacher of martial arts but also a mentor of how to blend mind, body and spirit. Ultimately, a shidoshi is one who can help his students and friends on the path of becoming a human being.

Question: What are your thoughts on martial arts like karate, tai chi...
Answer: They have their place but they are NOT what I do, nor are they what interest me. It is my feeling (my point of view), that they do NOT offer the depth of knowledge and training that this art offers.

Question: Does your dojo enter sport competitions or tournaments?
Answer: No. Our training focuses on the self-defense and combat practicality of martial arts training, not sports.

Question: Do you teach shuriken throwing, stealth walking and strategy?
Answer: There is strategy taught in every class, in every lesson that we learn. Shuriken and stealth training are taught very infrequently (perhaps in two classes a year) as they are somewhat auxiliary to the training.

Question: Can you explain the difference between these: Bujinkan, ninjutsu and budo taijutsu?
Answer: The Bujinkan is the organization that Masaaki Hatsumi Sensei uses to teach his martial arts. It was named to show respect and reverence for his teacher (Takamatsu sensei). These martial arts consist of several samurai and ninja influenced styles. Ninjutsu is the "art of perseverance" (art of stealth) and was defining of the early development of the Bujinkan; it is also the art through which Hatsumi Sensei gained some notoriety. Budo taijutsu is the reference we use today to express the fact that our martial traditions are more closely integrated and stresses combative effectiveness.

Question: What do you call what you teach?
Answer: Depends on who's asking (smiles). Seriously though, when acquaintances ask me what martial art I train in, I tell them taijutsu (body skills).

Question: You have translated, edited and published a book by Hatsumi sensei. Can you tell us a little about it?
Answer: Absolutely! The book is called Ninpo: Wisdom for Life. It's about 200 pages long. In Bujinkan circles it is referred to as Hatsumi Sensei's philosophy book. I began the translation of the book as a process to come to know my teacher better, and to read more of his writings. In time, I felt it was unfair to hoard the information for myself. I spoke to Hatsumi Sensei about possibly publishing it and he took the idea under consideration. In time, he came to encourage me to publish it as a positive offering to our Bujinkan community.

Question: How often do you train with Hatsumi Sensei?
Answer: Annually. I make it a point to train with him once a year and have done so for the past fourteen years. I feel that this is important for all teachers of our art. If you'll permit a metaphor here, Hatsumi Sensei's is the tree trunk from which all our dojo branch. The branches need to make contact with the tree trunk in order to remain healthy and vibrant. (I also train with several senior Bujinkan practitioners throughout the year.)

Question: When did you first meet Hatsumi Sensei?
Answer: I first met Hatsumi Sensei in 1986 at the first USA Tai Kai. There were over 200 people that attended that event. I would guess that about ten percent of those people are still training today.

Question: Who were your teachers before you received the Shidoshi title?
Answer: Stephen Hayes and a student of his named Darryl Caldwell. Darryl was well known at that time for writing "The Shadow Warrior" column in Black Belt Magazine. There are many others (a few of these still train) I acknowledge as seniors and mentors that helped me learn.

Question: In several of your writings, you mention the qualities of a warrior. Can you please explain?
Answer: Some people believe the word "warrior" implies "one who goes to war" or "brings battle". But for me, a warrior is someone who aspires to the path of self growth. I believe that a warrior lives every day by doing the best he or she can. Helping others if they can and when it's appropriate. Ultimately, I think a warrior is someone who seeks the path, embraces personal growth, protects his loved ones and shares this growth with those around them.

Question: On behalf of myself and our readers I would like to thank you for this interview. Do you have any parting thoughts?
Answer: Yes. I thank my teachers for their lessons, time and patience. I thank my students for their dedication to our training. Finally, but most importantly, I want to thank my wife, family and dear friends for their support.