Meditations on Kiyojute Ryu

Bob Pruitt

I open this brief meditation with an apology. It is a self-serving manuscript. I have been meditating a great deal as of late on the Shihan (master level) pretest in Kiyojute Ryu Shogei Toitsu Kempo. As I arrive at this stage in my martial arts sojourn, I find myself wanting to share where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, and to communicate the richness of the true Toyo Kempo Bugei. Consider it the story of a typical martial artist in the United States during a time where the silly competitions of relatively untrained gladiators are the buzz of the moment.

I began training in 1992 as an utter child of eleven years. I did not seek training but sort of fell into it when my younger brother was put in a martial arts program to help him conquer his shyness. I still remember walking into the school for the first time when an extremely large blonde man greeted us and took us through an introductory class. I was enraptured by the students running about in crisp, white uniforms and wearing a plethora of multi-colored belts with stripes down the middle and on the tips. My brother joined, and I joined because he did.

After five years I was a second degree black belt, and I knew everything that the system taught. I say this not to be ostentatious but as a statement of simple fact. Every solo form, every two man set, every basic movement, I knew. To advance, I needed one crucial thing—age. The way the system was set up you were not allowed to test for certain ranks until you were older. For example, you had to be twenty to be a third degree. As such, I was sitting perfectly still, staring into the growling maw of a four-year-wait for my sandan test in which I was to learn absolutely nothing new. In such a situation, what is an inquiring mind to do?

I looked at what I knew and came to the ironic conclusion that what I needed was self-defense skill.
I looked at what I knew and came to the ironic conclusion that what I needed was self-defense skill. Certainly, that sounds odd coming from a person with a black belt, but it was true, nevertheless. The karate system I studied was meant to be one half jujutsu, and we had learned certain techniques that were wrist locks, throws, and grip releases. Thus, I went looking for a jujutsu master.

There were no jujutsu experts in my home state, so I looked outside; eventually I located one on the west coast who had a correspondence program. I studied his materials voraciously, as well as any other material on jujutsu I could find. At this stage I had become a technique collector, eager to add any movement I did not know to my repertoire of techniques. In time, and with the support of my brother and wife, I achieved my third degree black belt in both jujutsu and karate. Still, though, I remained restless.

So often, it seems the things in our lives that have the most meaning are so innocuous. The smallest little decision, made without much trepidation, can have the most glorious ramifications for all of our days. I still remember telling my father, “I think she wants to go shopping for engagement rings…what should I do?” He responded, “I’d do whatever she says.” Life is like that. And the greatest martial jump of my life was like that too.

I began reading martial arts magazines when I was a freshman in high school, the year I achieved my first dan. I still recall the article that most struck me in the very first magazine that arrived at my home (my mother had selected the magazine from a list of possibilities a cousin of mine was selling as a school fundraiser). In the article a man in a black gi and a red belt was teaching jo techniques. He told the history of Gonnosuke Muso and the creation of the weapon, and he then proceeded to use it to strike and grapple. I was impressed. When the next issue came, he was writing about aiki reversal techniques for holds such as ikkyo, nikkyo, and sankyo. I was intrigued. What art teaches weapons and empty hand grappling? Next came an article where the author adroitly placed a side snap instep kick at the crown of his attacker’s head. I was mystified. What art teaches all of these things? I was a middle rank in karate and jujutsu, and the person in the pages knew much more than I knew about either and weapons as well. Who was this man?

As the months passed I was greeted with articles about combat swimming, nunchaku grappling, variations on the knifehand, and the esoteric aspects of the martial arts. I hungrily consumed every bit of script until, as the years passed, the man disappeared from the pages and was replaced by the uninspired fop of the mixed martial arts. Years would pass until I found the book Mastering Kempo by the same author, William Durbin, on the shelf of a local bookstore; it was the first thing I had found by the author in a long time. A friend of mine said the obvious, important words, “Bob, he’s only in Frankfort. Go meet him.” I don’t know why that thought had never occurred to me, but at my friend’s urging my brother, my fiancee, my buddy, and I hopped in a car and headed to Frankfort.

The next nine years would be a new level in my martial arts life.
The next nine years would be a new level in my martial arts life. I learned kempo, an art that contains the principles of all martial art styles and is, in fact, the kernel of them all. I would specialize in the arts of jujutsu, aikijujutsu, karate and others. And, in the fullness of time, I would be standing where I am now, meditating deeply on what I had learned in order to create a list of 300 movements to demonstrate for my godan pretest.

I am more dedicated to the art of Kiyojute Ryu Kempo and its founding headmaster, William P. Durbin, than I was when I first began. Each year, each experience, each test shows me how much more there is to know, how much more there is to ponder, and how much more there is to grow. To the students of Kiyojute Ryu I make the challenge to appreciate your art—especially those of you who have never trained in another system to which comparison can be made. So many arts that are popular in the states today are weak shadows of what the martial arts are meant to be. Kiyojute Ryu shines with a truth and efficacy that puts the sporty arts into sharp perspective. May all of us under the roof of this martial arts family honor our father and brothers and sisters as we train thankfully in so glorious a system. And may all those outside our walls come to join us as we preserve the genuine skills of the ancient masters.

Bob Pruitt is a martial artist of 16 years. He is the Dojocho of the Arawa Kage Kan, the only Kiyojute Ryu Dojo in Tennessee.