What all martial artists can learn from Ashida Kim and why they should apologize for their unforgivable mistreatment of him
In writing my recent essay concerning Bunkai, I browsed through my collection of Martial Arts books and I pulled out Ashida Kim’s Deadly Grip of the Ninja, which is a book about grappling technique. The assertion that “most fights end up in grappling”, which would later be inextricably linked to the Gracies, is first seen on the very first page of this book by Ashida Kim.
If not first seen, at least published two years before the Gracies were made famous for saying it. What helped launch “Brazilian Jiu- jitsu”, did nothing whatsoever for Ashida Kim. And back to “first seen”, I’m sure someone can argue that it was in some book from the 50s, and I’m sure I can find it somewhere before Ashida Kim as well; I have Jujutsu books that are 100 years old. But you know what? I didn’t bother looking. Because as a child in the 80s, I was obsessed with Ninja and Karate and I began my studies as a means towards becoming a Ninja (I was probably 6).
So in the back of the martial arts magazines of the time were all kinds of ads for Ninja equipment, and uniforms, and books. The most proficient Ninja were clearly Ashida Kim and Stephen K. Hayes , as they had the most books. I remember wondering what secrets were possibly awaiting me in these Ninja books. Having a fairly firm grasp of basic Karate by an early age, I was ready for these wonders that the Ninja knew!
So if I saw Ashida Kim perform one of the techniques that he “stole from someone else”, or “got from a book”, or if he said something that some “old master said first”, I still was exposed to it first through Ashida Kim. I grew up reading Ashida Kim books and playing “Ninja” in my Shinobi Shozoku, running around in the woods, practicing Karate, learning what I could from wherever I could. Ashida Kim helped encourage my study and the diversity of my study throughout my life. I learned a lot of Karate from instructors, and hard work in Dojo, and against trees in outside training, but I learned a lot from books as well. I am still a Martial Arts sponge. I read and train hard. I think Ashida Kim is the same way. I think he is a Martial Arts sponge. It is for this reason that I have always wanted to have an opportunity to meet and train with him. I’d love to hear his ideas and approach and experiences after almost 40 years of Martial Arts training and writing.
Let’s take this one piece at a time, rather than just present a rambling defense. And let me make clear, I have no reason to endorse Ashida Kim, nor do I endorse him any further than I would any other Martial Artist I may discuss but have not met. However, I do have a Black Belt equivalent grade in Mugei Mumei No Jutsu, and I am ranked as a Ninja member of the Black Dragon. Just for full disclosure.
From here on, when I say “attack” I mean really personally insulting attacks against him and his family in a very malicious, violent, and almost fetishist way. Taunting, threatening, and demeaning comments of the type that makes kids bring knives to school. I suppose the internet is where school bullies go when they get older.
One of the most common attacks against Ashida Kim is that the techniques he shows in his books are taken from other books. Well, as I mentioned I have a great many books in my collection, and I noticed that Nakayama ’s books (Best Karate series for example) have a lot of techniques I’ve seen in other books, even a book from the 20s by some Funakoshi guy (Karate Jutsu/ Tode Jutsu ). How dare you insinuate that because he is showing you something that someone else can also show you, he is somehow an inferior Martial Artist? And why are you so angry about it anyway? Maybe the real problem here is that you really believed he had some real Ninja secrets. Like magic-lightening-shooting-from –your- eyes type of Ninja secrets. When you opened the pages of an Ashida Kim book and found nothing but sensible (though of course Ninja-fied) techniques that look a lot like Karate or Judo or WWII era Military Jujutsu, or whatever, you were disappointed that you weren’t going to be a special magical Ninja like you built up in your mind.
|You're expecting this...|
That is the point. Ashida Kim is teaching you the valuable lesson that there are no Ninja secrets. If a Ninja had to beat you up, he’d do it using the best available fighting skills he could learn, just like these. That is all Ashida Kim is doing. To find a niche in the writing world Ashida Kim simply latched on to the Ninja wave of the time to teach some really solid teachings, decent techniques (in many cases far better than what I had learned in traditional Karate as a kid), introduction to mythology and science fiction, introduction to sarcasm and humor, and absolutely always, respect and humility through Martial Arts training. What a jerk.
Another big complaint is that Ashida Kim is not a Ninja. Right, neither are you or Hatsumi or Hayes. According to the Iga Ninja Museum, Jinichi Kawakami is the last true Ninja in the world. Oh, who cares? Really, I cannot believe this is an issue. There are no Ninja anywhere, people. We’re not even sure they ever existed, at least in any way we’d consider them. Hatsumi is an incredibly talented Martial Artist but has still never presented any proof of any real Ninja lineage. All Ashida Kim has really done is adopted a sort of “if you’re a Ninja, then I’m a Ninja Master” attitude (perhaps a nod to Motobu saying of Funakoshi: “if he is a 10th Dan that must make me a 15th Dan”). If nothing else, Ashida Kim is a Ninja master because he says so, just like Hatsumi, and just like SO many people are 10th Dan Soke all over the USA. Then let’s judge what has been written, not the writer. And as an aside, Ashida Kim is just as legitimately a member and rightful claimant to his organization, the BDFS, as anyone else is to their respective organizations or affiliations. He has a membership card, as do I, to that organization. His was issued long ago, mine more recently, and they have the same value. Whatever value you assert they possess is the same you should apply to all organizations for they are all the same. An organization of people who choose to organize; so what? In this situation the controversy between Fall River and Kim seems like two people claiming to be the head of same style, but in reality it is not about that. Kim calls his arts Koga Hai Lung Ninjitsu, and Mugei Mumei no Jitsu, never claiming to be the head of the Dan-Te style. So the issue is not about leadership of the actual arts being taught, it's only about membership in this club. He could have been a white belt with no training and still assume leadership of a club that he was the only remaining member of.
His books are really an excellent example of the 1980s at its peak. It is hard now to explain the sense of Ninja craze in the 80s for young kids, but it must be like the Beatles 20 years earlier for our parents, though for a narrower audience. You ate and breathed it, consumed any product promoting it. This happened to a lesser extent in the 60s/70s with Judo/Karate/Kung Fu, but nothing like the Ninja boom of the 80s.
I’m He Man, and I’m strong as can be, because I brush my teeth with regularity
He Man was also very popular when I was a kid, and I had a talking toothbrush that said the above phrase. Now, does it matter to a dentist that He Man doesn’t exist? And what do we mean by exist? If we simply mean exist in the public conscious/imagination then both Ninja and He Man are just as real. If someone tells you they dress like Santa at the mall, do you say “no you don’t, he doesn’t exist”. Back to the dentist point, to him, He Man or Ninja- he doesn’t care as long as I get the message to brush my teeth. And I did. I used that tooth brush and I read my Ninja books. So, I may have been practicing “Ninja hip throw” as a child, and other “Ninja” techniques, but at least I was practicing, and reading. There is nothing in Ashida Kim’s books that are all that ridiculous, and I have many of his books. He presents sound technique and smart ideas for the most part. To critique the book of course is easy, as it is now a completely dated format, but you can’t take it out of context. There were few Martial Arts books at all at the time, Ninja books even less so, and it was rare to get them even when available. I got my first two Ashida Kim books at a gun show many years ago. I was thrilled. I mentioned in my Bunkai article that people had a certain reaction to the media portrayal of Martial Arts in their actual practice. As many people have done, Ashida Kim has simply augmented his interest in science, comic books, Martial Arts, Military, history, fiction, etc. with what was a popular and enigmatic field at a time when people wore crystals and acid washed jeans, and believed in the Force.
Ashida Kim’s audience has always really been for kids that read and reread comic books, pouring over the ads in the back dreaming of becoming a Ninja, or years earlier a body builder, or whatever. Hungry for arcane knowledge in a taboo area like Ninjutsu, or Ninjitsu, or whatever, Ashida Kim’s writings filled a void in a child’s imagination which in turn helped fuel interest in the real pursuit of Martial Arts. Here was your chance to understand something ancient, dangerous, and unknown in a time when bands were literally on trial because people actually thought they were putting backward messages conjuring Satan or encouraging suicide in Satan’s service. First of all, this presupposes the court acknowledge Satan as real and not to be messaging on behalf of as law, but more importantly, for our purposes, is that at this time (the 1980s), people thought you could literally conjure Satan to your bedroom by playing Ozzy backward while drinking your Mountain Dew. So, yeah, Ninja were pretty cool when that was literally the reality you were born into.
Lucas, when making Indiana Jones, was really just paying tribute to the silly movies and shorts he saw as a kid in theaters. He wanted to bring back that experience in a translatable way. Down to the whip and hat, Indy is nothing more than a nod to the forgotten obsessions of a young kid with a great imagination. Those images stuck with Lucas and shaped him. He put that in Star Wars and Indy movies. Ashida Kim was doing nothing more than paying homage to the things he was obsessed with as a child and presenting it to a younger generation, even more hungry for it than his generation had been.
When I was a kid, there was nothing cooler than joining a membership. Star Wars fan club; awesome, I get photos, and posters, and patches, and magazines, and most importantly by far: A membership card. GI Joe membership; of course, I have to join the most elite organization as a cadet or whatever. I am also an official, certified Ghostbuster as well (with membership ID card)!Unfortunately, when I grew up in the early 80s, I would read my brother’s older comics with great sadness at my missed opportunities to learn the ancient secrets of Martial Arts that fell on a deaf ear at the time and were long out of print. Chief amongst these, of course, was Count Dante’s manual “The World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets”, complete with membership card which authorized learning and use of the system included. Ashida Kim is nothing more than the continuation of the Count Dante tradition. And though a subject for another time, that manual, though clearly sensationalized to exhibit its deadly image, is pretty solid. It teaches a lot of techniques that are variations or exactly existent in many Martial Arts lineages. This is akin to the “Mondo” films of the time which are considered cult classic, exploitation films. Count Dante was just applying that to Karate to try to make a living and popularize the Art.
Ashida Kim was doing nothing that Tarantino doesn’t do now with films like Kill Bill. Kill Bill is admittedly paying homage to the female samurai exploitation films of Japan, featuring one of the biggest stars of Ninja cinema, Sonny Chiba, and Kung Fu-ploitation films, Gordon Liu . Ashida Kim was paying homage to the Count Dante image and style, keeping that tradition going, as if it were a real tradition like any other. Count Dante would have been a Ninja had he been selling his pamphlet in the 80s. By combining Kung Fu movie imagery, actual Martial Art technique, Military tactics, literature, Ninja myth, Myth in general, and mysticism, Ashida Kim created a writing persona that could deliver exactly what a kid wanted. Like I said in my Bunkai article, in reaction to pop culture, people are looking for movie-reality in their training because their only exposure had been movies. In the 80s, what exposure did anyone have to Ninja? If you give me something looking nothing like what I think Ninja look like, I won’t accept it as Ninja, and I won’t learn a thing. Ashida Kim looks like a Ninja, and I learned things. In fact, I learned a lot. I learned from him that there are no real Ninja, just people doing a job. They couldn’t fly. They couldn’t literally become invisible. You shouldn’t be violent. You should be humble. Have fun and enjoy make-believe while training hard (dress like a Ninja, why not?).
Is your problem that he is/may be White?
I have seen people be very upset at the fact that Ashida Kim either is, or is believed to be White, and NOT Japanese. And furthermore people are upset that the name is a mixture of Japanese and Korean names. I actually named my car "Ashida", because it is all black (like a Ninja) and made in Korea, in honor of this debate. One of my childhood heroes was Sho Kosugi who was often billed as Sho Kosugi, the Ninja. I watched all of his Ninja movies and had his Ninja posters. Imagine how upset I was to learn that he was actually just playing up the Ninja angle.
But, it’s OK because he is a Karate guy at least, and knows what seems to be some Shotokan offshoot. And he is a Japanese Karate guy still…. So that’s cool.
Who cares if it’s a mixture of names; Funakoshi had a pen name, and this guy has a pen name. Would it be better if he was named Slartibartfast instead of Ashida Kim? Who cares? Why does this anger you to the point of wanting to publically display his tax returns for the last 5 years? It is interesting to note that his biggest detractors, the Fall River group, are hung up on exposing Ashida Kim's real name, implying that his alias indicates that he is a complete fraud because he has to hide behind a foreign name (one that implies a lineage in that country). Another Martial Artist comes to mind that did something similar years before. Count Juan Raphael Dante claimed to be of Spanish Royalty, though born an Irishman in Chicago by the name John Timothy Keehan. This is the man that the Fall River Black Dragon Fighting Society (BDFS) trace their art back to. In my opinion, the controversy boils down to two people using Dante to legitimatize their claims, and to help drive their own business by exploiting the popularity Dante built through his ads. It seems to me that a reasonable motivation, for their attempts to defame Ashida Kim, is to draw attention away from Dante's reputation.
He doesn’t know any Martial Arts
I see this one a lot. Some people will argue that he has no training whatsoever, while others argue that he has had some training but sucks, and both will probably say that if he does do something “good” it was because it was lifted from something/someone else. We have basically addressed the last one earlier, but to drive it home, who cares if he demonstrates something he saw someone else do, however he learned it? If you demonstrate any Kata, you’re at least demonstrating something that was shown to you in person, and/or in previous writing. Everyone learns from someone else.
So to address the first, that he doesn’t know any Martial Art in any meaningful way. This is immediately dismissed because I have seen footage of him performing many Shotokan Kata (like Kosugi [sort of]); at least enough for a Shodan in the style (if by quantity alone). One can certainly speak about the quality of performance of his Kata, but in general, he demonstrates significant study, if not technical excellence of a sufficient number of Kata. This can express a complete lack of interest in the Kata, misunderstanding of it, lack of practice intentionally or otherwise, poor fundamental technique, etc. But it cannot express a lack of study, or interest in Martial Arts. A writer is a scholar, and a scholar he clearly is. That you’re so upset by his writings 40 years later is a testament to how excellent a writer he is, in fact.
|Ashida Kim performing a sloppy Tekki|
Let’s discuss the second point, that he may have had training, but he still sucks. I’ve never trained with him personally. What I can judge are his writings, and they are perfectly fine for their scope and aim. Judging his Kata is unimportant. I’ve never studied with a Sensei that was overly concerned with the beauty of Kata above its utility. I’ve also never been with a Sensei that emphasized the Kata above Kumite and Kihon and practical self-defense. A lot of people "suck" at a lot of things, but can still teach you things about them. If you learned something from him, great! If not, move on. No need to personally attack people that you have determined to have less skill at something than you do. Many music critics don't play instruments, and how many film critics make films? So, you say he’s never trained, he shows you Kata and you say they aren’t good enough. Maybe he says “because I don’t value training in them anymore so they’ve gone to disuse, and I’m focusing on other areas of training now.” Who am I to argue with that? He showed that he has knowledge of what he is talking about. If you don’t like what he sells, don’t buy it! And, you're apparently a much more talented Ninja, so where are your books? The best way to attack him would be to write a better book.
Satire and Ashida Kim
I can’t believe I have to spell this out, but to me Ashida Kim is an outstanding example of cult-movie type, mystical Kung Fu movie satire, as well as the continuation of circus barkers (The Man eating Chicken for example), and parody.He is like X-Ray Specs . He gives you what the ad promises, but you are disappointed because you read into it, or misinterpreted it. Think of Ashida Kim as Borat, and a lot of problems go away. Think of Ashida Kim as Spinal Tap. Spinal Tap is a band that doesn’t exist, having experiences that didn’t happen, filmed for a documentary that isn’t happening either. People were so confused at their skillful parody that they had to issue clarifying statements that there is no Spinal Tap.
|We don't exist.|
But, if you mean is there a Spinal Tap in the sense that the people portraying the people who don’t exist are in fact skilled musicians that wrote and performed all of the music, then yes. So Ashida Kim “doesn’t exist”. Spinal Tap “doesn’t exist”. I have all of Spinal Tap's albums, and Ashida Kim books.
Other points of contention
Let’s quickly get through some other problems people seem to take far too seriously. Let’s always remember that every issue you have with his version of Ninja compared to your version of how you imagine a Ninja is like complaining that True Blood doesn’t accurately portray Vampires, so I won’t address those. You are silly. Come on.
Let me start by saying making fun of the printing quality of his writings has nothing to do with the quality of his writings. One technique Kim teaches often, in the pursuit of invisibility (or removing the opponents ability to see you), is throwing sand in their eyes. He is criticized extensively for this. Meanwhile, any Okinawan stylist should immediately recognize that as a legitimate technique, preserved in Eku Kata where one scoops beach sand toward their adversary's eyes. Why is it only stupid when he says it?
|There is a huge difference between this certificate, and a quality teaching certificate.|
It is up to YOU to learn the difference!
He is often accused of printing fake certificates. Like so many things in life, rather than work on education of the public, we want to ban the existence of things the public don’t understand. If someone gets shot, ban guns, if someone prints a phony certificate ban printers. Paper won’t refuse ink, so the only thing keeping a certificate’s value is the perceived value of that certificate. If I walk into a Dojo, and the only certificate is an Ashida Kim certificate, I know the value of the certificate to me. You can’t ban Ashida Kim certificates because you don’t think it’s a quality certification. All a certificate is saying is that someone gave you a certificate. Know the value of training and train accordingly. You shouldn’t be impressed or disgusted by a certification, only by your understanding of the quality of the practitioner. I know of many high ranking people with esteemed credentials, and I wouldn’t recommend them as teachers. What do their certifications matter there? But don’t tell me that I can no longer buy a certificate as an adult looking to complete a childhood goal of becoming a Ninja under Ashida Kim!
People are often upset that they don’t know who his teacher is. If he told them who his instructor was these same people would then say “even if you learned from him, you’re still a fake." Who cares? He shows you things that work and are clearly from Martial Arts, so he learned something somewhere. Do you care if it was Beijing or the YMCA? You either like what he wrote or don’t. The way he spells Ninjutsu (he uses Ninjitsu) is also a very sore spot for "real" Ninja. I'm pretty satisfied with his explanation of why. Here is what he says on his website about that issue:
"Ashida Kim replies: "Yes, the "modified Hepburn" system of Romanization that you may have learned in school would transliterate it as "ninjutsu." But, back in the '60s and 70s, when I was getting started with martial arts, "jitsu" was the preferred spelling, such as "jujitsu." And, indeed, the MMA guys still use that spelling convention today. Ninja and Ninjitsu are Japanese words. There is no 'Japanese alphabet,' they use 'kanji' or 'ideograms' (picture writing) to express these words. So, it is a matter of pronunciation when translated into English. Some people make a big deal out of whether to spell jitsu with an 'i' or a 'u' as in jutsu. But it really matters little. The same kanji that mean 'Silent Way' in Japan, mean 'calmness in the face of adversity' in Chinese."
The biggest complaint of course is that he is a fraud. I’m not certain what about Ashida Kim is fraudulent. It is a pen name like others before him have used. He is not a Ninja, in the same way that no one else claiming to be is either. Some complain that his stories,Ashida Kim can actually perform the techniques from Count Dante’s manual quite proficiently, and in the time frame specified by Dante, so nothing about that is fraudulent. He shows a Kata (not a kata, a dance of death, whatever) that he clearly practices, just like anyone else with their Kata. Why is it O.K. that Dante invented an entirely fictitious persona and history in order to sell sensational books in the back of comics, but Ashida Kim cannot? He is the most legitimate heir to Dante's true system. It is just as easy to consider Dante's real Dojo to be the fraud, not the book. The book and ads clearly show who Dante was deep down, something hidden from his "legitimate" students. A con man, making a few bucks from exploiting the mysteries of Martial Arts at the time. A true inheritor of a system should carry on their Master's work, not turn their backs on it. The culmination of Dante's training led him to make up a name, create a new history (including death matches in Thailand), latch on to mysterious things becoming popular and taboo (Dim Mak, Kung Fu), and make cheap books that support all of that while issuing (what some consider) phony membership cards. Ashida Kim is the only of Dante's disciples to truly carry on Dante's system.
encounters, history, dialogues, background, connection to Count Dante and the BDFS are all made up. So what, he never said they weren't! Think of them as parables to teach you a lesson about something. He is just as legitimately a member of the
BDFS as anyone is. Count Dante included a membership card with the manual consisting of what he states were all one needed to be proficient in his system, and a member of the Society. If the membership card was never intended to allow one to be a member, wouldn't it be a better idea to not include one at all? By claiming that Kim's membership card is not sufficient to prove him to be a member, despite Dante directly saying it would in his ads, Kim's detractors are calling Dante a liar. Couple that with their indictment that foreign aliases are tantamount to fraudulence, and with an "I hadn't thought of that" attitude, they have just undermined their own lineage by admitting their system is essentially built on lies, and their legitimacy promptly vanishes in a puff of logic
while Ashida Kim says "oh, that was easy" and his reputation and legitimacy remain unchanged. Kim never claimed that Dante is the founder of his style or system, just that he is a member of the club. Ashida Kim is only a pen name, while Count Dante actually just stopped being John Keenan and became Count Dante. There is a distinction there.
So the real point here is why are you all so mean to this person? Why are you so angry and violent towards him? Even if I am unable to persuade you that his books have a value, and you continue to despise him, you should still reevaluate your behaviors and attitudes. All he did was have an interest in Ninjutsu and writing, with a flair for sensational comic book writing in particular, at a time when a public craved exactly that. Regardless of his Kata, or lineage or style or abilities, he is a person with more than 40 years of training, reading, writing, and studying Martial Arts. He has done more to influence Martial Artists than any other writer. He should be at least acknowledged with the same respect as someone like Bruce Tegner who worked to bring unknown arts to the masses.
Those are also stylized works fashioned after the tastes of the
times, and despite only having a Judo background the books span every known system of the day. His claims of being a 5th degree belt belt in Karate don't seem to match up with his performance of Karate. Sound familiar? Yet his books are of great use, and very important early reference materials. If Tegner came along a little later, he'd have Ninja books too. I do not understand why people
are so infuriated by Ashida Kim that they seek to personally attack and defame
him. Perhaps the crux of it is, as I mentioned before, that to some people he could seem to be the embodiment of the X-Ray Specs. What stupid people hate about X-Ray Specs, is that they expected that, for one dollar, they will receive magic glasses capable of seeing through clothing, and impressing/embarrassing their friends. When they receive the glasses, they realize that the glasses are nothing more than a cheap illusion. For those people, it isn't until after they've been "duped" by the "lies" that they realize the wording of the advertisement. It is clearly advertised as an illusion, and many words are in quotes, such as "x-ray". Once you get the product home and you realize that the "scientific principal" it works on isn't the one you imagined, you realize how dumb you were in believing it.This is magic bean stuff... How long will people be upset when they buy magic beans, and actually expect a magic stalk. If I buy magic beans, I think they're a novelty. The problem here isn't the product.
|If only Bruce Tegner were|
around for the Ninja Boom...
|Ninja Master Coyote demonstrating|
"Miss the Ground" Kata
The first time you heard of Gravity was when Bugs Bunny Cartoons showed the Coyote run long past the end of the cliff without falling, yet you don’t call Bugs Bunny a fraud when you learn more about Gravity. People attempt to reveal Ashida Kim's real name and address, or disclose financial or legal information about him. Who cares? It truly is a sign of a mental illness to be so affected by him as to go to such lengths.
Dear Master Kim;
On behalf of the Martial artists that understand training and learning, I apologize for the deplorable behavior of my brother Martial Artists that have ridiculed and attacked you unfairly and relentlessly for years. It is truly impressive that you have remained active and dedicated to the arts after all of these years; and especially that you have remained a humble gentleman throughout the last 15 years of internet attacks. I hope you appreciate that some people understand and recognize what you've done and respect your body of work, and its importance as a reference. To other Martial Artists that disagree with me, just keep your mouths shut and move on. Don’t read Ashida Kim books, and don't look for him on YouTube. In Karate there are a couple of sayings that are intended to better the student. Three that apply here are "seek perfection of character", "Karate begins and ends with respect", and "in Karate there is no first attack." Ashida Kim did nothing to warrant your unprovoked attacks. Master Kim, thank you for years of lessons and training in an art no one else would teach us, in a time when no one else could, and in a place others weren't. I, at the very least, fully appreciate what you were trying to do, what you've done, and what you continue to do. You should be celebrated for your efforts and successes in spreading the Martial Arts to the deeply interested, but underrepresented youth of the 1980s, as well as for your perseverance and relevance even today. And though my training moved well past your books, they remain an integral part of my childhood, and no amount of internet squabbling over legitimacy will take that away. My happy memories of staying up all night as a child reading and rereading your books, fantasizing about my future Ninja missions, cannot be taken away. For those especially, I thank you.
Why do I care? Like Miyagi said in The Karate Kid: “One to one problem, yes. [The Entire Internet] to one problem, too much ask anyone.”