Origins of Nami Ryu Aiki Heiho

Traditionally martial arts in Japan are passed on from teacher to student by direct transmission. The origins of Nami ryu are in the martial traditions of the Yoshida clan of the Satsuma region of Kyushu, Japan. Yoshida Kotaro was a gifted martial artist who was well known in pre- and postwar Japan. He was an associate of many of the most important people in Japanese martial traditions of the 20th century, both old and new. On the one hand, he was involved with Takeda Sokaku who brought classical Samurai martial traditions into the 20th century and, on the other, he was instrumental in Ueshibia Morihei meeting and training with Takeda sensei.

This knowledge that Ueshiba gained was the foundation of his development of Aikido as a major modern martial art. We have no known record of Yoshida Sensei passing on his family art to anyone in Japan. The only person that we know of who had knowledge of these family traditions was his son Yoshida Kenji who came to the United States prior to the Second World War. Yoshida Kenji Sensei, having no relatives in the United States and no contact with Japan, taught and passed his art on to Don Angier. Don Angier sensei has dedicated his life to the study of Yanagi ryu.

I first became interested in samurai arts in the early 1970’s when I met the late B.J. Carlisle Sensei. B.J. Sensei was teaching Aikido at Scripss in La Jolla and I was fascinated with the concept of Aiki. At this point I had already been involved in martial art and combative systems for more than 10 years however the concept of aiki initrigued me. In 1980, B.J. Sensei introduced me to John Clodig Sensei, a senior student of Don Angier Sensei , Soke of Yanagi ryu, and suggested that I study with him. John Clodig sensei is an excellent teacher in his own right. Here in Yanagi ryu I found the rich tapestry of martial training that I had been looking for. I met Don Angier Sensei through John Clodig Sensei and began training with him in 1982. The long drive to Lynwood, followed by Angier Sensei’s decision to quit teaching publicly in 1986 and move to his home in Long Beach, meant that I had to spend a great deal of time practicing on my own. In retrospect, I feel that this had many advantages, one of which being that I had to figure out for myself much of what I was being taught. This lead me to form of group of interested students who I would teach and practice with.
In 1991 Angier Sensei invited Okamoto Seigo Sensei to come to Los Angeles and teach a seminar. Angier Sensei had seen some video footage of Okamoto Sensei and was impressed with his ability and this prompted the invitation. Okamoto Sensei is the Soshi-sha of Daito ryu Aiki jujutsu Roppokai. He is a truly gifted teacher and practitioner and I took advantage of the opportunity to train with him on many occasions throughout the early to mid 1990’s. I mention this because Okamoto Sensei had an impact on my understanding and application of aiki jujutsu.
In 1992, I built a dojo on property that I own in Encinitas, California. Teaching took on a more constant and serious tone as I was no longer teaching outside in my backyard or in my garage. Now many years later this dojo is referred to as the old, old dojo by those students who have trained with me since that time. In 1994, I met with Angier Sensei to work out a more formal teaching arrangement. Angier Sensei did not want formal teaching of Yanagi ryu outside of the Hombu dojo, this policy is true to this day. We mutually decided on the name Nami ryu for my style and I continued to travel to Long Beach to further my studies with Angier Sensei. I continued to train with Angier Sensei throughout the 1990’s. This included traveling and assisting with seminars and demonstrations as well. Nami ryu means wave style and recognizes that energy travels in waves at every level of Universe reality. It is this deep understanding of wave harmonics that gives Nami ryu it’s soft power and combat effectiveness.
In 1999, I had the opportunity to train with Kuroda Tetsuzan Sensei. I had seen videos of him when my friend Brently Keen brought them back from Japan after spending two years studying with Okamoto Sensei there. After viewing the videos I told myself that I would train with Kuroda Sensei if I ever got the opportunity. John Bullard and Charles Marcus were hosting Kuroda Sensei and Diane Mirro put me in touch with them. There were three of us in that first seminar so we received a great deal of personal attention from Kuroda Sensei and his assistant Mr. Suzuki. Kuroda Tetsuzan is a truly phenomenal swordsman. The longer that I train with him the more similarities in principle I see with Yanagi ryu. The omote is different in very many respects, however, the ura has many similarities. Nami ryu has been profoundly impacted by Kuroda Sensei’s teachings, however, there remain significant differences in many of the techniques. Kuroda Sensei has been supportive of Nami ryu and I continue to train with him.

In 2001, I began training with Mikhail Ryabko. On the surface, one would not think that this Russian martial art has much in common with Japanese koryu. However, once past the surface there are significant similarities as both are sword based arts. I was certified to teach Systema in Russia by Mikahil Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev in 2002. Both Mikahil and Vladimir are outstanding techers with a deep understanding of sophisticated and effective martial art. I have had the opportunity to train with Mikhail with the sword in his home dojo . This training really gets to the heart of his Systema and deepens the understanding of the art. Training with Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev taught me how valuable deep relaxation and faith are to achieving superior function. I mention Systema in relation to Nami ryu not because there are necessarily any technical similarities, but because Systema has influenced the core operating system and added depth and breadth to the art.

At this point I have been training in and teaching martial arts for 45 years. The knowledge that I have gained, both from outstanding teachers and long hard practice is a life’s work. As such, it reflects both my knowledge and those precious gifts of knowledge from the long line of teachers reaching back into antiquity. I regard this knowledge as a sacred trust. My responsibility is to study, train, teach, and understand to the best of my ability. This knowledge has always been passed down from teacher to student and that is why I must continue my part in this chain. When you take on the mantle of student/teacher you also take up this responsibility. This knowledge will die if we do not continue it. It is the legacy from our ancestors that, once lost, will be gone forever. Countless lives were lost to evolve this knowledge. Treat it, yourself, and your students with respect, and study hard.

James Williams
February 2005