“Organized Freedom” and “The Ranking System”
“ The USA Goju Association/Organizations Transformation”
In the early days of Sensei Peter Urban’s Dojo’s he was building his own foundation of instructors who would go on to have their own dojos and also start to build an organization and association that would be USA/American Goju. You could certainly recognize who these individuals were at that point and time. It was an exciting time because Sensei Urban had made an incredible name for himself in the Martial Arts World. That name would last until the time of his passing and beyond! As the years went on and the black belts either stopped training or moved on, which is normal, others would naturally go on to replace them in the organization.
He did not believe in the mystique as so many Martial Artists do. He always said “there is no mystery in mastery”. “If you want to be good, practice. If you want to be great and better than your competition, train to be 30% better”. “He expected everyone to train 7 days a week like he did”! He did not believe in people worship and thought it to be dangerous. He did believe in admiration and respect for people, skill and rank!
Sensei was from the old school of Japan where it was cut and dry in terms of being on time, paying your dues and also knowing your responsibility to the Dojo. Obedience was expected and demanded. It was truly by consent of the governed. It was never a question because of the cultural structure and beliefs he was accustomed to. That was not the case when he started teaching in the USA. The culture was quite different and it was an adjustment that Sensei would have to make from that point on (reluctantly). Another important aspect of Sensei’s thought process was that his dojo was run in a semi-military manner. That structure too had certain conditions attached to it that he demanded but some times assumed the membership would understand. He knew that there was a sense of honor, respect and integrity that was totally understood. It was the same for the ranking system. Sensei didn’t demand what he thought would be understood by his students. He viewed the ranking system as he did the military ranking structure. Click Here. He knew that most of the guys and girls that had served in the military would get it and most that did not, would not! He also had a certain admiration towards the guys and the girls that served because of their commitment to our country and admired those who put their lives on the line. For him, the rank given to anyone he promoted was to be used in his or her dojo only and not meant to be something fought about by other associate members as to the pecking order they thought it to be. He also knew that some would not use the rank as a tool or continue to use it to better the association. That’s where the saying “United We Stand and Divided We Stand Anyway” came from! Because of the lack of commitment by some and because he was moving in a different direction, he changed from a structured organization to an open association. He began taking on students of other systems early on but never to the extent that he had after his letting go of lots of individuals of the past. His USA/American Goju System was redefined as SYSTEMS and most of his pedigrees and original alumni totally misunderstood his position an acted in an adverse manner. If Sensei would have kept his style to a structured organization there would have been a ranking order that would have easily defined the echelon of that organization and a true pecking order if you will. Once he transformed his organization to an open association it was no longer logical or possible.
As time marched on, Sensei was angered and saddened by those who wore his name and made money from that connection but did not hold up to their responsibility. Click Here His disregard for good business structure and toughness in that area was always a struggle. He did not believe in business agreements but thought you should live through your character and integrity. It is my belief that,“ In self defense you must always defend yourself to the best of your ability and that goes for having all agreements crystal clear on paper and signed”!!! This is as much a self-defense mode as it is having to defend yourself from a physical attack! Sensei’s experience made that crystal clear for me.
OK, to the original premise!
The USA Goju/American Goju Organization/Association was a unique association in that it was created by Sensei Urban with “Organized Freedom” as its basis or foundation. It was one of the first of its kind! As I said earlier, this one was hard for most of his Dojo students and or pedigree dojo’s to understand!!! He wanted all of his dojo’s to have the freedom to create, expand and progress from their own studies and experience over time.
He did not want history to repeat itself in regard to what had happened to him when he was denied the right to be a leader while bringing Goju to the USA and to further himself as a Fifth Dan in the system. He was denied by GM Yamaguchi!
DG. “Organized Freedom” = Believing in the same principles and goals and having a limited number of specified techniques and skill sets used and recognized for the entire group. Having “Defined Technique” that is taught, practiced and utilized by the entire association for the purpose of common ground and acknowledgment of uniformity for the Association/Organization.
That was defined as “Organized”.
The “Freedom” was using all the knowledge you already possessed and your continual learning and development in the “Martial Arts” and any area of knowledge or expertise you aspired to. Again, ”this was not limited to the Martial Arts, but rather in the way of”! It was quite simple”!!! Remember, Sensei’s membership was a diverse group from lots of different teaching methods and backgrounds.
“Organized Freedom” was the key to having the membership feel connected and also allowing them to feel free to develop naturally with no restrictions. DG. =“NON RESTRICTIVE THINKING”. If everyone in the association had had their eye on the same prize so to speak, this philosophy would have been the key to the “associations success”!!!
This transformed the organization from formal to open!
Why did he do this?
Sensei’s Dojo did not generate enough income to sustain a Street or Commercial Dojo. He gave too much away for free and his business suffered because of it. He was now more effective as a full time consultant, adviser and mentor to those who needed and wanted it. He recognized, liked and accepted this! Remember, Sensei taught Martial Arts for “a living”. He could have done just about anything he wanted to do in life and probably would have been rich in a financial sense but he chose to stick with Martial Arts. This was more rewarding to him than the conventional everyday 9 to 5. The only aspect that he was not progressive with was his business practices. He genuinely had no use for business models or practices but was extremely progressive in his thought process when it came to the Martial Arts. That’s correct; it was his “Vocation”. That’s one of the myths and realities that must be clear and perhaps repeated for those who think the contrary. You see, there were, and are lots who would say that Sensei taught them to teach for free, “as a passion”. That could not be farther from the truth. He wanted his guys and girls to be professionals and thought that it was good to be able to turn your passion, hobby or ad-vocation into something you could do for a lifetime as a vocation or business. (A True Career Teacher/Instructor) But to say that he did not want his students or did not encourage his students to teach as a vocation is just not true. “He knew” most of his students did not teach Martial Arts for a living, rather a passion. He was also ok with that. There were, and are lots who also teach those who cannot afford to pay, out of the goodness of their hearts. I should think that we’ve all done that and would continue to do so!Sensei Urban turned out some great Martial Artists and instructors over his many years of teaching.
1981 would mark the last of Sensei Urban’s dojos, which was short lived.(East Point Dojo!) Click Here
In 1983 he would publish a list of individuals and their rank. Obviously if anyone was a Tenth Dan on the list, it meant that he viewed them as leaders in their own system as he was the only 10th Dan of USA/American Goju. The list showed all of the Dan’s from 10th down to 1st. Click Here
He now thought of himself on a grandeur scale.” Martial Arts consultant”. It was self evident to him that his popularity, importance and responsibility to the Martial Arts world were greater than ever. He always had a knack for identifying things and labeling them accurately. (Some times in a very “sense of humor-ish way”!) Sensei’s jargon was one that you had to understand and for you to understand it, you had to be there. For him, consultant was fitting. Introspection to him was important, and he thought all of his students should practice this method of self-evaluation with honesty to have a clear view of themselves and their limitations as to go forward “in life with clarity”. He also thought it to be important as a Martial Arts Instructor so you would correct your mistakes and not repeat them in the future.
There was never a time in his life where he was not sought after for his guidance and expertise by others from different systems. He had always mentored others throughout his earlier days as well while teaching daily in his dojo, but this was different. Sensei was no longer bogged down with having to teach all the technique and terminology and methodology he once did in his dojo on a daily basis although he certainly enjoyed that too. His meaning and importance took on a much broader scope! He once made a comment to me that (Quote)” I’ve been bumped up to the front office, a new level and responsibility, by the membership”. His business would now be by appointment only! His home was now his dojo/monastery, and he, “the central point of reference”as he had been to all of his students, and where he would also work with members privately. At this juncture he was only taking on 5th Dan’s and above who had their own dojo and a technical base and program of their own in place. There may have been an exception where he would take on a lower Dan but it was more the exception than the rule. Some of the membership were also individuals that once trained but did not any longer. Some were just individuals who wanted to join his association and were not Martial Artists At All!!! This was all under the name USAGA at the time. USAGA was a name that he had given to all of his dojos to use. It was not for the taking by anyone and was understood by all that used it and stayed in good standing with him would be able to do so for all eternity. A Major Mistake was his not Copy Righting USAGA himself. Another assumption that would go sour!!! That is the way Sensei Urban worked. Sensei Urban was a giver and straight shooter who believed in giving your word and standing by it. A quality that no longer exists for the most part, in any area of life! That too is the way of the Martial Arts. He had a special and private teacher/student relationship with each and every one! As most who were a part of his associations knew, if you did not have difficulty with Sensei at some point you were probably not really there!
As I mentioned in one of my early articles, the FSN (Fight Schools Network) which was an open association would be the last of Sensei Urban’s inner dues paying membership. You would have to have seen the FSN webpage as of the day of Sensei Urban’s passing to know who the members were at that point and time. It has since been altered and is no longer accurate in that respect. There were still lots of old alumnus who were still active but were now independent dojo operators and didn’t need the contact with Sensei that was needed in their earlier years. Some did not have dojos or even train any longer. He still admired lots of them anyway!
He wanted all to be proud of who they are and to continue to go forward in the spirit of USA/American Goju. The interpretation of USA/American Goju from one camp to another is pretty silly but not funny. It has been the same for most all organizations that have had their leadership pass away. They usually break up into small groups or just stop. Others go on to be successful on their own. Others just go away. “All quite natural”! For Sensei Urban I believe what he gave of himself will last in the hearts and minds of many for a long, long time.
I view Martial Arts as an education as important as any. But remember,
“An education is only worth something if you do something with it”!
Sensei Peter Urban
In 2011, I was fortunate to be able to compete in The World Police and Fire Games held in New York City, a world competition. The fighting was easy because its about psychology, awareness and reaction! I had to pick five forms to perform. The five I picked were from four different styles all taught by Sensei Urban in USA/American Goju at one point in time. Saysan(Seisan)=Goju-Ryu, Han(Annan)=Shito-Ryu, Seipai=Goju- Ryu/Shito-Ryu, Senchin (Sieyunchin)=Goju Ryu, Hangetsu=Shotokan.
My friendship with Sensei Peter Urban was so much more important than being a Martial Artist. If I would have had the choice of never knowing Martial Arts or being Sensei’s friend, the choice would have been an easy one. I’m happy to have been able to be both and will keep great memories of our many years together.