The Evolution of grappling in Japan: Why did I choose Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Japan?

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The Evolution of grappling in Japan: Why did I choose Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Japan?

After a recent write up on starting again as a white belt, I was asked why I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Japan? Why not Japanese Jujutsu? How would you compare Japanese Jujutsu to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? 

The easy answer is because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is more effective. But to answer why, we have to dive into a brief look at the history of Japanese Jujutsu, and the evolution of Jujutsu through out time.If you already know this history, feel free to jump to the bottom headline:Why did I choose Gracie Barra Jiujitsu?

*Jiujitsu and Jujutsu are the same term. Jiujitsu is just the western pronunciation. In this article I use both terms interchangeably.

Japanese Jujutsu

Japanese Jujutsu was a style meant to be used against Samurai in battle and was developed during the feudal Senguku time period (c.1467 – c. 1568) .Takenouchi-ryū (日下 捕手 開山 竹内流)jujutsu was developed  in 1532, and is one of the oldest methods of Japanese Jujutsu ( Matsumoto,2005) .The term Jujutsu itself wasn’t coined until the 17th century, this became a blanket term to cover any style that included grappling. Today, any type of grappling that was developed between 1333-1573 is referred to as Japanese old-style jujutsu (日本古流柔術 Nihon koryū jūjutsu).

In Nihon koryū jūjutsu techniques are taught through Kata (forms,) that are designed to lock the joints, and subdue an opponent. Force is never met with force, rather students are meant to use the opponents force against them.

Japanese Jujutsu methods can be split into several different schools, that go beyond the scope of this article. If you follow the references and links, they will guide you into an even deeper look, at the many schools, that derived from Takenouchi-ryū. But for the purpose of this article, and the history covered, I am only tracing the evolution of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. With this in mind, lets take a look into one of the next adaptations, that Japanese Ju-jutsu took. 

Aiki Jujutsu

Although some practitioners claim that Aiki Jujutsu goes back to 1045. The historical practice, and the schools, were not officially established until 1895 (Kondo, K.2000). It should be noted that these established schools, trace back their roots to they style of  Daitō-ryū,  with each school  tracing their lineage back to the Takeda clan, which is said to have developed the techniques much earlier. But there is not a lot of documented evidence of this.

Aiki Jujutsu uses joint manipulation as well as strikes to immobilize an opponent. Techniques are taught through kata (forms) and practice is done with a willing opponent to apply the techniques. This style influenced the development of both Judo and Aikido (Omiya,1999).

Aikido

As I mentioned earlier, Koryu Jujutsu is not to be confused with Aikido. The reason is that Aikido was not developed until two centuries later in 1920. The founder Morihei Ueshiba  wanted to create a martial art that was meant to subdue the attacker without harming them (Ueshiba, 2002). Integrating philosophies from the Shinto religion Ōmoto-kyō, Morihei Ueshiba successfully coined the term Aikido in 1942.

Aikido has no sparring, and all of the techniques are practiced with a willing opponent. Aikido actually developed from Aiki Jujutsu, and the founder studied under instructors of Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū , Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū  and Judo. After studying these styles, Morihei Ueshiba began creating his own style that he would later call Aikido.

Judo

Judo was developed by Kanō Jigorō  (嘉納 治五郎, Jigoro Kano, 1860–1938). Kano Jigoro studied Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū (天神真楊流) under Fukuda Hachinosuke (c.1828–1880). Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, was a style that evolved from the earlier mentioned Japanese old-style jujutsu (日本古流柔術 Nihon koryū jūjutsu).

The founder of Judo loved the practical aspects of  free sparring in practicing and learning techniques. He felt that the best practice comes through competition. After practicing techiniques, and warming up ,students would immediately  begin sparring. 

In sparring a match is won using a point based system. The points are achieved by throwing an opponent on the ground or (if the throw was not a definitive take down) joint locking the opponent once they are on the ground. Tackles that aim for below the knees are not allowed.However, grabbing your opponent, and sweeping the legs with your leg is.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Finally, this brings us to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Since I am studying Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, I am going to focus the explanation using this school, to explain why I chose it and also the history behind the Gracie method. There are two reason for this. One, there are philosophies that go hand in hand with my own method of Kajukenbo. Two, Gracie Jiu-Jitusu has the most schools world wide, and is currently becoming very popular in Japan. 

I know you might be thinking. Wait! I thought you said Japan has jujutsu? I’ll get to that. So please bear with me. 

The first Judo school in Brazil was opened in 1909 by Geo Omori (Japanese Born Brazilian Martial Artist).Around this time Mitsuya Maeda was assigned by the by the Kodokan institute (the same Judo institute  Geo Omari belonged to)to demonstrate Judo in Brazil as well other western countries. Maeda not only did Judo but he also accepted challenges from any style. The loser would owe the winner the prize money. It should be noted their are a lot legendary stories about Maeda, I encourage to follow the links to learn more about his exploits. 

In 1917, Maeda took in Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie  as his students. Maeda didn’t just teach them Judo. Maeda took a mixed approach to his teachings, based on his experiences in full contact fights and challenges(Gracie, 2003). According to Gracie (2003), Maeda felt that fighting could be broken down into three phases (striking, grappling and groundwork). Within this philosophy, a fighter should study all types fighting techniques, and develop a method that plays towards their strengths, while exploiting their opponents weaknesses. This principle, is the same principles taught in my method of Kajukenbo, as well as other methods such as Jeet Kun Do (Bruce Lee’s Method)(Lee, 1975). 

Eventually, the Gracie Family standardized the techniques and founded several different schools that can be traced back to Maeda. It should also be noted that Luiz Franca  , was also one of Maeda’s students, and he also developed his system of Brazilian Jiujitsu, from the techniques learned from Maeda.

Since then, many different Brazilian Jiujitsu  schools have been founded, and many of them trace their roots back to Mitsuya Maeda.The word Jiujitsu is the based on the Western translation of the Japanese word Jujutsu. Eventually, Japan standardized Judo as it's official martial art, teaching it nation wide. Around the same time, they stopped teaching Jujutsu in schools and traditional 日本古流柔術 Nihon koryū jūjutsu schools, taught their styles in their own dojos (to this day). 

Why did I choose Gracie Barra JiuJitsu?

Now that we are finished with our brief history lesson, I can get into why I chose Gracie Barra Jiujitsu, even though I live in Japan.

In Japan, their are several different types of schools for Jiujitsu. Some are getting into MMA and mixing grappling techniques from free style submission wrestling, as well as Judo. Some are sticking to their traditional approaches, and emphasizing on forms with little to no sparring. 

The problem with the MMA approach is that there is no standard. Everyone shows up to class, they practice a technique and spar. Since everyone is taught the same technique (regardless of their level), it is hard for beginners to get a solid foundation. This leads to the experienced fighters, constantly beating up on the less experienced new comers. The new comers can either get better or give up (many choose the later). 

The problem with the traditional approach is that there is little to no sparring. Although you can learn many techniques this way, and it is very standardized, it is difficult to know how effective the teqniques would be against a real opponent. There is also a large emphasis on rituals that have nothing to do with martial arts and more to do with tradition (there's nothing wrong with this, if this is what you are looking for). 

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 1000 times.

-Bruce Lee

When I first came to Japan and joined an MMA club. It was very effective. The only problem was that since they did not have a standard format( we are often shown a technique once, and then a completely different technique the next week). We never really stay focused on one technique until it’s mastered. So my progress was difficult to measure. 

I already have a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Kajukenbo and one of the things that I liked about Gracie Barra jiujitsu is that it is standardized. All of the techniques work into the next set of techniques I have been taught. This is very similar to the format of Kajukenbo that I studied (the founders of Kajukenbo and the founders of Gracie have a very similar background) .The nice part about learning this way, is that you build a foundation based on what you have already learned. This also makes the techniques easier to memorize. 

Another thing I like about Brazilian Jiujitsu, is that it  doesn’t confine itself to the rules that traditional Japanese jiujitsu, and Judo Schools, confine themselves to. For example, in Judo you are not allowed to do a double leg take down, and the fight is over if you are thrown to the ground. In traditional Nihon koryū jūjutsu  there is no sparring, it is all based on forms. The problem with this is that it is not practical. Maybe it could work against a willing opponent, but it definitely won’t work against a trained opponent in the cage (where I fight). 

Gracie jiujitsu has a no nonsense approach. We practice a technique against a willing opponent, followed by focused sparring, using the technique we learned again on an unwilling opponent. This along with the standardized approach, makes it easy to build a foundation and measure my improvement.Of course, since I already have a background in full contact kickboxing and I still do MMA, this is just one more piece of the puzzle for me. It could be argued that just doing Gracie jiujitsu, is not enough to make you a well rounded martial artist. 

Another interesting observation I made, was that many of my Japanese classmates and instructors, come from traditional schools (Karate,Akido, Judo etc). So even in Japan, the martial artists are coming to the same conclusions. As someone coming from  the American martial art of Kajukenbo, I feel Gracie Barra jiujitsu shares many of the same philosophies. Since my method of Kajukenbo emphasized stand up and takedowns (over ground work), what I am learning now is the missing link, to  help me be formidable no matter what situation I end up in. 

Further notes that came up in the research

An interesting thing that came up while doing research for this article were videos claiming to be Brazilian Jiu-Jitus vs Japanese Jujutsu. But, upon a closer look it was actually Judo vs Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Here is an example of this kind of video here:

I also noted that some videos were accurate in being Japanese Jiujitsu vs Brazilian Jiujitsu but the practitioners were American and studied a combination of Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo and Japanese Jiujitsu. 

When I looked into to it, I really couldn’t find any traditional Japanese Jujutsu schools that did actual sparring. It was all based on forms and practice. Nothing against this style of training. But in the fast paced action of MMA, Japanese Jujutsu does not have the intensity that I feel I need to get better in an aggressive environment. Here is an example of traditional Japanese Jujutsu here:

Finding your own path

In Kajukenbo we are encouraged to develop our own method once we get our black belts. This can take many shapes as time passes. I’m not a stylist and I am not saying that one method is better than another. But, I am saying that some styles are more effective depending on the circumstances (for  certain individuals). 

During my first MMA fight in Japan, I was shocked how little I actually knew about groundwork.I knew how to defend myself against the average person. But fighting against a trained aspiring professional MMA fighter, was a completely different story. This is where having an in depth knowledge of all phases of fighting (stand up, grappling and ground work) was needed. I feel that I emphasized on grappling and stand up, for most of my martial arts journey. Now is the time for me to focus on ground work, to become a better, well rounded, fighter, and Sifu. 

This was why I chose Gracie Barra Jiujitsu in Japan. To anyone one reading this, feel free to comment, and I will try my best to answer any questions you may have. 

Train your body, mind, and spirit everyday. 

Social Gelo with Angelo- Adventures with Angelo 

Sifu Angelo Ferrer (3rd Degree Black Belt Kajukenbo) 

Angelo Ferrer_167.jpg

About the Author

Angelo Ferrer is a Puerto Rican American expat living in Japan. He is a martial artist, surfer,blogger and podcast host. To learn more about Social Gelo feel free to check out the website by scrolling to the top of this page.

 

References 

Gracie, R (2003). Mastering Jujitsu. Human Kinetics. 

Kondo, K. (2000). Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu: Hiden Mokuroku Ikkajo. Tokyo: Aiki News.

Lee, B. (1975). The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Santa Clarita.

Matsumoto, D. (2005). Thinking differently about the teaching of judo in Japan. A. Bennet.

Omiya, S. (1999). The Hidden Roots of Aikido: Aiki Jujutsu Daitoryu. Kodansha International.

Ueshiba, M. (2002). The art of peace. Shambhala Publications.

 

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The Journey: Starting over as a White Belt

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The Journey: Starting over as a White Belt

“Once you get your black belt you start all over again as a white belt”

-Shizu Allan Abad  (March 15, 1950 to April 6, 2009)

When I first heard this at a Kajukenbo training seminar, I was a brown belt and had no idea what it meant. My Sifu (now professor ) Ronnie Issaguire told me:

"It means starting over and revisiting the basics you learned, having strong basics is what makes a black belt."

Sometimes as a black belt, you get caught up learning so many techniques, that you don’t have the chance to revisit some of the things you learned in the beginning. 

For me, this meant working on basic techniques, like my punches, kicks and the first few forms I learned. But it became much more than this as time passed.

I realized that even in competition I was starting at square one. I was no longer the strong brown belt, but a fresh new black belt surrounded by black belts with much more experience, fighting at a higher level. 

Adapting to change

As with anything I had to adapt. I trained harder, competed more, and never gave up. I started getting to a place that I felt comfortable. I placed 2nd at an open tournament in continuous sparring (American Kickboxing Rules). But, I still felt like something was missing. The U.S. Karate tournaments are light contact (no KO allowed). This made me feel that maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. 

Fighting in Japan

After competing at open martial arts tournaments in the U.S. for 10 years , I moved to Japan, and got into full contact kickboxing. I really enjoyed it. The rules were different. Knock outs were allowed, as well as low kicks. I thought I was going to dominate the scene since I was in the amateur division and I already had so much experience.I was also looking forward to showing off my style (Kajukenbo), and techniques that I have never seen used in kickboxing (sidekick, parrying).I thought getting a few wins would be easy, I was wrong. 

Apples to Oranges 

Because of light contact competition, I fell into the habit of not finishing off my opponents. I would hit them and tire them out. Then I would back off, let them recover, and hit them hard to tire them out again. The Japanese judges saw this, and thought I was inexperienced (which in Japanese kickboxing, I was). I also got in trouble for clinching and kneeing to the face (illegal in amateur division). My friend who did Japanese kickboxing (Open Glove Karate), recommended a coach. After losing by decision twice, I went over to his kickboxing gym, and started training with a professional kickboxing coach.

Taking two steps forward and three steps back

Again I started from square one. They had me start as a white belt . It seemed ridiculous to re-learn how to throw a roundhouse kick. But I’m glad I took the time to do this. It allowed me to find areas of my martial arts that I ignored. I went back to basics and got stronger for it.

After three months of preparation I took on a tournament . Unfortunately, they didn’t have my weight class (169lbs/77kg). They put me in the open weight class, and because of a small card, I fought the championship match against a heavy weight (89kg/196lbs). He chased me around, and I dodged his heavy hits(I even countered with a few of my own), but ultimately I lost by decision. 

It was disappointing to train so hard and still lose. It was my first time working with weight cutting, because in the U.S. I was able to fight as a middle weight (84kg). But in Japan, most fighters are about 67kg/149lbs.My kickboxing coach made the mistake of thinking there was a 75kg weight class. This made for a harsh weight cut followed by trying to bulk up.

My third match went much better. Instead of signing up for a tournament, I signed up for just one match (2 rounds 3 minutes each). I was also able to match my opponent by weight. We agreed to fight at 75kg. I won in the second round by TKO.

MMA in Japan

While training at the kickboxing gym.  I was also training at an MMA club. After my win in Kickboxing, I was offered a semi-pro MMA fight in the cage. At that point I had only done one MMA match in the U.S., and it was an exhibition match at that. But I was excited to fight in a real cage, with cameras and lights. I went in, and lost to an armbar in the first round. It was the first time I suffered my first indisputable loss. 

I was pretty ashamed of myself, and everything that I thought, I had learned. I also realized that MMA was much different from No-Gi jiujitsu, and kickboxing. I tried focusing more on No-Gi jiujitsu, and more conditioning. What followed were four more losses (1by TKO, 2 by submission, 1 by decision). Something was going very wrong. 

Unanswered questions

I needed to relearn everything. I quit working with my kickboxing coach, because none his advice was working for MMA. I focused more on grappling, and came to the realization that my goals are all mixed up. I push myself harder to improve as a martial artist. But how do I know I improved in an MMA match? Even if I win, what if I was mismatched with someone weaker than me? How would me beating a weaker opponent show the gains I've made in my martial arts journey?

These questions were burning inside my mind (arguably still do), and I finally decided to start over again, at the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Kakogawa Japan. I have really been enjoying being a white belt again. But, this requires me to empty my mind (cup), of what I already know. I have been doing MMA for 5 years now, but Gi (uniform) Jiu-Jitsu is different, from No Gi (uniform)Jiu-Jitsu. That aside, it's been fun learning new techniques, and seeing my progress, compared to other people that are experts at this style of martial arts. 

Sometimes starting over is not a bad thing. It can actually be refreshing. It reminds me that no matter how far I climb in my martial arts journey, there will always be another peak to climb. 

Social Gelo with Angelo 

Angelo Ferrer (3rd degree black belt Kajukenbo/ White Belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) 

 

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Angelo's Adventures: Forgetting English and butchering Japanese

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Angelo's Adventures: Forgetting English and butchering Japanese

I've been living out here (in Japan) for 5 years now and I swear my English is getting worse every day. I find myself using common Japanese phrases, and translating them into English. Phrases like try your best (Ganbare) or responding with no no no (ie ie ie), when feeling like I inconvenienced some one. Which is pretty sad because, after all, I am an English teacher by trade. But if you live out here long enough and only communicate with Japanese people, it seems inevitable that your English level will suffer. 

The Heta(Badly Skilled)Twilight Zone 

Now I'm in a uniquely idiotic (baca) position, were my Japanese isn't all that great, and my English is deteriorating. I don't really notice until I talk to another native English speaker. That's when it hits hard. They'll be talking, and suddenly, I find myself lost in the conversation because I didn't understand the words they were using. I could ask them to clarify, but instead I do something my Japanese students do to me all the time. I nod and pretend to understand, while half listening to what they're talking about. So far no one has caught on, but I'm afraid the gig will be up soon. 

How do I fix this issue?

I'm kind of hoping that if I get off my ass and write more, this will fix the problem. Hence, why I'm writing this blog post. If you follow my Vlog (shameless plug click here: Social Gelo Vlog ) you'll notice that I use a lot of vocal pauses like so, or the famous Japanese response Ehhh, when interviewing people on my podcast. I'm trying to stop doing this. I think this is one of the reasons I do my podcast (shameless plug click here: Podcast  ), it gives me a chance to talk to people in English that don't live in Japan.

Why is this important? Because hanging out with other Expats in Japan, you'll notice that we all do this. We use Japanese expressions like  Ehhh, instead of natural English responses like, "really"  or "you don't say". 

In the end I do speak three languages (Spanish , English and Japanese), but I still fear that I will end up mediocre at all three of them, if I don't do something  about it soon. 

Social Gelo with Angelo

Angelo Ferrer (Editor) 

Are you an Expat and have a story you would like to share? Shoot me an email at thesocialgelo@gmail.com and I would be happy to publish your story. 

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Angelo's Adventures: My Hermit Lifestyle in Japan

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Angelo's Adventures: My Hermit Lifestyle in Japan

I’m not sure when it started. I guess it was when I first got to college. Somewhere along the line I stopped making new friends. New people I met became colleagues or acquaintances. Which kind of sucks, because before that I had no problems getting close to people. But the more personal issues I dealt with, the harder it became for me to share and relate. After my dad died of cancer when I was in my late 20’s, it was the final straw. I had my friends that knew me before that, and those people became family. Everyone else, it was just too hard to explain what had changed in me.

Impenetrable Positivity

I used to have this impenetrable positivity. I believed in the “law of attraction” and that the universe had some sort of plan. But after my dad died and my wife had a miscarriage (in the same year), I was left wondering what went wrong. Did I not believe enough? Did I not ask for help? Was my chakra broken? Was the universe or some god a sadist, trying to see how much pain I could take before I broke? Either way, it was around this time that I decided “fuck the universe, and fuck what people think I should believe”. I decided I would make my own rules, and live by those that made sense within my circumstances. 

“Fuck the universe, and fuck what people think I should believe”

Getting out of the darkness

To get myself out of the darkness, I turned to Zen and meditation. I spent my days waking up, and establishing a daily routine, that would hopefully minimize my suffering. The suffering never went away, but I did find ways to dull the pain (that didn't involve alcohol or drugs). I still feel the pain even as I write this. But I’m in a better place now. My life changed. I moved to Japan and live far away from everyone. My friends, my family, all of these things changed.

"Everything changes, nothing remains without change"

-Buddha (supposedly) 

I almost lost my wife during the miscarriage, and after losing my dad, I realized that everything around me can be taken away in an instant. This left me for a longing to be around the people I love the most. Instead I did the opposite and pushed everyone away(except for my wife). I decided to put my immediate family first, and moved to Japan so my wife could get affordable infertilty treatment. 

Regrets I have but not enough to mention

I don’t regret my decision. Japan has everything my immediate family needs (stable  job, healthcare, education). But the trade off is I live in isolation from my close friends and family (cousins,uncles and friends). I still see people, but they will never know the entire story. It’s like they jumped into season 9 of my life, and they can’t seem to figure out what’s going on. I socialize with the people I know in Japan two or three times a year. Everything else has a goal. If I meet someone it’s for work, or martial arts practice. Outside of work and martial arts, the train stops. Everything else is for my wife and daughter. Theres nothing I wouldn't do or sacrifice for them.

Never fully adjusting

My wife was able to adjust to living in Japan because she’s Japanese. But I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing my family every two years, or trying to make close friendships by hanging out twice a year at a Bonenkai(End of year party) or Rainenkai(First of the year party). I know, Japan is busy and I chose to live in isolation (out in the countryside outside of the city). This is part of my path. To anyone reading this thinking this is about you, it isn’t, this is about me. I can’t change my circumstances, and I live a healthy life. I’m grateful that my wife and daughter are taken care of, because of the unique opportunities that Japan has provided me.

Uncertainty

I still miss my friends and family. It doesn't help that I went from hanging out with my close friends everyday, to not knowing when I'll see them again. In psychology positive social contact is an important part of mastering your emotions. At the moment I'm living off the other ends of the body budget. I get plenty of the other dimensions of mental health (meditation, exercise, sleep),but I guess I'm selfish and I want the last piece(social interaction and camaraderie). I'm in the process of digging deeper within myself, to get comfortable with what I have, rather than what I have lost. This may take a life time, but it's where I'm at now. 

P.S. To my friends in Japan, I appreciate your friendship but this is something I need to deal with myself, and most likely will never be resolved until I go back to California and reunite with my family, nothing can substitute family. To my family you are the world to me, and I am working on slaying my inner demons. Nobody's perfect, even if they studied psychology. 

Much Love

Social Gelo with Angelo

Angelo Ferrer  (M.S. Psychology) 

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Angelo's Adventures: Fighting and mostly losing

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Angelo's Adventures: Fighting and mostly losing

I've been doing martial arts for over 15 years now and will openly admit that I've never been a champion. In fact the best I've ever done is place second at an open international martial arts tournament ( Continuous sparring/Kickboxing). Now I'm doing MMA and things aren't going much better. 

Self Defense vs Competing

The funny thing is that during practice and sparring I out perform most of my sparring partners. I also train more than most of the people I know (conditioning, running, diet). But when I step into the ring, I get caught up in the crowds yells. In the middle of the havoc, I lose focus and ultimately lose the fight. 

Not that I've lost every fight in the ring, but I think the reason my record is so bad (Kickboxing 3L 1W/ MMA 3 L/0 W) is because I don't have a competitive mind set in the ring. On the flip side to this, I've also never been knocked out cold, so I guess I can be thankful for some things. 

I originally started doing martial arts to defend myself on the street. A little after I got jumped (12 years old) I realized that I needed to learn how to defend myself. I started training with my cousin and sparring once a week. The purpose was self defense, so the rules were pretty simple, no biting, scratching, or eye poking. But that was pretty much it. 

As I got older I started training formally in Kajukenbo  .  But I was never really interested in competing at tournaments. Mostly, I wanted to be able to defend myself in the street, which at that point I had, several times. I was only jumped once(when I was a kid), after that I learned how to fight and kept people from pushing me around. Essentially, I reached my goal. 

Eventually my marital arts instructor convinced me to compete at a tournament. I was a green belt and reluctantly did it. There were some politics, but overall it was a good time. I fought in a grand prix and took down 3 guys before I reached my final opponent. I was gassed and we went into three overtime rounds with the judges (his coaches ) eventually giving him the win (which he rightfully earned since I outweighed him). 

After that I didn't compete much until I came to Japan. Once I got here I started competing again, and found that when I compete I tend to think to much about the rules of engagement. Since I'm used to fighting with minimal rules, this tends to be on my mind. 

Enjoying the journey

Through competing, I learn about myself, and where I am in my martial arts journey. I try my best not to let anyones negative comments get to me, because I'm the one in that cage, not them. Outside of their opinion, I am going to step back in the ring, win or lose. I've decided, I will compete until I'm 40 years old (4 more years), so I might as well enjoy it while I can. I probably will never become a champion, but I will have a set of memories to cary with me as I get older.

Losing to another martial artist in the ring is an honor. I've come a long way from fighting inexperienced thugs on the street. MMA is a whole different ball game. I once had a fellow black belt ask me:

"Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in the ocean" 

It took me a few years to think about what he said, but I think being a medium sized fish is ok too.

 

Social Gelo with Angelo

Sifu Angelo Ferrer (3rd degree black belt Kajukenbo)  

 

Below is my last fight that I lost by decision(I'm the one in blue) . I'm fighting again in Osaka Japan 9/24/2017

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Angelo's Adventures: Rider on the storm

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Angelo's Adventures: Rider on the storm

Japan is usually really good about giving advanced warnings for thunderstorms and typhoons. Which was why I was completely off guard when I got caught in the middle of this thunderstorm. My wife called me and said it was a tornado (it wasn't). But I knew it wasn't because tornados are very rare in Japan, so rare in fact that when one hit in 2014,  it took the Japanese meteorologists months to verify it happened. 

Being caught in a storm is no fun. But it can be exciting. Here is the footage I got from my dash cam. I hope you enjoy the drive. Buckle up because here we go! 

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Angelo's Adventures: Ups and Downs in Japan

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Angelo's Adventures: Ups and Downs in Japan

A lot has changed since I moved to Japan 4 year's ago. First of all, I'm way past the honeymoon period and left with the reality of my situation. Japan is awesome, but it's not the place I thought it would be.

When I first arrived 

I was young and impressionable. Like many people visiting Japan for the first time, I had my breath taken away by the culture and was astonished by how ancient everything was. This gave me the false impression that I was somehow whisked into a time capsule and living in the past. 

Everything seemed so traditional and organized. The food was a stark contrast to the fast food, greasy burgers, I was used to back home. I felt that I was becoming healthier just by eating tempura (in reality its's just as bad as any other fried food). 

As time passed

I'm not sure when it happened. But I know when it started. I was at a hotel and I was watching a Samurai play. I noticed that the actors, were just that, actors. They weren't martial artists, just a few young guys, trying to make it in theatre, like the many actors that I've met in the U.S. I don't know if this was a pivoting point, but it was when I realized that the sword wielding, Samurai fighting, kimono wearing days of Japan were over. In fact they were over a long time ago. I was living in some fantasy world, where I thought it was still happening, because of my love for Samurai movies and martial arts. 

"I realized that the sword wielding, Samurai fighting, kimono wearing days of Japan were over"

Not to say that Japanese people do not follow traditions.In fact some people still practice Iado(pronounced Ya-i -do) and Kendo, both sword wielding martial arts styles. But these people were not the norm. In fact some Japanese people look at them, the same way some Americans looked at me, when they found out I practiced Karate(like a person playing dress up outside of the Halloween season). 

Like a burning coal

One thing I can say is that although Japan did not fit the stereotypes that I had for it, it surprised me in many ways and captivated me nonetheless. Although most of the Expats I met when I first arrived, already gave up and left, I stuck around. There are still a lot things I am learning about Japan and it's people. I sit and wonder what the next 4 years have in store. 

My advice to any of you considering an Expat life in Japan, it will be like a marriage, with ups and downs. If you can get through the downs, you will learn a lot from the experience. You may even enjoy the downs more than you think. 

Social Gelo with Angelo 

Angelo Ferrer (American Expat in Japan)

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Angelo's Adventures: Rice Farming in Japan

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Angelo's Adventures: Rice Farming in Japan

It's June and that means rice planting season in Japan! To be honest, I'm never excited about doing this. After all, it's a lot of work. But luckily since my father in law is retired, we only plant rice every two years. Normally the whole family gets together to help out, and since we have three rice fields to cultivate, we need all the help we can get!(See Video at the bottom)

Being retired my father in law can care less about everyones schedule. So he kind of just spontaneously says: " Hey today I'm going to plant the rice" (in Japanese of course). 

This wouldn't be a big problem if he was younger (He's almost 80). Unfortunately, if no ones around to help him, he'll drag my mother in law along for the hell ride (She's 73, so she can't do much ). When they were younger, she would clean the trays of rice and help load the tractor, as he would drive the tractor, to plant the seedlings. 

 "Back in the day they used to pant the rice by hand, but now everyone in Japan uses this special tractor"

"Back in the day they used to pant the rice by hand, but now everyone in Japan uses this special tractor"

A long, long time ago, this job used to be done by hand. But now everyone in Japan, uses a special tractor, that plants the seedlings in the filed automatically. You just have to take the rice plants out of their boxes and load them into the machine. 

My day started late at 2 pm, because I was called last minute to help out in the field.The kicker was, the whole family had planned to come to help the next weekend, and that was the original plan. The reason he upped the harvest, was because his friends(all rice farmers) were pressuring him. Their was talk about how one of neighbors had already finished. Making everyone change their schedules. 

As a retired guy, my father in law gets antsy with his free time, and decided he would do it, ON HIS OWN. But later he realized he bit off more than he can chew. Luckily, I dropped what I was doing, and ran over to help out. 

 I'm kind of like the prodigal son, I complain a lot, but in the end, I'm the only one who shows up to help out. 

I'm kind of like the prodigal son, I complain a lot, but in the end, I'm the only one who shows up to help out. 

It was tough work. While he drove, I unloaded the truck and staged the boxes around the field. Every 15 minutes or so, I would switch out the rice trays, and load the new ones on to the tractor. The first time I did this (2 years ago) we had more than 6 people. This time it was just the two of us. 

 These are the rice trays were the rice is cultivated before planting. 

These are the rice trays were the rice is cultivated before planting. 

After a few runs, he decided to switch and I drove the tractor while he staged. Driving the tractor is not much easier, you still have to load the rice into the back end of the planting mechanism. Also, he figured ,a young guy like me, can pick up the trays and switch them out all by myself. This gave him time to start cleaning the empty trays. 

 This is the back end of the rice planting mechanism. You load the rice seedlings from the top. 

This is the back end of the rice planting mechanism. You load the rice seedlings from the top. 

Once we got into a groove, we started getting done quicker. One of my wife cousins showed up, and he was able to help with cleaning the trays as well. On the drive to one of the fields, some rice trays fell off the tractor. I was able to pick them up and load them into the truck. 

 Even Anna joined in on the fun! 

Even Anna joined in on the fun! 

The tractor doesn't go very fast (5mph/8kph), and that's a good thing , because it doesn't really have any brakes. One of the scariest things is driving the tractor into the rice field. I remember 2 years back my father in law rolled it, while trying to get it in to the rice field. I was pretty lucky that nothing like that happened to me this time around. 

After a full day of planting rice, we finally finished just minutes before sunset. It was a bit dark, we were covered in mud, but the job was done. I'm hoping next year we will have a larger to team to help out. I know some of you are reading this and thinking: "that's so cool, I wish I can plant rice in Japan". To you, I say, please contact me! We need your help! (See video at the bottom) 

 Before going in the road you have to set the switch the yellow area on the left. This way the tractor can go a bit faster (10mph/15kph).

Before going in the road you have to set the switch the yellow area on the left. This way the tractor can go a bit faster (10mph/15kph).

 When you get back into the rice field you set the lever to the far right to plant the rice.

When you get back into the rice field you set the lever to the far right to plant the rice.

 When driving on the road you lock the peddles with this lever. 

When driving on the road you lock the peddles with this lever. 

 The red pole is to follow a guideline that the tractor makes in the mud. The water level was too high, so it was hard to keep a straight line because I couldn't see the guideline. So my planting was a little crooked. But we finished the job and that's all that matters. 

The red pole is to follow a guideline that the tractor makes in the mud. The water level was too high, so it was hard to keep a straight line because I couldn't see the guideline. So my planting was a little crooked. But we finished the job and that's all that matters. 

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Angelo's Adventures: Trip to Engyogi Temple

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Angelo's Adventures: Trip to Engyogi Temple

Engyogi Temple is located in Himeji, Japan. Although Himeji is most famous for Himeji Castle, Engyoji temple is known for it's remote location in the mountains and it's use in the Tom Cruise film, The Last Samurai

Personally I had a good time hanging out with my daughter and was lucky enough to meet a local celebrity (that happened to be a monkey from a Samurai T.V. drama. 

 The monkey was like was looking at my daughter like "You are the the strangest looking monkey I've ever seen" 

The monkey was like was looking at my daughter like "You are the the strangest looking monkey I've ever seen" 

You have to take a ropeway to get to the top, once there I recommend taking the bus to the temple. We decided to walk, but it was about 3 kilometers (about 2 miles). On the way up the trail, there was a cool gong you can ring. It was pretty funny watching people trying to ring it, because you had to put some muscle into it to be successful. There was this tiny lady trying her hardest, but she was just not big enough to ring the bell. 

 The gong it pretty big. So I understand why the lady couldn't ring it. 

The gong it pretty big. So I understand why the lady couldn't ring it. 

Once we got to the entrance we found a noodle shop that had it's own handmade noodles (Soba and Udon). There was a beautiful pond with Koi fish and a Japanese garden (see the video below) with tables to eat outside. It was a wonderful lunch and the staff even offered to take care of our stroller while we walked up the stairs to the main temple. 

 It can be a little shaky walking on wooden planks that are well over 100 years old but it has been rebuilt a few times for your safety

It can be a little shaky walking on wooden planks that are well over 100 years old but it has been rebuilt a few times for your safety

There are several grounds and buildings. Unfortunately, we got caught up in a thunder storm and didn't get to see everything. We almost got stuck on the mountain because the lightning caused a black out (shutting down the ropeway). But luckily they got everything running within an hour. My suggestion is to make sure to check the weather before you visit. On the way out definitely stop by the shop in the parking lot for some roasted Mochi (Japanese Rice Cake).

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Angelo's Adventures: Being easily identified as a foreigner in Japan

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Angelo's Adventures: Being easily identified as a foreigner in Japan

I was sitting on the train in Japan waiting for it to go to my local countryside town, when a young couple stumbled onto the train. As they walked in to the train everyone’s eyes started glaring at the young couple. The girl was Japanese and the young man was African American. They forgot to push the button to close the door on the train. As she walked to push the button to close the door, the American yells:

Why are all you mother fuckers looking at me and my

girl!?

 

I was staring at my smartphone reading some Manga (Japanese Comic Books) and looked up to see him mad dogging everyone on the train. His girlfriend told him to calm down. He said:

“ I just don't get why people be staring at me all the time!”

I felt bad because that guy was saying what I think everyday, as people stare at me everywhere I go in Japan. I wanted to tell him that it's because we're Gaijin

(Foreigners) but I realized he was a bit drunk and I wasn't sure if my joke would lead into an unneeded fight.

That's the last show we need to be putting on for all the people already staring at us.

During this situation I realized two things:

1 - I've been in Japan so long I handled the situation the same way as all of the Japanese people on the train did.

 By ignoring him and staring at my smartphone, now in my defense I was already staring at my smartphone and not pretending to like everyone else was.

2 - I really did want to say something, but didn't want to be starred at more than I already was for not being Japanese.

 

Being in Japan for almost 4 years I've gotten used to people staring at me. I haven't seen someone get upset about people staring at them in public for 4 years since I left the U.S. We were the only people of color on the train and I felt so bad that I handled the situation in such a Japanese fashion.

I was little ashamed that I didn't take the time to reach out to him to get to know his story. But I guess it wasn't the time or the place. In a weird way he made me miss America. His last comment he made out loud to his girlfriend made me laugh inside my head:

“I'm crazy and these mother fuckers are scared of me.”

 

Maybe your reading this and thinking he was off the handle but I've seen many other Americans literally lose their minds out here to know what the signs look like.

There is only so much silent staring and glaring a person can take, until they finally crack. Some feel like rockstars and become victims of their own Ego's. While others get sick of being a "Gaijin" (Foreigner) and never really getting past that label. Maybe he's almost there.

 

Before I got off the train I decided to break out of my shell and introduced myself to him. He apologized for yelling and made it clear that he wasn’t directing his anger at me.

 

I told him he wasn’t crazy and everyone was staring at him and the few that weren’t, started to after he lost his head. It doesn't make it right, but it happens, especially out here in the countryside. Many of these people have never seen a foreigner in person.

He laughed and said he knew better, but that it just gets to him sometimes, especially when they glare at his Japanese girlfriend for dating a “foreigner”. Turns out he’s been living out here for about a year. But it was his first time coming out to the countryside. I told him that I get my share of stares but that they mean no harm. They’re just curious and too shy to say anything. We wrapped up our conversation and I said goodbye.

 

As I got off the train I realized that sometimes being out here, I complain that I never talk to anyone outside of my wife and coworkers. But I’m glad I broke out of that pattern today. Like I mentioned earlier I’ve seen many Expats come and go. One day my card will be up as well. I can only hope that my short conversation with that young man, will help him with some of the culture shock he is going to experience out here.

 

I want to make it clear that outside of staring, Japanese people are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

You just got to get past their shyness and introvert issues.

 

Social Gelo with Angelo

Angelo Ferrer (M.S. Psychology)

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Angelo's Adventures: Making friend's in Japan

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Angelo's Adventures: Making friend's in Japan

I've been living in Japan for about 4 years now. My life in the countryside is pretty solitary. Of course I have my family, but as far as friends, I have only made a few through out my time here.

Work is going great! But my social life is not! 

Now I should probably clarify that my schedule as an ESL teacher puts me in a unique position(that many ESL expats are in). I work when most of my Japanese friends are free. It makes sense that I teach English to Japanese people when they finish work. Only problem is, that is the same time, my Japanese friends are available to hang out. This formula has created a cycle of seeing my Japanese friends once or twice a year. 

What about your ESL coworkers?

To add to my socializing dilemma, I live two hours from most of my ESL coworkers. Since I run my own business, I spend most of my time at my office in the countryside. I have met a few international friends that are also ESL teachers. But we have opposite schedules. Throw kids and a family into the mix and I have a similar situation as I do with my Japanese friends. 

I appreciate people more

Needless to say I have a new found appreciation for the people I meet and hang out with (even online). This brings me to the title of this post. I recently met a kid at my local gym. He approached me after some of the members told him to ask me about weight training. It took a lot of courage but he walked up and introduced himself (in Japanese). He knew some English but apologized because he felt it was not very good. He told me that he used to play baseball for his high school, but had to quit the team due to an injury. 

I made more than a new training partner

The kid was a big boy, about 190 lbs and 6 feet tall. He is 17 years of age and had his life was flipped upside down because of his injury. Since his scholarship was based on him playing baseball, when he got injured, he wasn'tjust kicked off the team, he was kicked out of school! I slowly learned more about him, while teaching him how to train light, around his hamstring injury. 

Meeting the kids family

Eventually the kids parents asked me to come over for dinner. They also asked me to bring my family along. My wife was reluctant at first because we didn't know much about them. But she did know the boy, and we both knew that the boy was very friendly. I told her:

"A friendly kid like that must have an awesome family"

We agreed to come over for dinner on a Saturday. As we walked into the house we saw a variety of posters on the wall and sports memorabilia.It turns out that the kids older brother is a professional Japanese baseball player, and he plays for a Japanese team called the Marines. His older sister was a black belt in Judo and lived in a city near by called Akashi. She did a homestay a few years back and could speak English. She actually called the house while I was there and spoke to my wife and I over the phone. 

Awesome kid and awesome parents

During the last few weeks training the kid I noticed a few ticks. He sometimes made some strange facial expressions. I figured some people make different types of faces while lifting weights(just look up some of faces Arnold makes when he works out). But I noticed over dinner, the kid would sometimes quietly grunt a little to himself. My psychology background started to kick in and I realized that something was up. Before I finished my assessment, the parents thanked me for training him and told me that the boy was born with slight brain damage. I was shocked!

Having a big heart is more important than having a big brain

I started thinking about how I met the kid and realized how much courage it took for someone like him, to approach someone like me. Over dinner I learned that his parents worked with special needs kids all their lives. This was before he was even born. They felt that the universe gave them their son and knew he was in good hands. I held back my tears of joy. These people were truly the most awesome Japanese people I've met in my time here.

I thought about how this kid makes time to work out with me before he goes to work.That's right! Since he's not going to school he got a part time job to help out at home. I was just floored about how kind this kid is. It goes to show that having a big heart can make up for anything. Here I was saying that I don't really get close to people because of my schedule, and this kid accommodates me into his schedule, even though he is dealing with so much more. 

Really cool family traditions

During dinner,some more people showed up and they introduced me to another kid that wanted to learn English. We exchanged contact information and the kid is going to join one of my elementary classes. I was really appreciative of the reference and it was all thanks to my new friend. Everyone was really friendly. Before the night ended the father told me about a little family tradition they have. 

Whenever people come over, before they leave, everyone says one goal that they want to accomplish before they meet again next time. One by one, young and old, we stood up and said what are goals were. After we were done we would clap and say GANBARE( 頑張れ) (try your best). It was really cool! My wife told me she felt like we were at an event. I told her that raising a kid with special needs must come with a lot of negative stigma from society. To make up for this, a positive atmosphere at home is needed. This family had an amazing positive vibe! 

The boys goals were to get his diploma through an adult school and nail a new job interview he had coming up.As well as gain muscle and bench press 225 lbs by his next birthday in August.

I saw the kid today and I'm happy to inform you that he got the job! Now we just got to work on his bench press! 

It just goes to show how far a positive attitude can take you in life! 

I am really lucky to be this kids coach and I will try my best to help him achieve his training goals!

Social Gelo with Angelo 

Sifu Angelo Ferrer ( Kajukenbo 2nd Degree Black Belt Instructor/ M.S. Psychology) 

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