The Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts

by Kevin Heard Sensei

This is an original article written for the SMAA web site.


The Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts has been offering instruction in traditional Japanese arts under experienced, certified teachers since 1981. Established in California by H. E. Davey Sensei, it presents separate training in Japanese systems of yoga, healing arts, martial arts, and fine arts. On-going classes are available to people of all ages and levels of health, including classes for children ages five and up.

Members of the Sennin Foundation have access to the rich traditions of Japan's cultural arts through practice in the group's classical dojo (literally, "training hall of the Way"). Much more than simply a school or studio, an authentic dojo is a gateway into the timeless realm of Asian art and personal development, allowing members of the Sennin Foundation to realize vibrant well-being and longevity. In fact, the word "sennin" describes the ancient Japanese equivalent of a yogi. The sennin were known for their high degree of enlightenment, splendid health, and according to some ancient myths, their ability to attain immortality. This same emphasis on spiritual realization and physical fitness is stressed by the Sennin Foundation, thus the use of the term sennin.

Of particular interest to SMAA members is the Sennin Foundation's Aiki-Jujutsu Division. Jujutsu is Japan's oldest martial art (bugei). It was used as a form of predominantly empty-handed combat by the bushi, or warriors of old Japan. Aiki-jujutsu is a jujutsu form that is traced to the Aizu clan's Nisshinkan training hall (located in present-day Fukushima). It was taught in modern times by Saigo Tanomo Sensei (1829-1905), a former Aizu clan elder advisor, or karo. Saigo Sensei taught aiki-jujutsu, formerly known as Aizu oshikiuchi, to Takeda Sokaku Sensei (1860-1943), the disseminator of Daito Ryu, who in turn taught Ueshiba Morihei Sensei (1883-1969), the founder of aikido. All legitimate Japanese aiki-jujutsu systems are traced to either Saigo Sensei or Takeda Sensei.

H. E. Davey Sensei's late father started studying Japanese methods of jujutsu and Kodokan judo in 1926. After twenty years of training in budo and bujutsu, Davey Sensei's father was stationed in the Kansai area of Japan immediately following World War II. While in Japan he studied Saigo Ryu systems of aiki-jujutsu, jojutsu (art of the four-foot stick), bojutsu (art of the six-foot staff), hanbojutsu (art of the three-foot stick), tanbojutsu (art of the fourteen-inch stick), tessenjutsu (art of the iron fan), juttejutsu (art of the forked metal truncheon), sojutsu (art of the spear), and kenjutsu (art of the Japanese sword) for several years, attaining a senior teaching license, or menkyo. He later became the first person in North America to receive the advanced rank and title of Nihon Jujutsu Kyoshi from Japan's prestigious Kokusai Budoin. (The Kokusai Budoin, founded in 1952 and sponsored by Japan's Imperial Family, is headquartered in Tokyo. It has members, in a wide variety of Japanese martial arts, in dozens of countries.) He was also a black belt in judo and aikido.

Davey Sensei began to learn aiki-jujutsu from his father when he was five years old, and later studied judo and aikido as well. He has trained extensively in Japan and in the United States. Davey Sensei has also received the positions of Amerika no Kokusai Budoin Shibu-riji (U.S. Branch Director for the Kokusai Budoin) and Kokusai Budoin Hyogiin (Councilor to the Kokusai Budoin World HQ in Tokyo). He is, in addition, the highest-ranking American instructor in the Kokusai Budoin's Nihon Jujutsu and Ko-Budo (Ancient Martial Ways) Divisions. Davey Sensei, following his late father, became the second person in North America to receive Nihon (Japanese) Jujutsu Kyoshi from the federation. Kokusai Budoin defines Kyoshi as being equivalent to a "Master's Certificate" and correlates this older form of ranking to modern degrees of sixth to eighth dan.

Davey Sensei, and by extension the Sennin Foundation, is recognized by a number of elite organizations, which serves to illustrate the group's close ties with Japan and the nature of the Sennin Foundation's programs. Some of these professional affiliations are as follows:

 

  1. Kokusai Budoin (International Martial Arts Federation)

     

  2. International Hoplology Society -- A unique scholarly organization founded by the late Donn F. Draeger Sensei, regarded by some as the world's foremost Western budo and bujutsu authority, author, and historian. The IHS is dedicated to studying the effects of the martial arts and ways on civilizations throughout history.

     

  3. Ranseki Sho Juku (Ranseki Japanese Calligraphy Institute) -- A private study group for shodo, or Japanese brush writing practiced as meditation and fine art, headed by Kobara Ranseki Sensei, Headmaster of Ranseki Ryu shodo.

     

  4. Kokusai Shodo Bunka Koryu Kyokai (International Japanese Calligraphy and Cultural Exchange Association) -- Headquartered in Urayasu, Japan, this international organization is sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Education. Its President is Ueno Chikushu Sensei, with Kobara Ranseki Sensei serving as Vice President.

     

  5. Zaidan Hojin Tempu-Kai(The Tempu Society) -- An organization founded by the late Nakamura Tempu Sensei. Dr. Nakamura was the originator of Shin-Shin-Toitsu-Do. Shin-Shin-Toitsu-Do is a distinctive form of Japanese yoga based on mind and body unification. He, furthermore, taught the art of mind and body unification to many famous Japanese martial artists. 
Davey Sensei also serves on the Board of Directors of the Shudokan Martial Arts Association; a distinguished organization dedicated to promoting traditional Japanese budo and bujutsu. Because the Sennin Foundation's Aiki-jujutsu Division gives a demonstration of aiki-jujutsu in Tokyo each year, members of the dojo, including children, have a unique opportunity to demonstrate their art in Japan. In February 1995, following their demonstration at the convention center of Ota-Kumin Plaza, the Sennin Foundation group toured the former Aizu fief in Fukushima, and they researched the life of Saigo Tanomo Sensei and Saigo Ryu. They also had the uncommon privilege of performing aiki-jujutsu on the grounds of the legendary Nisshinkan. At the Nisshinkan, young bushi began at age ten to study aiki-jujutsu, brush writing, mathematics, healing arts, Asian philosophy, and other disciplines. Members of the Sennin Foundation have a similar chance to study various Japanese cultural arts that go beyond the scope of the martial arts. This kind of "well-rounded education" is rarely found in most Western dojo.

One vital area of study for Sennin Foundation students is the practice of Japanese yoga. This art, inspired by the teachings of Nakamura Tempu Sensei, includes stretching exercises, seated meditation, moving meditation, breathing exercises, and health improvement methods. The goal of these techniques is the realization of one's full potential in everyday life through the unification of mind and body. Davey Sensei, the sole American member of the Tempu Society, has studied under several of Nakamura Sensei's top students, including Hashimoto Tetsuichi Sensei, who acts as Senior Advisor to the Sennin Foundation. Hashimoto Sensei has practiced Japanese yoga for over 40 years, and in 1994, he wrote, "H. E. Davey has shown great diligence in his study of the Shin-Shin-Toitsu-Do method of Japanese yoga. As an expert in the arts of Japan, particularly classical brush writing and the martial arts, he has thoroughly researched the relationship of Shin-Shin-Toitsu-Do to these skills." He also commended Davey Sensei for his attainments and indicated his wish to "fully endorse him as an educator."

Nakamura Sensei also taught a method of self-healing and bodywork, or hitori ryoho. His emphasis was on yuki, which is the transference of life energy, or Ki, through a massage-like technique. Students at the Sennin Foundation can also receive instruction in these unique arts of healing. The Sennin Foundation has a distinctive Fine Arts Division as well, which emphasizes Japanese calligraphy, but branches out to include Japanese ink painting and the study of haiku and waka poetry. Davey Sensei holds the highest rank in Ranseki Ryu shodo. He exhibits his artwork annually in Japan at the International Shodo Exhibition, where he has received various awards, including Jun Taisho, or the Associate Grand Prize.

The Sennin Foundation's instructional staff currently consists of H. E. Davey Sensei, Kevin Heard Sensei, Ohsaki Jun Sensei, and Davey Sensei's wife Ann Harue Kameoka Sensei. One of their goals as Sennin Foundation teachers is to make a positive contribution to society as a whole. (The group, for example, raised a substantial sum of money for earthquake relief in Kobe and Osaka.)

The Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts is a small traditional dojo and its walls are tastefully adorned with Davey Sensei's Japanese calligraphy. Located just across the bay from San Francisco, it is usually open throughout the week. Each day at least one of the teaching staff will kneel in seiza on a floor covered with tatami mats and face the dojo's kamidana (literally, "deity shelf"). As these teachers bow to the jinja, or "school shrine," they carry on the authentic and time-honored traditions of Japan's ancient past. 

You can find out more about the Sennin Foundation Center by visiting www.senninfoundation.com. The dojo also has an interesting blog, which can be found at http://senninfoundation.blogspot.com/.

 

About the Author: A San Francisco Bay Area native, Kevin Heard Sensei has been studying Japanese cultural arts for over twenty five years. He holds teaching licenses in Shin-shin-toitsu-do, a form of Japanese yoga, as well as related healing arts. He also holds the rank of menkyo chudan (a traditional teaching license roughly equivalent to fourth through sixth dan in modern ranking systems) in Saigo Ryu martial arts.

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