Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the advantages of being an SMAA member?

The general public is often surprised to discover how rare it is find teachers of authentic traditional Japanese martial arts outside of Japan. Bona fide Japanese martial arts offer fantastic benefits in terms of the development of both mind and body--benefits which are unique and not always found in American or European martial arts.

What is frequently assumed to be an authentic and time-honored form of budo is often altered and watered-down. And the same can be said about much of the information, or misinformation, that is available in print outside of Japan. Unfortunately, the general public, and sadly, in some cases longtime martial arts enthusiasts as well, are frequently unaware of these facts.

The SMAA was formed to counteract this situation, and to promote uncorrupted traditional budo and koryu bujutsu in Western and Asian countries. Over time, many top Japanese and Western authorities have joined the group, and each of our Directors and Advisors has over 20 years of experience in recognized and bona fide forms of Japanese martial art. Each Director holds a minimum rank of sixth dan (or a classical equivalent), and the majority of our Directors and Advisors have spent time in Japan or live in Japan, and they have close ties with legitimate budo associations in Japan.

Commonly in the West, you can join one of a handful of associations based in Japan that are operating in the USA or Europe, and you will have some exposure to fairly authentic forms of budo. On the other hand, you may elect to join one of the many Western martial arts associations, where you will typically be exposed to a Westernized version of budo--a version that is sometimes quite different from its original structure. Historically, these have usually been the two alternatives available to people living away from of Japan.

With the advent of the SMAA, however, a third alternative is present. The SMAA represents one of very few associations that is headquartered outside of Japan, but which is dedicated to a truly authentic and non-Westernized vision of budo. It includes Japanese teachers, who teach the classical version of budo and bujutsu; and it is run by Western experts, many whom have deep and extensive ties to other experts and groups in Japan.

These SMAA experts are unpaid volunteers. The leadership of the SMAA views the group not as a vehicle for financial gain, but as a means of helping other people discover the advantages of studying authentic and traditional Japanese martial arts. As the result, membership fees are inexpensive and rank registration fees are reasonable--and all funds go to support the SMAA.

We're publishing hard to find and legitimate information about traditional Japanese budo via our website, our blog, and our quarterly journal. Written by leading experts, the SMAA Journal, the SMAA Blog, and the SMAA website are available to all members of our group. The same can be said for SMAA seminars, featuring some of the most advanced budo sensei in the world, which take place in various locations in the USA and other countries.

To support longtime teachers of Japanese budo and their students, rank and teacher certification is available. Fully qualified members of the SMAA can earn kyu, dan, and teaching certificates. At the same time, rank requirements are strictly regulated assuring that rank cannot be purchased or illegitimately obtained. This serves to insure that you will not be embarrassed by another SMAA teacher's lack of competence or integrity.

The SMAA goes to great lengths to support its certified instructors. Members that have earned teaching certification can recommend their students for promotion to ranks within one of their own. In other words, a fifth dan with an SMAA teaching license can recommend his or her students for promotion in the SMAA for ranks up to and including fourth dan.

Plus, each SMAA certified instructor sets up his or her own teaching curriculum. As long as this instruction adheres to the basic spirit and ethics of traditional budo, the SMAA will not be involved in the running of your dojo. SMAA members need not purchase dojo charters, there are no "SMAA franchises," and the SMAA does not take a percentage from members' schools.

The SMAA has no district directors, regional directors, or national directors. Every SMAA member deals directly and personally with our headquarters. This streamlined approach makes it much easier to do business with the SMAA. There is no need to go through layers of bureaucracy to pay membership fees, register students, or apply for promotions.

It is possible to bring SMAA Directors and Advisors, some of the highest ranking and most knowledgeable budo experts in Japan and the West, to your dojo for instruction. We can also help you to visit some of them for training. This is a rare chance to learn more about authentic Japanese budo and koryu bujutsu from top authorities, most of whom possess a superb command of English and understanding of the needs of Western students.

Since many of our leaders have close ties to Japan, or live in Japan, we can offer members advice about traveling to this country; and in some cases, we can help you to make contact with legitimate dojo in Japan. In general, the SMAA works to further friendship and understanding between Western and Japanese martial arts enthusiasts.

SMAA leaders are friendly and accessible. Send your questions about budo to our headquarters, and we will forward them to some of the most senior martial artists in and outside of Japan. Membership in the SMAA is an excellent way to make new and knowledge friends that share your interest in the traditional martial arts of Japan. Perhaps this is the association's greatest value.

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Who can join the SMAA?

When the SMAA was first created, it was launched with the objective of educating the public about the true nature of authentic forms of Japanese budo and koryu bujutsu. Since accurate information about these Asian arts was (and still is) often unavailable and/or incorrect in the West, we wanted to certify competent, knowledgeable teachers of genuine Japanese martial arts, and we wanted to offer factual written information about the bona fide history, philosophy, and techniques of traditional budo via the SMAA Journal and our website.

Because our objectives are educational in nature, we have always had an open door membership policy--anyone interested in learning more about budo and koryu bujutsu can join our group. However, it is important to note that there are two distinct levels of membership in the SMAA--Associate Member and Regular Member.

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Who can qualify to be an Associate Member of the SMAA?

The short answer is that anyone who sends in a membership application and yearly dues can join the SMAA as an Associate Member. They will receive our quarterly journal, access to our website, and an Associate Member certificate. They do not, however, receive (dan or kyu) rank certificates or teaching certification from our group.

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Does the SMAA endorse martial arts instruction provided by Associate Members?

We greatly value the support of the Associate Members of our group. Nevertheless, since we have not certified them as teachers, we have not authenticated their backgrounds, examined their technical prowess, or tested their accurate understanding of budo history, philosophy, and theory. As the result, we cannot endorse or vouch for their statements or activities.

Again, anyone can join the SMAA as an Associate Member and learn more about budo and koryu bujutsu from our teachers, journal, blog, seminars, and website. This includes people that have never studied a Japanese martial art and teachers of martial systems of American, Chinese, Korean, or other origin.

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Who can qualify to be a Regular Member of the SMAA?

Regular Members are individuals that have received dan or kyu rank from our group. To receive such rank, you can be tested by an SMAA certified teacher that you are studying under, who will help you submit the necessary paperwork and fees to the SMAA HQ, where a final determination will be made regarding your rank and/or teaching certification. This is the simplest way to join the SMAA as a Regular Member.

If you are not studying directly under an SMAA teacher, you can visit the membership information section of this website to learn about the qualifications for receiving rank and/or teaching certification. While there, you can download a membership application, which you will need to send to the SMAA HQ, along with an examination fee, a resume, photocopies of past rank certificates, and information about yourself and your training history. A DVD or videotape of you performing budo will also be needed.

Depending on what association certified your past rank, an in-person examination may be required. This is often the case for individuals that have not received previous ranking from a recognized Japan-based association or a Western group that is directly affiliated with these types of Japanese organizations. Examples of recognized budo associations are the Kodokan for judo or the Aikikai for aikido.

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If I have aikido rank from the Aikikai in Japan (for example), and I'm not attempting to advance in rank, why do you need a video of me performing aikido? If you recognize Aikikai-issued rank, why is cross-certification not automatic?

This is an excellent question with a sad answer. At this time, with the advances made in computers and printing methods, it isn't difficult to produce fraudulent certificates that are hard to detect, especially in photocopied form.

Unfortunately, we've seen a number of very sophisticated fake certificates. In some cases, applicants have obtained a real certificate from a genuine Japanese budo association. They have then altered the name on the certificate and/or the rank obtained. When the altered certificate is scanned or photocopied, it becomes difficult to tell that it is modified from the original.

We have, nonetheless, determined which certificates are fraudulent. In some cases, the original certificate was printed in Japanese and English. In the case of some fake certificates that we've received, the Japanese section was not altered to match the modified English section, or it was left blank, or incorrectly redone. Applicants for SMAA Regular Membership and rank should realize that several SMAA Directors and Advisors can read Japanese. We are also capable of writing letters in Japanese to check out individuals claiming to have received rank from Japanese associations.

Still, we want to make sure that we are not duped, and this is why we request a DVD of you performing budo, even if you have received rank from a legitimate organization. This policy protects the validity of any ranks you and your students receive from the SMAA.

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Can you offer me rank in Goju Ryu, Omori Ryu, Hontai Yoshin Ryu, etc.?

No. While the leaders of our group have high ranks in recognized ryu, or "martial systems," each rank we issue comes from the SMAA division devoted to that martial art. It is a ranking within that division and within our group.

For example, while our jujutsu division has members that hold high ranks in Takeuchi Ryu, we cannot offer you ranking in this ryu. Only the current headmaster of Takeuchi Ryu can legitimately offer such rank/certification. In the case of the ancient martial arts (koryu bujutsu), it is especially important to note this fact. Be skeptical of any martial arts group that indicates something different.

We can, nevertheless, offer members of our jujutsu division ranking within this division, meaning that based on your years of dedication to Takeuchi Ryu, technical proficiently in this ryu, and historical and philosophical knowledge of this ryu, we can give you ranking within the SMAA.

Your certificate would indicate that you had received a "godan in the SMAA Jujutsu Division," while not mentioning a specific ryu. Such ranking is not easily earned and is of great value. This is the most any budo association that is legitimate can do.

Even in Japan, famed multi-discipline associations like the Dai Nippon Butokukai and the Kokusai Budoin are only offering ranking and teaching certification from, and within, their group. They cannot, and will not, grant rank in a specific ryu as only the current head of each ryu has the authority to issue such certification.

Many Western martial arts groups have missed this point. And if you are offered rank from an association for your skill in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu (for example), and the certificate indicates rank in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, but it does not come from the headmaster of this ryu, it is not legitimate.

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Does the SMAA endorse martial arts instruction provided by Regular Members?

Yes and no.

Yes, if the Regular Member has a teaching certificate from our group. However, applicants who wish to receive such certification must hold a minimum dan rank from our association, have a written thesis accepted by the leaders of the group, and meet minimum age and time in rank requirements. You can find out more about these requirements at the Ranking & Titles section of this web site.

No, if the member has not received a teaching certificate from our group.SMAA members may have received kyu or dan ranks from us, and yet not have received a teaching certificate. We cannot endorse the teachings of people who have not received teacher certification from us.

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I'm a member of the SMAA. Can I use your logo?

Use of the logo can be obtained by writing to the SMAA HQ. Using our logo without our written permission is forbidden and could result in legal action.

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I'm a member of the SMAA. Can I mention this on my website or in my dojo's brochure?

We are happy and honored when our members give us publicity. Yet, like many aspects of traditional budo and koryu bujutsu, in terms of martial arts etiquette, it is important to advertise your association with us in the right way.

If you wish to mention that you are affiliated with our group, please make sure you consider the following:

  • Do not simply state that you are member of the SMAA. Indicate that you are either an Associate Member or a Regular Member.
  • If you are a Regular Member, indicate your SMAA rank and/or level of teaching certification. Indicate as well which SMAA division issued you this rank. For example, "John Doe is a Regular Member of the Shudokan Martial Arts Association, and he has received a third dan and Shidoin teaching certificate from the SMAA Karate-do Division.

It is important to state your affiliation in the manner above, so that the public will have an accurate picture of what your relationship is to our group. This is especially important because a number of our members hold membership and ranking in more than one martial arts group. Please make sure it is clear what your relationship is to the SMAA and what rank (if any) the SMAA has given you. To do less than this could be seen as misleading.

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I just visited a website of someone associated with your group. He doesn't seem to be following the two policies mentioned above. Do you want to know about this?

Yes. Some of our members may be unaware of these two policies, and we would like to correct any misunderstandings. It is important to us that the public is given an accurate and clear portrayal of our connection to each member and the nature of that relationship.

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I visited the dojo of a person claiming to be affiliated with the SMAA. Can you help me verify his level of teaching certification and rank?

Yes. We have accurate computer records of our various members, past and present, as well as the ranks that each person has received from us. We cannot, on the other hand, verify ranking that one of our members may have received from another organization.

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Do you have dojo charters or dojo memberships?

No. We deal with every member as an individual, and we collect only modest dues from each member. Members need not pay any sort fee, annually or otherwise, to have their dojo registered with the SMAA. In short, we recognize individuals not schools.

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I'm looking for other SMAA members near where I live. Can you give me contact information for other members near me?

Probably not. We are not at liberty to give out the address, home phone number, etc. of our members. We respect the privacy of everyone associated with our group.

Still, in some cases we may be able to pass your contact information on to someone in your area. SMAA members that would like us to release their mailing address, e-mail address, etc. should send us a written statement to that effect. We can keep this statement on file, and we can then put other members in contact with you more easily.

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Can you give me the name of an SMAA-certified teacher in my area?

Yes and no.

Yes, if we happen to know that one of our certified teachers lives in your area, and if we also happen to know that this person is operating a public dojo.

No, if we are aware of a certified teacher in your area, but it is not clear to us whether or not that person is teaching publicly. As mentioned above, we do not register dojo, and we therefore do not have a list of official dojo. Nonetheless, it never hurts to ask, and we are generally aware of who is and is not teaching publicly. If we can, we'd be happy to pass your contact information on to that person.

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Can you help me go to Japan and train in budo?

Yes, in some cases. A large number of our leaders trained in Japan. And the Japanese SMAA officials, usually are living in Japan. Depending on several factors, we may be able to help members connect with a dojo in Japan.

We will need to know the following:

  1. What martial art do you want to study?
  2. How long can you stay in Japan?
  3. How will you support yourself while you are in Japan?
  4. When will you be going to Japan?
  5. What is your level of experience in budo and/or koryu bujutsu? Do you have experience with the martial art you are interested in studying in Japan?
  6. Can you speak Japanese?

It is easier to gain acceptance into a dojo that is teaching gendai budo ("modern martial ways") than one devoted to the ancient martial arts. Dojo that are open to the public tend to be associated with gendai budo; they are easier to join. Ancient martial arts often require a letter of introduction from a respected member of that specific discipline, or of the Japanese community, and our teachers will be more strict about who they will write such introductions for.

In general, you  increase your chances of having a good experience in Japan, and of being able to join a Japanese dojo, if you let them know far in advance when you will be coming to Japan, if you have prior budo experience, if you will be staying in Japan for a lengthy period, if you have a predetermined means of supporting yourself while you are in Japan, and if you can speak Japanese.

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I'm a member, and I have not received a copy of the journal in some time. Why is this?

Did your home address or e-mail address change? Did you let us know well in advance that you would be moving? If not, this can easily explain why you are not receiving anything from us. If your e-mail address changes, please promptly send the new address to

Have you made your annual donation to the SMAA, which is due on January 1 of each year? Since we are a small, traditional, and fairly non-commercial association, we cannot send copies of the journal to members who are not contributing to the financial maintenance of the SMAA.

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Are the Directors or Advisors of the SMAA paid for their work?

No. All SMAA officials donate their time to the organization (although they may receive honorariums for teaching at SMAA events and be reimbursed for expenses). None of the leaders of the SMAA profit financially from their involvement in the group--a distinction that sets the SMAA apart from other martial arts associations.

As the result, the public and members can be assured that SMAA rank cannot be "bought" as is sometimes the case with other groups. They can be certain that the Directors and Advisors are working for the SMAA out of a genuine love of budo and koryu bujutsu.

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I'm an SMAA member, and I'd like to help the SMAA to grow and develop. What can I do?

Contact the SMAA HQ and offer to help. Let us know what sort of related talents you possess and what kind of work or projects you are interested in being involved with. By increasing your active participation in the SMAA, you'll have a chance to meet new people and make new friends . . . friends that are among the top Japanese and Western budo authorities. This is a great way to learn more about budo, and the more you put into the SMAA, the more you will get out of the SMAA. We can always use help, and we welcome your increased involvement.

In particular, introduce your friends to the SMAA. Anyone can join as an Associate Member. If you are teaching, have your students join the SMAA when they join your dojo. (Please make a point of having them register their ranks with the SMAA as well.) Membership is deliberately inexpensive, allowing most anyone to learn about traditional Japanese martial arts and culture. Membership applications can be obtained at this website.

By increasing membership we are more able to educate the public about the true nature of authentic budo and koryu bujutsu, and by expanding our membership we hope to have greater financial resources to in turn expand our quarterly journal and our other activities. As an active and dedicated SMAA member, you can take part in helping us accomplish these goals.

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I'd like to have one of the leaders of the SMAA come to my dojo to teach and/or conduct testing. How do I do this?

Just contact the SMAA HQ, and let us know which teacher you would like to study with. We will then pass your request on to that instructor.

Many of the Directors and Advisors are willing to teach seminars and conduct testing for low fees--in some cases just for the cost of their expenses--to help spread high quality traditional budo. Each teacher has his  or her own ideas about payment, but it is often easier to bring a top SMAA sensei to your dojo than you might think.

Members find that belonging to the SMAA offers many important and tangible benefits. However, perhaps the most important benefit is a chance to experience genuine Japanese budo, budo that has not been watered-down or Westernized, and such opportunities are more rare than the public might imagine. Moreover, competent teachers of these classical disciplines are equally rare to find outside of Japan, and we hope SMAA members will take steps to learn from the accomplished sensei in our group.

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