We Cannot Go Back

Very few of my students or students of my students will have any idea what this building represents.

The few who do recognize it will likely be heartbroken to see it in this condition, a rundown water department depot in a small Ohio village.

In the 1980s, ninjutsu (and eventually To-Shin Do as 21st Century ninjutsu) got its start in North America in what came to be known affectionately as “the barn dojo”, or just “the barn.” This was a 3,000 square foot aged wooden structure originally built as a tobacco drying barn in little hidden-away Germantown, Ohio. When we were in Ohio, An-shu Rumiko and I ran classes and workshops at the barn. When we were in Japan to study or in the dojos of our friends and students to teach, we just locked up the barn.

In my book Ninja Volume 6; Secret Scrolls of the Warrior Sage, I describe in detail the 3 phases of learning traditionally ascribed to the warrior arts of Asia – shu, ha, and ri. In my life, my first years of martial arts training – the shu phase – were spent searching for and then studying with my ninja teacher Masaaki Hatsumi in Japan. In shu, I imitated everything I saw my teacher do, even when what I practiced did not make complete sense to me. I never much questioned why; I only pursued how.

I returned to America in the early 1980s when my Japanese residency visa ran out, and then Rumiko and I visited Hatsumi Sensei for training every spring and fall for several years. I was a student in Japan for months of the year, and a teacher in the USA and Europe the rest of the time. This was my ha phase – years of exploring, testing out, and adapting what I had learned by imitation in the earlier years.

In the west I ran into kickboxers, speed-slash knife fighters, and wrestlers, all of whom posed problems that were outside standard solutions provided in the literal form of the kata in the ancient scrolls of my teacher’s lineage. I learned ways to make the classical martial arts I studied in Japan work under the conditions I encountered in the West. These were the “barn days” of the 1980s. These were my ha exploration years. These were the years of why and yes, but what if.

I posed as a teacher, but I really was an explorer. In addition to trials of my ever evolving taijutsu, I spent time each year as security escort for the Dalai Lama of Tibet after meeting him in 1986. That exposure caused me to further develop my martial art as a compassionate (though no-nonsense) protection system underpinned by an intelligently spiritual view of why and how violence erupts in the heart.

By the 1990s, my daughters’ school schedules made it difficult to jet to Japan twice a year with my family, so we made Japan trips in late summer and I taught in my newly-founded SKH Quest Center dojo the rest of the year. The barn was too far outside the city to serve as a daily dojo, so we settled on Far Hills Avenue, Dayton’s Main Street. Shu imitation and ha exploration was now behind me. My ri “new creation” phase was the advancement of To-Shin Do as ninjutsu principles and techniques interpreted for 21st Century Western world students.

Some of my friends were surprised by my martial destination of To-Shin Do, though it is the only place my shu-ha-ri could lead in the most real for me of ways. Some missed the barn so much that they could not even bear to visit my Quest Center to see how much I had grown. Like an elderly aunt who just cannot grasp that her mischievous child nephew has become an adult professional with a family, some are confused by growth. I was often cajoled by some friends to backtrack to my ha barn days identity of my 30s, or even further back to shu of my 20s in Japan.

No. I cannot – you should not – go back. You no longer fit the now outgrown identity, and you might even look ridiculous or pitiful trying to fit into the ways of the days now past. Be proud of your growth and enjoy the new friends that you have attracted in your phase of maturity.

Back in the days of the barn, people from all over the world told me it was the coolest dojo they had ever seen anywhere in the world, and it really was. But that was then, and now the once-glorious building is just sad to behold. But be of good cheer. You can come to my beautiful SKH Quest Center dojo right on Main Street in Dayton. It is the perfect dojo for these days, I have truly incomparable material to share, and it is the ultimate destination we were headed for all those years.

13 comments to “We Cannot Go Back”

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  1. Great bLog entry, An-shu. You balanced nostalgia with a desire to move into the future 🙂

  2. An-Shu, great post and thoughts. I remember the first time getting out to ‘the barn’ and struggling to keep back tears as I was so thrilled to realize a dream-made-manifest, of being in Ohio training in the dojo of the individual who so deeply changed my life.

    Your continued growth, insight and frankness on true warrior development is a continued inspiration to us all.

    Thank You

  3. Dear An~Shu,

    Great post. It is important for people to know the history of not only the whole tradition (macrocosim) but also here in America (microcosim). I loved my times at the old barn.

    Be well and Gassho,

    Ken Savage

  4. Hello An-Shu Hayes,

    Looking back to that first moment I still remember…
    I’m really here!
    One of many steps of wonderous learning you provided, An-Shu.
    Some, within life’s steps, weren’t realized until lived.

    It is good, but sometimes painful / difficult at times to look back, visit the past.
    But this helps us focus our perception of how far we’ve come, learned.

    Then with this past as our roots grow / develop our future. Kind of like a string connecting us to our past and future. So each present moment we move along this string drawing wisdom from the past experiencing each moment’s special vibration along the string.

    Thank you, An-shu, for those enlightening times at the old barn and sharing this valuable lesson.

    Best Always , Bill (barn dojo student)

  5. I really enjoy to have read this post.
    I never had the opportunity to training in the barn dojo, but i was really curious to have a look of this place.
    I like to know the history and the past of what now we call Hombu Dojo,and i think it’s also important to know.Is it possible to see other pictures?
    Thank’s An-shu

  6. Dear An-shu,

    Truely an insightful post. It is a funny thing that on many levels our human nature has a deep rooted propensity to resist change, even when that change is what is needed for growth to take place.

    I can only imagine what it must have been like to make the change that you did, in spite what must have been immense pressure and misunderstanding from many who looked up to you who may have not understood your vision and the direction you were moving. That took true courage.

    While I was never able to see “the barn”, I would highly encourage anyone to come and visit the Dayton Quest Center. It is truely an inspirational place that is well worth the time to experience personally. I appreciate the time we were able to spend together during my trip, and look forward to many more to come. Your dedication to perpetual growth is an inpspiration.

    With great respect,
    Dan Bracken

  7. Dear An-Shu,

    What I remember the most about this “barn” is how COLD it looks from the outside and how WARM I felt once inside !!

    Warm – exactly the same way as stepping into the new Dayton dojo this weekend.

    Wonderful experience !

    Johan D’hondt

  8. Johan De Clercq says: -#1

    Dear An Shu

    The barn Dojo memories stayed with me after all these years,although i am not a member of the Toshin do/martial arts communitie they still play a vivid and active role in my personal life.

    Thanks for all the wise life lessons you shared with us!!

    Gambatte Kudasai

  9. Wright Patterson, Jockos Pizza, Far Hills Shopping Center.
    Hello and my sincere appreciation for the generosity you showed me. And the encouragement to follow my “Musha shugyo” (sp?)
    From my heart, thank you Steve!

  10. This was wonderful to read. Reflection and growth are both very important aspects of the infinite wheel.

  11. 20 years ago I used to accompany first by eldest and then his sister to child Ninjutsu training at Doron Navon’s dojo in Israel.

    This was an old building similar to the one you describe, but it was engulfed by Bamboo plants which always made me feel it’s a small part of Japan in the middle of Tel Aviv.

    Twenty years have gone, I’m now a novice Ninjutsu trainee myself, but I do miss that place and that time.

  12. Just ask the person who is piylang the aggressor to do more than a simple swipe/stab motion once. Ask the aggressor’ to really really try to get the defender and the results are pretty quickly apparent. Even just reacting to the defenders preplanned moves in an unexpected way will usually score a hit.

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