A Letter to Prospective Students


This letter is in response to the occasional requests I receive to come train with our group. Having ran a study group for a number of years now in this area of the country, I often am asked the same questions by prospective students. This will be an attempt to answer some, but certainly, not all. Also, I hope to convey some of the experience from my perspective.

I have observed enough behavior over the years from new students, that I am not surprised by much anymore. In fact, the most surprising thing would be to have a new student that shows up, dedicates themselves to practice, and sticks around. We joke that in iai, the retention rate is 1%. It is likely less in the grand scope of things. I have seen and heard every excuse to stop training. Sometimes there is no given reason, and I have had to learn to stop speculating why someone that seemed to eager to train would “ghost” to never return, and not respond to messages or calls.

There are many subtypes of new students, and behaviors I see. Some people arrive as if on fire, spend hundreds of dollars on equipment and burn out as quickly. On the other end of the spectrum, some will never buy equipment and try to dodge paying dues. There are people that cannot stand being told what to do and are impossible to teach, while others have some notion that they are a vassal and I am their Lord. These types of behaviors represent extremes and should be avoided.

Most people in the art are of older age. Young people are rare. It is hard to not be skeptical about young students. They often have trouble establishing themselves in society. Money and transportation is usually an issue. For those fortunate enough to not have those issues, there are so many things vying for their attention, why practice sword? Most come for a short while. It is immensely appealing because of the cultural notions we have about the Japanese sword. Most think they will become proficient quickly, and when reality sets in, they give up. Discipline is hard for anyone.

Some people have no notion of lineage. They could or would train with anyone, taking the word of the teacher that they are what they say they are. One would be naive to do such a thing in this day and age. For some, a pure lineage is all that matters to them. I often get requests that someone wants only to train in a “legitimate lineage.” Such a notion is reasonable on the surface. Research into the lineage of any martial art will reveal breaks, splits, political schisms, and different branches. We are no different. Martial art schools are ran by humans, unfortunately – subject to all the trappings of ego, and death, that anyone else would be. I urge you to do some basic research into Mugai Ryu lineage to understand where we exist in the modern framework. We are happy to answer any questions, as there is nothing to hide.

If you have a religious-hang-up that will not allow you to do basic etiquette like bow to a shine, then find something else to go do. We are not here to make concessions to your beliefs to accommodate you. We will accept people of any religion. If religion gets in the way of your training, we do not have time for it. My wife and I are Tibetan-lineage Buddhist practitioners. Our group also contains very devout Christians and people that have no particular belief. We believe in dialogue between different beliefs. No one is here to convert you or change what you believe. I only write this to make it clear. Our study group is not a religious organization. Mugai and Zen are intertwined, that should be mentioned – but perhaps Zen is not what you think it is…

We are in Winchester, Kentucky. You will likely have to travel some distance to train with us. If you lived in L.A. or Chicago (we have other groups there), it takes hours to drive mere miles. I can’t tell anyone what is reasonable for them to do. There are always examples in our community of people that drive travel long distances taking several hours, consistently, without complaint, to train. I am not saying you are supposed to be this person. Everyone has different circumstances and has to see where training fits into their life. I have had to travel to seminars to and study with other groups, as well as assemble those teachings at home. To say I did it all on my own would be ridiculous. You need to train with a group.

If you are from an area I know there to be Iaido practitioners, I will make you aware of such. It only makes sense you train close to you as possible. For example, both Louisville and Cincinnati have Eishin Ryu groups that should be considered. However, if Mugai Ryu is what you seek, we are here.

I choose to train in a legitimate art. That choice has consequences, as does any choice. We are not for everyone. Training is traditional. There are lots of challenges: absorbing a vast curriculum, repetitive exercises, particular techniques. Many basic skills take years to develop. We do not have huge classes nor am I making money on the venture. We are expected to behave a certain way. We are not here to cater to your expectations. You should delete your storyline.

New students consume massive amounts of time and resources. While we are trying to practice and train, having a new student invariably slows everything down. If the person is committed, we do not mind – however, if not, our time is wasted. If a new student does not work on their own, progress is very slow. If we could upload all the data into your head, we would, but we cannot. Techniques must be done properly. Developing a bad habit early in your training will lead to years of having to undo it. Your rate of progression is up to you, it is your own journey. Still though, people have notions that they should be advancing more quickly or slowly than they are. Mostly those are notions brought about by the ego. Practice is the antidote.

New students are interviewed in some way: face to face, telephone, coming to watch a class. Some of the training takes place in a private dojo, so we like to know who is coming over. Sometimes the art attracts peculiar characters, or people with various issues, physical or psychological. Sometimes people never make it to the interview part. Some people have health issues that will not allow them to train, some mental issues, or substance abuse. As we deal with extremely dangerous weaponry, it is my responsibly to make sure the group is safe. If one acts unsafely, they will not be allowed to practice.

Equipment is always a concern when starting. There is a page called “Equipment List” that denotes what we use. I can suggest an order to purchasing and provide assistance and specifics.