Shidoshi Adam Venezia

Adam Venezia began training with the Bujinkan in Saint Louis under Ken Harding around 2001. When Harding retired from the Bujinkan, Adam continued his training in 2007 with Jason Kratz, one of Ken's former students.

In 2009, Adam moved to Chicago, where he was referred to James Morganelli, who has been his primary teacher ever since. Adam has moved several times since then, and lived in Los Angeles for a few years, where he was fortunate to be able to train with Mike Govier, another of James's students. After which, he lived in Saint Louis (again) and then Chicago (again).

Adam took his instructor's test in 2018 on his first trip to Japan. He has since moved to Seattle, where he hopes to actually stay for a while. He is exploring teaching opportunities in the area, including having taken on his first student / training partner.

Aside from training, Adam is an amateur writer, primarily of non-fiction topics: science, technology, philosophy, and occasionally politics. He holds two degrees in civil engineering and one in computer science. He is currently a software developer at Microsoft, and planning a book on problem solving and critical thinking.

Contact Adam:

What is your personal martial arts biography?

I took karate for a while when I was young—I don't remember exactly how young or how long, but I do remember that I left in frustration, believing that I hadn't learned anything, and wasn't cut out to be a martial artist.

It was almost entirely by luck, several years later, that I decided to give martial arts a second try, and found the art I've been studying ever since. I saw an ad in the yellow pages (to give you some idea how long ago this was) which read "Ninjutsu—Jujutsu—Weapons. The word ninjutsu had some vague mystical appeal for me at that age, but it was more the weapons that caught my eye. When I studied karate before, there were always weapons hung on walls, vaguely alluded to in training, but for some reason we never actually used them. They were for historical context, or maybe just decoration.

Curiosity led me to see what the school was about, and I've been here ever since. I couldn't possibly mention all the people and experiences I've had along the way, so I won't try. In the time I've been training, I've lived in Saint Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and currently Seattle, and I've been lucky to have good people to train with everywhere I've gone. Luckier still to have received my teaching license from the grandmaster in Japan in 2018, and now able to begin passing along some of what I've learned.

Why do you train?

Training—at least the way we do it—isn't about how much violence you can cause. It's about how much violence you can endure. It's about what you can handle.

The world is dangerous. We've all heard stories about, or personally experienced, awful things happening to people. It's common, I think, to reflect afterward about what you could have done, what you should have done. Would you have intervened? Would you have gotten others to safety? And the pragmatic part of you, maybe, reminds you that there is nothing you could have done. Perhaps because you don't know how. It's like when someone tries to rescue someone else who is drowning, but they themselves are not a strong enough swimmer. It's brave. It's noble. But in the end it only makes the situation worse.

And that's why we train. Training is about closing the gap between what you should do and what you can do. Most of the time, that won't mean jumping into an active shooter situation and taking down the shooter bare handed. We spend a lot of our time dealing with how to avoid escalating a situation, how to defuse it, and failing that, how to get clear of it, how to get yourself and the people around you to safety.

It would be rare, of course, for even a situation like that to turn into a physical fight. But, the point is to be prepared if it does. Being prepared to fight means being able to step into a situation and hopefully bring it to a peaceful end, while at the same time minimizing the risk that you make the situation much worse for yourself and the people around you.

Training makes it possible for you to be a more ethical person. It makes it possible to take action which you know someone needs to take, but which you may not be capable of taking effectively without preparing first. So, in some sense, you could say it is my conscience that drives me to keep training.

What do you think are the core values of martial arts training?

I think the most important value is honesty. Honesty in training means being honest with yourself about what you're capable of, what things are working for you, and what things aren't. It also means being honest with your training partners by giving them genuine attacks to work with, and correct feedback so they can accurately understand what their movement is producing.

We could list maybe a dozen other traits that either contribute to good training, or become better through training, but without honesty, none of those others matter. Because, without honesty, you won't progress, you won't learn, and you may not even understand that you haven't learned.

Can you explain your method of training and teaching?

I generally have in mind a few specific ideas to work on—generally, areas where I think I need to focus on some problem or bad habit. Currently, for example, I'm recovering from surgery, and I've picked up a few quirks in the way I stand or roll or hold weapons because of specific painful motions I learned to avoid. But it could be anything, really. Whatever I think needs some attention. With that in mind, whatever class is about that day, I try to filter through that lens.

For me, it's a way of taking ownership of my own training, which is something every serious martial artist has to do at some point.

Teaching is the same as training. I try not to teach down to students. Meaning, regardless of what level they are at, I teach them what I'm working on. As a student, that's the way I've done my best learning. Sink or swim. It's not important that students duplicate or retain every detail of what they're shown, so why not present them with the most you can?

Is there a "secret" to training?

Training is not a solo activity. You need a group of people you trust, who are committed to your growth as well as their own. And you need to cultivate that group by contributing to it as much as you can. You learn the most by training with the best people. So help the people you train with be the best they can be.

What would you recommend others do to improve their training?

Experiment. Get over the need to have everything work every time. Push the boundaries of what you're capable of. Get punched once in a while. See what you can get away with. When you get comfortable doing just what you already know, you get comfortable never learning anything else.

What are the biggest differences today than when you first began training?

Just that people are better. It used to be that there were only a handful of true experts to train with, and almost all of them were in Japan. These days, the art has grown and matured, and so have the people studying it, so that there are people of enormous talent and experience seemingly all over the world.

What is the role a martial artist plays in our world?

The arts we study were created by people who used them as a way of life. It was their job to be martial artists, and if they weren't good at it, they didn't survive long.

These days, it isn't so simple. There aren't so many people whose job is Battlefield Samurai.  And that's good—that's a sign that humanity is moving in a good direction. One where being attacked and killed is not as much of a daily concern as it once was.

So, martial artists now have more freedom to define their own role, to contribute to the world as they see fit.

What one thing would you contribute to a "Book of Knowledge"?

It isn't our conscious mind that decides how we move, or how we react to novel situations. It can't be, because that part of our mind doesn't work fast enough. Martial arts techniques are not an exception. If a time comes that you ever have to use them under any amount of pressure, only what you've made a reflex will be available for use.

We need to keep this in mind when we train, when we decide how to train. It isn't enough to memorize lots and lots of movements. We need to habituate them. We need to train in a way that the art becomes something internal, something that shapes the way we move, and the way we think, all the time. Martial arts shouldn't be about something you do. It should be about something you are.

Do you have any great hope for the future of martial training?

I imagine someday, the current fad of Mixed Martial Arts will run its course. I, for one, won't miss it. The biggest issue I have with it is that it affects perceptions about martial arts in general. The art we train is so different from the competition stuff that it's hard to think of them as in the same category. But to a newcomer, they probably look the same. Or, worse, the ubiquitous MMA gyms out there might make us hard to find. It isn't hard to imagine someone looking for an art like ours to never find it, or never know it exists.