In January 2011, Bryan was employed in Hotel Loss Prevention & Guest Services when he was directed to James Morganelli. He has trained with James since that introduction.
Bryan received his Black Belt in July 2013, during his first trip to train with Hatsumi Sensei and the Shihan. He returned to Japan in 2016. Bryan received his 5th Dan and Shidoshi License in 2018, administered under Noguchi Sensei. At this time, he has yet to begin taking students, but is expecting to do so in 2019.
Outside of martial arts, Bryan earned his BFA in Technology & Media from Cleveland Institute of Art, and currently works in Marketing and Front End Development. He joins Shidoshi Jim Delorto with his enjoyment of Obstacle Course Running, entering multiple races every year. He is a doting godfather, and contributes regularly to various Veterans Services and animal rescues.
Ten Questions with Shidoshi Bryan Mikolajewski
What is your personal martial arts biography?
I'm another 80's baby caught in the Ninja Boom. My hometown was something of a training desert, so I was left with skimming through the one or two copies of Black Belt Magazine I could find on shelves, or borrowing an Ashida Kim book about secret finger-magic.
I began studying Jidokwan USA Taekwondo and Hapkido under Soon Pil Hong while in high school, but moved on shortly before testing for deputy black belt. I drifted for a period afterward, sampling wrestling, kendo, dirty boxing, and various locking and compliance techniques taught quietly between fellow barbacks and bouncers. The longest training I received was in Kyokushin Karate, under James Gillis.
College required my relocation, and contributed to my quitting training, though I promised myself that I would "go back someday".
Skip ahead to late 2010, early 2011, I found myself working third-shift Loss Prevention in downtown Chicago. Policy at the time stated that all staff were to never physically engage anyone under any circumstances, even if it's completely in self-defense. I took particular exception to that policy, and chose to make good on that old promise to return to training. I was introduced to James Morganelli not long into my search.
I've trained consistently with James since then, and joined the dojo in my first trip to Japan in summer 2013. During that visit, I received Shodan from Nagato Sensei with James' recommendation. I returned to Japan for more training with Soke and the Shihan in 2016.
I passed my Godan test in 2018, as the dojo celebrated its 20-year anniversary.
Why do you train?
Once upon a time, I would’ve carried on with something about self-discipline, focus and meditation. I’m not even sure if I bought it myself back then.
I train because I value myself and those I care about—value that demands protecting on the basis of morality. This realization has been a touchstone that makes me better, which has in turn made those around me better, and safer.
What do you think is/are the core value(s) of martial arts training?
Borrowing from the previous, the value of life is core to training. Without that value, there’s no point in investing the time and effort to grasp at what it is we’re trying to do. Courage is an essential driving element, as its from here that we act. Putting your own life at risk in order to protect it can’t be done without courage.
Can you explain your method of training and teaching?
I’m searching for something clear and concise, but here and now, all I have are paradoxes. Our training is serious, sometimes gravely, yet at the same time, I find moments that are infused with play. The play is necessary I think, but play also needs to be put on rails to prevent it from becoming out of touch.
Is there a “secret” to training?
There aren’t many secrets kept, but hidden is another story entirely. As we train, things that we don’t or can’t understand, become clear. Being told an answer doesn’t make it the answer. It’s more like a coming into focus.
Just keep training. It’ll make sense eventually.
What would you recommend others do, to improve their training?
Be Uke. Training is not just when you’re the one dispensing protection and justice across Dr. Evil’s jaw. To be a good uke, you have to remain present physically and mentally. Turning yourself off when you’re being the one thrown around means you’ve stopped training. Don’t turn off, you may not have time to turn on when you need it.
What are the biggest differences today, than when you first began training?
Easier to point out the smallest difference! My first schools had a very: “THIS is Punch... THIS is Kick...” feeling to them. You were there to learn their style, you would learn it in this many years, and you’ll be good, eventually.
I am working away from that, or at least putting that into perspective. Martial arts training is about not-dying. Martial arts is not about becoming a walking catalogue of movements and poses that have zero context and even less viability.
What is the role a martial artist plays in our world?
Somewhere along the way, the role of the martial artist has gotten lost. The wealth of human knowledge is available to us with a gesture, but competence in any of it is something that needs to be sought out. Read a comments section, and be prepared for a wave of anonymous experts convinced that “it won’t work in the street!” and others willing to shift the value of a life based on demographics. The disparity between “know-of” and “know-how” contributes to something of a patronizing nihilism.
The role of the martial artist should be that of warrior and sage. Warriors in that they are competent to deal with conflict by the necessary means. Sages in that they understand the weight of their actions, and temper them accordingly.
What one thing would you contribute to a “Book of Knowledge?”
“It is necessary to treat training as part of normal life with your spirit unchanging.” – Miyamoto Musashi
We’re training to be better warriors and competent protectors. This is not something that you take on and off with your shoes.
Do you have any great hope for the future of martial training?
I think at this point, the best hope for martial training is for a rediscovery. Too few people are training in a method that look at the ethic and the methods that guide martial arts.