Shidoshi Bryan Stewart

Bryan Stewart has been training in martial arts for over 19 years. He has experience in several different styles both Eastern and Western, including Northern animal style Gung Fu, Ba Gua, Xing Yi, Escrima/Kali, Brazilian JiuJitsu, Jeet Kun Do, and Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.

Bryan started his training in the Bujinkan in 2003 with James Morganelli, and received his shodan, first-degree black belt, upon his first trip to Japan in 2005. He received his Godan (5th degree) in 2016, making him a shidoshi, certified instructor. Bryan continues to train with Shidoshi Morganelli and travels to Japan when life permits.

Bryan is a lifelong learner and has a passion for knowledge. He studied psychology in college and continues to pursue knowledge in the fields of psychology, sociology, and applied philosophy.

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Ten Questions with Shidoshi Bryan Stewart

What is your personal martial arts biography?

As a child I had a few different experiences with martial arts, mostly taekwondo and books. Like a lot of people who train I was always an avid fan of martial arts movies. But the movies always had a disconnect between reality and fantasy. At 18, I was fortunate to meet a Gung Fu teacher who's school included northern Chinese animal styles, Ba Gua, Xing Yi, Escrima/Kali, and a couple other obscure styles. I trained at the school for about 5 years at which point it was time for me to become a teacher. I had a friend, who decided to test my skills one evening. During this test I determined I was not able to apply what I had learned. I concluded it was a dead art.

After receiving this wake-up call, I started doing research into schools that may contain the type of martial training I was looking for. I came across a website that had a wealth of information about an art of interest to me. This was my introduction to the Bujinkan. After some vetting, and emails with James Morganelli, I was invited to attend my first class in March of 2003. During my first few classes I was a little bit intimidated. There were guys that were bigger and stronger than I, but one thing that stood out to me was that it did not seem to matter the size of the opponents. But rather the skill in the application that made it work. From then on I have been training as much as life would allow, receiving my Godan and becoming a certified instructor in 2016.

Why do you train?

I train to polish my spirit and find strength in my weakness. I have had many hurtles in my life that I have had to overcome. Some have been seemingly insurmountable, but through training I have learned to find the lesson hidden in adversity. Each of these lessons shines light on new parts of this path of warriorship, and in this I find courage to move forward.

What do you think is/are the core value(s) of martial arts training?

There are a few things that I believe are essential to Martial Arts training. First among them is perseverance. Without this, when a Budoka hits the proverbial wall, they will not be able to find the will or reason to push through and continue to improve. Second is honesty, in both your training and self-inquiry. Having honesty in training means being a good “uke,” or “one who receives,” and who gives honest attacks. It also means not depriving the training of its intended purpose.

Part of the martial path is looking inside ourselves to determine our strengths and weaknesses. This inquiry requires a third value, which is courage. There are times when the path becomes obscured and it takes courage to look inside and acknowledge what we find. Courage allows us to stand in front of an attacker to defend someone else when they cannot defend themselves.

Can you explain your method of training and teaching?

Macro and Micro, Yin and Yang. Since we are training budo, the way of martial arts, as a lifelong path, I believe everything can be an opportunity for training. In the dojo I train and teach the way I was taught. We train in the general movement of our art and the smaller intricacies of our movement. It is important to teach people a solid understanding of taijutsu, the “body art” of the Bujinkan Dojo. That begins with a solid foundation on which to build. My aim is to teach students to find their individual taijutsu built upon the principals in which we train.

Is there a “secret” to training?

Yes, it is suggested in the very style we study—perseverance. I also feel there is a pervading concept in the background of many budo, one that if acknowledged, can help to guide us along this path. That concept is mushin, or "no mind," which is akin to “void” or “emptiness.” This void is where true budo begins. I believe finding this in your training will naturally lead one down a path to true budo discovery.

What would you recommend others do, to improve their training?

Focus on the structure of your current knowledge. Meaning, practice your kamae, your “physical attitudes,” and footwork. Do solo training in the kihon happo, “eight basic ways,” and the sanshin no kata, or “form of three hearts.” Use everyday life situations as a way to challenge yourself. Practice walking in different ways or moving quietly in places that you are naturally noisy. Try to keep awareness of your surroundings and contemplate being attacked when you notice you are relaxed to see what you might do in a given weak moment. We are training a martial path, not a hobby, so try to recognize budo in more and more aspects of your life.

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

Training has become more nebulous. When I started, we began every class with kihon and sanshin. There was more focus on the foundation of our taijutsu or the bones so to speak. We spent a lot of time working on figuring out the formula for principles, such as balance, distance, and timing. Now, years later, that foundation has been laid and the formula dialed in. Training has become much more refined.

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

I really like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s analogy of the Sheep Dog protecting the flock. In my opinion, martial artists have become beacons of calm, in the chaos of everyday life, serving the function of a protector, a helping hand, and a source of strength for others when they lose their way.

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

The “unfettered mind” and the “immoveable heart.” The unfettered mind is a mind unattached to object or event. This is someone who is able to constantly adapt to any situation and be flexible with change. The immoveable heart is an emotional center that is unmoved by the outside world. Others cannot disturb this person’s calm and they are able to face adversity with a smile.

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

My hope is that martial arts will continue to stay relevant. There is a trend in recent years that martial arts have become sports, and are more about ego than budo. When combat is framed around points and driven by greed or fame, it is selfish. It fosters competition and jealousy.

Budo, on the other hand, is about eliminating the ego and therefore its aim is selfless. As time passes I hope that martial arts will find their way back to the selfless. This way, peace and compassion can be more prevalent in our society, which is a much healthier state.