Frequently Asked Questions

Japanese Yoga FAQ

How does Japanese yoga differ from regular yoga?

India is the birth place of yoga. Many systems of yoga exist, far more than the average Western person realizes. Examples are Raja yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, Hatha yoga, and more. There really is no such thing as "regular yoga," and of the forms just mentioned, only Hatha yoga has a notably physical component. Yoga can be translated as "union," as in union of mind and body, or union of the individual with the universe. The traditional goal of all systems of yoga in India is the same: "union" or "unification."

How does Hatha yoga differ from Japanese yoga?

Hatha yoga is the most popular form of yoga outside of India. It's so popular that many Americans think that it is the only style of yoga, which is inaccurate. Hatha yoga focuses on asana, "postures" for training the mind and body. Pranayama breathing exercises are also sometimes featured, and what constitutes any version of yoga can vary between teachers. As an example, Westernized styles of Hatha yoga have often stripped away much of the Indian influence, including the objective of spiritual development, focusing instead on physical cultivation and weight loss.

Japanese yoga, which is more properly termed Shin-shin-toitsu-do ("The Way of Mind and Body Unification"), isn't based on Hatha yoga. It's lineage is traced to Raja yoga, which concentrates on meditation, and Karma yoga, a spiritual path emphasizing cause and effect in the universe. It's founder, Nakamura Tempu Sensei, blended these Indian disciplines with his background in Japanese martial arts, along with Western medicine and psychology. He gave birth to one of the world's first and most successful mergers of Eastern and Western thought, a path anyone can walk that equally develops the mind and body. As in India, the goal is "union," in other words, the art of yoga.

Unlike Hatha yoga, Shin-shin-toitsu-do is a more diverse practice. It incorporates stretching exercises, methods of physical development, seated meditation, moving meditation, breathing exercises, massage-like healing arts, techniques of autosuggestion, and more, which are based on four clearly explained principles of mind and body unification to help you realize your potential in daily life.

Do I have to stand on my head or twist my legs into a pretzel to study with you?

No.

Standing on your head is related to Hatha yoga, which features these sort of postures. We do not, and the "pretzel leg" reference probably relates to sitting in the lotus position. And while this is a useful posture for meditation and  breathing, it isn't required for beginners. You can slowly build up to sitting this way. Even if you never manage it, there are other easy positions that will work well for you in Japanese yoga.

What if I'm not a flexible person?

Stretching exercises are only part of our practice. Our forms of meditation, breathing practice, self-healing, and autosuggestion require no special flexibility. They will all improve your health, mental state, and life.

And we were all flexible people at one point in our lives. Few of us have seen a stiff baby, so the physical aspects of Japanese yoga represent a return to our original state. Unlike some methodologies, we're not asking the body to do anything unnatural. We work with each student to gradually, progressively, and intelligently develop their flexibility and health. Anyone, even the elderly and folks with certain disabilities, can practice with us.

 

 

Martial Arts FAQ

Healing Arts FAQ

Why is competition not included in your martial arts program?

Traditional Japanese martial arts are an outgrowth of the training that the samurai engaged in. Since the samurai were the ancient Japanese version of soldiers, their military training wasn't a sport or game. It was, instead, focused on battlefield application. Sports create an artificial structure based on rules that don't exist in actual combat. Rules are needed for safe competition, but they change the way a martial art is practiced.

As Japan entered a more peaceful era, the samurai had fewer battles to fight, but they continued to train in martial arts. Owing to this social shift, they considered ways that martial arts training had value beyond the battlefield, and this trend has continued in Japan. It's an inward focus based on refining the individual, so that he or she can contribute to society. Martial sports, however, often have an outward focus that aims at winning a trophy, a cash prize, and so on. This can take attention away from the goal of personal growth.

At our dojo, martial arts practice concentrates on personal development. Students compete with themselves--our most difficult opponent--with the goal of continual advancement and growth. The techniques practiced are useful as a defense against many types of attacks, including those rarely allowed in competitive martial arts.

What do you mean by "nonviolent martial arts?"

This refers to teaching controllable techniques and offering students a wide range of responses. Not every situation warrants the same reaction. Having this broad range of application makes the techniques practical. For example, there are legal repercussions in most states for excessive use of violence in defending oneself. Our legal response needs to be equal or less than the severity of the attack.

Plus, the martial tradition we practice (Saigo Ryu) was created with an ethical dimension. It centers on compassion tempered with practicality. Students train with the objective of reaching a high level of skill, which will let them neutralize an attack without killing or maiming their opponent. It's a philosophy of kindness and forgiveness, a philosophy with a pragmatic application, and one which deescalates violence in society.

At the same time, Saigo Ryu is clearly taught, without the quasi-mystical focus found in some martial arts. Because the techniques we practice are based on yielding to force, the size or strength of an opponent is of less consequence. However, not every martial art clearly and scientifically explains how to achieve this pliability. We do.

And while some believe that studying the most lethal techniques is the most effective self defense, this is often just a theoretical practicality. For instance, neck breaking methods can only be simulated in training; the same is true for eye gouging. Such skills are too violent to be realistically practiced. The theory is that in actual combat students will fully apply the techniques they've only simulated in practice, that they'll do something different from what they have studied.

Real self defense situations, however, are chaotic and scary. Even in less stressful scenarios, we tend to do what we've practiced. Fortunately, the martial art taught as the Sennin Foundation Center features controllable techniques, skills that can be executed in classes. In other words, we actually apply, as opposed to simulate, the throws, strangleholds, immobilizations, and pain compliance techniques we study. These skills can be practiced while standing, sitting on the floor, sitting in a chair, lying on the ground, with weapons . . . really in most any situation.

There's a difference between choosing not to hurt an opponent and being unable to hurt someone due to unworkable skills. It's hard to have confidence in such skills, which makes it difficult to use them to develop confidence in ourselves. We teach methods that are useful for both self-protection and self-mastery.

Why is there a spiritual and psychological emphasis in your martial arts program?

Some people mistakenly believe that the samurai were only concerned with physical training and combat application. While this was true for some martial traditions, others had a workable spiritual component. This isn't a recent development. The question is why.

Traditional Japanese martial arts, as opposed to martial sports, are concerned with living and dying, in that the samurai had to face the reality of death more than most people. In this respect, martial arts that evolved from samurai practices are similar to religion, which also deals with death. While Saigo Ryu isn't a religion, it has a spiritual aspect to help students find calmness in action and the ability to face adversity with composure.

Without this capacity for calmness under pressure, no martial arts technique will work in real combat. We will simply freeze.

But not every martial arts school recognizes this. At our dojo, students practice meditation and exercises to aid in controlling the mind, because without mental control, martial arts training is rarely effective. This isn't something that can be fully resolved with hard, aggressive classes, because regardless of the severity of the practice, it can't truly recreate the chaotic stress of combat. A different approach is needed for practical martial arts, and this approach can also tremendously help us in our lives.

What do you mean by "kata-based practice?"

Kata means "form," as in the formal practice of prearranged techniques. Many martial arts enthusiasts have heard this term used in karate, where kata are a series of predetermined solo techniques directed toward imagined opponents. Karate is an Okinawan variation of Chinese martial arts, which also place a heavy emphasis on solo training. Traditional Japanese martial arts, however, are different from this. 

While individual kata practice exists in Japan, aside from arts like karate, iaido, and kyudo, kata training usually involves two people. The opponent is actual, not imagined, which allows students to learn to control distance and timing.

In our dojo, students start by practicing handed down sequences of paired techniques, which are designed to internalize a principle (or principles). Once these principles are absorbed, advanced practitioners create personal variations, such as applying a throw or immobilization against a different attack than is found in the classical kata. Eventually, students practice randori, in which they defend against any unexpected attack and intuitively create techniques in the moment (based on principles internalized through kata training).

Kata-based practice is a time-honored, intelligent, and progressive way of building up skill in a martial art. The kata we practice are taught in a specific sequence, allowing students to gradually and scientifically develop their abilities in a way that's easily understood.

Do offer treatments?

No. 

 

We're not doctors, and we're not practicing medicine. If you have illness or injuries, we encourage you to visit a licensed physician.

That said, we believe our healing arts program works well with medical treatment. Since it has no side effects, it will not negatively interact with a medication you might be taking. 

We offer are well-structured classes that teach you how to treat yourself, friends, and family using ki ("life energy"). The information provided is for your personal use (as opposed to a course that will help you start a medical practice). 

In the process of studying in our healing arts program, you'll treat other students, and they'll treat you. It's a reciprocal practice. Lots of us feel great after a class due to this approach, but the focus is on communicating information and practicing methods that can be used to enhance our lives.

What is the structure of your classes in Japanese healing arts?

Our course is divided into segments. The first focuses on applying ki to different parts of the body, and it's taught in a logical, systematic way. Next, students study how what they've learned can be directed toward common illnesses. Then, they practice using ki to affect different typical injuries. 

Each class is 90 minutes. The first hour is formal instruction in, and practice of, healing arts associated with one of the three sections mentioned above. The last 30 minutes are free practice, where students work on each other, concentrating on whatever body part they'd like to have ki applied to.

Why is your healing arts program taught in conjunction with Japanese yoga?

Nakamura Tempu Sensei, the founder of Japanese yoga, taught methods of healing using ki and techniques outwardly similar to finger pressure massage. So, the healing arts that we study are an outgrowth of his yogic teachings.

After he passed away in the late 1960's, some of his students developed additional healing methods, and in their schools the curriculum became larger. Eventually, it made sense for us at the Sennin Foundation Center to offer a separate class in these healing techniques, although everyone studying in our Japanese yoga program learns the basics of healing. 

Due to this history, students need to be studying Japanese yoga and it's methods of mind and body unification to understand the theory used in our healing arts program. But more than this, the methods of meditation, breathing, and concentration taught in Japanese yoga are needed to develop the ability to genuinely project ki in an effective way for healing. Not everyone working with ki is doing so in a way that's progressive, logical, and not purely based on personal belief and perception. We are, and the methodology in Japanese yoga helps us develop ki intelligently.

Fine Arts FAQ

What are the characteristics that define Ranseki Sho Juku Japanese calligraphy?

Kobara Ranseki Sensei, an internationally famous artist, created Ranseki Sho Juku shodo in the late 1960's after studying under Fukuzawa Seiran Sensei, a top calligraphy teacher in Kyoto. He received numerous awards in prestigious exhibitions in Japan, and he viewed shodo as first and foremost a method of personal growth. Secondarily, he thought of shodo as an art form, similar to abstract art, and last, as a method of beautiful writing. We maintain the same emphasis on shodo as moving meditation and fine art at the Sennin Foundation Center.

This style of shodo has a naturalistic look. It features flowing and rounded characters that display a feeling of motion in stillness. Uniting opposites, it shows a combination of power and calmness, and it helps us to develop those characteristics within ourselves. 

Do I need to be able to speak, read, and write Japanese to practice shodo with you?

No.

Just as we can appreciate music, even if we can't read music, we can appreciate shodo without the ablity to read Japanese. Actually, many people that have tattoos of Japanese characters, or who buy books of Japanese calligraphic art, can't read Japanese. The beauty of the art transcends this concern.

As the result, we can easily start to practice shodo, even with no Japanese language ability. As in any visual art, like drawing or painting, skill is the result of a coordination of mind, eyes, and hands. Simple as that.

But shodo is a fun way to learn about Japanese language, history, and culture. We're missing out if we don't take advantage of this opportunity to discover Japan, its language, and its arts. Shodo students at our dojo gradually introduce themselves to Japanese, and they learn the meaning of the characters and poems they're practicing. All of this is clearly explained in each lesson, and we can recommend sources for Japanese language lessons.

If I'm not fluent in Japanese, why would I want to study Japanese calligraphic art?

Please see the answer above.

 

Shodo is known as a Do, or "Way," in Japan. These Ways--tea ceremony, martial arts, flower arrangement, and others--are rarely one dimensional. Shodo, therefore, isn't merely writing with a brush. It includes the study of ancient poetry, ink painting, classical Japanese aesthetics, Chinese and Japanese history, Asian philosophy, and more. It's much more than something that involves Japanese language, although this is part of the practice. All of this is fun and fascinating for folks that want to more deeply pursue shodo.

What's more, Japanese have traditionally believed that calligraphy reflects our personality, that the body mirrors the mind. Based on this idea, shodo helps us see into our own nature more clearly, and enhances calmness, concentration, and willpower. That's useful even if you aren't fluent in Japanese.

What is the connection between shodo and sumi-e?

Even though the spoken languages and cultures of Japan and China differ, they share a set of Asian characters. While these characters are utilized for written communication, Japanese calligraphy shouldn't be thought of as just penmanship. In light of the fact that Chinese characters began as simplified drawings or pictograms, it's evident that no clear-cut dividing line can be found between drawing, ink painting (sumi-e), and calligraphy. Ink painting and shodo originally used the same brush, ink, and paper. Even certain brush strokes are similar. Shodo can be thought of as a system of writing based on abbreviated abstract drawings. In characters like mountain (yama), for example, it's still easy to see three mountain peaks.

Students at our dojo start by learning to brush characters and poems. Advanced students add simple ink paintings to their work, and all of this is professionally and clearly taught.

What is the link between shodo and meditation?

Japanese have viewed calligraphy as a ink painting of the mind, but not everyone doing shodo in Japan has a deep understanding of this idea, even if it is frequently mentioned. Similarly, it's not uncommon for shodo teachers to refer to what they practice as moving meditation, but again, exactly how Japanese calligraphy functions in this manner isn't always well explained. But the idea is real and valid.

Nakamura Tempu Sensei, in addition to being the father of yoga in Japan, was a renowned shodo artist. Unlike some calligraphers, owing to his yoga/meditation training, he was able to clearly explain how to coordinate the mind and body, and by extension, the mind and brush. This results in rapid mastery of shodo, and we use his principles of mind and body unification to explain and enhance our shodo practice at the Sennin Foundation Center. Similarly, Japanese yoga's methods of meditation and breathing practices are integrated with our shodo classes for greater ease of learning.

With meditation, we discover the nature of the mind, strengthen the mind, and stabilize it. With shodo, we  make our mental activity visible in the form of ink on paper. Using the two together, we have a simple, effective way of cultivating the mind. Composure, attention, and willpower are enhanced, and our everyday lives improved .

Classes for Kids FAQ

Isn't Japanese yoga and meditation something that children find boring? 

 

It depends on how it's taught. Japanese yoga is different from the more typical Indian Hatha yoga or the meditation found in Zen. We teach stretching, breathing methods, seated meditation, and moving meditation in ways that are similar to cooperative games. Children at our dojo have had fun with them for over 30 years.

I looked at several martial arts schools, but their classes seemed more like babysitting, with little discipline. How are you different? 

 

We don't take children that are too young to practice effectively, merely to generate revenue. Our classes are taught as in Japan, with traditional etiquette designed to cultivate discipline and respect for others. Children learn that working toward goals in a focused, disciplined way can be fun, and this carries over into their schoolwork and home life.

I'm interested in having my child learn martial arts, but I'm not sure about trying to produce a "trained killer." What's your philosophy? 

 

You're smart to be concerned. Many schools teach competitive martial sports, more than martial arts. Competition requires each person attacking the other, and points are only awarded for offensive techniques. This means the focus is on attacking others, sometimes with methods that can cause severe injury. Not every child is mature enough to practice this way. If they badly injure another child at school, there are serious repercussions. We teach a martial art, not a sport--no competition. Only defensive techniques are taught, emphasizing control and compassion more than injury.

I've heard of other people in the Bay Area teaching "nonviolent martial arts." Will this actually give my child self-defense and self-confidence? 

 

Not always. Certain schools emphasize spiritual growth instead of self-defense, but we don't think one has to exclude the other. There's a difference between choosing not to hurt an opponent and being unable to hurt someone due to unworkable skills. It's hard to have confidence in such skills, which makes it difficult to use them to develop confidence in ourselves. We teach methods that are useful for both self-protection and self-mastery.

Do you also offer Japanese yoga and/or martial arts for adults? 

 

We do. Beginners classes are on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday mornings. Memberships are affordable, and you can get more information about our adult program by calling 510-526-7518. Studying with us yourself is a great way to support your child and bring your family closer together.

About Our Dojo FAQ

How much are classes at your dojo?

With the exception of private lessons, we don't charge on a per class basis. We offer one, three, six, and 12 month memberships. Regardless of which membership you select, you're can come to as many classes as we offer in a particular art each week. If there are more classes in a specific month, we won't charge you more that month. Fewer classes in a given month doesn't result in a refund or reduction in fee. Each member pays a set amount for their membership, with discounts for multiple month memberships. All payments help us support our nonprofit dojo. Get more information by clicking on a button for a particular art you're interested in at the top of the page. Get still more details by giving us a call: 510-526-7518.

How authentic is the instruction in your dojo? 

H. E. Davey Sensei, Director of the Sennin Foundation Center, grew up studying under Japanese and Japanese-American experts in classical Japanese art forms. He's visited Japan for many years, where he has given bilingual lecture/demonstrations in Tokyo. A significant number of his students are from Japan, and classes at our dojo are conducted within an authentic, traditional Japanese atmosphere. At the same time, having been born in the U. S., Davey Sensei can bridge the cultural gap between East and West, making ancient customs and practices understandable for everyone. 

What is the skill level of the teachers and what professional affiliations does your dojo have?

Let's take the last question first. H. E. Davey Sensei, and by extension, the Sennin Foundation Center is certified by and affiliated with prestigious associations in Japan and the U. S.:

  1. Zaidan Hojin Tempu-Kai (The Tempu Society)--A Tokyo-based organization founded by the late Nakamura Tempu Sensei. Mr. Nakamura was the originator of Shin-shin-toitsu-do, a form of Japanese yoga based on mind and body unification.

  2. Wanto Shodo-Kai (East Bay Japanese Calligraphy Association)--A San Francisco Bay Area study group for Japanese brush writing practiced as meditation and fine art, founded by the late Kobara Ranseki Sensei, creator of Ranseki Sho Juku shodo.

  3. Kokusai Shodo Bunka Koryu Kyokai (International Japanese Calligraphy and Cultural Exchange Association)--Headquartered in Urayasu, Japan, this international organization is sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Education.

  4. Kokusai Nihon Yoga Renmei (International Japanese Yoga Association)--The IJYA is headquartered in Kyoto. It's President is Sawai Atsuhiro Sensei, a Senior Advisor to the Sennin Foundation Center, with H. E. Davey Sensei acting as Vice President. Read more at www.japanese-yoga.com.

  5. Shudokan Budo-Kai (Shudokan Martial Arts Association)--The SMAA is a coalition of Japanese and Western experts, featuring martial artists from different systems. With members in several nations, the group works toward the preservation and cultivation of classical Japanese martial arts.

  6. Waku Waku Honshin Juku--Waku Waku Honshin Juku is based in Osaka It promotes meditation and spiritual growth, with an emphasis on Nakamura Tempu Sensei's Japanese yoga. H. E. Davey Sensei received the highest level of teaching certfication from this esteemed association.

He has received the top level of instructor certification from the East Bay Japanese Calligraphy Association and the headmaster of Ranseki Sho Juku shodo, from the International Japanese Yoga Association, and from the Waku Waku Honshin Juku. The Shudokan Martial Arts Association gave him an eighth-degree black belt, one of the highest ranks. All of our teachers of Japanese yoga and related healing arts are certified in Kyoto through the International Japanese Yoga Association, and all of our martial arts instructors have certification through the Shudokan Martial Arts Association.

I was at another school that went out of business overnight. Are you well established? 

 

This can be a problem with yoga classes and martial arts schools. The realities of offering ongoing instruction are more than some teachers are up to, and their schools can disappear without warning. We've helped young people and adults realize better health and self-mastery since 1981. We've been at our present location for over 20 years. We're one of the oldest and most established schools in the Bay Area.

Visits are by appointment. Contact us today to drop by and learn more.

​© 2023 by Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts