NGAExperience® Nihon Goshin Aikido

An Interview with Bryan Winfree

14 February 2014

One of Nihon Goshin Aikido’s newest dojo operators, Sensei Bryan Winfree brings a significant martial experience and know-how to the instructional field.  As the subject of our first interview, we are both pleased and humbled that he was willing to take the time to answer our questions.



NGA Experience:  How did you get into NGA?

After college, I started teaching middle school and went back to teaching karate at night.  After about a year, I found myself in a depression.  My brain wasn't being stimulated enough, so I began researching local studios.  I had always wanted to do Aikido, and then I found Sensei Carter's school on the internet.  I talked with my current Sensei and he agreed that I should try it.  That night I drove out with my wife and we watched Sensei Carter's adult classes, I was sold immediately.  The next week I was in classes being thrown around and loving every minute of it.

What was your previous martial arts background?

At the age of 8 I decided I would like to try Karate.  My dad did some research and found a local Karate school that came highly recommended.  I began training in Shotokai Karate under Sensei Dewey Earwood and fell in love with Weapons and Kata.  Sensei Earwood took more of a sport karate approach, which I enjoyed because it gave me the freedom to explore other arts and be creative.  I trained hard and was one of the first juniors to earn a blackbelt at the age of 12.  At that point I was in middle school and had to choose, did I want to do school sports or focus on my karate.  I choose karate.

 

At this point I began teaching.  Sensei Earwood entrusted me with kids classes and it was not long before I advanced to teaching all ages.  I began to travel and compete all over the world.  It was an amazing time.  My training allowed me to meet some incredible martial artists and travel.


The older I got, the more I realized that competition really didn't make me happy.  I wanted to learn more!  Mr. Earwood allowed me to visit other arts.  I began training in Tae Kwon Do under Sabom-nim Brian Lee.  We trained together and I was able to earn a blackbelt under Sabom-nim Lee.  Unfortunately, Sabom-nim got relocated to Charlotte, so I was unable to continue my training.

At this point I was about out of college.  After college, I began my Aikido training.  It was very challenging moving from striking arts to the art of Aikido, because I like to strike, but the challenge of changing my thinking is what I love about the art of Aikido.  I have had to change how I think and move. My reactions are no longer strike first, I try to control the attacker with blending and technique.  This course of action has made me a better striker, because it opened the door to a new way of moving in and out of strikes.  


While I was training in Aikido, Sensei Earwood decided to train me on the art of Isshinryu Karate.  He had never trained anyone in this art because it is very aggressive.  He felt I was old enough and ready for the challenge.  The classes were some of the hardest training I had ever done. The sparring was bare knuckle and the body conditioning was rough.  We would strike Maki-waras, use full contact strikes to toughen the body, and intense exercise to build strength and cardio.  This class put me in the best physical shape of my life.  Sensei Earwood promoted me to a blackbelt. I am to this date his only blackbelt in Isshinryu Karate.  


At this point in my life, I have given up all of my Karate training due to arthritis issues.  The repetitiveness from the katas were highly abusive on my joints.  I left karate as a 6th degree blackbelt.  I focus 100% of my time on aikido.  I have been able to advance to a 2nd degree blackbelt under Sensei Carter and a level 1 certified instructor.  I look forward to many more years of working with Sensei and helping him to grow his studio.


What are some of the challenges you are working through with starting a new dojo?

I am sharing a studio with a friend.  Karate and Aikido are different, so that creates a very challenging atmosphere for the students and the instructors.  We are doing a great job of working together to educate the students on both styles of martial arts.

 

The actual teaching has been fun.  Teaching aikido is very different than teaching karate, but I love the fact that we focus completely on practical self defense.  I have both my children training in aikido and I complement the training with some of the practical striking I learned from Karate and Tae Kwon Do.


How do you organize your classes?

I am teaching under Sensei Carter’s direction, so I create my lesson plans around Sensei's design.  We begin classes with a special area training (eg:  a self defense scenario like a two hand choke ~ and consider techniques we might use defend against it), then we move to Classical Technique work.  After some Classical Technique focus, we move into Application training.  


I try to ensure that all my students get at least two Applications as well as a focus on different types of attacks.  


What are you learning as it relates to NGA right now?

As I continue my training, I focus my technique work on transitioning between techniques.  Transitioning is essential for a good aikido practitioner, therefore I feel I need to continue to improve on this aspect.  Otherwise, I am still a novice in the martial arts, so I think all aspects of my training is really important. Becoming an instructor will allow me to really break down the techniques and improve my understanding of their basics.


I also feel that becoming a better Brazilian Jui-Jitsu practitioner is going to really assist in my aikido training.  It is such a great compliment to our system, I wish I had more time to devote to this training.


What are your Pocket Technique (s), the ones that seem to always come out when you're under pressure?

I love all aspects of my aikido training, however, I feel that I have a few techniques that I always end up with.  Naturally, the versatile Arm Bar is a key technique.  It is so practical and will work from most positions.  I enjoy Slap to the Side of the Head and other techniques that use striking concepts, this allows me to really incorporate my previous training.  My absolute favorite technique is the Spin Around.  I feel this technique truly incorporates every aspect of my training.  The blending and transitioning as well as some striking.


What are your NGA Specialities or perceived strengths?

I feel that my timing is one of my strongest attributes. After years of Karate training I can read attacks and that allows me to have good timing.  Follow up striking also comes very natural to me.


What are some training stories we might find interesting or funny?

I have been so fortunate to get to train and compete with some of the best martial artists in the world.  Many of the competitors move into movies or tv.  It's really interesting to be watching a movie and see someone I competed with, and in some cases, beat.


O'Sensei David German, trained with Ed Parker as well as many other famous martial artists.  David German personally certified me as a 6th degree black belt in his association of US Tai.


He also worked with me on Chi-Na and other Chinese weapons.  It was always a great experience to train in his unique style of "forced yoga."


I have dabbled in Vita Saana, this is an African Style similar to Capoeria.  The style requires a sense of rhythm and very strong upper body.  It was very different training and a great experience.


Have you ever had a real life reason to use your NGA skills?

Martial arts is as much mental as it is physical.  I feel that I use the mental aspects of my training every day.  As a middle school teacher, I interact with kids at the roughest times of their lives.  This requires me to have patience and try to create harmony in situations.

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Bryan Winfree (l) posing with John Carter (r).

The Certificate he is holding is his promotion to Ni-Dan.

On opening a new Nihon Goshin Aikido Dojo in Irmo, SC:


The actual teaching has been fun.  Teaching aikido is very different than teaching karate, but I love the fact that we focus completely on practical self defense.  I have both my children training in aikido and I complement the training with some of the practical striking I learned from Karate and Tae Kwon Do.


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On Teaching NGA Curriculum:


I am teaching under Sensei Carter’s direction, so I create my lesson plans around Sensei's design.


 We begin classes with a special area training (eg:  a self defense scenario like a two hand choke ~ and explore techniques we might use to defend against it), then we move to formal Classical Technique work.  After some Classical Technique focus, we move into Application training.  


I try to ensure that all my students get at least two Applications as well as a focus on different types of attacks.  


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On Pocket Techniques:

My absolute favorite technique is the Spin Around.


I feel this technique truly incorporates every aspect of my training.


It has everything:   The blending and transitioning as well as some striking.

Click Here To get more information about Bryan Winfree’s Nihon Goshin Aikido Dojo in Irmo, SC

Click Here To get more information about Bryan Winfree’s Nihon Goshin Aikido Dojo in Irmo, SC

The kamiza at Bryan Winfree’s new dojo in Irmo, SC

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