NGAExperience® Nihon Goshin Aikido

An Interview with James Durand

14 February 2014

One of Nihon Goshin Aikido’s first Study Group Leaders (located in Raleigh, NC) is Sensei James Durand.  I met Sensei Durand for the first time in the Nutley, NJ dojo in  2011 (before he became a Tar Heel).  It was a memorable night for me personally as it was the first time I had trained in another NGA style dojo, and Sensei Durand gave me a valuable tip on how to get the blend exactly right.  I don’t know how to describe it but to say, “Everything related to blending “clicked” for me that night.”



NGA Experience:  How did you get into Nihon Goshin Aikido?


I first got involved in Nihon Goshin Aikido about 19 or 20 years ago as I was looking for a practical street application martial art for self defense. I had taken Karate and Kung Fu prior in Colorado when I was younger.


Ironically, I knew what Aikido was but I was originally trying to find a good Kung Fu school to continue my training from before.  I lived near the Nihon Goshin Aikido school in New Jersey and stumbled upon it while looking for something else.  


When I saw how effective Nihon Goshin Aikido was and how even beginning level students could defend themselves, I was very impressed and immediately signed up for classes.



Have you incorporated any of your Karate or Kung Fu concepts, into your Aikido style?


My prior Kung fu Style actually had joint locks and throws incorporated into it which was similar to some of the techniques from Nihon Goshin Aikido.  Also the way in which we move in with a blend and strike or perform a technique was similar, so I actually could use some of the movement that I learned prior.


We had a Kung Fu instructor that Shihan Bowe had invited to watch our Black Belt class once. After the class, the Kung Fu instructor said something I thought was interesting. He said "Even though we all may train in different styles of martial art we are similar in many ways...It is as if we are all climbing a big mountain in our training: to your right you may see someone from Kung Fu...To your left someone from Karate, or Aikido...we are all climbing the same mountain... and when we get to the top of our respective arts ~ we all have the same view."



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


Some of the challenges I think of starting a study group or a school is finding students that are committed to the training and that are interested in doing this Martial art because they love to do it.  Only in this way will they find it in themselves to continue to improve.


There are many times I felt I "hit a wall" in my training and did not believe I could improve.  Due to the fact that I loved training and the people at the school became my friends, I kept coming to train, and I would improve.


Unfortunately, many people join a martial art to gain rank quickly or for ego. One of the things I liked most about this art was it was difficult to advance and was a constant challenge.


I feel many people that join this art have a hard time realizing that you must truly earn the next rank and perform at that next level, which depends on the time that you put in. I feel many people do not stick it out to realize their potential.



How do you organize your classes?


Nihon Goshin Aikido is very specific to the individual. Each person in the class is at a different place in their learning. What works best for me (as an instructor) is to come to class with a few things that I want to accomplish and/ or introduce in class. One thing I learned early on, however, is that what I want to teach many times is not what I end up teaching.



So you have to occasionally change your lesson plan?


Well, once the class starts to flow you can see what areas need to be addressed in each student’s learning, and sometimes that doesn’t agree with what I had initially planned.



In that manner I guess you have to re-teach things from time to time?


I do, and sometimes it’s necessary.  I like the way Shihan Bowe does it.  He will take something we think we all know and then break it down again (simplifying it sometimes ~ as we sometimes complicate it when we learn it).


Many times through our own mistaken interpretation and our misunderstanding of his corrections we overcomplicate the technique. It is refreshing, especially at a higher level to "revisit" a technique you thought you knew and gain fresh perspective.  In that manner re-teaching is a good thing.  



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


As I have recently moved to North Carolina, I am learning to sell our brand of aikido, in that I’m trying to find interested people that are committed enough to open a Nihon Goshin Aikido small study group.


Since I relocated to NC, I have been maintaining my training by working with my daughter (a san kyu) and some of her friends who are interested in informal classes. There are several adults I have spoken to also that are interested, and when I have enough dedicated people I will attempt to find a space here to open another dojo.



Who are your prime teachers, or who would you call when you had an NGA specific question?


My primary teachers are Shihan Bowe, Sensei Mihls, Sensei Delgado, Sensei Sidoti, Sensei Kopitov, Sensei Quinn, Sensei Maffei, and all the instructors that I trained with I tried to take something away that I could use to improve.



Wow that is really an All-Star Cast of NGA Instructors!


I was training under many of the finest that Nihon Goshin has. I feel this was an incredible learning opportunity. I feel that my training was enhanced and I could learn at a faster rate due to the fact that if I wasn't understanding the correction from one Sensei I would often get a similar correction from another. The corrections were always consistent and very good, but one Sensei may have attacked the problem from a slightly different perspective, which gave me insight or clarification. I believe that all the corrections from these excellent Sensei, made me all that I am today in this art.



Do you have any standout memories as you worked with these Senseis?


Well each Sensei helped me in my training.  I think it was more of a consistent prodding and correcting over time that led to my progression. Each teacher gave me clarification and understanding of Ki.


Some were instrumental at refining and perfecting the precise nature of each technique, while others were excellent at putting it all together for me so I could use it practically in self defense.


One thing I’ll always remember ~ though I’m not quite sure who said it, though I believe it was Sensei Mihls, was “You really haven't learned anything until you attain Shodan and start to teach.”  I think that is true, and I believe that you also learn something from each student you teach because it forces you to understand the art more completely in order to answer the questions that they ask.  One other thing I remember and I think either Sensei Mihls or Shihan Bowe who may have said it, but this really hit home also:  “Everybody can eventually make it to Shodan, but not everybody can be a Sensei.”   



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


I think every Aikido practitioner has his or her favorite techniques.


Probably the more suitable question would be: “What technique is your least favorite or the one that never seems to pop out under pressure?   That is the technique or techniques that need the most work ~  and are neglected in favor of the ones that you feel "Hey, I’m good at this one.”


NGA Experience aside:  “Ahhmmm... Pardon me, I need to go work on my ‘Reverse Pivot Take Down.”


Sensei Durand (continuing):  I do feel that many of the techniques from white and yellow set are probably the ones most frequently used as they seem to have the most applications (arm bar, front wrist throw, etc).


What are your NGA Specialities or perceived strengths?


Perhaps that is a question better asked of my teachers about me, but if I had to guess, maybe my one strength would be that I want to try to keep improving. I don't think you can ever stop trying to improve at any level, and I believe that to be a strength.



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


One funny training story involves Sensei Muse. When we were both purple belts, he was in a self-defense drill and while defending ~ ripped open his pants.


If anyone has ever worked out at the old headquarters dojo in Guttenberg you would know that it is a predominately Spanish neighborhood.  At any rate, a Spanish lady walking by the dojo window decided to look inside ~  just as his pants ripped open.  She was looking right at him and started screaming something very loudly in Spanish. It was so funny.  Non one in the dojo spoke Spanish, but we all knew exactly what she was yelling about.


Incidentally, and to his credit and our great humor, Jim Muse continued to defend in spite of the mishap with his pants and the Spanish lady’s comments.



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


I have only had a real life reason to use my skills twice.  I think one of them makes for a rather funny story ~ probably not as funny as Mr. Muse’s pant’s malfunction, but close.


When I was a blue belt, I was working as an X-ray Tech for a Hospital in New Jersey.


The Friday prior to the incident that serves as the foundation for the story, some policemen came into the emergency room and said we would soon be seeing patients coming to the ER that would be under the influence of a new illegal drug hitting the street. They informed us that these patients would be in a manic and violent state, and may be very difficult to deal with.


Exactly a week later, the following Friday, we received one of those patients, and the ER staff had to put this guy into this new plexiglas ER “safe” exam room.  Even though he had been placed in restraints, he managed to get free in this small plexiglas “safe” room.  


The plexiglas window gave us the feeling of watching the guy kind of like you’d be watching a movie, and we watched as he proceeded to simply destroy all the equipment in the room ~ but the room was soundproof so it was a “silent film.”


So this guy is just really coming unhinged, and he was swinging an IV pole around like a sword, and leveling the place.  He was showing no signs of stopping, and to make matters worse, other people began to take notice of the silent movie featuring the destruction of the hospital room, and were physically lining up in front of the window to get a better look.  These witnesses seemed to strengthen the resolve of the patient.


The patient was clearly a danger to himself and if he figured out how to break the plexiglas window ~ to the spectators as well.  We had already called the police but they hadn’t come so we had to do something


Our make shift riot control team included Tommy (a 70 year old former light weight boxer who was the hospital security guard), a male nurse, the ER Dr., and myself.


At 70 years old, Tommy’s boxing skills were no longer any threat to anyone, and I was the only one with any kind of martial training, so I suggested that we all enter the room at the same time and each secure one of the patient’s limbs.  If we could do that, I told them, “We might be able to put him on the ER bed, and then restrain him again.”


We reached a quick agreement, and all rushed through the door to the rising applause of the audience at the plexiglas window.  I quickly gained control of the patient’s right hand, and immediately applied the Reverse Wrist Technique; which held him in place while the others managed to lay him down on the ER bed and restrain the patient.  So far so good.


About an hour later, the police arrived, and the patient was starting to become lucid. The police were going to arrest him and take him away ~ for destroying the hospital safe room if nothing else.  Instead of complying with the arrest procedure, the patient began complaining of “intense right wrist pain,” and demanded medical treatment.


The ER Dr. came to me and said, James, we’ve got to X-ray his wrist. I think this guy may really be hurt.  Of course, I was the only X-ray tech on duty, and I knew this guy would be very angry at me ~ as I was the person who done the damage.  “No choice,” the Doctor said “You’ll have to take the wrist X-ray.”  


So a couple minutes later, they bring the patient down to my X-ray lab, and the whole time that I am taking his X-ray he’s mouthing off, saying "If I EVER catch the JERK that did THIS to MY WRIST, I am going to KICK his @$$!!!!  He said it over and over again. It was pretty obvious he didn’t know I had done it, so finally I looked at him and said, "If I were you, I would do exactly that." ~ Lol  



One Final Question:  When I trained with you in the Nutley Dojo, I remember that you carried a Jo (wooden staff) around with you much of the time.  Is that a consistent training aid that you use?


Actually, I think it was a bokken (wooden sword) I was using, though I don’t always walk around with one.  


That said, there is a good reason behind carrying the bokken.  When I was training, the Sensei would often use the bokken to make blending more immediate/important.


Whereas you may not feel like you need to get out of the way if someone gave you a slow moving openhanded overhand chop, you would definitely move if someone was coming down on your head with a heavy wooden stick....(thanks Sensei Quinn).

James Durand (r) and Jonathan Wilson (l)


After an evening training session in the Summer of 2011 at the Nutley, NJ Dojo

On Your Personal Strengths:


Perhaps that is a question better asked of my teachers about me, but if I had to guess, maybe my one strength would be that I want to try to keep improving. I don't think you can ever stop trying to improve at any level, and I believe that to be a strength.



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On Your Favorite Technique(s):


I think every Aikido practitioner has his or her favorite techniques.


Probably the more suitable question would be: “What technique is your least favorite or the one that never seems to pop out under pressure?”   


Now the answer to that question is the technique or techniques that need the most work ~  and also the ones we are most neglecting.



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On Teaching NGA Curriculum:


I like the way Shihan Bowe takes something we think we all know and then breaks it down again (simplifying it sometimes ~ as we sometimes complicate it when we learn it).



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On Incorporating Concepts From Other Martial Arts Into Nihon Goshin Aikido:


We had a Kung Fu instructor that Shihan Bowe had invited to watch our Black Belt class once. After the class, the Kung Fu instructor said something I thought was interesting. He said "Even though we all may train in different styles of martial art we are similar in many ways...It is as if we are all climbing a big mountain in our training: to your right you may see someone from Kung Fu...To your left someone from Karate, or Aikido...we are all climbing the same mountain and when we get to the top of our respective arts ~ we all have the same view."


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Click Here To get more information about Sensei Durand’s Nihon Goshin Aikido Study Group, in Raliegh, NC

Click Here To get more information about Sensei Durand’s Nihon Goshin Aikido Study Group, in Raliegh, NC

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Sensei Durand and I (front row, far right) after a cross training seminar at Aikido of Charlotte in Charlotte, NC in January 2015.  Great Time!

Full picture of the Aikido of Charlotte 2015 Friends Seminar



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