The Question of Succession
in the Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu System

A recent question posted to both the AJJF and Danzan-Ryu Bulletin/Discussion Boards dealt with the question of succession of the Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu system with the recent passing of Danzan-Ryu Headmaster Prof. Sig Kufferath. The following is a copy of the question and my response to that question. I welcome any supporting or opposing views on the subject. I will include those below. I would especially like to include the responses from key representatives of the different Danzan-Ryu organizations.

Question from Mark:

I am new to studying DZR, but as I understand Prof. Sig Kufferath was the most senior exponent and Headmaster of the system. My question is, with his passing, who is now the recognized head of the system?


My response:

Hi Mark,

Yes, this is the inevitable question following the death of someone like Prof. Kufferath. As with the deaths of people like Ed Parker, Bruce Lee, James Mitose, Danny Pai and even Bud Estes, there was varying amount of controversy as to who would replace the fallen leader and carry on their legacy. In some cases, the choice has been clear and in others the waters have been very murky, indeed.

To adequately answer the Sig Kufferath question and put it in the perspective of the entire DZR system, it is important to understand that there are at least four categories of DZR practitioners with respect to this question:
(Note: The titles given below are my own and may not meet your interpretation.)

1. The True Students - These are the people who diligently trained under Prof. Kufferath for many years and gleaned the detailed knowledge he imparted. Among this handful of people, Tony Janovich stands out as the clear leader, based entirely upon his time as a student and his selfless support of his teacher. There is no person practicing DZR today who has more knowledge of the system than Prof. Janovich. It is clear to me and to many others that Tony embodies the Jujitsu given to him by Prof. Kufferath. I think this would be the short answer to your question.

2. The Part-Timers - There are a whole lot of people who spent valuable time with Prof. Kufferath, but cannot really claim to be students of Sig. This includes all the thousands of people who attended any number of seminars given by Sig as well as the people who visited the dojo occasionally. I also consider those people who studied with Sig for a time, quit for whatever reason, and then returned many years later to be in this in this group.

3. The Bystanders - Given the many different lineages of teachers under Prof. Okazaki, it is easy to understand that some groups did not consider Sig to be the head of the system in the first place. Their loyalty is more closely tied to Bud Estes, Ray Law, John Cahill, Wally Jay, Carl Beaver, Jack Wheat, Richard Takamoto, Tony Muran, Bill Ah Moo,Lono Ancho, Joe Holck, etc. From their perspective, everyone must realize that Sig was just another Okazaki student. Now, to be fair, some of these people openly acknowledged Sig as the headmaster of the system while retaining their own autonomy. Most of the current DZR organizations also fall into this category of saying, in essence, that Sig was the most senior Okazaki student teaching prior to his death, but that our own kata, by-laws, organizational hierarchy, etc. will not be affected.

4. The Pretenders - As has been the case with other great martial art teachers, there have been those individuals who hung their own reputations upon the master. They pump up their resumes with claims of long-time, intimate study and arduous training with the teacher. This is often done based upon a one-way relationship between the teacher and the pretender. They may claim all sorts of special relationships with the teacher, but under closer scrutiny it turns out that such relationships were cultivated based upon appeals to the teachers ego or contributions to his finances, but not upon skill, time nor true devotion. Often, these people will say flattering things in front of the teacher, but in private, speak about him in a derogatory manner. Another characteristic of these pretenders is that they will often coerce the master (through money or other means) to give them rank, title or other undeserved positions. In some cases, the pretender's offenses become so severe that the master recognizes it and banishes the student. In other cases, the master dies and the pretender falsely attempts to carry on his flame by claims of legacy, heritage or some other lie. Prof. Kufferath deserved better than this.

Prof. Robert Hudson of the AJJF made a good point in his response when he said that this is a difficult question to answer. Regardless of which side you take in this matter, there will be those who disagree with you. The worst thing anyone can do in this matter is to be apathetic and not take a stand. Hold firm to your beliefs.

George Arrington

Personal Note: While I wish that I could consider myself as a student of Prof. Kufferath, I can only say that I attended seminars and classes that he gave. I am therefore one of his (very infrequent) part-time students. Fortunately, I can count myself as someone to whom Sig considered a friend. The feeling was mutual.

Response by Prof. Bob Hudson, AJJF

Good question Mark and one difficult to answer. You might also find the answers will be different based on a person's version of history.

As far as Professor Sig Kufferath goes, he appointed Professor Tony Janovich as his chief Instructor.
Professor Janovich has all of Prof Kufferath's material and trained with him over 30 years. So he best represents Prof. Kufferath.

As to a person being the most elevated or elected, this has been done by one way only and that is by organization. Prof Kufferath was not appointed by Okazaki, but the AJI. The AJJF was formed here on the mainland and the professors are also elected by the Organization. So, the answer is: many represent Okazaki well. Follow your teacher and do the best you can. Leave your mind open and all should go well.

Other Responses:

I second the notion that this is a difficult question, and that fact is unfortunate for the Danzan Ryu community at large, in my opinion. Many people have very strong opinions and delicate feelings on this matter. I certainly don't mean to offend any of them.

However, I must say that I'm quite shocked by the responses so far. With all due respect to Prof. Janovich, his 30 years of training, dedication, and skill, as he himself is fond of saying, he "wasn't there." It surprises me to find names like Jack Wheat and Wally Jay in the "Bystanders" category. These two people especially come to my mind as slightly more senior than Prof. Janovich. There are people who studied directly with Prof. Okazaki, who have 50 and 60 years experience in his system, and I'm somewhat amazed that has been overlooked. This is not based on rank or age, but having been to the 1948 Okugi class with Prof. Okazaki and still being able to tell those stories and teach those arts leaves quite an impression on me. Perhaps it is true that some people with direct experience from Prof. Okazaki are more interested in other things these days. But surely they are more than "Bystanders."

While Prof. Kufferath was widely recognized as the most senior student of Prof. Okazaki, and his passing will leave us all with a great void, I feel it is important not to overlook the knowledge and experience of others who were right along side Prof. Kufferath in the '40s. I think highly of Prof. Janovich and have personally benefited from his kindness, knowledge, and spare room. But I also think highly of those with the same kindness, knowledge, (spare room where applicable), and 50 or 60 years of selfless dedication and promotion of Prof. Okazaki's system of martial arts and healing.

It is important to recognize that Danzan Ryu has never had a Soke system. Prof. Okazaki, for whatever reason, never appointed anyone as his replacement, and at that point the die was cast. There is room for everyone to interpret the facts in their own way. Until the Danzan Ryu community as a whole (or at least a majority) gets together and decides this is important for our Ryu, I feel the issue of assigning a Soke, or headmaster, or any other title for the same thing, just creates more division within the Ryu. A Soke, or any dedicated student, should be concerned with creating unity within the Ryu, not conflict. If enough people feel this is important, surely the leaders in our system will act on that.

Lacking a universally acknowledged Soke, Danzan Ryu is full of teachers recognized for their knowledge and dedication to the Ryu. Certainly Prof. Kufferath was such a teacher, as is Prof. Janovich. But there are others as well. Because someone is not in the limelight, or has political differences, personality differences, just plain unknown, etc. does not make them less qualified and knowledgeable, and it doesn't mean they don't deserve our respect. I don't mean to slight anyone, only to give credit to all where credit is due.

Sensei Jason Spencer, AJI

I have read the response by Sensei Jason Spencer on the issue of "the question of succession," and once more I’m impressed with this gentleman who demonstrates wisdom beyond his years. His response is both well-reasoned and well-founded.

In the 2 years before the celebration of Ohana 90, there were many changes of attitude among the leaders of Danzan Ryu. Most importantly, there was an openness: a desire to share and to be a part of something larger than one’s respective organization. There was a lessening of fear and suspicion, and a consequent reduction of the aloofness that accompanied it.

In the two years following Ohana 90, the issue of "soke" of the Danzan Ryu system reared its head, causing a backlash by other organizations neither ready or willing to relinquish any authority or autonomy. The attempts at that time were viewed as jockeying for position and were met with disdain by other leaders. Harsh words were spoken within and between the groups. Fortunately, the issue faded but the setback it caused in relations among the organizations was real.

Back in 1990, I watched with awe at how the mutual friendship and respect among the organizations and their leaders blossomed. After so many years of separatism, it was like being on the 50 yard line at Lourdes, watching miracles happen. At that time, I predicted that the organizations would elect someone as a titular head by the year 2000, contingent upon a 10 year history of growing and improving relations.

Year 2000 is upon us, but cooperation among the organizations has muted somewhat in the years since the first Ohana. While the selection of a soke would stand as an ultimate expression of the faith and mutual confidence of the organizations, one to another, to do so prematurely would be, as shown in the past, counterproductive. In the meantime, we are blessed with dedicated and talented organizational leaders to transmit the system and promulgate its principles.

Prof. Bill Fischer, Shoshin Ryu, AJI

The following statement was e-mailed to me from Leslee Kufferath on Wed., Aug. 4, 1999:

George Arrington,

This is a statement from Bruce and I. We Know rumors have been flying around regarding a successor to our father. There will be no successor!

It is our wish that, just as our father continued the teaching of Danzan Ryu and kept Professor Okazaki’s spirit alive, all whose discipline is Danzan Ryu will adhere to the ethics and principles of Danzan Ryu and continue our father’s spirit. Continuing the teachings of Danzan Ryu and Professor Okazaki was important to Dad just as it remains today.

Anyone seeking to be dad’s successor, commits an act of arrogance and disrespect. Bruce and I hope all of you will continue Prof. Okazaki’s and dads Spirit!!

The Kufferath family

My response to Leslee Kufferath, sent Wed., Aug. 4, 1999:

I agree with you that no one can replace your father and he will be sorely missed by the whole Danzan-Ryu community. I believe, however, that you have missed the point of my "Danzan-Ryu Succession" article in at least two areas:

1. While it is true that I and others considered your father as such, it has never been universally agreed across all of the Danzan-Ryu spectrum that he was the headmaster of the system. While some acknowledged him as a senior teacher of the system, they have their own separate leadership hierarchy in place. I believe my article pointed out this fact in detail. The misunderstanding you have about this is that the Danzan-Ryu succession is and has (since Prof. Okazaki's passing in 1951) been unclear. I might also add that it has been an extremely divisive topic in the past few years. Prof. Okazaki left no provisions for a successor except for the leaders and membership of the American Jujitsu Institute in Hawaii. They were the ones who elected your father to be the new "Professor" as a replacement (not Soke) for Danzan-Ryu in 1952. (Soke is the classical Japanese notion of "inheritor" of a martial arts system. Since this typically went to the oldest son and since Hachiro Okazaki was/is still alive, there could be no Soke outside of the Okazaki family.)

2. The question of your father's succession (as opposed to the succession of Danzan-Ryu) was already decided by him many years ago. On multiple occasions, upon direct questioning, your father told me and others that Tony Janovich was his successor. This is first-hand, bona fide testimony. Regardless of anyone's feelings about Tony or any contrary claims, your father laid it out long ago and I accept this statement as fact. In addition to this, whenever I asked your father specific questions regarding fine points of the advanced techniques, his response was, "Ask Tony." To me, that is more than a satisfactory answer regarding the successorship of your father's teaching. The manner in which he passed down the Okazaki Jujutsu system is directly seen in Tony Janovich.

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