Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Interview with Ellis Amdur

Falling Leaves Kung Fu conducted an interview with Ellis Amdur, a senior practitioner of classical Japanese martial arts, scholar and a prolific author. Below is an excerpt from the introduction. The full article may be read here.


Join me on a remarkable journey through the enchanting martial arts career of Ellis Amdur. From his humble beginnings with backyard karate to mastering multiple styles of Koryū, Amdur’s personal and professional life has been shaped by his deep fascination with martial arts. 

His experiences across multiple disciplines offer unique insights into both the esoteric and practical realms of martial arts. Dive into the world of Koryū and discover its relevance to real-world scenarios through Ellis Amdur’s captivating narrative.

Ellis Amdur

Ellis’s journey began like many others, born out of defeat. As he puts it, he was “like a lot of people [who] lost a fight and started with backyard karate.” This initial brush with martial arts sparked a fascination that would shape the future course of his life.

His first brush with Kung Fu was when he found himself training with an offshoot of Alan Lee, a pioneering instructor of Chinese martial arts on the east coast who opened the discipline to non-Chinese individuals.

However, his journey was just beginning. Ellis was drawn to an Aikido dojo, stating that he “really got interested in Japanese martial arts.” He appreciated their “clean lines” and became “really fascinated with Aikido.” At one point, Ellis found himself living in the famous Bond Street dojo in New York after college and eventually relocated to Japan to continue his training. Ellis found Aikido “fascinating” due to its “intersection of modernity and tradition” and the culture of a “hodgepodge of sort of Neo-Shinto spiritual mania.”

In 1976, his path led him to Araki-ryū 荒木流, a Koryū. The term “koryū” (古流) describes traditional Japanese martial arts established before the Meiji Restoration in 1867. 

– 古 (Ko), which means “old” or “ancient.”
– 流 (Ryu), which means “school” or “style.” 

Thus, “Koryū” is translated to “ancient school” or “old style,” referring to the classical martial arts of Japan.

Araki-ryū was intriguing for its no-nonsense, close-quarter fighting: a blend of weapons and hand-to-hand combat. Ellis remarked, “To put it one way… it kind of taps into a feral mindset. It’s very violent. It’s violent in its mindset and very practical with its techniques.”

Amdur described his Araki-ryū teacher as an enigmatic and difficult man who, as a result, only had a few students. However, he immediately recognized Ellis’s unique character; his teacher once told him: “When we met, I looked in your eyes, and I saw you are a strange American. And I’m a strange Japanese, so I thought having you around might be interesting.” 

Two years later, he started learning Tenshin-Bukō-ryū 天真武甲流兵法 with his (then) wife, under a 60-year-old Japanese woman named Nitta Suzuyo. He found transitioning from the violent Araki-ryū to the more formal Tenshin-ryū challenging but rewarding.

His thirst for knowledge didn’t stop there. He expanded his horizons, cross-training in Judo, Chinese martial arts like Xingyiquan and Tongbeiquan, and even Muay Thai. Upon returning to the States, his main interests became internal strength training and Arrestling, a mixed martial art designed specifically for police interactions by Don Gulla. 

Grappling For Law Enforcement

In my conversation with Ellis, I was deeply intrigued by his perspective on law enforcement training. He shed light on a critical aspect – the necessity of specific martial arts techniques tailored for real-world scenarios encountered by police officers. As he elaborated, it’s not about merely fending off someone trying to grab your firearm or dealing with a close-range knife threat. It’s about abiding by “certain rules of engagement,” depending on the immediacy of the threat as well. 

Ellis drove home a crucial point, one that runs contrary to some common perceptions. The idea that every police officer should master Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), he cautioned, doesn’t hold water. It’s not that BJJ isn’t a valuable discipline – Ellis himself is “grateful for the little bit” he’s learned. However, he emphasized that it isn’t the cure-all solution for law enforcement. Instead, the training should be specific to the “professional role of the law enforcement officer.”

This insight resonated with my awareness of the perspectives shared by individuals like John Lovell from the Warrior Poet Society. John, a former Special Forces operator, echoes the same sentiment. While he loves BJJ, he recognizes that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, especially for street interactions or riots. Instead, different skill sets are essential for various scenarios.


Ellis’s journey into martial arts is deeply entwined with two aforementioned styles, Araki-ryū and Bukō-ryū. His words evoked the fascinating dichotomy between these two arts, each carrying a unique mindset and philosophy.



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