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Ten to Go: the art of exercise

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Visiting instructor Nobetsu Tadanori demonstrates a takedown on student Shimizu Shun at the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor. | Benjamin Weatherston

Visiting instructor Nobetsu Tadanori demonstrates a takedown on student Shimizu Shun at the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Ann Arbor. | Benjamin Weatherston

When we think of exercise, some of us automatically picture that treadmill in the basement.

Through my years of experience I have come across many different exercise trends that can be beneficial to health and wellness. However, one particular exercise — or art form — stands out.

Some years ago I was personally looking to take myself to the next level and I was fortunate to cross paths with Nick Suino (“Suino Sensei”), who owns the Japanese Martial Arts Center. Learning jujitsu was life-changing, both physically and mentally, and as you read this interview you’ll see why.

Demond: JMAC celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. How did it all start?

Nick: I owned another martial arts school in East Lansing called ITAMA Dojo, but sold it in 2003 to move to Traverse City. After two and a half years of training on my own, I realized I couldn’t do the kind of high-level martial arts I wanted to without owning a school. The economics in Traverse City just weren’t there, and I had a group of Ann Arbor friends who were very supportive of the idea of a new dojo, so we decided to start JMAC. We opened in the Airport Plaza complex, where Costco is now, and never looked back.

Demond: What’s changed over the past decade?

Nick: We’ve grown a lot since 2006. We have a group of truly talented black belts teaching at JMAC. Beyond that, what’s really exciting are all the relationships we’ve developed. We’re able to host martial arts masters from around the world. So besides being able to learn absolutely top-notch jujitsu, karate, iaido and judo on a daily basis, our students can meet world leaders in martial arts.

Demond: Can you talk a little more about what makes JMAC such a special place to train?

Nick: It starts with our history. We only offer programs with a direct connection to a significant Japanese master. John Gage and I both trained directly with the founder of our jujitsu system, the late Sato Shizuya Sensei. (“Sensei” means teacher in Japanese.) I studied swordsmanship in the home dojo of the late Yamaguchi Katsuo Sensei, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest post World War II swordspersons. And we’ve started a new karate program under the guidance of Nobetsu Tadanori Sensei, a ninth-degree black belt, who’s also the chief director of the International Martial Arts Federation out of Tokyo.

Our instructors are all hand-picked black belts with extensive experience. They’re passionate about their martial arts, but truly interested in helping our students learn. And we’ve been very lucky to have a fantastic group of students who are willing to put in the work to learn exceptional martial arts.

Demond: So, I know that bringing Nobetsu Sensei to Ann Arbor was a big deal for you. Can you tell me a little more about who he is?

Nick: He is a truly great karate master. I think he started when he was 16 years old. He’s now 80. He teaches karate to hundreds of students in the greater Tokyo area and at seminars around the world. Last time we visited him in Tokyo, he taught for six hours straight.

Demond: You called Nobetsu Sensei a great master. What is the “it factor” about somebody who is so accomplished in a traditional martial art. Can you define it?

Nick: That’s actually difficult to answer. At the simplest level, this is a man who has spent 65 years refining technique, so his punches, kicks and blocks are extremely efficient. He can generate an incredible amount of power with very little effort. For those of us trying to raise our game, he’s a great role model. At a higher level, he’s spent decades developing a deep understanding of tactics and strategy. He can advise fighters on how to win the mental game, and his answers are surprisingly simple and direct. At the very highest level, the one that’s most interesting to me, he’s got an intense spiritual bearing that only a tiny fraction of martial artists ever achieve. There’s a vibrancy about him, as though his body, mind and spirit are all aligned … because they are. If there was ever a person who’s a living example of how martial arts can help you live a profound, centered life, he is the one.

Demond: Can someone pick that up in a weekend seminar?

Nick: Nobody can become great in anything worthwhile in one weekend. Becoming great at karate or any other martial art takes consistent practice over years or decades. But we train with people like Nobetsu Sensei for several reasons. One is to get technical advice — how to do karate better. Another is to get inspiration — being around somebody like him helps remind us how much more is possible. And I tell everybody, this is just a guy you want on your resume.

Demond: Who’s the next big visitor to JMAC?

Nick: In August, a man named Satoh Tadayuki is coming for a short visit. Satoh Sensei is a professor of budo (martial arts) at Waseda University in Tokyo. He trained directly with the founder of Tomiki Aikido, the late Tomiki Kenji. He’s much younger and more approachable than Nobetsu Sensei, but he’s in the same class of ability. For people who want to understand the more profound aspects of judo and aikido, this is a guy you want to meet.

Note: JMAC, which has been located on Research Park Drive for six years, is moving to Boardwalk Drive, in the space formerly occupied by One on One Athletic Club. For information: japanesemartialartscenter.com.

Demond Johnson

The author, Demond Johnson, is a retired combat veteran who coordinated the U.S. Army’s Weight Control Program. He owns A2 Fitness Professionals. Contact him at demond@a2fitnesspro.com or 734-222-5080.

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