About Tensoku Ryu

Tensoku Ryu is an interdisciplinary martial art that offers extensive and detailed training in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Philippine martial arts concepts.  While we may at first appear to be a Japanese martial art, we are not.  We teach Japanese concepts early because the associated terminology and skills are widely practiced and we wish our students to be fully conversant in most art forms.  We start with common Japanese skills.  Later we provide detailed instruction in other art forms as well.

We offer instruction in traditional stand up arts that are often associated with Karate, though our teachings go beyond traditional Karate instruction.  We have innumerable conceptual models that we teach which enable students to have a very broad understanding of movement and behaviors.

Instruction begins with fundamental skills so that everyone has a common set of abilities.  We then offer extensive weapons training, sparring, grappling, and what we call Ad Hoc fighting.  We explore theoretical and practical skills in each area so that practitioners develop and extremely broad base of skills.

About Our Name

The word Ryu, in the context in which it applies to us, means a school or system of instruction.  In our case it most specifically refers to a system of instruction. We are a martial arts system and not simply a martial arts school.

The Japanese word Tensoku has multiple meanings including foot binding, regulations, natural law, astronomical observation, and in some instances implies reference to the Japanese Emperor. The only definition that we ascribe to our art is that of natural law. We are definitely not a foot binding school and we have no association with the Japanese Emperor.

So we use the term Tensoku Ryu to mean the martial arts system that studies natural laws and how they relate to the martial arts. These natural laws include physics, biology, anatomy, psychology, and to some extent chemistry and other sciences. You will not need a PhD. in physics to understand our system, but you will find that we explore physics concepts (and related natural laws) to what we teach. For example, we explore angular velocity which explains why a moving stick may have greater speed at one end than the other. Understanding when and how this applies can offer great insights into both how to employ a stick and how to defend yourself against one.

What We Are Not

We are not a Karate, Jujitsu, Judo, or other specific art form.  We are a separate and distinct art that employs many of the skills and abilities found in these other arts.  While we are not a Karate system, you will find most of what is commonly taught in Karate systems in Tensoku Ryu. The same applies to most other common art forms. But we span more than just the Japanese realm of martial arts. We explore any form of martial art whenever possible. So we have no specific roots. As a result we do not refer to ourselves as anything other than Tensoku Ryu.

Fundamental Precepts

In Tensoku Ryu we never wish to harm anyone. We always seek to avoid a conflict whenever possible. If forced to fight we never harm anyone unnecessarily. We wish to be responsible citizens who wish to avoid injury to both ourselves and to others. We understand and appreciate that in a conflict at least one person is going to be injured, perhaps seriously. We do not want that to be us, and we do not wish to do that to someone else unnecessarily.

To that end we employ a model of conflict management that we refer to as ETD.  This stands for Escape, Thwart, and Destroy. Our primary goal in any potential conflict is to escape the situation. This might be accomplished by simply leaving the area, getting someone to intervene on our behalf, tricking an opponent, or manipulating the opponent as they attack to provide us with both the time and opportunity to flee the scene.

Escaping is ideal but it is not always possible. We need other skills for those times when we cannot get away. The next level of conflict management is thwarting an attack. This essentially involves making the opponent’s attack completely ineffective. This could be done by using blocks, but that approach usually comes with a great many problems. Instead we want to use a direct and powerful strategy that makes the opponent incapable of completing their planned assault. This takes some time to learn, but is an effective way to disrupt a conflict in its initial stages.

In some instances you may have little choice but to be brutal.  While we do not wish to harm anyone, this can change quickly if the other person comes at us with a weapon or if several individuals launch a simultaneous attack. Now we have other things to consider. We need to have the skills necessary to ensure an opponent will not be able to continue their assault. We need methods that will ensure the opponent is no longer a potential threat. This is the destructive aspect. We do not wish to use these skills unless they are necessary, but we develop these skills for those rare instances where they are.

Continual Learning

Our art is based on the concept of continual learning. We are not a closed system that thinks our methods and skills are ideal and every other system is inferior. We hold the opposite view. All martial arts and martial arts systems are fabulous (well, for the most part, anyway). As a result we do not compete with nor downplay other martial arts styles. We instead wish to learn from them at every opportunity.

This fits nicely with our model of continual learning. We would expect our practitioners to notice when another martial art style performs a Kata differently than we perform it. There is much to learn when examining these differences. The other martial art has a specific reason for doing the Kata in the manner they have selected. It is to our benefit to understand this reasoning and to learn to appreciate the benefits of the other style’s approach.

But this is a minor example of using the continual learning model. Our system is quite vast. Students learn in a continual manner throughout their span of training. Those who spend their entire life learning our system will forever find new things to explore and appreciate. There is no limit to martial arts training and therefore there is no limit to Tensoku Ryu. We base our entire model of learning on the idea that learning is growth. If you wish to grow in the martial arts, and in life, you must continually learn.

We spend a good deal of time teaching our students. But our ultimate goal is to eventually set the student adrift so that he or she can learn on their own. Ultimately the best teacher is oneself. Our primary purpose is to enable students to have sufficient understanding and knowledge so that they can begin to effectively teach themselves. That is our primary measure of success.

Weapons Training

Tensoku Ryu offers instruction in a large number of weapons. Initially these are largely various wooden weapons, but later students study weapons made of metal. Here is a list of the weapons students learn as they progress through our training program.

  • Jo (4′ long staff)
  • Bo (6′ long staff)
  • Hanbo (3′ long staff)
  • Tambo (short club)
  • Yantok (Escrima stick)
  • Yawara (small stick)
  • Tonfa (billy club)
  • Sai (forked metal weapon)
  • Nunchaku (two sticks on a string or chain)
  • Bokken (wooden sword)
  • Tanto and Knife
  • Katana (Japanese sword)
  • Others (student’s interest)


We teach quite a few Kata. Many people do not like Kata, but we believe this is because Kata are often taught in a discouraging manner. In many martial arts styles students practice Kata to achieve an ideal pattern of movement. Every time the Kata is practiced the goal is to perform the Kata as closely as possible to the ideal standard. This means that while there may be small incremental improvements over time, the Kata does not vary significantly between any two performances.

In Tensoku Ryu we see this quite differently.  We view Kata as a lifelong learning tool.  In order for you to use something for the rest of your life it needs to be interesting.  That’s why we teach students that our goal is to do each Kata completely differently every time. No two performances of the Kata should be the same.

We expect students who have recently learned a Kata to perform it generally as they were taught.  This is necessary to ensure the student understands the basic movements and patterns in the Kata.  But later we encourage students to depart from the original thinking and to employ different and more advanced concepts to the Kata.  What had been thought of as a block might instead by envisioned as a strike, parry, manipulation, throw, escape, thwarting action, or other application.  Varying how you perceive a movement being employed changes the Kata and allows you to envision alternate uses for similar movements.  This is very instructional over time.  It also relieves boredom because you are teaching yourself.  That is our ultimate goal – enable practitioners to eventually teach themselves.  Kata are an important element in that quest.


Tensoku Ryu is, at its heart, a conceptual art.  The art is based on literally hundreds of different concepts.  Some of these concepts are easy to learn and adopt.  Some can be quite mentally challenging.  But as practitioners master these concepts they discover they can move for positive effect without having to think about what they are doing.  They know what will work because they understand the fundamental concepts and how to employ them immediately. In the midst of a conflict the practitioner can feel how he or she and the opponent are oriented and instantly know what conceptual skills can be employed to good effect at that instant.

At the White Belt level students are introduced to the most fundamental concepts.  These are critical concepts that the student will utilize throughout their training.  They form the basis for understanding future instruction and for understanding general principle and natural laws. These fundamental concepts are used extensively and become an innate part of the Tensoku Ryu lexicon.

With each new belt students learn an entirely new set of concepts.  Often one concept is built on top of or relates directly to another concept.  At other times the new concept is unrelated to anything previously discussed.  But over time all concepts converge to work in concert.  Of the hundreds of concepts you learn as a student you will likely remember nearly all of them ten years later.  That is not likely with most other instructional models.

Throwing and Locking

Beginning in the White Belt we begin working on throwing (Nage Waza) and locking (Kansetsu Waza) skills. But for students at this level we are concerned not with the ability to perform these skills, but to protect yourself should you encounter them.  This is why at the White Belt level we teach students how to fall properly and how to roll in the event they are forced into this situation.  These are essential skills each student will come to appreciate later.

Once a student has achieved Yellow Belt we assume that a) they have some idea how to fall properly, and b) they are not yet proficient at it.  As a result we throw students at this level in a manner that allows them to comfortably practice these activities.  We do not violently throw a Yellow Belt student.  We realize they are still learning and encourage them to hone this skills in anticipation of future needs.

At Orange Belt level two things happen.  First it is assumed that an Orange Belt knows how to fall properly.  We increase the power and nature of throwing to further challenge (but not injure) the student.  Secondly, students at this level begin to practice throwing.

We teach two different forms of throwing. The first are what we call Uprooting Throws.  These throws take a person off of their feet in some manner, often requiring some form of lifting or trapping of the opponent. These are commonly the throws used in Judo and Jujitsu.

The second form are what we refer to as Rooted Throws.  These throws do not require any lifting but instead rely on noting how and where a person has distributed their weight and then using this to our immediate advantage. Once a person becomes accustomed to this form of throwing they can usually take someone to the ground very quickly and with very little effort (this can vary with the skill level of the opponent).

Joint locks are taught throughout the curriculum both as singular skills and in conjunction with Nage Waza.  All of these skills are also employed and further developed as students begin grappling.

Conflict Skills

We think it is important to not only know how to do something, but it is equally important to know how to do it in a stressful situation.  Real life stress is hard to duplicate.  But we can get close with various forms of training.

A key training element is sparring.  We offer three different forms of sparring.  The first is Kumite or point fighting.  This is perhaps the most widely practice form of sparring in martial arts tournaments.  It enables participants to work on skills such as strike or kick placement, speed and efficiency of movement, escaping, guarding, and related abilities.  Kumite will quickly let you know that you do no keep your guard in a viable location. It will also teach you the benefits of blocking, counter striking, and escaping.

The second form of sparring is full contact sparring.  This begins to approach what might occur in a physical conflict, though it would be improper to say it is a close simulation.  Nonetheless it is closer to a real conflict than practicing drills with a partner.  In full contact sparring the other person is really trying to hit you.  You learn quickly how to protect yourself and take advantage of an opponent’s momentary weakness.

Some people can’t wait to start full contact sparring.  Other people dread it intensely.  For the latter group of students (who have perfectly reasonable views) we offer a third sparring option.  This is essentially sparring with a partner without any (intentional) contact.  This is less effective than full contact sparring because it does not induce the same level of stress training, but it can help a student understand the dynamics of a conflict and how to both defend oneself and take advantage of an opening.  We do not require anyone to participate in a sparring activity that they find highly objectionable.

Intermediate level students participate in sparring and also eventually being grappling.  Students begin working on fundamental grappling skills and drills initially, and then advance to more complex skills, strategies, and techniques.  We want to ensure that any Tensoku Ryu advanced student knows what to do in the event they find themselves on the ground in the midst of a heated conflict.

Cultural Aspects

We are not a Japanese martial art. We want to be very clear about that. We do not claim some long and ancient ancestry path back to an ancient Samurai or monk. We have studied and learned a variety of art forms and teach as much of that material as possible to our students.  It seems like the right thing to do.

When students first begin training in Tensoku Ryu they are introduced to an extensive amount of Japanese terminology, customs, skills, and weaponry. This is done deliberately because much of what is available on the Internet, in books, and via other sources focuses on these skills. We believe it is important that our practitioners immediately recognize terms such as Age Uke, Mae Geri, and Shiho Nage. This allows our practitioners to hold a knowledgeable discussion with a great many other martial artists. We think that is a critical benefit for any practitioner.

The vast majority of training through Brown Belt has a predominantly Japanese aspect to it.  Most of the skills, terminology, and thought processes have a decidedly Japanese flavor (some hard core Japanese practitioners are like to differ).  But along the way other cultural skills and concepts are introduced as well. This includes things like Escrima weapons training.

But the major shock to Tensoku Ryu practitioners normally comes when they have achieved their Black Belt. The entire system will suddenly look and feel quite different to them. Now the art has a distinctively Chinese flavor.  Other cultural elements are still present, but now the focus is on the Chinese approach to training.  Now students practice various forms of Tai Chi Chuan, Praying Mantis (and other Chinese systems), and a variety of exercises intended to maintain muscle tone and good health through the remainder of the person’s life.

You might think of this as a two stage process. First the practitioner learns to be a strong and powerful warrior (when needed). Then the student learns to be a confident and healthy aging warrior.  The student may spend the remainder of his or her days learning, practicing and honing the skills necessary to achieve the latter.