Thursday, May 3, 2012

Souke Michael Lamonica

On August fifth, 1997, the Kokodo-Renmei (an umbrella organization for jujitsu consisting in hakko-Ryu shihans from around the world). Appointed three directors to carry on the art of Jujitsu as taught by Souke Ryuho Okuyama (1901-1987. In a gesture of unity and respect for their teacher’s memory, the North/South American and European directors agreed to call their styles Hakko Denshin-Ryu or The Heart of the Eighth Light. This past weekend, the North/South American director, Souke Michael Lamonica, visited Grand Rapids to give a shiatsu basic qualification seminar. In my next post I will concentrate on a detailed description of basic shiatsu as well as how it applies to the practice of jujitsu. First, however, I would like to dedicate a post to the story of Souke Lamonica.

I honestly find myself lacking the words adequate to describe Souke Michael Lamonica. I have met some amazing sensei throughout my travels, in both the U.S. and Japan, and Souke Lamonica deserves recognition as being among the best. Humble, humorous and, above all, an expert in the art of aiki-jujitsu, Souke Lamonica has had a life well worthy of a biography. I strive here to share some small part of his character and active life in the martial arts.

Michael Lamonica began training in the martial arts while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1950s. Beginning with Chinese Kempo and Judo, Lamonica soon met James Benko—the then head of U.S. Hakko-Ryu jujitsu—and quickly discovered the value of Jujitsu as a form of self defense. While working as a police officer in Akron Ohio, Lamonica was shot in the face. Because the gun had been knocked slightly askew at the moment of firing, the bullet entered his cheek, ricocheted off the bone, and exited through his temple. His assailant then put the gun to Lamonica’s forehead, intending that a second shot would not miss. Lamonica, however, used a variation of the jujitsu technique known as “Kanoha” to disarm and secure his attacker. Holding his attacker fast, Lamonica then marched his would-be murderer to a nearby phone where he could call for police backup.

Incredibly, Souke Lamonica returned to work after only two days of rest. As he told me jokingly, “What bothered me most was that my uniform was ruined—it was covered in blood. You see, at the time, we had to buy our own uniforms on the force.”

It was at this time that Lamonica dedicated his life to the study of Hakko-Ryu Jujitsu. It was jujitsu, after all, that saved his life. In 1975 Lamonica traveled for the first time to Japan, where he trained with the Tokyo riot police. The following year he returned and again the year after. It was in Japan where Lamonica became a trusted friend of the founder of Hakko-ryu, Shodai Ryuho Okuyama. Lamonica became the highest ranked non-oriental practitioner of Hakko-Ryu and eventually received menkyo-kaiden (literally: license and initiation, meaning a person has received the qualification of having been initiated into the deepest secrets of an art). Menkyo-kaiden is a very old, very traditional practice from before the time of “dan” rankings. The menkyo-kaiden comes in the form of hand scrolls that are passed from a master to his most trusted students.
Michael Lamonica served for twenty-one years on the Akron Police Force. He then served another fifteen years as chief of police nearer to his home in Fairlawn. Over the course of his career, Lamonica has trained with both the FBI and CIA as well as teaching an accredited personal defense course with his wife, Chris, at Akron University.

I have rarely met a Sensei who could so captivate his students. As we watched Souke casually disable our Sensei, Matt Pinard, it was encredible to see how little effort is needed when Jujitsu is practiced correctly. After the seminar, I asked Souke if I might film a short video with him. In this clip:
Souke Lamonica demonstrating seated Mune Osaidori

Pay attention to the short and small movements that create such powerful techniques. I asked Souke to demonstrate a seated technique because, especially when seated, the small movements become most readily apparent. This technique—Mune Osaidori—is part of the “shodan waza” or first degree techniques. Though this situation might not occur in a real-world situation, waza are designed to emphasize specific aspects of jujitsu. In the following clip, I am now performing the same seated waza to Souke. My apologies for the background noise—these videos were taken at the conclusion of our three-day shiatsu seminar—it is not so necessary to hear what is being said. At the end of this clip, Souke’s wife, Chris, assists me on the hand positioning for the pin. As with most techniques in Jujitsu, the pin is made stronger by a pushing and pulling movement. While I push against Souke’s knuckles—effectively bending his hand toward his own arm—I am also using my little finger on his palm to pull outward.

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