Often times my students hear my talk about “Real Martial Arts” or a “True Martial Artist”, Grand Master Denny Shaffer is a man who fits that billing. A Grand Master in hard core Isshin-Ryu Karate and lifelong instructor.
Grand Master Shaffer’s accomplishments are too long to list, and his students have proceeded him with the same fighting spirit and success in competition. I first heard of Grand Master Shaffer via his website www.reddragon.com. The site featured many outstanding articles highlighting his wealth of knowledge with a straight forward, no non-sense approach.
After coming across Grand Master Shaffer, I put in a phone call to a good friend of mine Grand Master Ralph Passero. Ralph is one of the most authentic people that I’ve ever come across, not to mention one of the most respected Isshin-Ryu Karate Masters on the East Coast. He referred to Grand Master Shaffer as the “Real Deal”, and said that Shaffer was “as tough as they come”.
After that ringing endorsement, I began to further follow Grand Master Shaffer and always looked forward to any type of communication that we would have – I cherished those communications and viewed them as a learning experiences from a genuine Master from the “Old School” who has continued to grow with the times and develop his style and students.
I consider myself very honored to have this opportunity to interview this True Martial Artist, I hope that you enjoy.
Grand Master Philip Ameris
Thank you so much for doing this interview.
First let me thank you for the honor. I consider you and your group among the leading edge of blending Tradition and progress into your teachings. I'm sure from some of the comments I make today, you will recognize, that I hold some of the information being passed out to Martial arts students today, in very low regard.
Could you please give us some background on your martial arts career?
I was a weightlifter and boxer before the martial arts. It didn't take me long to realize that strength is not only an injury prevention, but an asset in any situation. I also realized that Karate people were not very good with their hands once you closed the kicking down. Along the way I got into the Gym business. It reinforced my beliefs and gave me access to a lot of information and specific programs for lifting techniques that promoted, strength, endurance, speed and flexibility. I’ve owned and operated gyms for 37 years.
Being a follower of your Facebook page and website - it is very inspiring that you still train and teach. Could you let the reader know what inspires you to continue to train and teach martial arts?
I have the same passion. That comes from continuing to train. I train with my students and other students as well their Sensei's and Masters. Not so much the Masters, as so many are in to demonstrating and not doing. It also keeps me in the main stream of what works, what doesn't. As for me, it keeps me evolving as a teacher and fighter, learning to compensate for my age, and all that comes with it.
Could you give us an example of your typical week of your training routine?
Mondays: Teaching and training with my advanced class and competition team.
Tuesday morning: Weight workout and stretching morning
Tuesday night: Teach beginner and intermediate class.
Wednesdays: An early morning class of all comers.
Thursday Night: Beginner /intermediates
Friday: A very heavy weight lifting day. Super setting all body parts 6 sets,with enough weight to limit me to 3 to 5 reps.
Saturday: Open mat. A fun day
Sunday: An interval bag and cardio day, with flexibility work at the end. Very demanding and for a solid nonstop hour. Done right, that is plenty for me
Being involved in the martial arts for several years, what is your opinion of the current state of martial arts?
I think the martial arts as a whole, are better today. There is more information and less hoodoo. I didn't say no hoodoo, because there are still the dogmatic “only one way people”. I think the karate fighting (tournament kumite) is a antithesis of its self. The fighters are better for sure but not as physical as the earlier day fighters. The protective equipment, and rules (face contact and cheap points) driven by insurance and the influx of so many kids have watered down the toughness considerably. The kickboxing or continuous is better because of the use of better hand combinations and conditioning. As far as Jui-jitsu is concerned, I am a semi late comer as I have only been seriously training for 16 years. As far as street usefulness - I believe the Sensei's that teach both competition and self-defense teach the best of the system. Teaching just tournament stuff, is just that. I would hate to send my students in the street with only point fighting karate to defend themselves. Everyone knows what they want to teach but few understand exactly why. It is like having a goal without a purpose or a concept without a philosophy.
Do you consider yourself a traditional martial artist?
In some ways yes. I think Traditional/progressive would describe it best. Some Martial arts systems, styles, etc., have become antiquated due to tradition. It is a mindset due to misguided loyalty, or Senior Masters who refuse to recognize anything they don't already know. Depending on your purpose for teaching or being a student, you have be realistic and progressive. If you want to teach, run, or both - a beautiful kata based on your physical and emotional needs for that activity that is your business. This is my opinion and I choose not to elaborate or debate.
I'll finish with this. If you have been teaching the same thing for the last 30 plus years, then you haven't learned anything in 30 years. Every early master took what he knew and went a step further with it. It got better with each augmentation. But you know, Americans are great innovators and teachers in their own right. The first time someone threw a forward pass, football changed forever. The first jump shot and dunk change basketball forever, and so on with each sport. People are afraid of change. It takes work and it takes admitting you don't know everything. A fate worse than death of some of the Masters, or Grand Masters, some like to be called. You can't hide what you don't know in the street. Martial arts is not a religion, or to be treated like one.
Could you tell us a little bit about your dojo and your students?
It is a Mixed Martial arts dojo. Meaning we study and train a variety of Martial Arts (Kick boxing, Boxing, Isshin-Ryu, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, and Knife) for the purpose of street self-defense. I developed my own system called Dragon Sen-I Jutsu. It means Dragon spirit fighting and Situational street combat. Each of the above are used to fight at different distances and under different situations.
Basically, we are stand up fighters, who try to stay on our feet. But there are exceptions, as you don't always get what you want. We know that 80% of street fights come to a grab/clinch, and 50% go to the ground. If that is your best fight great. If not, Why fight with one bullet in a 6 chamber revolver I help my students individualize the system to fit them personally. We call it, finding your authentic fighting self.
I don't want cookie cutter students. My students are good fighters, and good citizens. They work hard, attend regularly, and are bound by a code of team work and brotherhood. I am a task master, who is demanding, a strong disciplinarian and believe is good solid contact in our training. A large amount of defending one’s self, is being able to talk a punch. Everybody has a plan until they get hit.
Adults and kids are all in the same class. I tell the kids that they will act like adults or learn to act like adults. The kids are never a problem - they really blossom in that atmosphere the parents often are. I don't argue with a parent. They will not get involved in my program. I show them the door immediately.
We are a very close group and sincerely enjoy each other’s company. The comic relief after an exhausting training night, is Red Dragon Chicken Soup. We are brothers and we know it. We don't bow, but make a warrior salute with two taps to the chest.
I have read several posts on your website about articles you have written. Have you ever thought about, or is there a book in the near future?
No, I am too lazy and time is a problem. My friends know all they want about me and what I do. Some know more, so they should write a book. Honestly, if I ventured into the politics, rank, and some of the things I would like to say, I would have too much drama in my life. I have been in this since 1964. I know where all the bones are buried as far as rank goes. If I were to go in to that It would destroy some people who don't deserve their rank, nor do they deserve to be destroyed. Plus I don't give a crap enough. Most of my students barely know what rank I am and don't care. When we are punching, rolling, churnin and burnin, they just care. They just want what we promise them; a useable self-defense that works.
What do you feel makes a good martial arts instructor?
Passion, knowledge, leading from the front, and producing good students. The production of good students as judged by the Martial arts community at large, and the community you teach in, is the only real way to measure your success.
What do you believe makes a good martial arts student?
Being consistent in your training as far as attendance and effort. I can train anyone as long as they attend. It is not a correspondence course, or a drop in place. I don't keep them if they are not good attendees. They are a waste of my teaching time with those who are.
What do you believe makes a successful dojo?
That is every ones idea of how they want to define their dojo, as to what you ultimately want it to represent. Even at that, things change. As my goals and purpose for the dojo changes, I write a new strategy. This happens about every 5 years or so. I also depend on the input of my black belts. We did that a couple of months ago and they changed my mind about a couple of things. Turns out, they were exactly right. However, with my responsibilities, come the need for vision on my part. I need to be able to look around some of the corners, they haven't experienced as yet. Information is all our jobs. Decisions are mine alone.
Do you still teach kata? If so, could you please explain the value of kata?
No I don't. I have a time management situation that doesn't allow time for Kata. I did for years and the guys were very good at it, but it is not what we do or works into our syllabus of instruction.
What does it take to become a black belt training under you as an instructor?
On paper, approx. 2 to 2 1/2 years. Our other black belts and I, test them on everything they have been taught and exposed to. First night is a verbal question answer period from the senior Instructors.
Second night is their demonstration of all the requirements of each belt from yellow to black. We don't have the beat down some dojo's do as part of their test of will. Having been in the advanced class and tournament training for a year or so, they have been through that every week.
What is your opinion of the UFC?
Pro's, is that is has taken the bull crap out of some of the teachings and concepts. You really think that technique or systems of defending yourself, will work in that ring? When you are shown a technique or the coveted "bunkai" do you ever see it in the MMA Ring? Take it to a tournament and give it a try. Line up across from a Jiu-jitsu guy and put him in a wrist lock. Do it in the street and you get your head knocked off by the other hand.
How many exhibitions have I seen, where the uke stands content to let his free arm dangle to his side, while the Master twist his other arm off. Some of the "manufactured" Bunkai, is absurd. When one dimensional fighting systems were not enough to win MMA bouts or even survive with them. The cross training and Mixed Martial Arts training proved their necessity. Not only that, it is realistic enough to judge your ability to defend against it, but it is still not street realistic. MMA has a referee and rules, the Street does not !!
The Con is; it has taken some of the talent from the other Martial arts systems that could make them better than they are. Karate has suffered more than Jiu-jitsu. MMA also has in many instances, attracted people who have no formal/traditional, Martial arts training. Thus bypassing their understanding of respect and humility. But I have the utmost respect and admiration for the guys who train or compete in it. I hope it continues but I see a drop off in talent. Some of the local matches find kids poorly prepared and thrown in there based on their guts and some training.
Too much mouthing, not enough talent, a few more serious injuries, some more substance abuse, and it will fade away or start being regulated more closely.
A lot of the Isshin-Ryu martial arts community has some very tough and hardcore martial artists. What do you attribute this to?
The first generation who were generally Marines and combat Marines at that. The second generation was also very tough to survive some of these guys who taught reality and lots of contact. The generations water down from there. Generally, due to so many high ranking Masters who stopped training long ago.
There are also tournaments, that use to be a slug fest, very lose contact point calling, and lots of rivalries between Dojos. They were fun and you learned a lot. Kids carrying the financial weight for the dojo has changed things. A lot more importance is placed on Kata.
The "fighting" has dwindled to aggressive tag with little resemblance to days of yore. Our Dojo does only continuous kick boxing tournaments and grappling tournaments. It is relative to our street training
Who inspires you in the martial arts, as well as personally?
Well my students of course. They are my inspiration and motivation. There are Martial Artist I respect and look to for information. I would hesitate to start listing them as it is a good way to leave someone out.
What are some of your hobbies or activities outside of martial arts?
It used to be Triathlons and Marathons. Now I have to economize due to the severity of the dojo training and a body that yearns for understanding at times. I also have grand kids and that is for me a passion.
What are some of the martial arts books that you would recommend to our readers?
The Bubishi, and anything on the history of Martial Arts History. It might help put the fascination with tradition in a different prospective.
You are a man of strong principles and known for being upright and straight to the point. Is this something you developed through the martial arts?
Thank you sir; I had great parents and grandparents who were as straight forward, on right and wrong, as you could be. The Military, Martial arts, and two ex-wives, helped me exercise those principals in the face of adversity. I also had the all-time great, do it right the first time Sensei, Mr. Harold Long. He held you to a high standard when you were his black belt and had only two rules; work hard and be loyal to your Sensei. He was the most unforgettable person I've ever met.
How do you see the martial arts in the future?
I don't know. I suspect it will go along much as it is now. The Bruce Lee Movies, Karate Kid, Ninja Turtles, and MMA, have come along and energized it at times. I fear it will be the homeland security issue and the random shootings next. I hate that it would take that to scare, particularly women, into something that they should do anyhow. In my general area, I see how it should be. The good Dojos and Associations that have a variety of good Martial arts to offer, will continue to grow and flourish. The one trick pony, one size fits all, teaching approach, is going to vanish like the slide rule when the calculator came out.