Yossi Sheriff is the founder of DETANT for Conflict managment and Emotional Regulation. Yossi is the AKBAN Academy headmaster and is an active teacher in all AKBAN’s centers in Israel, Canada, Germany, Greece and soon, Africa and Japan.
I started training more than 40 years ago, at the age of 13. My teacher’s name was Doron Navon. Doron was the first Non-Japanese Shihan in Bujinkan, and a 4th degree black belt in Judo from the Kodokan. Doron Sensei spent many years living in Japan and has acted as the official translator for the Grandmaster of the Bujinkan school, Masaaki Hatzumi.
Under Doron Sensei’s tutelage, I slowly improved. Not only physically and technically, but I also tried hard to gain a better understanding of the spiritual aspects of Doron Sensei teachings. When I eventually started teaching, it was under Doron Sensei’s watchful eyes, and in his dojo. The invaluable feedback I received serves me to this day; more than 30 years later.
During my younger years, I encountered many instances of aggression and violence and later served as a combat paramedic and soldier in the Lebanon war. These intense experiences showed me the limitations of aggression as a means to an end, and highlighted the necessity of certain skills to defend myself and loved ones. These experiences also became a frame for my worldview: Be humane first, and a warrior second. Fists and traditional weapons are minute when compared to enemy fire and bombs. Both traditional martial skills, and modern tactics should be in balance with the humaneness of the practitioner.
The dojo of Doron Navon Sensei was located in a rural area, near my hometown. Great emphasis was placed on training outside in the scorching summer heat, and the dead cold of winter. No air-conditioning or heating existed in the dojo, which, was originally an old chicken house that we ended up renovated ourselves. I remember not only renovating, but also cleaning the mats and dressing rooms for many years as a means of exchange; I did not have much money as a kid. Fortunately for me, the currency of "dojo maintenance" was accepted.
After leaving the army, Doron Sensei gave me a group of teenagers to teach. The input I got from Doron, the wonderful group of students, and talented peer instructors, pushed me to research everything I encountered.
When I traveled to Japan, Doron Sensei took over my training groups in Tel Aviv & Jerusalem. After spending a year in China and Japan, I returned to some very sad news. My teacher decided to stop teaching martial arts entirely and chose to devote himself to solely to meditation; A vow that has been kept to this day.
Facing the reality of operating without a guiding hand, at first, I created an association with the Bujinkan instructors of Israel, and eventually directed the first state-level instructor’s course. Reality & my strive for quality, pushed me to disentangle from what became of Bujinkan in Israel, and I opened a school where I can be responsible for the grading systems & syllabus. With that, I started AKBAN in 1986. To this day I still maintain a deeply respectful relationship with the Bujinkan by supporting their efforts & seminars as much as I can - But, I am based in what I feel is a more extensive syllabus.
AKBAN is now an international community with numerous dojos in Israel, Canada, Germany and Greece. We are, meticulously, on our way to initiate groups in Africa and Australia. I continue to research, both in the academic world, and by documenting our syllabus in a very big wiki. I wrote millions of words on the AKBAN website, describing both the Methodical Pyramid of AKBAN and the framework of techniques and videoed more then 1400 videos that are online as a reference to students and researchers.
Our research into combat stances, as well as breathing patterns, created the Detant organization that teaches emotional regulation through the body to security sector personnel and civilians all over the world.
SURPRISE GODAN TEST
Because all this is very dry and informative, and maybe doesn’t evoke an exact feeling, I thought a brief recollection of my 5th Dan exam might help. In the early 90's, the teacher of my teacher, Soke Masaaki Hatsumi, arrived in Israel for the second time accompanied by a group of Japanese Shihans.
It was a great Ninjutsu seminar... it’s just that, I ended up missing it all. I got sick one day before the seminar. My fever was so high that most of the time I was almost hallucinating. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I just lied in bed for a few days and looked out the window.
During the last day of the seminar, all the veterans met and Moshe Kastiel called me on the phone: “Sheriff, we are having dinner for Sensei before he flies back to Japan. Maybe you can come over?”
“Forget it Kastiel,” I told him, “I’m sick to my bones, it won’t work for me to sit through dinner and chat in Japanese.”
“Sheriff, stop with your nonsense. Tonight at seven we’ll be in the ‘Turquoise’ restaurant in Jaffa. Don’t miss Sensei. You’ll be there.”
Moshe was right - I was there. My spouse helped me get my clothes on, put on a formal jacket and a tie, and drove me to Jaffa. I sat in the restaurant next to her, with high fever. Everybody ate fish and shish kabab. I was sipping slowly mint tea and wiping the sweat off my face.
Throughout dinner, Sensei made jokes and we all had some drinks. All of a sudden he looked at me and said: “Godan!”
I didn’t get it.
I was sitting amongst a group of Japanese & Israeli instructors, so I thought he’s pointing at someone next to me. Doron Navon said to me: “You’ll have your Godan now.”
“Godan” in Japanese means “5th Dan,” a test that’s also called “Sakki” – testing the killer intention. Sensei is standing behind the person who’s taking the test, raising a sword made of bamboo called “Shinai”, closing his eyes and striking down with it. The person taking the test is supposed to dodge it.
I told Doron I can’t do it, sick, next time. Doron heard me but said: “Your Godan is tonight”.
Everyone settled up the check, put on their jackets, and started walking in darkness to the ruined houses between the restaurant and the nearby Arab neighborhood.
There was a piece of flat land there, next to some broken-down walls, and the rising moon lit it beautifully.
I gave my spouse my jacket, took the tie off and set in Seiza.
There was a small problem though - Sensei’s Shinai, soft Bamboo sword, was already packed in the van that was driving them all to the airport, so Uri T. - a sharp student of Doron’s, ran to a pine tree near one of the houses, clung to a big branch and broke it from the trunk. Then he cleaned it off all the small branches and gave it to Hatsumi Sensei.
There was another problem - it was night, the Arab neighborhood was nearby and we were a big group of Japanese and Israelis - a suspicious sight. As I was sitting, the Japanese Shihans, my spouse, and the Israeli instructors, all formed a circle around me so no one could see through. Hatsumi Sensei burst out laughing seeing the huge tree branch Uri handed him. He gave the branch to Doron who then walked behind me. I already has my eyes closed. As I was sitting down, I thought to myself that I should have opened the top button of my collar because I really did not feel well.
For years I’ve trained for this test. Even though Doron said there is no way to prepare for it. I’ve always tried to sharpen the senses in order to hear or feel the strike and the intent behind it, and that’s what I did that night, in old Jaffa. I sat with my senses sharp - ready for everything. At some point I felt something and jumped to the side - when I turned around I saw that nothing happened yet - Doron and Hatsumi stood far from me, looking at me silently, the test hadn’t started yet.
I jumped because I thought I felt them. Then it got very quiet. I sat in seiza as Sensei stood behind me and said: “Leave everything.”
I don’t know what happened to me – suddenly, after many years, after many fist fights and one war, I stopped being prepared – I suddenly found myself to the side, on the ground and heard everybody clapping.
He said: “If you’ll prepare for everything, you’ll be ready for nothing - so prepare for nothing”.
The next morning I woke up healthy.