The Iaido Journal  Mar 2004
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John Prough: 
swords, used and appreciated

John Prough and Tanaka sensei
John Prough and Tanaka sensei

The world, whether people realize it or not, moves along through facilitators. People who are rarely out front for admiration, but who make things happen. John Prough is a facilitator. He has spent decades getting people together, introducing students to instructors and instructors to each other. Look for those "six degrees of separation" and you'll likely find John somewhere around number 4.

Ken Morgan for TIJ: John can you give us some personal information, when/where you were born?

John Prough: Detroit at a very early age. Pre War.

TIJ: Married? Kids?

JP: Married twice to Japanese, one daughter from the first time who got her MPA from Columbia last May.

TIJ: Education?

JP: BEE from Univ of Detroit.

TIJ: Career?

JP: Worked in Computers both hardware and software, but mostly software.  Started with computers that were programmed with wires and had tubes.

TIJ: Employment?

JP: Currently employed (technically) by JPMorgan/Chase but I am on Long Term Disability.  Which means they are waiting until I'm 65 so they can dump me.  Chase bought out my company, Lewco Securities, where I had worked for 14 years (a record).  They then closed Lewco at the beginning of 2002.

I worked for about a dozen companies before Lewco.  Longest pre-Lewco was almost 10 years at Control Data (of sacred memory).  My first 5 jobs out of school were in Aerospace so that I could keep that occupational deferment--Jungles with people trying to kill you is not my idea of fun. Besides I spent so much time at sea with the Navy, I felt like I had signed up--just that my pay was better and I didn't have to wear funny uniforms. But that is another long story....

TIJ: I understand that you are an avid collector of Japanese swords, how did you get into that and what are you currently doing with it?

JP: While in Lisbon in the spring of '68, one of the guys on the ship was a gun collector.  He told me that the gun dealer in Estoreal near the mouth of the Targus River had a couple Samurai swords for sale.  So I went out with him and bought my first 2 swords.  Why?  They were relatively cheap ($120 for both of them), seemed to be neat, and I had lots of money coming in with no place to spend it.

After starting iaido, I kept looking for the perfect iaido sword.  At that time it was actually cheaper and easier to find a good shinken then a good mogito. Though when I went to Tokyo in the fall of '76, Mitsuzuka had a good mogito waiting for me.  I bought my first shinken for iaido in a Sotheby's sale in the spring of '78.  I also bid on another lot of 2 swords with another guy from the club.  But, we chickened out at $600--still remember those swords--we should have bid a couple more times.  Ah the fish that gets away problem... BTW the guy that bid with me eventually became a full time sword dealer.  He lives in San Francisco and deals mostly at the top end of the market (5 and 6 figures).

In 1984 the NY Tokenkai held a shinsa with the NTHK from Tokyo.  The Nihon Token Hozon Kai (NTHK) is the oldest sword club in Japan.  I submitted several pieces I had acquired and eventually joined the club.  In '93, we reorganized the club and I ended up as Secretary.  On prodding from a Russian friend at work, I later changed my title to "General Secretary".  A little joke.

A sword shinsa is where a team of experts from Japan come and evaluate swords and fittings on a basis of quality and correctness (the name on the sword matches the work).  There are many swords, even with fairly good quality, that happen to have someone else's name on it.  I became an expert in organizing shinsa when the NTHK returned in '97.  That shinsa went through 1055 items over 4 days.  The customer (dealer or collector) submits items for Kantei (judgement) with a fee paid up front.  In '97 the submittal fee was $50.  If it passes, they then pay for a origami fee of $60.  This will get them a nice hand written paper on the item.  In 2002 we held another shinsa over 3 days with 545 items submitted.  My job was to get all the reservations, assign times, make sure all the various stations were manned and send the papers out when they come back from Japan after checking them for mistakes.  Overall cycle is about 18 months with the major spasm just before and during the shinsa.

My own interest is two fold: as a user and how the sword fits into Japanese culture and history.

TIJ: Do you still have these first swords? What exactly where they?

JP: No I don't have them.  Mitsuzuka talked me out them.  One was mounted as a katana.  It was a big bakumatsu blade with a bad signature, and completely out of polish.  It had a decent iron tsuba on it that was probably worth what I paid for the sword.  The other was a mumei blade in reasonability good polish and mounted as a tachi.

TIJ: Is there a particular blade/piece you find special to you personally?

JP: The first rule for a collector is always buy what you really like--you might just be stuck with it.  So I like all of my swords.  Some a  little more than others--sort of like children I suppose.

TIJ: Excluding martial arts and sword collecting, what do you do that is strictly for yourself? How do you relax?

JP: I used to go to the movies a lot, but I feel they are not as good as they used to be and cost twice as much as they should.

Most of my "entertainment" is going to the Opera and Ballet.  I have had tickets for the NY City Ballet since the mid '70's.  There is a Chinese lady, Ms Mao, who I have been sitting in the same row with at the Metropolitan Opera for over 20 years.  At one time she sat next to me, then she moved and I moved and now we are at opposite ends of the same row.

Then there are books of course...I seem to buy them faster than I read them. I think the last count I had 67 unread books out of 254 on Japan alone.  Now that category "Japan" does not include budo or sword books.  I am making some progress in the backlog.

The other major project underway is acting like a job, but is still interesting, is the "Video".  The world championship for naginata were held for the 3rd time in San Jose State Univ. in Calif. last June.  Like an idiot, I volunteered our dojo to do the video of it.  I hired 3 camera men plus my own.  And, every moment since, I seem to be working on the editing of 40+ hours of tape down to a DVD.  Well I got it down to 3 DVD's with plans for a 4th condensed version.

TIJ: When did you discover your taste for Japanese culture?

JP: When I was in University, they made us Engineers take useless things like philosophy and English to "make us more rounded".  Out of 144 semester hours required for my BEE, 4 of them were electives.  You could elect to pick any two from a huge list of 4--and they were all technical EE courses.  Well one of the courses was in the short story.  Typical academic crap of analyse a story for its deeper meaning.  Well there was a list of stories we were supposed to analyse one from.  So like an engineer, I went to library to see what I could find in the current knowledge base.  Figured there had to be some publish or perish type who had written something about one or more of these stories.  While going thru the card catalogue, I noticed a book called Chinese Short Stories by Lin Yutang.  Curious as to whether it was written in Chinese (it wasn't), I checked it out.  Charming little book of well known (at least in China) stories.  I have a nice paperback version of it.  Well the next semester I had poetry.  More suspect analysis was required.  So back to the library to find a poem to analyse.  Checked Chinese poetry section, and of course there were quite a large number of books on Chinese poetry.  So I checked some out and got to be somewhat of a fan of the genre.  At least as much as a non-Chinese reader can be.  Much of the greatness of the poems are visual and audial and lose a lot in translation.

Well I had started Judo about the same time, so it was natural to visit the Japanese section also.  So the slippery road begins in a lifelong obsession.

TIJ: You've been very active in more than a few martial arts over the years, can you give us a run down on what you've done? Where are you now?

JP: I started Judo in the fall of 1959 at the Fisher YMCA in Detroit.  The motivation was self-defence ignited by a minor incident over the previous summer vacation between my 1st and 2nd years at Univ of Detroit.  The Detroit Judo Club was the largest in the USA at that time with over 500 members.  They ran a series of introduction courses in the Y's.  After a 12 week course, you could join the main dojo on Joy Road in Detroit.  While I was in school, I didn't get to practice all that much--Engineering school is a jealous mistress of your time.  Plus, Joy Road was a 20 minute bus ride away.  Right after I left U of D, they moved the dojo just down the street from it.  In any case, I got more practice in at the YMCA in Atlantic City. U of D is a co-op school, which means I would go to school 3 months and then work 3 months, etc.  My co-op job was with the FAA at the Atlantic City Airport, where the FAA has a research center.  Mostly, worked on an Air Traffic Control System.  Far as I can tell, they are still trying to work the bugs out of it.  After U of D, I went to Univ of Mich. for the start of a MBA.  But, I ran out of money, and joined the work force.  At U of M, we had Dr. Ashida as a Judo inst.  He was a 6-dan at that time.

I moved to Hartford CT in 1964.  The nearest Judo was in the Springfield MA YMCA about 30 miles away.  But, there was one of those new fangled Karate dojo 2 blocks away.  So I did more Karate than Judo for the few months I was in Hartford.  Decided I really didn't like Karate.

Next stop was a job in Huntsville Alabama for Boeing working on the integration of the Apollo Saturn V rocket.  Great job, lousy location.  So I did a lot of Judo since there was precious little else to do in Huntspatch. i.e. 2 movies for 125,000 people and they would get a beach party movie in one and an Elvis movie in the other for a couple weeks at a time.  Wasn't uncommon to drive 100 miles to Nashville or Birmingham to see a decent movie.  Even Atlanta at 200 miles away was a place to check movie schedules.  Climbed to nikyu in Judo while being a semi qualified instructor in the Huntsville YMCAs.

After a couple years got a job back in New London CT working on Polaris Subs.  Got my Shodan in the New London YMCA Judo Club, before I went to sea for a year on a ship mapping the bottom of the N.Atlantic and Med. (in winter--N. Atlantic is too rough).  It was a big ship with lots of extra space.  I bought 18 tatami in London while the ship was docked in Wales. Drove them in a Lorry to Swansea and set them up in the bottom of number 1 hatch.  Had a Judo class every day from 6-7:30pm.  My students really learned ukemi very well.  The tatami really didn't hide the steel deck underneath very well.

Came back from sea and ended up in Utica NY working for GE.  I believe I took over a Judo program that was already in operation at the Utica YMCA. Eventually, I donated my 18 tatami to them.  After about a year, GE had a lay off, and I found myself skiing a lot until the snow melted, and the next stop was working on an Army contract in Okinawa!  But, I did no budo in Okinawa.  The diving was much too attractive.  After a year in Okinawa, moved to Tokyo.  A bunch of the guys I was working with in Okinawa had an idea of designing and selling a computer for the Japanese market.  At that time a protected industry.  But, we were a Japanese company so we should have been ok.  But, MITI found us anyway, and we shut down after a year. Had no time to do any Budo in Tokyo.  Though once when I was in the neighbourhood on business, I stopped in to watch practice for a few moments at the Kodokan.

TIJ: All sorts of time in Japan and no time to do serious training, that must have been disappointing? But you must have trained somewhat? Soak up the culture?

JP: Living in Tokyo, you absorb all kinds of lessons about the Japanese and their culture that books can only hint at.  Reading Benedict gives you a basic intro to the mores of the Japanese, but living there gives you daily examples of them.  Oh it is possible to live in the Gaijin world of Tokyo and have very little contact with the locals.  But, that sort of life requires a rich sponsor to furnish you with the trappings required to isolate you from the Japanese way of life.

One activity that I sort of inherited was "teaching" English.  Someone else was supposed to do it, but they went home.  My secretary said that it was embarrassing to cancel it at the last moment so I was volunteered.  The apartment I was using was ideal for this.  First it was across the street from a train station on the Yamanote line.  Second, it was done in American style, so it was like a quick trip to America for them.  The school would send 12 students at 6pm on Wednesday and another 12 at 7:30pm.  I was suppose to drill them on English conversation out of this really stupid book.  Instead I held an English conversation with them.  Found out a lot about English that I never thought about before.  For example, the question '"What do you do?" will get you mostly blank looks.  At least until one of those who had been there before says the magic word "shigoto".  Then big smiles and something like "I work for Mitsubishi".  Which would get them a follow up of "what type of work do you do for Mitsubishi?"  Like a real conversation.  I had a sign in sheet.  I counted up that over the 6 months I did this course, I had 144 different people pass thru.  Many kept coming back week after week, others I only saw once or twice.  They ranged from Junior High School students to one old guy who was President of his own company.  Most were college students or people who were working and needed more English for their job.  I got paid 10,000 Yen per week in cash by the school, plus a bonus of my first wife.

Anyway, back to the story, I came back and settled in CT again for awhile.  Then went to work for Control Data in NYC.  Dropped into the McBurney YMCA on 23rd St and 7 Ave Judo Program.  The instructor got injured and asked me to take it over.  Which I did for a couple years.  Then someone asked me whether I would step aside for Matsumura to take it over.  Well that was an easy decision.  Matsumura Sensei is one of the best Judo instructors I ever worked with.  I handled the Y interface and let him do the teaching.  That lasted until the mid '80's when the Y decided they didn't want a Judo program.  They later changed they mind, but I never went back.

In the summer of 1976 I decided I should do something about those swords I had picked up in Portugal.  Well NYC has everything if you look hard enough. I first checked out the NY Kendo Club.  Was quite impressed, but I was interested in real swords, not bamboo sticks.  Then I found that the NY Iaikai was holding a 2 week seminar with a visiting hachidan from Tokyo--Mitsuzuka Sensei.  So I signed up.  Mistake!  A 2 week seminar is not the best way to begin.  It was 3 hours training every night and 6 hours each on Saturday and Sunday.  I knew my arms had fallen off after the 3rd day--it was the only explanation as too how they could hurt so much.  But, I had paid my money damn here it is 28 years later--and still swinging a sword.

I was scheduled to go to Tokyo in the fall of '76.  Otani Sensei, the local sponsor of the seminar, and Mitsuzuka Sensei had a disagreement after the seminar.  But, I visited Mitsuzuka's dojo in Tokyo in the fall.  I thus had a separate connection to him.  I continued training at the Iaikai on W 68th St.  This was held in the old 24 precinct police station (built in 1890--furnace last known to work around the time of the Korean War).  The police had moved, and various non-profits were using the building.  We had lots of rather cold space in which to practice.  The floor would turn to ice in November and melt in April.  Only the really dedicated (budo-baka) trained thru the winter months.  We did iaido and jodo.

In 1982 there was a major break up in the NY Iaikai with the result that about half of the dojo left.  Mitsuzuka happened to be sleeping in my living room at the time while he was teaching iaido to aikido people.  So he became our sensei.  Our dojo celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2002.  We have used various places over the years--mostly dance studios--where we pay by the hour.  KHDT is one we have used from the beginning.  We currently have a couple spaces we are also using in Jersey City besides KHDT in NYC.

Mitsuzuka was teaching various aikido people iaido around the country.  He set up his own federation--the SanShinKai.  Eventually, he decided he didn't like coming to NYC, and New Yorkers never go anywhere that they cannot get to on the subway.  So we lost contact with him over time.  Now he is frail and doesn't travel anymore.

Our dojo joined the Kendo Federation in the late 80's.  This was for ranking.  Of course, the US Kendo Federation was not very supportive of iaido and it has always been a discussion every year as to why we bother paying them for nothing or almost nothing.  But, it doesn't cost us much and once in awhile they surprise me.

In 1982, a young Japanese women wandered into the NY Kendo Club and asked about whether there was any naginata training in NYC.  Some of the kendo-ka, said there is now--and you are the instructor.  Sugiyama Sensei was only a shodan and didn't feel very qualified to teach.  But, she got a bunch of us swinging naginata on a regular basis.  Then Tanioka Sensei joined us.  He was one of those very rare Japanese men who do naginata (2% of All Japan Naginata Federation are men).  Sugiyama moved to Australia, where she got a PhD in Computer Art.  Tanioka married a woman who was a godan.  So things were looking up for a few weeks.  Then his wife went back to Japan to take her renshi test.  Tanioka was transferred to Japan before she returned.  So we never saw them again.  This killed the NY Naginata club.  I would pull the naginata out every once in awhile and try and remember what we had learned.  But, there was no organized naginata in NYC during the '90's.

At the same time, a couple of our shinpan had been introduced to Matsumura Sensei (not to be confused with Judo Sensei Matsumura) who is a hachidan in Jodo and has a dojo in Yoyogi Tokyo.  They started to make yearly trips to Tokyo for promotion and training.  The dojo now has 3 godan in jodo and a few others who are shodan or nidan.  Since the kendo federation in the USA still thinks that jodo should have a u in it--they do not regulate it here at all.  In Japan the Kendo federation regulates kendo, iaido and jodo.

Matsumura seminar

We have had members who have moved to Japan and become godan in iaido.  But, currently, in NYC our ranking member is getting ready for yondan.

Last year we had a visiting rokkudan in iaido training with us.  Plus we have been getting yearly visits from Matsuoka Sensei who is now a hachidan. We are planning our first dojo visit to Japan for training in May.

Naginata came back with a jolt in 1999.  I was at the July budo bash in Guelph and Tanaka Sensei, President of the USNF, who knew me from the '80's, told me I would have to do naginata.  Then told me I would have to come to the USNF summer seminar because it was in Long Island that year.  After the LI seminar, she was coming into NYC for a couple days of sightseeing with the guest naginata instructor, Yamauchi Sensei.  So I arranged for a dinner with them to talk about getting naginata going again in NYC.  The gist of it was that we needed someone with rank and experience in NYC full time--Tanaka couldn't support us from the west coast.  I pointed at Yamauchi and joked "we should just pull her passport and keep her here".  Tanaka replied "she is willing".  After getting my jaw off the floor, and a little negotiations, Yamauchi Sensei agreed to come to New York from Shikoku at her own expense from time to time for up to 2 months at a time to teach us naginata.  We only had to feed her and put her up someplace and take her to class.  So I waved my arms and declared the NY Naginata Club back in existence.  I started training people in the basics pending her return.  She flew back to Shikoku at the end of August and was back in NYC at the beginning of Oct.  Stayed for 3 weeks and covered the ECNF fall seminar.  Went back to Japan at the end of Oct. and was back in NYC in December into January.  Was then back in Feb. to May.  About that time, I solved my problem of having  a qualified instructor of naginata in New York--I married her in Nov. 2000.  The level of naginata in the east is getting better every month.  The USNF now has two Kyoshi: Tanaka in the west and Yamauchi in the east.  Of course, Yamauchi is also the sensei for the newly formed Canadian Naginata Federation.

TIJ: To back up a little, it sounds like you has a great time aboard ship, any moments you would like to share?

JP: This job was ideal in many ways: I made a 100% bonus with no place to spend it, and it was practically a requirement to be able to sleep 10-12 hours per day.  The ship was an old Liberty Ship laid down in 1946 of 14,000 tonnes around 350 feet long.  It was used instead of those little 150 foot white hull ships normally used for Oceanography.  This was so that we could stay on station in the N.Atlantic longer before retreating to the Med. for  the winter.  The ship would normally sail for 28 or 32 day cruises with  7 days in port somewhere in Europe.  21 days would have been the perfect size.  28 days you were really ready to come in, and for 32 days it was a real drag.  I joined the ship in Belfast (before the troubles) at the end of June '67.  I remember going thru Irish customs with my 7 suitcases (a trunk full of books that was air freighted out to Belfast) and my skis.  The Irish officials looked at me with a twinkle in their eye and said "planning on doing much skiing here in Ireland?"  So I replied, "Sure where are the slopes?"  He replied, "I think you are going to be sorely disappointed".

In the taxi from the airport to the hotel, I noticed it was a beautiful sunny day.  I left NYC on one of those really unpleasant summer days, temperature and humidity both in the high 90's.  So it was a surprise to read the Belfast paper's headline of "1000's flock to beaches as heat wave reaches 4th day--high temperature of 76 degrees".

Another memory from N.Ireland is driving around a big lake they have called Lough Neagh.  I am driving down this nice road when it comes to this little river maybe 150 feet wide and ends.  The road seemed to continue on the other side, but there was no sign of a bridge.  There was a car parked on the side of the road, so I parked behind him and walked down to the water's edge to see how deep it was.  Thought it might be shallow and I could just drive across.  But, it seemed pretty deep.  There was a little wood dock on both sides of the river and not much else.  So I walked back to the car,  As I passed the other car, the driver asked me "If I be waiting for the ferry?"  I said, "Yeah, I guess I am."  He said "Just go down to the edge and toot your horn and they will come for you."  So being game, I drove down to the little dock and tooted me horn.  I didn't see no ferry.  A old lady comes out of a house across the river (only house in sight) and walks slowly down to the dock on the opposite side from me.  I figure she would yell across that the ferry was out of service or something.  But, no she walks onto her little wooden dock.  Unties a rope, and proceeds to pull part of the dock across the river using a road that I now noticed was under the water and tied at my end.  It was a rope ferry!  I used to eat in a nice place at the mouth of the Connecticut River called the "Rope Ferry Inn".  But, never imagined that such a thing still existed.  The little English Ford's tires (or tyres) that I had rented just fit on the ferry.  Both bumpers were hanging over the water.  So I helped the old lady pull the ferry back across the river.  Cost me 2 shillings.

We sailed out of Belfast and 32 days later came into Lisbon.  I had some bug, and was feeling terrible.  So I thought a nice hotel room without the blower fan across the hall from my room would be a good idea.  Eventually got used to the blower fan and never heard it anymore, but the first cruise it was very noticeable.  Trouble was that Portugal was in the middle of its summer tourist rush.  Couldn't find any place to stay.  As I was driving back into Lisbon from the towns along the mouth of the Targus, I noticed a little class B hotel off to the right and over some small hills (mountains) in a town of the same name--Vale de Lobos.  It was so small that it didn't have a road thru it, only to it.  But, Hotel Vale de Lobos sounded interesting---made me wonder if they still had any wolves in that valley.  So I found the town and hotel easy enough and they did have a room.  I asked them how much and it was 200 escudos a day with 3 meals.  I asked how much without meals.  While they were trying to figure that one out (their normal clients were English and German tourists who ate in the hotel--I don't think the town had any place else to eat anyway).  I said never mind, meal included was fine.  I had then calculated that the room with meals came to about $7 a day and if I skipped a couple--who cares.  I lay down to sleep and the silence was total.  Not a sound anywhere in Vale de Lobos.  The next morning I awoke to a rooster doing his dawn thing.  I walked out into a nice little patio garden with morning glories hanging over my head summoned up a large percentage of my Portuguese with the single word of "larangada".  This got me a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.  After a few days, I was feeling much better and ready to go back to sea.

The next inport was Swansea Wales, which is when I got some tatami in London.  We then put into the US Navy base in Rota Spain for 12 hours after another 32 days at sea,  Being only 12 hours the crew that could go ashore promptly went to the nearest club and got as drunk as fast as possible.  The Navy was not pleased with us--particularly after they brought back the same MSTS sailor for the 3rd time.  We were asked (told) not to come back.  We were only there to drop off some equipment for calibration and for the oceanographers to get off the ship and fly back to Washington.  We were headed to a ship overhaul for 6 weeks in Malta.

The ship's crew consisted of 4 types: MSTS seamen, oceanographers, US Navy techs and tech reps (me and 5 others--me and one other guy from Sperry Gyroscope, 1 fromTRW and 3 from General Instruments).  The ship was the USNS Bowditch.  The USNS indicates a navy ship but not a combatant.  These ships were operated by the Military Sea Transport Service (MSTS) which was the DOD's merchant marine service.   The MSTS ran the basic ship, but the 12 oceanographers from the US Naval Hydrographics Lab called the shots of where we were going.  The MSTS Captain basically had a very easy job--not much to do, but be responsible.  Our Captain, at least until we lost him one inport in Barcelona, was "Yaya" Bronderson.  He was a Swede who never got excited about anything.  If you told him the ship was sinking he most likely would have replied :Ya ya ship is sinking."  He had a fondness for strong spirits.  We normally didn't see him for the first couple weeks at sea.

The technical spaces were manned by US Navy ET's (Electronic Technians).  There were 3 officers (LtCmd, Ensign and Warrant Officer) about 30 ET's and a Corpman (our ship's doctor).  All the ET's were 3rd class Petty Officers and up to Chief Petty Officers.  At one point due to promotions we had 4 CPOs on board.  We were overstocked for the size of the detachment.  By the way, I have never met a dumb CPO.  Even in the non technical ratings, a CPO is a smart cookie.  The Navy guys also liked it as a sea tour in that they got to bring civilian clothes.  Normally sea duty forbids you to have anything other than regulation uniforms. Probably supposed to make it harder to desert from a ship.  But, we were a very quiet ship who didn't want to advertise that naval personnel were aboard.

My day at sea started at 4 PM.  I would get up and take a shower and get dressed.  The steward would come in and make my bed and clean the room usually while I was in the shower.  At 4:30, it was breakfast time for me (everyone else referred to it as dinner).  We normally had 3 choices of entrées.  After dinner I would take a quick look at the ocean--looked just the same as yesterday--and then go down for my Judo class at 6.  After Judo, I usually took a quick shower and headed for the movie at 8pm.  After the movie, I might go and make a snack in the gallery, but eventually hung out in the rec room with the navy guys.  About midnight or so, everyone else seemed to be tired and went to bed.  I went back to my room, turned on the tape recorder, put on the headphones, and started reading one of the 250 pounds of books I had sent out by air to meet the ship.  My boss had told me that the ship had a library, so there was lots to read.  I didn't believe him.  The library consisted of a bunch of paperbacks of mysteries, sci fi and westerns.  With my books plus I got several magazines every month, I had lots to read.  About 5 or 6 in the morning, I went to bed.

But, when we went into dry-dock in Malta I couldn't stay on the ship.  So I had to rough it in a hotel for 6 weeks--on expenses--with nothing to do.  I kept telling the other guests around the pool that I was actually working at the very moment I was sitting there--and protecting the free world at that.  They never were able to grasp the concept.  After 5 weeks, power and a/c were restored to the ship.  I cleaned up my computer, ran diagnostics, and declared it ready for sea. That was the first day of real work I had done since I got on the ship 4 months before.  Then we went out on a seatrial and the idiot from the Brooklyn Navy yard in charge of our contract told me that my computer was not working.  He was wrong.  They were trying to use a Loran station in Turkey instead of the one we normally used in Spain.  Computer was not programmed for Turkey.  I couldn't reprogram it because I didn't have the secret radius of the earth number that gives the military better accuracy than other users of Loran.  He had taken the secret number back to Brooklyn with him the last time he had been on the ship on the grounds we never reprogram the Loran anyway.  So he simply had to wait until we moved farther west in the Med. to test the Loran.  He had an attitude problem--seemed to think I should stand around my computer all day staring at it.  Seemed a particularly stupid idea when there wasn't any power--but when we were operational I wasn't allowed to be near it because of a need to know basis.  Where we were operating was top secret, and my computer printed out where we were every 90 seconds.  Since I only had a need to know when there was something wrong with it, I couldn't be in the room when it was operating normally.  The only time I needed to be in the computer room, I couldn't get in, because the same idiot had not bothered to tell the ship that my top secret clearance had come thru.

The only time I really worked was when I learned an important lesson.  Computers are magic.  Holy water and incantations might work just as well as anything else to fix them. It was Xmas eve, we were bouncing around someplace in the western Med. (not as bad as the N.Atl, but the Med can be nasty also).  One of my ET's was standing watch and decided to do some PM.  I am of the sleeping dog school when it comes to PM.  In any case, the computer started printing out garbage instead of our position.  After 10 days of trying to figure out why the recirculate command was adding bits, we solved the problem by putting all the covers back on.  No it had nothing to do with heat, except indirectly.  There was a small fan in one of the covers that blew air across the power supply.  It was plugged directly into the wall socket.  It didn't matter whether or not it was blowing air in any particular direction.  It could be laying on the floor blowing air against the tile.  But, if you unplugged it--the recirculate command added bits.  Plug it back in, and everyone is happy.  Magic!  That was about it for working.  I figure I actually laboured about 12 days out of the year I was on the Bowditch.  Left the ship in Amsterdam in July of '68.  Traveled around Europe for rest of the summer.  By the way, I also accumulated double vacation time to go with the double pay.  Even went back to Malta for a week to do some more scuba diving.  That is where I first started diving.

TIJ: What martial arts do you currently teach?

JP: Iaido and assist with Naginata

USA Naginata
USA Naginata

TIJ: Do you find it in anyway disappointing that Iaido, Jodo, and Naginata are not more popular in a city the size of New York?

JP: Yes and No.  Yes in that it is disappointing that all those so called martial artists are so insular and uninformed about the broader picture. Many even within the Japanese systems (due to the basic hostility of the Chinese and Korean martial arts leaders for things Japanese, their students are unlikely to consider a Japanese art) of "popular" budo i.e. Judo, Karate and even Kendo are not interested in and often unaware of the more esoteric arts of Jodo, Iaido,  naginata, kenjutsu (various types), jukendo, sojutsu, etc.  Not only do they not know they might be available in the NYC area, they are not aware they exist at all.

No in that I do not consider Budo, particularly the obscure ones, to be something for the masses.  It only holds appeal for a limited number of people in the first place.  And only a limited number of them are likely to want to spend the time, money and effort to persevere in pursuit of that elusive goal of getting some "real understanding" of the art.  I have had many students over the years who have taken Iaido or Jodo up as a "cross training" art.  They get a basic gloss of the art and move on.  Then there are the self deluded who take it up for awhile and convince themselves that they have "mastered it" and move on.  Of course many of them move on to opening up their own schools and/or systems consisting of bits and pieces of whatever they were exposed to without a deep understanding of any of them. These can be recognized quite often based upon their claims of being "street oriented".  I do not miss either of these types.  Only a small number are of the correct mindset to keep digging on the grounds that there is something underneath all this sword waving to be understood if that is really possible.  Besides, there is always the basic underlying trait in my own personality of the Groucho Syndrome (not wanting to belong to any club that would let me in).  Or, if the great unwashed are all rushing that way, then I should be going this other way.  Also reflected in the question of why the hell would 100,000 people want to sit in the freezing cold of winter watching a bunch of overpaid oversized guys push a misshaped ball over some arbitrary line?

TIJ: Does your group have a website where people can get more information?


TIJ: Do you require anything special for people to join your dojo? or can they simply show up?

JP: I can appreciate the idea of restricting entry to the dojo to those dedicated enough to really want to get in by passing thru some arbitrary system as a reflection of the Japanese way of selecting members of a Ryuha. But, this is not followed slavishly by the Japanese themselves.  They have a "case by case" attitude about how they take in people.  Listen to the stories of the various people who have gone to Japan to study.  The only common tread as to how they got into a particular dojo was that they got in. Some came with formal introductions, some walked in the door and asked, some were asked, some took a long time and some no time at all.

My own attitude is to use the American system of letting everyone have a shot at it.  It is up to you to succeed or fail based upon your own abilities and effort.  Sort of like the American vs. Japanese University system.  The Japanese have this horribly difficult entrance exam as a hurdle to getting in to a University but once you are in there is very little you have to do to stay there.  The American system is that it is fairly easy to get into a University (unless you want financial aid) but it is hard to stay in.  A Constant system of testing goes on during your stay to weed out the lazy or incompetent. I tell people who want to train with us that "I set the table--you have to eat it yourself or not".  Of course over the years this has had some interesting results.  Some come in like gangbusters and are making real fast progress.  Others start as a incoherent mess and make little progress.  Which will be around 5 years later is hard to know.  Many of the first group are like shooting stars.  They are spectacular but burn out quickly.  Some of the second group are stubborn and eventually thru constant plodding get to some level of ability.  Most fall by the wayside for the usual reasons: family pressure, job pressure, move away, wrong attitude, change in interests, injury, break in habit...

TIJ: Do you look to instil anything specific in your students?

JP: I am not a missionary.  I only try to pass on what little I think I sort of know to those who might be interested enough to try and stick around long enough to get it.  There are undoubtedly some messages built into the material that I will be passing along, sometimes without knowing it myself. But, I believe all my students are adults who are there because they want to be there.  I very seldom yell at them or pat them on the back.  It is up to them to learn and perfect the material.  I can only show them what I think I know.  They need to sort though that mishmash and figure it out.

TIJ: You guys sound like you were, to paraphrase Bill Mears one of the" Hard Bastards", you must have been very dedicated to what you were doing.

JP: I am not sure I qualify for Bill's HB club--I think of myself as more stubborn then dedicated.

TIJ: The Jodo you practiced years ago had to be some of the first in North America.

JP: Draeger had certainly introduced Jodo by then around to various people.  But, we were probably one of the first regularly scheduled classes in Jodo. .

TIJ: I'm guessing with all of your years of practice you've seen interest in various martial arts come and go, kung fu, karate, ninjitsu etc. Any thoughts on the "fads/trends", the people who propagate such things and what it takes to really last in the business of martial arts?

JP: Stephen Hayes gave a lecture demo in the '70's of his ninja stuff at the Japan Society.  He stated that in the 50's it was Judo, in the 60's it was karate, and that in the '70's it would be ninjutsu where the action would be in the martial arts.  I have my doubts about anything that is the "answer".  I have had students who I feel are teaching in a responsible and useful fashion Budo (usually karate or kung-fu) that are making a nice living at it.  Mostly, they have a business plan and follow it  They are successful, but there are lots of others who are ripping off their students with a mishmash of half digested waza.  Most of them are doing no harm except taking their student's money and giving them the illusion of being a martial artist.  Sort of like watching a magician, you know it is bogus, what appears to happen--but you can enjoy it as entertainment.  I was watching one of those video tapes by Billy Banks.  He was showing some nice exercises that could help get some women into better shape.  The only problem comes when one of them tries to use that stuff in a self-defence mode.

Real budo is a different thing from ordinary life.  Not sure what it is exactly, but I am sure it is different.  By keeping at it maybe a glimmer of understanding may penetrate the fog.  I tell my iaido students that each of the kata have a message built into them.  Sort of like a message in a bottle of an idea passed down to us.  I can show them the kata and push them along to doing it correctly as far as form is concerned.  But, they will have to unlock the secret of the message by doing the kata.  Since the message is non-verbal, I cannot tell you what it is.  You have to practice it for years and years and one day you will suddenly realize you understand something about the kata--the message is starting to be decoded.  There are no short cuts--only hard work.

The main lesson I have learned in running a dojo is that you need two things: being stubborn and taking a vow of poverty

TIJ: What do you personally get out of budo, or martial arts in general?

JP: Well there is the physical activity as an antidote to my normal sloth.  Then there is the thrill when upon those rare occasions I actually do it right. The wonderful thing about Iaido is that it is self directed.  When you have enough experience, you will know that it was "right" or not.  When it comes together it is a very nice feeling of having done something good.  I tell my students that if I could do just one Mae a week correctly--I would be a happy budoka.  Then there is the Sensei factor.  This is the pleasure of watching your students actually "get it".  Of course that is balanced by wondering if they were ever going to "get it".

Is it just a habit?  Habit is very important part of Budo.  Without having your body in the habit, it is very easy to fall by the wayside.  This is why I never consider anyone really a serious student until I see they are in the habit of coming to the dojo.

TIJ: Can you give me one story that stands out in your mind of a special moment in the martial arts for you?

JP: I was riding the subway one day on my way to class with one of my senior students.  When this little old drunk gets on, sits down and lights up a cigarette right under the sign that says no smoking, eating, etc.  I found the juxtaposition of the two quite funny.  Keeping my subway face I couldn't help to look at him and the sign above him a couple times.

Well he noticed me looking and challenged me with "You some kinda of policeman?"  I responded "No, I was just looking at the sign above your head".  So he gets up in a flurry of indignation, and states "I gonna whip your ass."  I found this proposition even funnier since he might have been all of 120 pounds, old, and drunk.  Just then the train pulled into a station.  And, I suggested he might want to step outside.  He stepped out on the platform and pulled up his sleeves ready to go at it.  Now the thing to remember this was not rush hour when crowds effect the service.  That means the doors were open for the normal NY Subway system interval of about 10 seconds.  I of course had no intention of getting up from my seat.  So while he was puffing himself up into a frenzy, reminded me of a Bantam Rooster we used to have at home, the doors closed and the train begin to leave.  I waved bye bye to him standing on the platform.

My student turned to me and remarked "now that was real Budo".  I think of it as one of my finest moments in Budo.

TIJ: Thanks for chatting with us today sensei.

The Proughs discussing things
The Proughs discussing things

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TIN Mar 2004