'The way of the stick' Jodo: The 400-year-old martial art is practiced by an estimated 20,000 people in Japan but fewer than 100 in the United States. Some of them are in Catonsville.

January 11, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the crisp air of a martial arts dojo, the room is still as one man flows toward another and thrusts his wooden sword.

"Kia," his opponent yells as he blocks the slicing thrust with a 5-foot-long wooden stick.

It is a scene one might expect to find on the other side of the globe, but the ancient Japanese martial of jodo is being practiced in Catonsville.

Every Sunday morning at the Baltimore Judo Club, a group of martial arts enthusiasts meets to learn and practice jodo, which means "the way of the stick," and iaido, the art of drawing and cutting with a sword.

A 400-year-old art developed in feudal Japan by peasants to defend themselves against robbers, jodo is practiced in this country by only a few groups that are dedicated to preserving the Eastern tradition.

"Jodo is just beginning to be learned and practiced in this country," said Dr. William Dvorine, a Lutherville dermatologist who instructs the class. "I don't charge for the classes because I teach it for the love of it."

Dr. Dvorine has been studying jodo since 1990 and is one of the few Westerners who has studied it under a Japanese sensei.

One recent Sunday morning at the rented practice hall, eight men met, all wearing the standard clothing of a gi and a hakama -- a cotton jacket secured around the waist with a belt, and a pair of loose pants. They bowed before stepping onto a huge red mat to begin their exercises. A participant must learn the 12 basic movements of jodo in preparation for learning Jojutso, or stick fighting.

Dr. Dvorine estimates that about 20,000 people practice jodo in Japan and fewer than 100 in the United States. Jodo is formal and there is a respectful silence in the hall as students go through their movements.

Robert Deepe, 32, said he was attracted to jodo because it teaches precision and concentration while also giving a glance into the Eastern culture.

Dan Simons, 44, hopes to travel to Japan some day to participate in the jodo exams that are given twice a year to determine rank.

"I'd love to go," said Mr. Simons, who has been studying various martial arts for 24 years. "Martial arts gets in your blood and you keep going and going."

Chuck Buhs travels to Catonsville every week from his home in Washington to take Dr. Dvorine's class in iaido, the sword art derived from the strict code of samurai conduct. A samurai warrior would draw his sword only if he intended to use it and would return the weapon to his sheath only after the blood had been cleaned from it.

Mr. Buhs became interested in iaido after a friend gave him a sword as a gift for being a member of a wedding party. He kept that metal sword for decoration and purchased another one for $400 to use for classes.

"The blade isn't very sharp, but I have cut myself a few times," Mr. Buhs said. "You try to focus your technique and make it as smooth and as precise as possible."

As the "warriors" slice the air with their weapons and ceremonially flick the "blood" from their blades, Robert B. Wongus, 11, imitates their moves with a wooden sword. The sixth-grader, who is taking the class with his father, Robert W. Wongus, said it is educational and fun.

"I'm learning about different styles and cultures," young Robert said. "It's teaching me discipline."

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