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JBSA News
NEWS | Sept. 17, 2013

Warrior Attitude Matters

By Bekah Clark 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Col. James Gifford was 12 years old when the popular 70s and 80s TV series, Kung Fu Theater, was at its height.

"Bruce Lee's 'Enter the Dragon' - watching him fight was fascinating," said Gifford, "I was hooked; I had to learn how. I didn't know anything about it, but I knew it was for me so I rode my bike up to the YMCA and found a class."

More than three decades later, Gifford, who's now the Vice Commander of the 12th Flying Training Wing, still practices the martial arts. In fact, he was promoted to Hachidan, or eighth degree black belt, in Shinmei Shorin-Ryu Karatejutsu and Shinto Yoshin-Ryu Jujitsu on August 10. Both are classical styles of martial arts from Okinawa and Japan.

According to Gifford, the history and combat effectiveness are what have kept his passion for the classical Okinawan styles for so many years.

"We take history very seriously," he said. "I can tell you exactly where, when, who my karate style come from. That's important because, historically, the karate I practice is very close to the karate practiced in Okinawa in the 1800s. This type of karate was very functional and very practical."

This functionality is what keeps the Okinawan arts so solidly linked to their historical roots in life or death combat, which is exactly what they were designed for.

According to the Shorin-Ryu website, the Okinawan arts were secretive through the late 1800s. To protect themselves from invaders, the Okinawans were forced to use the only weapons they had - their bodies and basic farming tools. The Okinawan arts remained secret for the same reason U.S. military operational security exists: to keep tactics, techniques and procedures out of enemy hands.

Their historic roots in combat are also what differentiate some Okinawan combative arts from sport type martial arts.

According to Gifford, both the classical and sport forms of martial arts can provide useful self-defense techniques, but classical Okinawan styles focus on combat effectiveness rather than the athletic flare found in some sport-oriented styles.

"We keep our arts simple because it's based off a historically proven view of real combat," said Gifford. "It's very similar to Marine Corps or Army sniper school - one shot, one kill."

Martial arts build warrior ethos, focus and self-confidence, making them a natural thing to study for military members.

Gifford stated that according to Miyamoto Musashi, samurais practiced all day long, every day and would seek perfection in everything they did, from putting on sandals to becoming the perfect swordsman.

"If you want to be good at your job you have to spend a lot of time practicing it," Gifford said. "Why are our aviators the best in the world? Simple; because we train the hardest and provide the best instruction and equipment available."

But Gifford is quick to admit that a warrior ethos is perishable; "you have to continue to inject warrior ethos at every opportunity. It is easily forgotten because daily details tend to take us away from it."

"Warrior ethos must matter to us," he said. "The day you forget that the bearing of arms is the single greatest responsibility the nation can bestow on a person is the day you should find another occupation."

"In the military you are expected to defend liberty. Regardless of your specific job or AFSC - you're still in it to protect liberty. Like it or not, liberty is bought through blood. That's why warrior ethos matters."