For two years, prior to opening Kogen Dojo, a few training brothers and myself trained at my house in my basement dojo, Seiya Dojo. When the group moved into Seiya Dojo, I had given up my Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) training for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to to develop the Taikyoku Budo program. Secondly, I no longer had a BJJ teacher. After a while, however, I began to miss rolling (grappling for submissions in BJJ) and so I would invite a guest BJJ instructor into the dojo from time to time.
As things developed, I wanted more consistency, so I invited my friend (Dwayne) Bowie in to teach every Wednesday night. It was a casual arrangement. I would teach a standing technique and he would teach a ground technique that complimented it. Then we would all roll. There was a special synergy between us and the group began developing very quickly. Several of the folks who trained at Seiya Dojo are now core members of Kogen Dojo.
Bowie and I began talking about what we had at Seiya Dojo and how we wanted to open a school together someday. One thing we agreed on, as a fundamental principle of whatever we were going to do next, was that we wanted the BJJ program to be based around self-defense, something lacking in our area and in our own training. At first, we were going to try to attain ‘Gracie Garage’ status at Seiya Dojo, with that evolving into a Gracie Academy ‘Certified Training Center’ (CTC) once we found a commercial space.
As things progressed, a name kept coming up in our conversations. Mike Stewart Jr. ran a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school about thirty minutes from us and his school was focused on the Gracie self-defense curriculum, as taught to Mike and his team by Relson Gracie. I knew of Mike because he had hosted a seminar which I attended featuring both Relson Gracie and Pedro Sauer at his school a year or so before that. Mike had a very active social media presence and both Bowie and I listened to a podcast where Paul Tokgozoglu interviewed Mike about his jiu-jitsu career and highly successful schools.
We decided to seek MIke out for business advice and, one thing led to another, we eventually opened up Kogen Dojo as an affiliate of Mike and his brother Jordan’s Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Maryland organization. The way Mike’s classes were run, especially the kids classes, the diverse group of instructors he had teaching his classes, as well as the business savvy he exhibited all impressed us greatly. The thing that sold me personally on the affiliation, however, was an interaction I had with Mike one morning in November of 2016.
On this particular Sunday, Mike happened to be in our area and popped into Seiya Dojo in the middle of a Taikyoku Budo class. He was not only enthusiastic, but also extremely generous and respectful about what we were doing, hakama and all. We were stuck on how to follow through on a technique called kaiten nage (rotary or wheel throw, also known as katasukashi in sumo). We wanted a submission that flowed naturally from the throw and he showed us how to set up a d’arce choke (a head-and-arm choke variation) he really liked. The interaction reminded me of the synergy Bowie and I had together and made me extremely hopeful about the future.
– Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu