Born in New Jersey, Robert Van Valkenburgh moved to Annapolis, Maryland in 1997 and has called the Annapolis area his home ever since. Robert currently lives with his wife and daughter in Severna Park, just outside of Annapolis, where he is co-owner of Kogen Dojo.
Robert’s martial art journey began in the late 90’s when he was introduced to traditional Korean hapkido and his first teacher, Joe Sheya, by a friend. Through that same friend, Robert was also introduced to meditation and Eastern philosophy. Through hapkido and Joe Sheya, Robert was introduced to Reiki and other holistic healing arts. For Joe Sheya, hapkido was a means by which he could transcend the violence he had grown up with in his youth, but reiki brought his life full circle, giving him a medium through which he could actually heal people. This holistic approach is what would later become the inspiration for Robert’s Holistic Budo concept.
After receiving his black belt in hapkido and his master-level certification in reiki, Robert began cross-training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a way to test himself and become a more formidable martial artist. Cross-training turned into a passion for jiu-jitsu, especially the live-resistance sparring aspect and Robert eventually joined Mike and Jordan Stewart’s Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Maryland organization, a Relson Gracie affiliate, under which he still trains and teaches today.
Robert’s hapkido practice led him to begin researching the roots of the art. This search pointed toward the Japanese martial art Daito-ryu aikijujutsu and its founder Takeda Sokaku. While the relationship between hapkido’s founder Choi Yong Sul and Takeda are clouded in mystery, the technical relationship between the arts is obvious. This relationship is something that martial artist and author/historian Ellis Amdur wrote about in Aikido Journal, in an article titled A Conversation with Daito-ryu’s Other Child that Robert stumbled upon in his hapkido research.
This article led Robert to Amdur’s other writings, specifically a book called Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei’s Power that Amdur had just finished writing. HIPS (short for Hidden in Plain Sight) was a groundbreaking work, focusing on the relationship between Takeda Sokaku, Ueshiba Morihei (the founder of aikido), and Chinese internal strength (often called aiki or kokyu in Daito-ryu and aikido). This book and its subject matter was a sort of Holy Grail for Robert and his research into the history of his art and the mysterious skills it ancestors were claimed to have manifested. Robert reached out to Amdur with some questions about the subject matter and inquired as to where he could find practicing or teaching an aiki-art (a phrase commonly used to refer to aikido, hapkido, and Daito-ryu) that explicitly incorporated Chinese internal strength principles. Amdur pointed Robert to Budd Yuhasz in Buffalo, NY.
Budd was a former student at an aikido dojo that Amdur used to consult for and at which Amdur developed his Taikyoku Aikido theory which distilled all of aikido down to five essential ‘themes’ of movement which could be trained as a solo movement practice, as a sort of tai chi or qigong for the aiki-arts. Budd had taken Amdur’s aikido and combined it with the Chinese internal strength training methods he picked up working with Mike Sigman, someone Amdur also pointed Robert to by way of Sigman’s Internal Strength blog and who also directed Robert to seek out Budd. Robert and Budd connected through Sigman’s 6H Forum and Robert began studying under Budd in December of 2013.