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James Kentoshi Norris

James Kentoshi Norris fully embodies the essence of the Shadow Warrior. His wealth of knowledge developed over decades of training with An-shu Stephen K. Hayes and direct demeanor combine to create a precise and powerful teaching style. He shares techniques with a focus on subtle and sometimes hidden details. His reputation for moving like a ghost combined with his reassuring presentation encourage every student to bring to life the secrets of the shadow warriors. People watching James teach To-Shin Do walk away saying, “That is moving like a ninja!”

Courses by James Kentoshi Norris

Seated Defenses

Ready and on our feet is the ideal place to be in a self-defense situation. However, life is good at throwing challenges at us at less than ideal times. This Seated Defenses course teaches several examples of how we can win, even from a seated position.

Decision Making Skills

One of the most challenging skills to learn in the martial arts is how to make decisions under pressure. This course looks at how to break down decision making into several smaller skills that can be improved, then used to create effective defenses against unscripted, unrehearsed attacks.

New Moment New Beginning

The 5 D’s of self-defense, our five step process for solving a self-defense conflict, begins and ends with Discern. However this Discern isn’t just a beginning and end, but rather a continuous flow through the entire technique. This workshop by Shihan James Kentoshi Norris looks in detail at how each moment in a technique could […]

Introduction to Shuko

James Kentoshi Norris shares the foundations of the exotic ninja tool called shuko, or hand claws, turning them from a climbing tool into a hidden combat weapon.

Hanbo Choking and Grinding

Learn how to use a hanbo (Japanese cane or short stick) to create chokes and painful disrupts to control balance, distract and disrupt, and ultimately subdue an attacker. Shihan James Kentoshi Norris takes you through the foundations of two important hanbo skills; choking and grinding.

Transitioning to Invisible Movement

To-Shin Do Master James Kentoshi Norris demonstrates a way to transition from core black belt skills into high level ninja movement that feels invisible to the aggressor, creating a defense they don’t even realize they should resist, until it is too late to stop.

Hanbo Striking and Shielding

Learn how to use a hanbo (Japanese cane or short stick) to strike at a distance, to disrupt or put an end to an attack, and to protect yourself in close range situations. Shihan James Kentoshi Norris takes you through the foundations of two important hanbo skills; striking and shielding.

Hanbo Locking and Leveraging

Learn how to use a hanbo (Japanese cane or short stick) to turn an attacker’s energy, or even their own skeleton, against them. Shihan James Kentoshi Norris takes you through the foundations of two important hanbo skills; how to create locks and how to create leverage.

Rolling Skills

Getting to the ground safely is an essential skill in any martial arts training program. Whether getting thrown in training, slipping on an icy sidewalk, or going to the ground in a fight, being able to roll is one of the most important things you’ll learn in To-Shin Do. In this course, James Kentoshi Norris […]

Gun Defenses: Rear Attacks

Learning to deal with firearms is an important part of self-defense training. In this second in a series of gun defense courses, we cover examples of dealing with rear attacks, carjackings, and rescue situations when you don’t have a weapon of your own.

Gun Defenses: Front Attacks

Learning to deal with firearms is an important part of self-defense training. In this first in a series of gun defense courses, we deal with front attacks when you don’t have a weapon of your own.

Against a Wall

Being pinned against a wall in a fight can be a terrifying experience. In the course, James Kentoshi Norris shows you how to use Ninja principles to find avenues of escape even in situations where there doesn’t seem to be any.

Ground Fighting III

Learn advanced skills, locks and ground defenses. Master Norris and An-shu Hayes guide you through lessons for dealing with dangerous ground attackers. This course covers many new stand-alone skills, as well as shows you how to put all three ground course skills into a flow drill.

Ground Fighting II

Master Norris and An-shu Hayes take you through answers to even more challenging ground situations, giving you tools and techniques to defend, control, and end the fight, as well as drills to help you polish your techniques.

Ground Fighting I

Learn fundamental ground defense skills from Master Norris and An-shu Hayes. This course covers common ground attacks, core defenses, ways to reposition for control, and ways to create space to escape.

Knife versus Knife

Learn the fundamentals of knife-based self defense in knife versus knife situations. Master Norris and An-shu Hayes guide you through defenses to common attacks, knife-holding details, body positioning, and several drills designed to sharpen your knife skills.

Posts by James Kentoshi Norris

To Reply Or Not To Reply

You can’t post anything online these days without someone attacking it. It doesn’t matter what it is. A while ago my wife posted a photo of a smiling family from our dojo putting on white belts for the first time. You’d think that would be immune. A happy family starting a new adventure together. Nope. […]

The Harsh Reality Of Self-Defense Training

Self-defense is a big topic. In fact, if you’re honest about wanting to practice self-defense, the training encompasses most every aspect of your life. That’s the hard part. Maybe you read the title and were already thinking of brutal knife attacks, group fight dynamics or what happens to the brain under stress. We practice all […]

Small Steps, Big Progress

One quick tip I always give out whenever anyone asks me about solo training is to break things down into small pieces. The smaller and more specific the better. For example, instead of thinking about working on a stomp kick, think about contacting with the correct part of the foot. Or concentrate on where balance […]

Check Your Kamae

Unscripted decision-making or free response is challenging. If it goes well you feel great about your training. If it doesn’t go well it can be extra frustrating. Frustrating because you didn’t like the result, and frustrating because with all the moving parts, all the dynamics involved in a fight, it can be hard to pin […]

Curious Attention

I challenged my students to an awareness exercise over the next few weeks. As they head in to the hectic holiday season, I asked them to pay attention whenever they are in a crowd (at the mall, the supermarket, etc.). But specifically I asked them to pay attention to how many people around them were […]

Natural Movement

We talk a lot about having ‘natural movement’ in our martial art. As important as it is, it can be just as hard to describe what that means. Sure, we want natural speed, relying less on fast ‘muscle’ speed. We want to use gravity and not rely solely on strength. We want to take away […]

Mindful Action and Self-Defense

The To-Shin Do Mindful Action Code is a powerful self-defense tool and one I’ve grown to appreciate more and more over the years. I’ve seen as a teacher how many youth and adults find it such a meaningful part of their lives. That, by itself, is enough for me to make sure it is a […]

Mindful Training

One thing to watch out for in your training is repetition without awareness. The more mindful you can make each movement of your training the better. Mindful in this case doesn’t mean up in your word brain. But rather, avoid doing lots of repetitions of something just for the sake of doing repetitions. Years ago […]

Eyes Of Wonder

Watching my almost two-year-old these past several months, I’ve enjoyed seeing him interact with the world more and more. Some of my favorite moments is when he sees something in the world that is, to most adults, something mundane, but to him is a thing new and full of wonder. Often he’ll point, and say […]

Appreciate Each Moment

In the days leading up to the annual Fall Festival, I enjoy seeing all the social media posts of people from all over the world beginning their travels to Dayton, Ohio for a special weekend of training. I enjoying seeing everyone’s excitement because it reminds me of all the wonderful training to come in a […]

Remembering To Be A Student

With Festival approaching I thought I’d write a quick note about remembering to be a student. Being a student isn’t just a relationship, it is a mindset. Some years ago two students came into the dojo within a few weeks of each another, and both had solid backgrounds in previous martial arts. Since they started […]

Respecting Space

One of the things we emphasize a lot for young students in our dojo is finding a safe place. We ask where a safe place might be, or who they could go to in order to avoid a dangerous situation. Sometimes we have them defend against an instructor then run to their parents. With adults, […]

Knowing The Problem

A couple months ago I wrote about the role of the attacker in To-Shin Do. Specifically, I talked about advanced ways we can make sure our training partner (and ourselves) are getting the most out of each training exchange. Left out of those tips was the obvious beginning lesson: know what the attack is. But […]

Calm In A Storm

What are you doing in your training to practice staying calm under pressure? I don’t just mean, ‘how are you practicing staying calm at the dojo’ either. I mean, how do you find opportunities in every day life to practice staying cool? As martial artists we want to know we can handle a dangerous situation. […]

Role of Attacker

Improving physical skills in To-Shin Do often requires someone to play the role of ‘attacker’. We all take turns doing it, but it is easy to forget what exactly that role entails, and why it is so important for our own training, not just that of our partner. Here are a few tips: Slow, Safe, […]

Grand Opening, Grand Year

A few days ago my wife and I held our Grand Opening for our new dojo in Cincinnati. An-Shu Stephen and Rumiko Hayes provided a wonderful opening ceremony for us, and during the ceremony Mr. Hayes reminded me of what my original plan had been when I moved to Ohio years ago. I was more […]

Layers of Lessons

If you’ve been training for awhile in To-Shin Do, you already know that each and every kata example we practice, whether modern or historical, has layers of lessons built in. If you’ve trained with An-shu Hayes even once or twice, you’ve probably already noticed that his teachings are layered in lessons and never merely a […]


Sudden transitions (shifting quickly and unexpectedly from one situation to another) are challenging. Sometimes the brain gets stuck, not wanting to let go of what it was just focused on, even if the new situation is really important. If the change is unexpected enough, such as facing surprise violence when violence is something you only […]

Getting Hooked

In our Black Belt training we have many strategies and principles that rely on ‘hooking’ our attacker, using their emotions or their expectations against them so that they almost can’t help but deliver the very thing to us we need to defeat them. While it may not always implicitly say so in the ‘kata descriptions’ […]

Know Thy Drill

One of the locations I teach at is across the street from a fire station. A couple months ago I happened to look out the window and saw the fire station was running through some sort of training drill. It was three groups of firefighters, four in a group, and they were all working with […]

Techniques as Relationships

I took me years to appreciate how techniques in our martial art were determined by the relationship between attacker and defender, as opposed to just, well, a technique. I knew the idea almost from the beginning, of course, but it took me a few years to realize just how profound that concept was. The other […]

Be Better Than A Goldfish

There is a study by Microsoft Corporation that has been around for a few years now, and many news sites like to reference it. Several big news sites as well as some popular science sites have all mentioned this study and written about how we as humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. […]

Not So Repetitive After All

To get good at something, you need to practice. To get really good, you need to practice a lot. It’s common knowledge that with a lot of practice, there is a lot of repetition, and one of the theories for keeping students engaged in a classroom (especially in martial arts) is disguised repetition. The idea […]

What Don’t You See?

There is an exit off the highway that I take almost every day going back to my house. I have to make a right turn at the intersection at the end of the off-ramp. The shoulder there is unusually wide, and frequently as I’m trying to make my turn I find there is someone to […]

Close To The Source

I’m excited about this year. Not only do I have a lot of personal adventures ahead of me this year, but I’m excited about the growth of To-Shin Do and the access everyone will have to it in the coming year and beyond. Having access to the source of To-Shin Do (in other words to […]

Beyond the Dojo

In last month’s post I talked about how great it was to have a dojo where we can try things out and failure doesn’t have real world consequences. We can train and grow, and only then take our new skills into the world. It is easy to forget how special such a place is in […]

Self-Development Site

Many professional websites have a duplicate website that is used for testing and development. New plugins are tested to be sure they work with the rest of the site and are compatible with other plugins. Graphics are examined to be sure they have the look desired for the site. Any problem that arises, anything that […]

Barriers and Breakthroughs

One of my favorite parts of Festival is getting to see friends from all over the world, many of whom I may not have seen since the previous year’s Festival. And an aspect of seeing all these friends and training with them that I especially enjoy is recognizing and celebrating their growth. Sometimes that celebration […]

Between Fearful and Reckless

I had a conversation last weekend with some of my students about a pet peeve of mine: Fear based advertising. The conversation went on to cover the extremes of being fearful versus reckless when it comes to self-protection. For me, I try to stay away from extremes, and from a self-defense perspective think both ends […]

Anchors In Your Training

There are stages of learning. Whether you are studying To-Shin Do, oil painting, or guitar playing, there is a natural progression to how skills develop. An-Shu Hayes and others have talked about stages in personal growth before, but it’s always worth revisiting the process for how to effectively gain skills. There are ways to grow […]

Raising Threat Levels

A few months ago I was walking into a local Panera for lunch. There were several police cars parked out front, and I was a little concerned as to what I would be walking into. Hunger, however, got the better of me and I went in anyway. Inside people were talking about a guy in […]

Reaction To Your Reaction

For beginning To-Shin Do students, just having an answer to a problem is the goal. We start with twelve fundamental techniques, based on common attacks, so that we have the skills to react to difficult situations. Reacting correctly is the next step. A black stripe on a color belt means it is time to start […]

Layered Goal Setting

Several years ago, when I started participating in triathlons, I discovered I needed to rethink how I set goals for my physical workouts. I’ve lifted weights and been a runner for most of my life, but specific goals in those areas we’re never a concern. My physical fitness goals went something like, “Get in even […]

What it Means to Win

The martial art of To-Shin Do is about learning how to win. When I explain to new students my view of what it means to earn a black belt, I tell them a black belt is someone who has the tools to be more successful in every area of their life. I have yet to […]

Perfect Practice

We’ve probably all heard the idea that ‘practice makes perfect’. And it’s true that to get really good at something, you’ll likely need to do it a lot. There is an idea out there that it takes a minimum of ten years of intense practice to reach the elite levels of a sport or other […]

Ready to Learn and Advance

We are all training in martial arts because we want to get better. We want to grow. We might have different reasons, different burning desires that keep us coming back to class week after week, year after year. Some are looking for self-defense. Some enjoy the historical techniques. Some want the personal growth and empowerment […]

Sliding Scale of Responses

I like to remind students (and myself) of options. More specifically, I like to remind students that we do have options, and how easy it is to lose sight of that. It is an easy habit to practice a technique in a given way so often that it because an automatic reaction. In some cases […]

The Star of Your Own Movie

A couple of months ago marked the twentieth anniversary of the day I threw all my belongings in the back of a U-Haul trailer and moved to Ohio to be closer to my teacher. I didn’t have a job, or a place to live, or much of a plan at all. I just assumed those […]

Being Your Own Teacher

The other day I heard an exchange between a school teacher friend of mine and one of his students. The student asked the meaning of a word. Rather than give him the definition, the teacher said to look it up on his phone, an answer the student didn’t appreciate. The student felt like he was […]

Magical Moments

With our annual Fall Festival just days away, there is a topic that I often find in the forefront of my mind as I approach any training event. I like to go into these annual events (or really any time I get to work with my teacher) with an eye out for what I call […]

Having a Balanced Perspective

I’ve always been driven to study martial arts. From the first time I knew it existed, I wanted to know more. When I first read a book by my teacher, Stephen K. Hayes, I knew what martial art, out of all the possibilities out there, I wanted to focus on. I was eleven at the […]

Strong Enough to Laugh

The other day I was teaching a class, students were having fun and enjoying themselves, and then one student, fairly new to class, laughed at something that had been said. Normally this is not an unusual event, but this new student almost immediately stopped laughing, put on the most serious expression, and sincerely apologized to […]

Zan-Shin 残心 Finish

Every technique in To-Shin Do ends with hands in our defense ready position, or some other kamae. Often the suggestion is to keep hands up ‘for at least three seconds’ as a symbol for this concept of zan-shin, a reminder that the problem we’re dealing with may not be over just because we’ve finished ‘the […]

Shu-Toku 習得 Mastery

It might sound self-evident to say we’re training because we want to get better at what we’re doing. That idea applies to not only martial arts, but to most everything else in life we practice as a skill. However, wanting to get better at something, and actively working in each and every class or practice […]

Ki-Ai 気合 Spirit

Giving a fierce yell while kicking or punching is one of the most well-known, and most imitated, parts of the martial arts. You can’t have a low budget martial arts film without a high pitched scream accompanying each technique. There are, of course, a lot of good reasons to be making noise in a fight […]

Ma-ai 間合 Gap

The concept for this month is gap, specifically the gap between you and your attacker, but the idea is more complicated than that small word makes it seem. Ma-ai is both timing and distancing combined together. In English it seems as if these are two separate concepts, but if you think about it, especially in […]

Ukemi 受身 Break-Fall Skills

One of the most important self-defense skills in our martial art is the ability to get to the ground safely. Set aside the idea of a fight for a moment, and just think day to day life. Slips and falls are one of the leading causes of visits to the emergency room. Injury often happens […]

Kuzushi 崩 Balance Control

The idea of balance control is closely tied together with last month’s topic of kamae. We want to be aware of, and ultimately have control over, both our own balance and the balance of our attacker. To describe it in another way, we want to break our attacker’s kamae or base, without sacrificing our own, […]

Kamae 構 Base

Spend any time at all in a To-Shin Do dojo, or watch any of our NinjaSelfDefense.com courses, and you’ll hear us talk about kamae all the time. Without the proper structure to our body, techniques don’t work the way they should and we open ourselves up to more dangers. Without good kamae, we create more […]

Shu-Chu 集中 Focus

One of the twelve keys already discussed was about gathering as much knowledge as possible. In this concept we are looking at how and where we can gather that needed information in a conflict so that we can make the right decisions. Learning new ways to take in information, and being able to direct our […]

Nagare 流 Coordination

One of the signature skills of To-Shin Do is our ability to use our whole body to generate power, enabling even a smaller person to create amazing results with what seems like little effort. It is a difficult skill to gain, because it can go against conventional thinking, because it doesn’t always look the way […]

New Moment, New Beginning

This year my Festival session was about each moment being a new beginning. In fact, the entire Festival theme was “Ninja Reborn”, for several reasons, including marking our dedication to using technology and the internet to even more effectively spread To-Shin Do across the globe. It is an important concept to me personally, as well […]


For a martial art that is dedicated to realistic, usable self-defense skills, we need to recognize that we may not be the meanest or strongest person in a confrontation. A true self-defense system has to rely on more than just hitting hard and fast in order to be useful in any situation. Not to discount […]

Chi-Shiki 知識 Knowledge

The second of our Twelve Keys of To-Shin Do training is all about gathering as much information as possible and then learning to put that knowledge into usable action. The more we know and understand about any given technique, the better we are able to fine tune our training experiences. This information gathering happens in […]

Sho-Shin 正心 Heart

You may have seen written in your dojo’s curriculum the list of the twelve keys for earning your next To-shin Do belt rank. If you haven’t seen them yet, not to worry; you will as you continue your training. If you have seen them, the richness of these concepts is difficult to convey in the […]