A good defense

Cindy and Frank Ferris

Photo By Gabriel Doss

One of the lesser-known martial arts, jujitsu, has taken hold of the Ferris family. While martial arts weren’t foreign to the Ferrises, their passion for jujitsu—specifically the DanZan Ryu form of jujitsu—was spawned by their son’s interest in cartoons. DanZan Ryu jujitsu was synthesized by Master Henry S. Okazaki in Hawaii in the 1920s. Frank and Cindy Ferris founded High Sierra Jujitsu in 1998, along with partner and friend Gary Smith. After just a few years in business, their dojo (a place of training for martial arts) is hosting the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation’s 54th annual convention March 8-10 at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks. The event is believed to be the largest ever jujitsu convention with an educational slant. Both Frank (fourth degree) and Cindy (second degree) hold black belts in jujitsu.

What are some of the differences between jujitsu and the martial arts you see on TV?

Cindy: There are two different kinds of martial arts, broken down into “soft style” and “hard style.” The hard styles involve kicking and hitting. It’s pretty much an offensive art. And then there is the soft style, like jujitsu and aikido. They are real defensive moves; you push, I’ll pull. We do practice kicks and punches, but our defense is mostly throwing, arm bars and pain compliance types of things.

Why did you choose jujitsu as opposed to other martial arts?

Cindy: I’d have to give that to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When my son was 4, he was into them. He wanted to do something, and my husband looked around and found the Bushidokan in Sparks. They have a great juniors program. The kids got into it, my husband got into it, then I got into it. The rest is history. In fact, our daughter is getting ready to test for her black belt at the convention.

How many members of your family with black belts will that make?

Cindy: Three of us. I’m sure she’ll pass.

What drew you to jujitsu?

Cindy: Personally, I just needed to keep moving. I wasn’t into the gym scene and jogging wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t a real violent thing. The jujitsu we study is DanZan Ryu jujitsu, and it’s kind of an all-encompassing thing. You have mental challenges, spiritual challenges. Plus, the physical techniques you can do well into your 80s and 90s, depending on your individual health. You never stop learning in this system. Not only do we learn to hurt, but we learn to heal. A massage program is part of it. And Kappo, which are ancient Chinese resuscitation techniques. They will bring you around if you get knocked unconscious or get a nosebleed. They can start your heart, too.

Frank: A lot of jujitsu people end up becoming physical therapists and chiropractors. That aspect is unique—especially to DanZan Ryu jujitsu, which is a very popular style—but under the radar compared to the Brazilian fighting style, which [teaches] nothing about the healing aspects. The DanZan Ryu program offers a more rounded look.

Tell me a little bit about the convention.

Cindy: It’s an annual thing, and different dojos host it every year. We basically stay on the West Coast. It’s getting really international, though. We have people coming from Finland, Ecuador, India and Israel. People come and we have clinics Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our top-ranked instructors we call professors. And all the professors will be here. It gives people a chance to interact and learn directly from the professors.

What else goes on at the convention?

Cindy: On Saturday, we have a freestyle contest. Our system doesn’t do a lot of contests. We have two different kinds of contests. One is a Kata contest and that’s really planned, where you have a set of arts you have to do, and then you combine them in a practice combative sequence. And the newest thing is the freestyle contest. That’s where we have a group of 10 people of the same rank and one person is called up, and they will throw a punch or grab ahold of them, and they have to get out of it and counter it and throw them or choke them. We call it freestyle because you don’t know what’s coming at you, and you have to react properly and safely. There are a lot of guidelines. On Sunday, we are going to have a demo program, and we try to encourage all the dojos to have a demo team. A lot of people don’t know what jujitsu is.

Frank: We are also bringing in entertainment. There will be Taiko drummers and rock ‘n’ roll.

Is the convention open to the public?

Frank: In order to participate in the clinics, you must be a member of the American Judo and Jujitsu Federation. But people can come and watch. The freestyle and demos would be good to watch. People can pay, I think, $6 to join the federation for three months. If they want to participate, it is $175 per person for all the clinics, $125 for juniors [15 years or younger].